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‘The Sopori Legacy’
Abhay Rustum Sopori the 9th generation of musicians from the Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir
Musical Prince of
“Without music, life would be a mistake.” Dipti. P in this edition presents Abhay Rustum Sopori, the heir of the legendary 300 year old Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir.
FL - Tell us about your journey.
the philosophy of life through my Santoor and compositions. I see the world through my music and the world sees me through my music.
Abhay Rustum Sopori - It’s been a great journey so far. People of all ages, love and bless me and the biggest thing is that they have high expectations from me. So I feel that I have a lot to contribute to the world of music. At the same time I have been the youngest recipient of all the awards which gives me more strength as I get to know through these awards that people are acknowledging my efforts and contributions. My role and responsibilities have certainly increased and I feel that the nation believes and expects a lot from me. I thank god for giving me this wonderful opportunity to serve my country as a Santoorist and Composer. I have performed all over the country and abroad in some of the most prestigious concerts and festivals. I have played for nursery class kids, youths, elders, prison inmates, security forces and even a mass audience of 40,000 or more in a stadium. And I have made them sing with me. I have composed music for very prestigious productions and international award winning films, greatest musical hits of J&K, first international regional albums of J&K, introduced the concept of Classical Fusion, given hundreds of concerts, presented the first folk orchestras and ensembles and so on. It’s a great fortune to be born in a Sufi saint musician family and to carry on the Sopori legacy.
FL - Hailing from a traditional and prestigious musically inclined family, was it an obvious choice for you to get into the same field or did you have other aspirations?
“My being a musician was probably destined. I was not born to be anything else. It’s my identity, my synonym.”
musician but a wave against the music mafia of India. One has to do the work on the ground level. To clean the system one needs to enter it and then clean it. I couldn’t have done this if I was not a musician born in the Sopori tradition.
FL - What is music to you?
Abhay - Music is my language, my thought. The melody and rhythm of Santoor give me the power to analyse, understand and interpret
Abhay - Santoor is my family instrument. While I represent the 9th generation of musicians of the fabled Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir, Santoor has been in the family for around 300 years with one after another greats of Sufiana – Hindustani Classical tradition. I remember as a child that I would sit in my father’s lap and take the Kalams (strikers) in my hands. I don’t even know when that act turned me into a full time professional musician. Now I know what it must have been like as my two nephews – Soumil and Soham do the same, sitting on my lap. There had been three major factors which made me what I am today. First, there was a sense of responsibility to carry forward the family lineage. Second, there were tremendous expectations of me. And third, it was my own interest in music without which nothing could have ever progressed. But my taking up this profession was a very conscious decision. I had been a student of management and computers and also a national level hockey player. I chose to leave MBA for music. At times I feel my being in music was destined, which was decided even before my birth. I am not just a professional
FL - Do you constantly get compared with your father and grandfather? Share some cherished memory when you were learning the art from them.
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Preserver of traditions and culture, Abhay Rustum Sopori
Abhay - Well, assessment is there and it’s both expectation and comparison. I don’t think my music or my work can be compared to that of my grandfather, Pandit Shamboo Nath Sopori, who till date is hailed as the ‘Father of Music’ in Jammu and Kashmir or my father, Pandit Bhajan Sopori, the great music legend. He’s a creator of more than 5,000 songs. I don’t think I can even reach there. But people compare me to them out of expectation to do better and more. My grandfather worked in the most hostile conditions where music was considered very low and had social taboos connected with it. He not only gave a respectable statute to music and the musicians but also shaped the musical culture for generations to come in the state. My father took this to a step forward and groomed the musicians
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Santoor Maestro, Abhay Rustum Sopori
and also created music for people with which everyone could relate and connect easily. My father must have yelled at me a hundred times and I must have cried every time to balance the equilibrium but today when I get up from the stage after my recital I can see hundreds of watery eyes and this time it’s the tears of ecstasy.
Abhay- I was recently performing in Europe in countries like Italy, Germany, Austria, etc. and every performance lasted for more than 3 hours. It’s actually not about playing for hours together but the way audience receives the concert and requests for more. It’s not frequent in India. My father has taught me to play at such a level that the recital becomes music for the soul. I feel it’s up to the musician how he handles the stage. It requires much devoted riyaz and dedication. But yes, music connoisseurs of our country are well versed with the subtleties of the Shastra, the grammar of classical music and they enjoy the deep intricacies of the recital. On the other hand the foreign audience mostly enjoys our music and is thrilled to see how a simple scale can turn the recital into hours of rhythmic and melodic variations.
FL - As you tour around the world, what difference do you find when playing for an international audience and home ground audience?
honoured with more than a dozen prestigious national and international awards and hundreds of felicitations. It’s the love and blessings of the people that I have earned and it would be difficult for me to say that a particular one is close to my heart. At the same time the awards which my father had received earlier and now are being presented to me are very special to me as it becomes an honour in itself. This includes the J&K State Award, Bharat Shiromani Award, etc.
FL - If not a musician then what would ‘Abhay Rustum Sopori’ be?
whether Indian or western to the music lovers.
Abhay - I was not born to be anything else and my being a musician was probably destined. I can’t think of my being without Santoor: it’s my identity, my synonym.
FL - Tell us about your future projects.
FL - What is your opinion on the future of Instrumental music in India?
FL - You are a recipient of many prestigious honours. Which one of them is extremely close to your heart?
Abhay - With the grace of God I have been
Abhay - Instrumental music has a mass appeal compared to vocal. While lyrics bring in regions, instrumental can be universal. I have seen many classical musicians shifting to fusions, perhaps for a bounty, but it’s like a fidgeting stock market and can’t be described as a style. But what do we mean by classical music? Is it Hindustani Classical or fusion etc? If we talk about classical music, then it’s a classified art, somewhat limited audience, though I don’t fully agree with it. It’s been here since ages and will have a smooth ride ahead. At least I can say that about Santoor. It’s the duty of every musician and organizer to present both traditional and contemporary styles
Abhay - I had made a promise to the people of J&K that I would revive the entire cultural scenario in a few years which has, by God’s grace, taken shape. Now that J&K is culturally back to order with major festivals happening there, my next focus is to make it large. As a Santoor player and composer, my immediate focus is on the ensemble presentations. Both the exclusive “J&K Folk Music Ensembles” of around 60 musicians and “Sufi Kinship”, the exclusive Sufi ensemble of the world which I introduced recently have had great appreciation and have received rave reviews. I want to take both these projects to different parts of the country and abroad. My father gave me a lot of musical Champarash before letting me in as a professional musician to fight back and defeat evils like cultural groupism and lobbyism (which have destroyed thousands of talented musicians) with love and save the true traditions and culture of my country. n
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