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Interviews |  25 Jun 2010 16:27 |  By chiragsutar

Chirag Katti - "Considering the kind of remuneration we get, we cannot say we can be dependent on classical music entirely"

Son of sitar player and music therapy researcher Pt. Shashank Katti,25-year-old Chirag Katti can be easily counted as one of the best sitar players in India today. He is articlulate, melodic, and prefers to play within the rules while performing classical.

Starting with humble beginnings from All India Radio followed by performances on Doordarshan, Katti has toured abroad extensively performing numerous solo concerts. His urge to do something innovative made him invent the Sitraz - a fusion between the guitar and the sitar, and also experiment with new forms of music - his latest achievement being performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for an Opera.

Chirag Katti clearly belongs to the new breed of classical musicians who are adaptable and experimental - not confining to any one form or style. Be it starting his own fusion band, performing pure classical or recording for session work - Katti dabbles with all. Just back from a whirl wind US tour, Katti, in an exclusive interview with's Chirag Sutar, speaks about his journey so far.


Having a musician father is surely an advantage - do you and your father play together?

Not always... we used to when I was a kid. Though we don't play together that often now, whenever I am playing at home, he always has his ears tuned in to what I play - no matter what he does - it can be watching TV, working on a computer, or something else.... but his ears are always on what I play, and then he often comes and corrects me if he feels the need to do so.

You father is also you Guru (teacher). How is he as a teacher?

(Sighs) I often wonder how the person who is so nice to me, who gives me everything that I want suddenly becomes so strict and demanding when I am learning. I remember my father often used to say - "Pad milvayla, tap karayla lagto" (Nothing big can be achieved without performing a penance). Well, I consider myself very fortunate to have a teacher 24/7 around me because I always got corrected in time and did not waste too much time practicing in a wrong way.

As a child did you get to meet a lot of established musicians?

I used to attend a lot of concerts, but it's not that I got the opportunity to meet or interact with a lot of musicians - that time, I was in school, and busy with my own world.

Where was your first performance?

I had performed on my father's Guru (Pt. Kamlakar Bhatavdekar's) Guru  Pornima ( Pt. Kamlakar Bhatavdekar was a disciple of Ustad Vilayat  Khan and he was a flautist) My father actually learnt  from a flautist. That event was the first time when I performed.

I guess he must be very proud that you are touring so extensively...playing the world over?

(Pause) He doesn't say - obviously!! (laughs). But well, when I come back from a tour, he always asks if there's something new that I have composed or played. And, when he ask's me that, I find myself in a spot and start looking for something reasonably good - something which I can make him hear (laughs). But well, on a serious note, one thing that we do (though not always) is listen to the performances. And since my father knows my playing - any kind of inputs and feedback from him means a lot to me.

You are just back from a US tour with tabla player Aditya Kalyanpur - tell us about that...

Well, it was a pure classical tour, but we also played at schools and universities and conducted lecture demonstrations. We shared basic things about Indian classical music and also collaborated with some western musicians and gave  music enthusiasts demonstrations on how two different genres of music can be clubbed or performed together - it was all on-spot and I am glad it was very well received.

Incidentally you also played for an Opera on Phoolan Devi on this tour. Tell us more.

Honestly, I too was surprised with the theme, but the musicians who conceptualized this explained me what it was, and then we rehearsed. As far as my role goes, I was part of the symphony that was playing live music for that Opera. There was a Soprano singer from Canada, and also a team of dancers - it was a two and half hour programme.

Why did they choose Phoolan Devi as a subject for opera?

They wanted an Opera on an Indian subject and the person who wrote it had come down to India several times. We are aware that even today how women's are suppressed in villages across India - they wanted to show all this...

How different was it for someone like you who comes from an Indian classical background to work on an Opera?

The interesting part about working on the Opera was that the symphony had their parts written, but being an Indian classical musician, I don't read music - we are trained to improvise. So, I approached it in a different way and heard the story and improvised on relevant ragas keeping in mind the various moods of the Opera. Let me tell you, before this, I had never heard an Opera, and to work on it for me was quite an experience.

Somewhere it reminds of times when musicians used to play live for theatre... is it similar?

Well, the only difference is - the musicians who used to play for theatre were made to sit in the wings - but in an Opera like this, the musicians and music are given the same importance.

You have also released a couple of albums, tell us about them...

The first album was released in 2005 when I was still in my college and it was called Silver Lining. To get called by a label like HMV that too when I was in college was definitely a big thing. They asked me if I'd like to do a fusion album - I immediately gave it a go ahead.

Why did you go for a fusion album and not a classical music album?

The label suggested that fusion was in demand and HMV anyways has a classic catalogue of renowned classical musicians - so instead they asked me to work on a fusion album.

Apparently, besides the classical concerts you are also working on a fusion band?

Yes, it's called Strings Rhapsody - we debuted last year. The idea came after I released 'Silver Lining' - I used to play pieces from that album with other musicians, so I thought why not start my own band – I play both Sitar and Sitraz in this band.

Of course... I have seen you playing the Sitraz - what inspired you to make this instrument?

I wanted to do something which embodies fusion music i.e I wanted the sitar to look like a fusion of two instruments. Initially I made two three drawings and ensured some basic things like grip etc were in line. In Sitraz, the body is inspired by the guitar, while the fretboard (neck) is that of a conventional sitar.

What was your father's reaction to Sitraz?

Being a musician he is a very creative person. We both believe everything has its right place. When I play classical, I see to it that I follow all the rules of classical music, but when I play fusion or genre other than classical, I take some liberties.

Can you tell us what's your practice schedule like?

There are many who ask me this question and they hope that I'll give them an impressive figure about the number of hours I sit and do my riyaz. Honestly, I never count how many hours I play sitar. I just try to spend as many hours as possible in music - it can be anything - listening to music, playing, and there are many other things nowadays - networking, promoting.

Right! I see a lot of musicians promoting themselves on various social networking sites - does being on these sites help?

It does. While I was touring in US recently, I visited a friend's place there, and they had some guests visiting them. Interestingly, these guests told their father about me and what I do - so their father immediately went online, saw some of my performance clips on youtube and asked me if I can accomodate a show for them in my schedule. I think, compared to times when one had to call the organizer, things have become much easier now - it just takes minutes to know about a musician.

What do you think about the remuneration that a classical musician gets today?

At this stage, considering the kind of remuneration we get, we cannot say we can be dependent on classical music entirely – many established names in the classical music field have done this that is working for bollywood .

Have you also worked on Bollywood?

Yes. I have worked with Pyaarelalji, Monty Sharma, Sandip Shandilya, Anand Raj Anand, Pritam, Sachin Jigar and Sridhar Phadke to name some.

We rarely hear sitar being used on Bollywood tracks...

Well, there are some music directors who like using it. The thing with the sitar is it's sound cannot be reproduced on a keyboard - i.e the bends, slides, the feel cannot be reproduced on a keyboards.

What do you think about the repertoire of classical musicians - isn't it becoming lesser and lesser?

I can play from three minutes to three hours, but the format today is different. For instance, two to three artistes perform at a concert where each one gets around forty five minutes. The baithak system where an artist used to perform for three hours is no more popular. But I think I benefited from playing abroad because those concerts require you to perform at least two hours and performing for two or more hours is really a skill. There are several elements to it - the way you represent, the way you build up  - back here such concerts no longer happen.

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