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Musical brothers Aayush Mohan (sarod) and Lakshay Mohan (sitar) recently performed with Anoushka Shankar and other prominent musicians at the Royal Festival Hall, London for the 100 years’ celebration concert of Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar.
Since 2009, they have been performing globally, and have given lecture-demonstrations at universities like Wayne State University, Detroit, and the University of the Arts, Philadelphia. The duo has appeared on popular television shows like Good Day New York on FOX5 TV, USA, and have given several TEDx Talks to spread cultural awareness among the youth.
In this exclusive interview with India Currents, the brothers talk to us, among other things, about their experience of performing at Pandit Ravi Shankar’s centenary concert, their biggest musical inspirations, and how they keep their music universal and relevant to global audiences.
IC: You recently performed at the Royal Festival Hall London for the 100 years’ celebration concert of Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar with Anoushka Shankar and other prominent musicians. Tell us more about the experience.
Pandit Ravi Shankar has always been an idol and an inspiration for us since we started learning music. So naturally, it was a huge honor and privilege to be a part of this centenary concert. Rehearsals were so much fun and a learning experience at the same time. It was a memorable concert at Royal Festival Hall, which is one of the biggest concert venues in London.
IC: Lakshay plays the sitar, and Aayush plays the sarod. As brothers and first-generation maestros, how come you chose two different instruments, and how did you decide to team up?
From the very beginning, we were attracted to the Maihar style of playing. Sitar and sarod are the flagship instruments of this gharana. Initially, we both started on the sitar. Aayush always had a fascination for the Sarod’s deep and majestic sound. He tried his hand at the instrument, and with the support of our guru, Pandit Balwant Rai Verma, he started learning it from Padma Bhushan Sharan Rani.
Though sitar and sarod are, in many ways, the ideal instruments to be paired up for a duet, a long-standing sitar and sarod duet is now a rarity in the world of music. We are reviving the true essence of this duet.
IC: In April 2015, you both became the first Indians to perform at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, where you collaborated with American cellist Barry Phillips. The same year, you became the only North Indian instrumentalist to be invited to the world’s largest South Indian Music Festival in Cleveland, USA, the Thyagaraja Festival. Tell us more about these experiences.
The historic concert happened at the Grammy Museum Los Angeles at the launch of the yearlong exhibition “Ravi Shankar: A Life in Music.” This concert saw us present some of the ragas and compositions created by Pandit Ravi Shankar to the western audience along with our collaboration with the American cellist Barry Phillips.
The performance and rehearsals were an enlightening experience for us. It’s always a wonderful experience to perform for South Indian audiences, as they have the highest respect and appreciation for both the classical music traditions.
IC: Being classical musicians, how do you ensure that your music stays universal and relevant for global audiences?
Our musical repertoire is very traditional, but we have redesigned our presentation, which makes it better to connect with today’s listeners. While playing a duet, we take care that there is a perfect correlation between the content played on the sitar and the sarod, which is the most important of our collective sound and is found missing in most of the duets being played today. This coordination comes naturally to us, as we’ve been learning and practicing together for many years.
IC: Who or what are some of your biggest musical inspirations, both Indian and western?
Not one, but many great musicians… can’t name one or two. Among western musicians, we got inspired by Bach. For our The Golden Symphony tour in 2016, we produced a composition that involved fusion of an Indian classical raga with influences from German composer Bach’s cello suites. It was highly acclaimed by music lovers and connoisseurs.
We grew up listening to all the great masters of vocal and instrumental music, but the technical intricacies of the music of Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee fascinated and inspired us to take up the art. These legendary musicians will always be a huge influence on us.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.