Night raags at nuit blanche

Home page: Osbert Lyall and Neeraj Prem. Image above: Narendra Datar.

Home page: Osbert Lyall and Neeraj Prem. Image above: Narendra Datar.


Nuit Blanche is the one night when art destinations in the city of Toronto open their doors to art lovers all over the city.

This year, there are 90 art projects available to be experienced from sunset to sunrise. The common theme that ties all these this year is Continuum – the ever-present renewal of night into day.

What could be a better representation of this continuum than raag music? How beautifully the raags of the evening – Yaman, Puriya and Bhoopali – melt into the deep night raags Darbari and Chandrakauns, that in turn pave the way for the morning raags Bhairav, Lalit and Bhairavi calling for a new day!

Raag-Mala has had a tradition of bringing raag music to Aga Khan Museum on this beautiful night for the past three years. This October, Raag-Mala will once again bring raag music at the Museum on Nuit Blanche.

The first performance this evening will be a sitar recital from the Hamilton-based sitarist Neeraj Prem, who is often described as a painter on sitar. Indeed, the mystical flows of his fingers on sitar are no different from bold strokes on canvas, weaving musical images in the air with his dense and perfect playing.

Neeraj is a disciple of Ustad Shujaat Khan and plays music of the Imdadkhani gharana, whose most famous modern-day exponent is the late Ustad Vilayat Khan. His creativity and speed has enabled him to traverse through compositions that have sent many audiences into dizzy raptures. He is a composer who has mastered both classical technique and adroit improvisation and who, at the same time, is also an exceptionally engaging performer.

As the president of Ustad Vilayat Khan Music Foundation, New Delhi, Neeraj has been promoting up and coming and deserving artistes by putting his talent to good (charitable) causes. He has organized concerts in aid of the National Foundation for Communal Harmony. Closer home, he has shared his gift on McMaster Radio, CBC Radio, and provides music education to students from Toronto, Brampton, Hamilton and elsewhere in Ontario through his Raga Music School. His list of accomplishments is endless, including Dofasco Hamilton Music Awards, and the prestigious Pandit Nikhil Banerjee Music Award by Sangeet Bhawan.

Neeraj will be accompanied by Osbert Lyall, affectionately known as Ozzy by his friends and fans, on the tabla. Tabla caught the attention of Ozzy in early childhood and he started learning at the age of eight in his hometown Bareilly and completed a six-year diploma. Osbert did his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Performing from Bhatkhande Music Institute Deemed University, which is one of the oldest and most prestigious music colleges in India. He has received many gold medals and certificates of merit by maestros like Pandit Jasraj and Pandit Haripra-sad Chaurasia. Osbert has also learned tabla from Vijay Sharma of Delhi gharana and then later learned from Pandit Ravinath Mishra and Professor Manoj Kumar Mishra.

The second part of the evening will be a vocal recital of raags of the night by Narendra Datar. Narendra began his formal musical training in 1976, at the age of sixteen, under the highly respected teacher and Agra gharana vocalist Pandit Vasantrao Kulkarni. While pursuing an education and career in engineering, he never stopped the pursuit of music. A recipient of the prestigious Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute senior performing arts fellowship in 1989, Datar has performed all over North America in the past years. Closer  home, he performed in Rhythms of India, a Harbourfront presentation in Toronto, in 1993, and 1994.

Since 1984 when Narendra first arrived in Canada, he has been active both as a teacher and a performer. Many of his students have achieved very impressive standing as performers of their own and perform regularly in Canada and USA. In addition to his achievements as a performer of classical, and light classical (Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada) music, Narendra is a composer of merit.

Narendra will be accompanied on harmonium by Hardeep Chana and on tabla by Kiran Morarji. Hardeep, who has most recently been learning from Tanmay Deochake of Pune, performed at the Museum earlier this year with Vidushi Ashwini Bhide. Kiran has performed with many well-known artistes, including Ustad Irshad Khan, and has been taking his taalim from the legendary Ustad Zakir Hussein.

Clearly, an elaborate spread of music is in the offering for Nuit Blanche music enthusiasts. This is an incredible opportunity for the uninitiated, yet curious ones to get a taste of raag music. All entries and performances are free.

While you check out the art installations in the beautiful Aga Khan Museum, do consider stopping for a recital, too! For the regular patrons, this will be one last Raag-Mala presentation before the season finale on October 19. Hence, you wouldn’t want to miss this!

When and where. Saturday, Oct 5 at 5:30pm, Neeraj Prem; at 10:30 pm, Narendra Datar. Aga Khan Museum auditorium, Toronto.

• Rajeev Gupta is a volunteer at Raag-Mala Toronto.

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