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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Sangeeta Katti Kulkarni – the name is synonymous with Hindustani Classical music. Various aspects of her life, starting with her auspicious birth on the day of Saraswathi Puja; the many titles and accolades she has received in the field of music, and her vibrant musical virtuosity have been feted, discussed and celebrated over the years. She is a Senior Artist in All India Radio and Doordarshan and serves on the faculty of Hindustani Vocal Music at the Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore.

Initially taught by her father, Dr. H.A Katti, she has been blessed to receive training under well known singers like Sheshagiri Dandapur, Chandrashekhar Puranikmath, Basavaraj Rajguru and Kishori Amonkar.

The recipient of the Suvarna Karnataka Rajyotsava award by the Karnataka state Govt, she has over 2,500 concerts to her credit, both in India and the world over.

India Currents caught up with Sangeeta Katti Kulkarni as she prepares to embark upon a 2019 tour of the U.S, with the opening concert on May 5th, 2019 at the Shirdi Sai Parivaar, Milpitas, California. 

IC: Your musical star first arose as a child of 4. It has been quite a journey! What motivates you as an artiste today?

SKK: The parampara or tradition of music is my primary motivation. Through my singing I can return Nature’s most beautiful gift of music back to where it originates. And of course the blessings of my revered Gurus under whose nurturing care I have been able to pursue my passion is a priceless motivation.

IC: Tell us of your association with the famous composer and music director Naushad Ali sahab?

SKK: I was extremely fortunate to have met Naushad sahab when I was 4 years old, and I rendered the evergreen melody “Avaaz de kahaan hai” which was made famous by the legendary Noorjahan. When he encouraged me to sing some more, I sang his masterpieces from several movies like Mughal-e-Azam, Aan, Udan Khatola etc, recognizing the ragas they were based upon as well. Naushad sahab was thrilled and blessed me! He told my father to make sure that I received training in classical music from a good Guru. “Desh ki bahut badi gaayika banegi yeh ladki (This girl will become a great singer),” he said.

I kept in touch with him, updating him of my progress from time to time. He used to recall and narrate wonderful incidents about Lataji, Rafi sahab and other great musicians and artists. Since his blessings marked the beginning of my journey with classical music, I consider him my very first Guru.

IC: What is your favorite aspect of being a performer?

SKK: A performer creates a beautiful bond with the audience and has the ability to build a bridge between him/herself and the Divine with the help of the “shrota” -the listener. A good performer can explore the techniques and nuances of the notes, getting into the details of the Raag/Raagini paddhati or tradition with years of training and rigorous practice. When the beauty of the Raga finally unfolds seamlessly, that is the ultimate bliss! The energy of music transcends through the listener to the Almighty. This I firmly believe. So, to me, as a performer, I see God in the audience.

IC: Which piece do you enjoy performing in a concert setting?

SKK: Raag Aalaapi in its purest form with Gamak! No second thoughts.

IC: There have been women artists in the classical arts arena over the years. As one yourself, do you see the challenges women artists face today?

SKK: Ours is a male dominated society and however rigorous their “sadhana” or practice, women artists still face struggles claiming their rightful dues, with the exception of a few stalwarts like Kishoritai Amonkar, of course! Most of us have to juggle between family obligations and our performing careers which is a definite challenge. Many singers have lost to this struggle, which is a sad fact.

Women who have the passion, and drive to succeed at all costs should never give up. There are many more opportunities for women artistes in the classical arts fields in today’s world. With self confidence and the blessings of our Gurus, I pray we will be able to face those challenges and pursue our passion.

IC: Who do you look up to as inspiration in the field of music?

SKK: My Guru – Kishoritai Amonkar, Begum Akhtar, Lata Mangeshkar, Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh, Kishore Kumar, R.D Burman, Madan Mohan, C. Ashwath, Ilayaraja… and Naushad Sahab of course! There are so many.

IC: You are a singer who straddles different musical genres: classical, contemporary, folk music / janapada sangeet, bhav geet /light music, film music, etc. Several of these genres are intersecting in today’s world. What are your thoughts about this trend from the point of view of a classical musician?

SKK: As the scriptures state, “Samyaka geetham iti Sangeetam” – a beautiful melody becomes music. There is no need to find fault with any particular style of music. A cuckoo’s kuhu kuhu call is pleasant to the ears… does it have any words? But we still enjoy it. Music is beyond language.

My junoon – passion or madness (if you will) is Indian classical, traditional music. But I have great interest in light, folk and film genres as well. I also enjoy Jazz and Arabic music. Fortunately my Gurus have encouraged me to balance and nurture all the nuances of the musical form.

Over the years, music has evolved to a greater dimension. This is true especially of Instrumental music due to innovative concepts like Fusion, Desi and International flavors. They have gained global recognition because of technology. Audiences get plugged in to the latest trends in music. So naturally the various genres will intersect and intermingle.

As far as keeping the “purity” of styles intact, it is up to the singer or musician and their individual experiences. As a responsible musician, if I am able to convey the feel of any style of music, without inhibitions, then my mission is achieved.

IC: What do you see as the future of the Hindustani musical tradition?

SKK: Music is the universal language of mankind. Music is Divine. I do not have any prejudices about the styles of music because it is a world with 7 notes, with a universal appeal.

No matter what the styles evolve and transition into, I am positive that they will all eventually return to their roots. Because I firmly believe that Classical music has all the answers.

“Maa Saraswathi sabko sambhalti hai”! (Mother Saraswathi takes cares of all)!

Smt. Sangeeta Katti begins her 2019 tour of the U.S with a performance in the San Francisco Bay Area at the Shirdi Sai Parivaar, Milpitas – on May 5th, 2019; from 3:30 – 6:30pm.