Exploring the vastness of Indian classical music and sitar

Tadao Ishihama,a versatile sitar artist, was born in Osaka.Tadao started playing the sitar from the tender age of 15.After a period of intensive training in Japan,Tadao Ishihama came to India for the first time in 1997.After a few trips back and forth, he came back to India and started learning the sitar under the tutelage of the eminent sitar guru,Pandit Monoj Shankar of the famous Maihar gharana(also known as the Senia gharana),in Kolkata.Ever since Tadao Ishihama has been giving stage performances at various important functions and venues not only here in India and in Japan but he has played the sitar the other Asian countries. In Japan, he not only conducts cultural functions but has also dedicated himself to introducing and teaching aspirants to the heritage of the north Indian musical instrument-sitar.

At what point did you decide to start playing the Sitar as a professional?

I never decided myself, it happened naturally.  I started to play this instrument when I was 15 years old. In fact, I started to perform when I was young.  But, I came to know about the real meaning of profession years later.

(Performing in Japanese National TV)

Who are the musicians who influenced you?

Of course my guru Pandit Monoj Shankar, and his guru Ustad Bahadur Khan. I had a deep influence from them.  Also, I used to listen to R&B music, Rock, Pop, Jazz, and various types of music from my teen age. There is no end to put if I choose some names of the artists.I was learning painting from since I was 5 years old, and later on I graduated in Japanese ceramic art. I was also learning Manipuri dance under the guidance of Smt.Kalavati Devi since I was 21 years old.  So for me, I had influence from not only music. Any kind of art forms inspired me since my childhood. Everything came out through my music.

You have worked with a long list of collaborators in your career. How important are collaborations for you? 

Yes!! I have collaborated with various kinds of artists like, musicians, dancers, poet, visual artists, etc. I am Japanese, born in Japan, but for me Indian classical music and playing of the sitar is like a home, because my first proper music training was in Indian classical music.So, share the music and cultural back ground with some other artist, collaborations is always fun for me and I always get a different kind of idea and energy from those collaborations, then bring it back to my home Indian classical Music.
Luckily I had an opportunity to appear with many renowned artists like, Park Bum-Hoon [composer and conductor from South Korea], Astad Deboo [Indian contemporary dancer and choreographer] in the age of before 30. I learned quality of creation, atmosphere of stage, and many things from those experiences. So, collaborate with someone, perform with someone on the stage is the place to get a big perception also.

(Performing with Ansan traditional music orchestra conducted by Prof.Park Bum-hoon.)

An artist you would  like to collaborate with?

I have deep interest for Georgian Polyphony music for many years; I think that types of melody and harmony can be worked as well with our Indian classical music melody. But I don`t know anyone in that music. I hope that idea can be happen in future. I would love to collaborate with artists like Tigran Hamasyan [Armenian jazz pianist] Robert Glasper [American Jazz pianist and producer] T.L. Mazumdar [ Germany based Singer and composer] and many.

In recent times there has been lot of groundbreaking experimentation with the sitar. 

The Sitar is old musical instruments, but materials, number of the strings; sitar had many changes and improvements in the history. Still now some instruments maker made nice microphone for sitar, some maker tried with new materials etc. Of course it’s important to keep the old tradition, but same time all the instrument maker also should focus about possibility and experiences.

How important is improvisation and more experimentation in the sitar music?

About Improvising, it`s one of the special point for all the sitar players. We can be flexible on any kind of music because our Indian classical music is fully improvised music. It always keep changing.

Could you share with us the importance of Guru Shishya parampara in Indian classical music?

Teacher and Student,  Guru and Shishya, is different things, this  is same in Japan too. I think it`s same in any Asian country. We keep much deeper relationship with guru; also we learn not only music, like musical history, customs, behavior, and true musical training. Those things come out from guru shishya parampara. But that situation is getting change generation by generation now days. It`s difficult to say good or bad, we will see what is the changes in future.

It is often said the future of Indian classical music is facing a huge question mark in our country.  The popularity of this music has so plummeted downwards that only a handful of listeners attend these classical programs, with very few exceptions. Do you agree?

It`s difficult to make a answer, but yes, I agree with that many Indian young generation is getting far from classical music, and also many people say that music listener has been change a lot too. But personally I think, our Indian classical music should be more global. For example, there is many player from China, Japan and India in the western classical music, if Indian people think Indian classical music is only for Indian listener and Indian player, then Indian classical music will stay as just one of the world music. But if they think Indian classical music should be more world wide and international, that music will be flying to new music genre as Raga Music in many countries.

You word of advice for aspiring sitar players?

Our instrument Sitar is such a unique and beautiful instrument, you thinking you have chosen sitar? No, Rather sitar has chosen you.  We always keep strong mind to keep old and deep tradition, we always keep open mind for everything.

Tadao Ishihama Official website - http://www.tadao.in/


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