Sharanjeet Singh Mand was a star science student in northern India who represented his high school at national competitions. He was also a fledgeling musician who never had time to attend his elective music class. One day, a frustrated teacher confronted Mand’s mother. “The teacher told her, in front of me, ‘Sorry, your son cannot do music,’ He chose, thankfully, not to heed that advice, and began to practice playing the sitar — a classical Indian string instrument — with a fervent obsession.

Sharanjeet who’s now based in B.C. has mastered raga, an improvised melodic formula that’s foundational to Indian classic musical. He’s staging ‘The Raga Experience’ this week as part of a suite of concerts featuring B.C. musicians in the lead-up to the Juno Awards on March 24. “This instrument, this music is 5,000 years old,” he said. “It has a legacy and through that we express ourselves.”

Defying expectations

He was 15 when he started playing the sitar — a decade behind when many instrumental virtuosos get their start. The day he first played, it was early morning and Mand sat outside cross-legged. “You’re in a very spiritual kind of posture,” he said. “As soon as I held my sitar, the entire perception of the world sort of changed.”

Kids can lose the novelty of an instrument over time, he said, whereas he relished in experimentation and freewheeling performance.

Mand’s parents weren’t pleased. He practised in ten-hour stretches — a feat given the contortion required to play — sapping his energy from school work. “They all saw me as a budding scientist,” he said. “My relatives and neighbours were saying, ‘Look what your son is doing. Stop him. It was difficult.’”

Straddling two forms

Mand’s passion intensified and he soon won his parents’ support. At age 16, he staged his first performance at a Mother Theresa homage concert in India. He became one of the first Indian musicians to teach western classical music at an Indian institute. “Sometimes it’s a conflict between two forms,” he said. “My aim is to actually mix them and find something that does justice to both, without compromising anything.”

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