Bringing home the classical sounds of India
Until 2010, Indian culture in the UAE was almost synonymous with Bollywood. But the last 10 years have seen a welcome change with the Indian performing art-scene gaining wider acceptance. Small chamber concert series have given way to mega events, and solo concerts have grown into collaborative concerts with several maestros sharing the stage simultaneously. Informal home tuitions are passe; learning Indian performing arts in primary schools as part of the core curriculum is the trend.
Today, Dubai and the UAE, in general, boasts not only an ever-increasing number of matured audiences for live classical arts performances, but an entire new generation that is interested in the arts.
The popularity of Indian classical programmes is evident from the fact that Anoushka Shankar's concert featured prominently in the inaugural season at Dubai Opera House. The grand musical, Mughal-e-Azam, a classical music and dance-based stage production of K Asif's timeless epic movie of the same name, has enjoyed two outings in Dubai so far.
Such a transformation would not have been possible without individuals, corporate houses and government entities contributing in a big way in bringing Indian classical arts to the fore. The Emirates NBD Classics series in Dubai, which is about to unveil its ninth season is a case in point. The Abu Dhabi Classics, also in its ninth season, regularly invites Indian maestros to perform in the UAE capital. And the Sharjah World Music Festival celebrated its sixth extravaganza in 2019. Such collaborations have enabled residents to experience almost all aspects of the Indian traditional performing arts - from Indian choral music to Hindustani classical, folk and contemporary music.
Sur Hindol - an organisation set up by a few Indian classical music aficionados - has been organising classical music concerts in Dubai for the last 27 years. Celebrity artists from Pandit Jasraj to young artists such as Mahesh Kale and Rahul Deshpande and grade-one artistes have performed here under this umbrella.
While locally produced classical concerts and musicals have been received with great enthusiasm, children growing up in the UAE have received little exposure to the rich tapestry of Indian traditional performing arts. This gap has been bridged to a large extent by organisations such as Malhaar, with the aim of making Indian classical art forms irresistible for expats. The centre for performing arts, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, follows the guru-shishya parampara (ancient teacher-student tradition) and teaches primary children in Dubai not only the intricacies of performing arts but also how to appreciate India's centuries old cultural heritage of classical music and dance. The growing popularity of the Indian classical arts gives me tremendous hope and inspiration to know that Indian ancient notes and rhythms have found an oasis in this desert land.
Jogiraj Sikidar is the Founder-Director of Malhaar Centre for Performing Arts