I go by my inner calling: Ujwal Nagar

by Shilpa Raina
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Growing up in an environment where every nook and corner of the house bathed in the sound of music and dinner conversation steered around ‘taals’ and ‘raags’, it would have been difficult for Ujwal Nagar to stay away from the overwhelming influence of music. So even if, the Hindustani classical vocalist admits “he initially didn’t have any inclination”, it was his mother, Urmila Nagar, a renowned Kathak and Hindustani music exponent, who sat with him and taught him a tarana in raag todi, when he was 11. “Until then, I only used to sing Saraswati Vandana. So this was my first formal composition in classical music,” he recollects.
While he was receiving initial training under his mother, she also pushed him to learn an instrument, in this case, tabla, because his elder brother was practicing to master the craft. This twin introduction into the world of music gave him a wide playground to groom himself, until, one day, his mother heard him practice his raags and she realised that it was the opportune time to initiate him into formal training. Hence, he received intensive training from late Ustad Bashir Ahmad Khan of Sikar. At the age of 15, he gave him first stage performance and the recipient of Sahitya Kala Parishad and Central Government scholarships candidly admits that “he was nervous”. But that performance gave him a valuable lesson that is true for every performer who goes solo on stage. “The fact that in a solo performance you are all alone; you are the only one who is in the limelight. All eyes are on you and what the audience wants to see is how you succeed in giving the ditty a twist with your imagination. Sab aap ki imagination ke uppar hai.”. He is also taking guidance from pandit Sriram Umdekar and pandit Somnath Mardur.
Unlike popular, mainstream Bollywood or pop singers who catch the fancy of the nation by delivering just one hit, the mellifluous Hindustani Classical vocalists find fame and recognition within a niche but discerning audience. However, luck had some other plans for Ujwal as his aptitude for experimentation and not limiting himself to one universe, gave him the courage to take up an assignment that catapulted him to fame. It so happened that while he as in college, he used to participate actively in inter-college musical competitions and slowly built a network around him of like-minded people.  So, when one day he was invited over by guitarist Abhishek Mathur to hear the recordings of their new song, he just went over without any agenda on the mind. “I knew Abhishek because we were part of a common musical group. So, when he asked me to join him, I was curious as well as apprehensive. I really had no clue about band scenario at that point in time,” admits Ujwal.
“I wasn’t even thinking of joining them,” he says and adds that when he heard the song and at the end of the song there was scope for adding a sargam in raag jog. So, when he did that and that too with an improvisation, he loved the final composition. This is how he became the core member and lead Hindustani classical vocalist of the popular fusion band, Advaita. Elaborating on this association, he says, “This is a different kind of space. I started discovering myself in a new light because when you are working in a group, you are not just yourself, you are part of a collective and have to imagine yourself in that context and sing.”
As he successfully straddles between the two worlds — Classical music and fusion band, he admits that the group members not only share mutual respect and understanding for each other but also have a genuine admiration for his music sensibilities. “They don’t see Hindustani Classical music as ornamentation in our music, they, including me, are keen on portraying real flavours of classical music,” he says.
Elaborating on the balancing act, he admits that there have been times when his solo performances have clashed with band’s public performance, but he is quick to add that “the (band) members understand his priorities and have given him space and freedom to choose his assignments. “I don’t look at financial gains. I completely go by my inner calling. This is why I have realised the need to prioritise. Not every day you get a solo performance show in classical music, so if something along comes my way, I take it up. And, the best part is that my band members understand this.”
“Advaita is very much a part of me. It is because of this band that people have started noticing me and also classical music. It feels great to be part of a band that represents the current times,” he concludes.

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