Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan, both celebrated Indian classical musicians, are refusing to accept the under-40 Yuva music award of Sangeet Natak Akademi. The musicians are not happy with the fact that they are still being judged as young musicians after 25 years of recitals.
Awards are, of course, always a matter of discussion and differing opinions and the Sangeet Natak Akademi awards for 2017, which were announced recently, were no different. Sarod players Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan refused to accept the Bismillah Khan Yuva award, which is given every year to artists up to 40 years old, saying they had more years of experience, implying they were mainstream beyond their age and not greenhorns waiting to make their mark.
The Yuva awards are usually given to those “who have shown/demonstrated conspicuous talent in the fields of music.” This year’s awards for North Indian music were given to vocalists Aditya Khandve and Sawani Shende, tabla player Rimpa Siva and Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan. The latter refused to accept the awards with Ayaan saying, “After serving the world of music for over 25 years, and receiving many awards, we are very surprised at the members of the general council of the SNA at their thought of nominating us for this award at this stage of our lives, especially since we have been sharing the same concert platforms for over 15 years with them. It’s height of insensitivity. I wish they had taken our consent before making a public announcement. There should be some clarity on what makes a ‘yuva’ and what doesn’t.” His urbane elder brother Amaan shared that in the West, before nomination of awards, the awardee is informed and his consent taken.
Akademi chairman Shekhar Sen countered by asking,“How can we possibly ask each nominee beforehand? An award is announced, not given. It’s the right of the artist to refuse. For me all artists are blessed souls and are doing good work, not getting an award does not matter to an artist.”
Truly, the 72 members of the General Council selection committee have a tough task of choosing eight musicians from a list of over 800 selected nominees in both mainstream and youth categories. The board members include doyens like Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma, Vidwan Karaikudi Mani, Dr Yella Venkateshwara Rao, Vidushi Aruna Sairam, Pt Vishwamohan Bhatt, Pt Ajoy Chakravorty, Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, Dr Bombay Jayashri and Kalapini Komkali among others.
Perhaps, the esteemed panel needs to work on an alternative when an award is refused, like it has happened this year. A worthy artist has been denied an award, as there is no provision for encouraging another aspirant.
The North Indian music awardees for 2017 are Vidushi Lalith Rao (Agra gharana), joint awardees Dagarvani Dhrupad vocalists Pt Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha, Pt Yogesh Shamsi, Punjab gharana tabla and Pt Rajendra Prasanna, Banaras gharana flautist. Each of these artists is undoubtedly meritorious and has achieved distinction in his respective field. The relative youth of Pt Yogesh Shamsi, at 49 years, merits special mention. As the son of the erudite vocalist late Pt Dinkar Kaikini, Yogesh is an unusual musician. Despite his own rich musical legacy, he is today one of the torch bearers of the Punjab gharana, whose “khalifa” is none other than the incomparable Ustad Zakir Hussain Khan. With such a gurubhai, to still carve out a niche for himself in the world of tabla and to add to his repertoire of rare compositions from many great unknown repositories, is truly commendable. Pt Shamsi is rightly regarded as a musician’s musician. Said he, “I am extremely heartened to receive this award; I was not expecting it so soon in my life and did not think the committee would find me so deserving. I have always taken art for art’s sake, not for its rewards. I take this award as a satkar (felicitation) of the parampara (tradition) to which I belong, a parampara which my Ustad Allah Rakha Khan got from Punjab. It is a tribute to all my gurus; most importantly my father Pt Dinkar Kaikani, and my mother Smt Shashikala Kaikini, a great vocalist. My elder brother Rajesh and sister Aditi Upadhyay helped me so much. I can never forget how my brother used to help me notate the tabla bols in Devnagari script, which my guru taught me, that I was too young then to write myself. In fact, the interaction with my gurubhais and other percussionists from whom I learnt so much; the entire fraternity has contributed to my being felicitated. The guru shakti of generations of musicians in my lineage has blessed me; I shall try to keep this great tradition alive, the award is just one more stepping stone in this journey.”
This was the second year in a row with no awardee for sitar or sarod, (last year’s winners were violinist Kala Ramnath and veteran tabla player Pt Arvind Mulgaonkar).
The venue of the decision-making process was in Imphal. “We must get away from this big city obsession. Why should everything always be in Delhi or Mumbai? When we go to Imphal, in faraway Northeast, we meet the artists, watch their performances. There is interaction between artists and a cross-pollination of ideas which is useful,” said Sen.
One looks forward to watch each awardee perform when they are formally acknowledged at a ceremony, which usually takes place at Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Writer: Shailja Khanna