Interview with Hindustani Vocalist Jayateerth Mevundi

Jayateerth Mevundi’s name figures prominently amongst the younger generation of established artists in Hindustani music. He sings in the style of the Kirana Gharana, as exemplified by the late Bharat Ratna Pt. Bhimsen Joshi.
Read below  his interview with K S Geetha.
KSG – Please tell us how you started singing and who has influenced your music.
JM – My music came from my mother. When I was young, my mother would sing bhajans every Thursday. I would keep listening to them – daasara pada (devotional songs by Saint Purandaradasa- Ed) and devotional songs to other gods. Essentially, she was my first guru.
Since a young age, I was influenced by the music of Bhimsenji. This was around 1982 or 83. I was around eleven years old at the time, he would come to the Savai Gandharva hall in Hubli. I would listen to him and attempt to sing in his style. So he was my first influence after my mother.
There is a town called Kundgol near Hubli. Every year it hosts a Sawai Gandharva festival (which continues to this day). In those days, it was much bigger and many artists would sing there- there was a 3 day music festival- Gangubai Hangal, (Mallikarjun) Mansur, (Basavaraj) Rajguru would sing there. Bhimsenji would sing there every year. My parents would take me there every year. So I was influenced by all these people singing, but it was Bhimsenji’s style that was the main influence.
Once I studied Music properly, I was then influenced by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and Ustad Amir Khan. I listened to others too, like Roshan Ara Begum, Kumar Gandharva and others. Though one is influenced by these artists, after one does a lot of saadhana, one develops a style of one’s own.
KSG – After the initial phase, you went on to study music with Pt Arjunsa Nakod. Even later, you studied with Pt Shripati Padigar. What was the method of learning music with these masters?
JM – The practise of the Guru-Shishya parampara in those days meant that I would go to his home daily and practise for 6-7 hours under his supervision. I initially learnt from Pt Nakod, but towards the end, he had a problem with his voice. It was giving him a lot of trouble. He must have been over 70 years old then; I had been learning with him for 10 years or so. So I moved to my next guru, his name was Shripati Padigar, and he was a direct disciple of Bhimsenji. I had won a prize in a competition organised by All India Radio (Akaashvani), and Shripati Padigar had heard that. He commented that my singing bore the unmistakable influence of the Kirana Gharana, and especially of Bhimsenji. My classes had stopped by then due to the problems with Nakodji’s voice, so I asked Padigarji if I could start learning with him. I would go to his house at 8am, and stay there practising for 7-8 hours. I developed a solid foundation due to those 15 years.
KSG – What was the method of voice culture there?
JM – In the morning, we used to do kharaj practice (holding the note-Ed)- in all three octaves, to give the voice strength. I would wake at 4 or 4.30 to practise omkar. Then I would practise again at around 10am, then again in the evening. Of course, if I was going to my Guru’s house, most of the practice would take place there. It is a different type of practice when you are still learning. My guru used to say-what you practise now will stand you in good stead as you grow older. You can see this with the stalwarts like Bhimsenji or Jasrajji. Even at the age of 90, Jasrajji is still able to sing for one and half hours. It is the saadhana that he did when young that is continuing to this day. Voice culture is extremely important.
KSG – How much riyaaz do you do currently?
JM – Well, now I sing when my students come to learn. If there is a programme, I sing there for 2-2.5 hours. On the day of a programme, I would practise omkar and run through the planned programme – that would take me about 3-4 hours.
KSG – Classical music has a history that goes back several centuries at least. But what is its importance to this modern world?
JM – Though modern music may be fast and catchy, it is surely classical music that will prevail in the end. People may say that they are bored by a slow alaap, but it has been proved that it is classical music that has meditative powers. A doctor I was speaking to recently suggested that whether you claim to understand it or not, just closing your eyes and listening is enough to send you into a meditative state. So whatever re-energising you get from doing yoga or meditation, listening to classical music has the same effect on the body.
KSG – You have been giving programmes now for around 20 years. In this period, what changes have you noticed in the audiences who attend your programmes?
JM – The audience has changed so much, even in 20 years. Now no-one has the patience that audiences previously had. Previously, artists used to develop a raag over an hour- that is how I learnt with my guru- to develop the raag over one or one and half hours. Now even if I go to Mumbai for a programme, the organisers will say that the programme should be of an hour’s duration, and within that time I should only sing classical for 15 minutes; the rest of the time should be devoted to light music. I initially would find it very hard to cut it down and shorten it in that way. However, there are still regions in India, like when I sing in Punjab, or in Kolkata, they will ask you to sing classical for an hour or two hours. I have thus felt more enjoyment in singing classical music in other states and other countries. So in the US, here in the UK, people still have an appetite for classical music; I can throw in the odd lighter song- an abhang or a Kannada pada.
The other great change is the intrusion of social media. So people use social media while they are listening- it doesn’t escape the artist’s attention. They take photos and upload them; they even answer calls in the middle of a concert.
KSG – Can you talk about the interaction between the audience and the artist. What effect does the audience’s behaviour have on the artist?
JM – Some audiences listen to your music very intently. Previously, we used to get a lot of people responding to an intricate phrase by saying ‘wah wah’. This has decreased a lot. So if we don’t get feedback that they are enjoying it, the artist wonders if the audience is getting bored.
Tastes have also changed considerably. People ask for light music- it could be an abhang or a hindi bhajan. I think that it will have to be up to the artists now to insist that in a concert of two hours, we will sing classical music for one or one and half hours. If we don’t grow and develop the audience for this type of music now, it will wither away- there will be only an audience for light music. Artists have to get together now and cultivate the taste for this.
KSG – What advice do you have for students of the Bhavan who want to grow their music skills?
JM – Dedication is very important for the arts- be it dance or music. There are no shortcuts- the skills only come with dedicated practice.
Society has changed so that both students and their parents have the expectation that the student should become recognised quickly, make a name for themselves. Because of social media- YouTube and such, people do get known more quickly, but their music lacks perfection. This generation is very talented, they pick up things very fast, but the dedication towards perfecting their art is rare. Some students will take my advice, but I also have students who question how devoting five years to their craft will help them. If students are able to be dedicated to their music, then classical music has a promising future.