Uniting Arts through Hearts

Catching up with Niladri Kumar

This May, world renowned sitar player, and stalwart of Indian music, Niladri Kumar, will kick off his UK tour – performing for the first time ever in Liverpool at The Tung Auditorium on May 10th alongside Yashwant Vaishnav.

With an impressive, multi-decade spanning career, Serenade Magazine sat down with Niladri, to discover more about his artistry and how it came about, and to see what audiences can expect from his performance this May. Excerpts of the conversation follow…

I come from a family of traditional sitar players, and I am the fifth generation in line, so even before I realised my calling or my interests, I was already learning to play the sitar from the age of 4 years old and by the time I was 6 I played my first concert.”

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Niladri Kumar, aged 4

Widely acknowledged as India’s foremost sitar player, Kumar’s musical prowess spans generations, rooted in a profound understanding of Indian Classical Music. Breaking the boundaries of what audiences have come to expect of Indian arts, his groundbreaking innovation, the “zitar” – a fusion of electric guitar and sitar – creates a unique, never-before-heard rock-guitar sound.

Any musician of any era wanting to find their voice will have to push the so-called defined boundaries of those times and hence would have been called modern and contemporary. Eventually, that could become the defining style or tradition for the following eras. We all know that history, many times, does repeat and sometimes almost replicates. […] The Zitar is essentially an electric Sitar with no element of the guitar except that it has a humbucker pickup like the electric guitar. So, it’s neither a hybrid nor a combination of aspects of any other instrument; instead, it is more like the sitar but electric.”

Niladri Kumar, with his invention, the Zitar

Having collaborated with legends like Zakir Hussain and John McLaughlin, his journey has left an indelible mark on the world of music. In 2011, Kumar released a collaborative album with Mercury Prize winner Talvin Singh, described as “a stylish and varied affair”, and has appeared on LPs by British Asian pioneers Nitin Sawhney and Badmarsh & Shri. 

Growing up in Mumbai, you cannot help but be exposed to various sounds, genres, and trends. Although my upbringing at home was entirely focused on Indian classical music and sitar and its stories, the moment you stepped out of home, you were exposed to everything else. Things get to you consciously and often subconsciously, manifesting later in life in your work.”

Niladri teaching students

And on the importance of nurturing younger talent…

The young tabla player Yashwant, travelling with me on this tour, is among India’s many incredible young, talented tabla players today. They have been prodigious and hopefully will mature into spreading their fragrance through their art.

Niladri Kumar and Yashwant Vaishnav play one night only on Friday, 10th May at Liverpool’s Tung Auditorium. Tickets can be booked here.

To read the full Niladri Kumar interview with Serenade Magazine – click here!



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