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Through the many changes and developments in the history of music, Indian musicians have always held their own. On World Music Day, we look at some of India’s greatest musicians and why they command so much respect
Described as the world’s most prominent and prolific film composer by Time magazine, he is famous for blending Eastern Classical music with international genres. Born into a musically gifted family, he took up his musical calling at a tender age and worked with many big names before making it big in the industry. This man has since given the world songs like Dil se re, Roja, and Maa Tujhe Salaam. With his love for experimentation, unique voice and he has won several awards including the prestigious Academy Awards for Jai Ho. Music in India is incomplete without a mention of him.
Lata Mangeshkar is one of the best-known and most respected playback singers in India. Her career which started in 1942 is still going strong, seven decades later. She also made the Guinness Book of World records for the most recordings in the world. Her powerful rendition of Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo is said to have brought tears to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s eyes. The singer has won the Bharat Ratna and Padma Bhushan among other awards. The acclaimed singer is also known for the unusual gesture of giving up the Filmfare Best Female Playback Award in 1969 in order to promote fresh talent. Known to have influenced musicians like Freddy Mercury, she is the voice of Indian Cinema.
Ilayaraja, regarded as one of the finest music composers in India, has written more than 950 soundtracks. In 1993, he became the first Asian to compose a full symphony performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. The classical guitar gold medalist from Trinity college of music is a multi-instrumentalist with a vision. His compositions appeal to just about everyone with their shades of Indian folk, contemporary styles, native sounds from various parts of the world and Western classical touches.
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan
This master of the sarod was instrumental in popularising Indian music in the West. He began his career as the official musician for the Maharaja of Jodhpur, who gave him his title of Ustad. A passionate teacher, he has also founded various music schools across the world. This five time Grammy nominee was one of India’s best jewels.
This sitar player is often called the best known contemporary Indian artiste. He created and used techniques that were very different from his contemporaries and created a niche for himself in the Sitar world. He is known for composing the scores for award winning films like Gandhi and Kabuliwallah, but his talent is not his only gift to music. As the father of eight time Grammy Award winning Norah Jones, he gave blues one of its most talented names. Credited with influencing and playing with the Beatles, the Byrds and other big names, this man represents the best of both worlds.
This child prodigy, son of legendary tabla player Alla Rakha, began his international career when he was all of 19 years. The tabla maestro has collaborated with many musicians all over the world and experimented with different genres. He has made the sound of tabla common on the world music scene. He occasionally teaches in prestigious Universities like Princeton and Stanford. At 61, he plays about 150 concerts a year.
Hari Prasad Chaurasia
For ardent music lovers across the world, this man is the very face of Indian music, with his bamboo flute and distinctive sound. He may have began by secretly learning music against his father’s wishes, but he credits the wrestling training forced on him with helping him develop his stamina and lung power, both instrumental to his flute playing. His music, a rare mix of ingenuity and traditional laws, is an emotional pleasure to the senses.
Not perhaps the classic definition of an Indian musician, Freddy is India’s biggest gift to Western music. Though he does not acknowledge his Indian origin. Born to Gujarati-Parsi parents, he joined Queen as their lead vocalist and lyricist in 1969. His flamboyant style and raw vocals influenced more than three decades of rock. Known for his flexibility and musical complexity, he never used the same structure twice, and each of his compositions came with an element of surprise. This wild mix of genres is often credited to be the origin of heavy metal music. This theatric performer who always held the audience in the palm of his hand when he took to the stage still continues to be voted one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music.