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In Conversation With Mahesh Kale

Ranjani Saigal

Mahesh is a young, budding and talented vocalist of Indian Classical of the new generation. He has also been trained in various faculties of semi-classical music including Thumri, Tappa, Bhajan, Bhavgeet, Natyageet, etc. Having learnt under the renowned guru Padmashree Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki, who is well known to have learnt several gharanas (schools of music), listening to Mahesh's performances one sees a very pleasant blend of the various gharanas. Endowed with a rich resonant voice, Mahesh's performances are marked by an excellent command over both the rhythm and the melody.

He has traveled with his Guru extensively all over India giving vocal support in numerous concerts. Some of the prestigious ones include Sawai Gandharva Mahotsav (Pune), Malhar Utsav (Mumbai), Bharat Bhavan (Bhopal), Tansen Music Festival (Gwalior), Golden Temple (Amritsar), Jaipur Music Festival (Jaipur), Spic Macay National Convention, Youth Festival (Bangalore), etc.

 Mahesh has given numerous solo concerts in India and abroad in places like Pune, Mumbai, Goa, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Indore, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Chicago, Santa Barbara, Portland, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Tuscon, Montecito, etc. He has appeared on television and radio on many occasions. These include the Spirit of National Integrity Concert, Gangadeep, Jeevan Gane, Bhakti Bhav, etc. He also had the privilege to work with eminent personalities like Prabhaka Karekar, Suresh Wadkar, Shridhar Phadke, Anand Modak, Upendra Bhat, etc. He also teaches vocal music and conducts Lecture and Demonstration seminars for music lovers and aspirants.

He is currently pursuing his Masters at Santa Clara University in California, USA. Mahesh is emerging with a lot of promise on the scene of Indian Music. His relentless pursuit and zest shall take him to further heights in the years to come.

 You are a young man pursuing a degree in engineering management. What role does music play in your life?

Music is an essential part of my life. I was fairly skilled in math and science in high school. When that happens, parents in India naturally force you to get degrees in Engineering.  One cannot upset one’s parents and thus I continue to get my degrees. Music is still central to my life.

In today’s world when pop and Bollywood music is taking over the world, it is not common to see interest in classical music among the younger generation. How did you get interested?

My mother is an Indian classical vocalist, who has completed her Masters in music under the guidance of Veena Sahasrabudhe. She used to teach music at home and I would be sitting with her. I think that was the beginning of my interest. When I was six I started taking formal lessons. Once my voice broke, it was necessary for me to find a male teacher and so I started learning music under the guidance of Purushottam Gangurde (disciple of Pandit Yashwantbua Joshi).

 Later I had the honor of meeting Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki, doyen of the Agra-Jaipur Gharana. Fortuitously, despite my young age he agreed to take me as a shishya. That was a turning point in my musical career. I received training under the traditional Gurukul system (Guru-Shishya parampara) for about 8 years. Currently I am receiving vocal training under the able guidance of the illustrious Shounak Abhisheki (son of Pandit Jitendta Abhisheki) for more than 4 years.

You were probably studying engineering while you were receiving training from Panditji. How did you manage your time?

I used to go early morning around 5:30 am to Panditji’s house for first Riyaz. In between classes I found times to learn from Guruji. During my engineering days,  music and school dominated my life.  I was lucky that college, home and Panditji’s house were within reasonable distance.

Your Guru arguably was the most successful performer in the Hindustani classical music scene. Could you describe the experience of learning from him?

 The word “Rishi Tulya” has often been associated with Panditji and I think he fits that title in every sense. He was like a Rishi. He supported himself via performances and did not charge a penny for tuition. He was very generous with his teachings. He would teach the best of pieces to all his students. He never held anything back. Riyaz was central to his life. When we traveled we always took music books with us. We were constantly learning. Sometimes we would home late in the night, but Panditji’s wife would feed us dinner and we would do an hour or two of Riyaz before we went to sleep.  His contributions to music are phenomenal.

You now are in the United States doing your graduate studies. How do you manage to do your Riyaz?

 I have been very fortunate that my roommates have allowed me to continue my practice. My South Indian roommate taught me a great deal about Carnatic music. The greater understanding has led me to bring greater appreciation to Carnatic music. My Greek roommate gave me some exposure to his music. I think this trip to the United States has broadened my outlook. I do go to India every year for nearly a month and I learn music while I am there.

You have performed a lot in the United States and India. How do you find the audience in the States?

When I perform for non-Indian audiences I am always amazed at their openness. I am not sure if I would be so open to their music. Amongst Indian audiences in the states one finds great connoisseurs and supporters of music and musicians I performed at the Atlanta Marathi Convention and many people who heard me were so kind to invite me to different places.  Gopi Bala is one such supporter. He heard me once and was kind enough to invite me to be a singer for the MahaKumbhabhishekam.

How do you plan to balance engineering and music in the future?

I went into Digital Media engineering with the hope of recreating sounds of instruments like Sarangi and Ishraj . These are very difficult instruments and it is rare to find people playing these instruments. I think the sounds are so beautiful. As time goes on, I seem to be concentrating more on music than engineering.  My wife is also a digital media engineer.  She is convinced that I will quit and pursue music fulltime. I think I may let her work on the electronic recreation while I give her the musicians input. So I guess at this point in time I am not sure which way I will go.

Do think electronic instruments like the electronic Tanpura can recreate sounds of a real Tanpura?

 Electronic Tanpura has come a long way. Even though it cannot substitute a real one, I think it is very helpful especially for riyaz. I remember once I needed to practice and my roommates were busy studying. So I took my electronic Tanpura to the bathroom, shut the door and practiced.  While an electronic Ishraj may never replace a real one, it may help keep alive the sounds from that instrument that may die without competent players.

 What goals have you set for your musical career?

I would love to have a school in my Guru’s name to teach music. He was a great believer in bringing music to as many people as possible. If I live in the US I would like to do for vocal music what Pandit Ravi Shankar has done for Sitar and Ustad Alla Rakha Khan Saheb has done for Sarod.   I know these are big dreams but I think if God wills it, we can make it happen.

 Thank you for your time and best wishes for your future.

 Thank you.


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