“That’s what I love about music. All these banalities. They’re suddenly turned into these beautiful, effervescent pearls.” These words from the 2013 musical film, Begin Again, hold true for several of us. Musically gifted, or otherwise. For London-based visually impaired musician, Baluji Shrivastav OBE, music helps him navigate through the everyday, and look inwards.
Melange of styles
In the upcoming music, dance, and audio-visual performance, Antardrishti, Shrivastav will lead a group of eight instrumentalists, which includes UK’s only blind orchestra called Inner Vision. The concert will feature regional folk, classical vocal, and instrumental music, the performance follows the eleventh chapter of The Bhagavad Gita, which Shrivastav is particularly fond of.
The programme is a collaboration between the British Council and the Baluji Music Foundation, who chose visually impaired musicians from across India, to perform with their international team. “Personally, it’s exciting that we have artists from four corners of the country — Gujarat, Kolkata, Chennai, and Delhi,” says Shrivastav enthusiastically. With Raju Maurya on the tabla/ vocals, Perumal Varudaraj with the Indian flute, Chiman Lal playing the Indian violin, and Sayani Palit on vocals, the performance will also see participation from the Delhi-based Arunima Kumar dance company.
Working in unison
Since Shrivastav is keen on merging the two senses of sound and sight, Addictive TV, an audio/visual electronic duo from Britain, will create a musical canvas as a backdrop. One that allows live musicians to interact with sampled recordings of themselves and the other musicians on-screen. “Understanding one another is important, that’s how we don’t miss our cues. It’s essential that we work in unison,” shares Shrivastav.
For the 59-year-old multi-instrumentalist, his tryst with music began at a young age. Born in Usmanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Shrivastav then went on to studying at Ajmer Blind School where music was a compulsory subject. “My fascination with the Bhagavad Gita also began early on. My father used to read a shloka to me everyday while sitting in a park close to home,” says the musician. He is now well versed with the sitar, surbahar, dilruba, pakhavaj and table, along with composing his own tunes.
In 2008, Shrivastav founded the Baluji Music Foundation, a charity whose main aim is to encourage the participation of disabled people in music. He is also involved in the British Paraorchestra founded by Charles Hazelwood who performed at the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games 2012 with Coldplay. When asked how he manages to merge his traditional music in a more contemporary setting, he pauses and responds with, “Sa, Re Ga, Ma. Do, Re, Mi, Fa!” Shrivastav is adamant in making a mark in India and has been holding practice sessions for 20 days straight. “It’s important for me to spread the message on how music is not to be seen, but to be heard,” he explains.
While Shrivastav’s musical sensibilities are firmly rooted in Hindustani classical, he has recorded albums with a wide variety of artists and bands like Stevie Wonder, Massive Attack, Annie Lennox , Madness, Andy Sheppard and Guy Barker. He explains how there’s an ease with which a jugalbandi takes place with international musicians. “Their music is rich in harmony, while we’re soaking in melody, it’s the ideal blend.”
‘Antardrishti – Inner Vision,’ will take place on 17th September, 7pm, at The Royal Opera House. Tickets available on insider.in