Q&A with Niladri Kumar

Your father was taught sitar by Pandit Ravi Shankar. Would you say that the sitar is in your blood?

We have had a family tradition of sitar playing which is five generations long.  My great great grandfather with whom it started hailed from erstwhile East Bengal now Bangladesh. But I cannot say that sitar is in my genes since if it was not for my fathers perseverance and passion I would not have been possibly playing sitar.

How important is the audience in what you do? Do you play for yourself or for the audience?

Audience is as important as water is to fish. Musicians and performers breathe and live to be in front of a loving audience. I don’t play for myself nor do I play for an audience. I play what I know to the best ability I can just at that moment.

How many hours a day do you practice or play your instrument?

I am a bad example of practice that should be done on a regular basis. There are stories and legends about practice that I know of and I have never really experienced it first hand. I don’t have a fixed routine for anything I guess.

Do you have a ritual before you perform? How do you prepare to go on stage?

I guess the most basic ritual that I have is that I always take a shower before and after a performance. Different venues and different places makes my preparation different before I go on stage.

Vijay Ghate will play alongside you in South Africa. What is it like playing together?

Playing with him has always been great. We have known each other for a long time now and our interactions off stage also gets reflected on stage at times.

Have you ever had a show that was a disaster? What’s the worst or funniest thing that has happened in a performance?

I once travelled to USA for a tour with Ustad Zakir Hussain and it was a tour of 17 concerts over a period of a month. I landed and discovered that my sitar gourd or the reverberating chamber was totally cracked and I was in a mess. Somehow I had help in the form of some friends who managed to hold whatever was left of the gourd and stick it with super glue and gorilla tape. I Played a taped sitar for the whole tour.

Now thinking back of it makes me skip a heartbeat. It’s a moment I hope no musician has to face.

How many years have you been playing the sitar? And what other instruments do you play?

I have been playing since I was 4 years old.  I don’t play any other instrument.

How did you come up with the idea of the ‘zitar’?

I think I’ll write a book someday to answer this question since its difficult to answer it in a para and a few words. But nevertheless, It’s my journey as a musician and it’s a reflection of my passion. More details about the zitar have been written out on www.niladrikumar.com. You maybe able  to pull something from that story.

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