Experiments in good music wait for doers who want to break or reshape a mould. When Mumbai-based musician Madhur Padwal thought of playing the national anthem on ravanhatta, a folk music instrument from Rajasthan, he knew that he was attempting something that had been presented by stalwarts of Indian classical music more than 10 years ago.
In 2007, A R Rahman came up with ‘Jana Gana Mana’, a music project celebrating the national anthem. It offered a rare chance to take a fresh look at the national anthem in its existing mould as a work of music.
It would take anyone else more than just courage and music to venture into a similar zone. Padwal has made his own mark by taking a different path in the playing of the national anthem.
He has used 29 musical instruments to play the national anthem with musical sensitivity. These 29 instruments do not represent the same number of states (29 at the time of his experiment).
It is not easy for an ordinary man to bring together 29 music instruments for playing the national anthem — all by himself. Padwal has done it, all by himself, through his travels, and his collection of the musical instruments that belong to different regions and folk cultures thriving in India.
He has used the national anthem to integrate, assimilate, include and communicate with different sounds and strings. Then, through other projects, he is adopting and promoting folk music instruments and folk musicians.
For the national anthem, in his hand was the ravanhatta — a complex bowed instrument which has existed for centuries as one of the core sounds of Rajasthani folk music. He had been learning it after his interactions with artistes he met in Rajasthan.
The national anthem could have been played on the ravanhatta alone. But it deserved something more in sound. In 2017, Padwal started the work on playing it using several folk instruments which are now part of his precious collection.
He pulled out wind, stringed and percussion instruments, which would be played to India's most celebrated cover, covering the expanse of our nation's musical diversity, and its sound.
The naga horn, glockenspiel (from xylophone family), bihu dhol, khol, pena, jaltarang, flute, gogona, ektara and do tara, ka duitara, gopichand (single string), tumbi, ghatam, kanjira, dilruba, khamukh, bhapang, rivana, ravanhatta, khartal — they sang the national anthem for him, and he played and arranged them to compose his own take.
Padwal's familiarity with the guitar made him speak with the other musical instruments.
Not many musicians would value his musical achievement (initiative takes a back seat in a performance, quality and gig-driven music circuit). Bands make their own songs and sing their own journey. 'Vande Mataram' and 'Jana Gana Man' usually miss their creative radar.
Padwal's work has added an abundance of quality-driven engagement to the experience of picking unknown and lesser known musical instruments to joyously play the national anthem.
Padwal is serious both on initiative, thought and communication through the iconic work which unites us, and its tune.
It was recently that Padwal realised his version was suddenly going viral. “It was when I started getting notifications for tags on social networking sites that I realised my version was finally getting attention. Some sniped versions of it popped up on the mentions. I became concerned. I requested everyone to share the complete version," he says.
He has brought to us a soundscape that belongs to us but doesn't always reach us. He has created a musical relief, picking sounds from different states, giving some sounds a duet as the national anthem progresses.
On this 15 August, he would be sharing a new work, which possibly would include his experience of musical instruments from folk traditions outside India.
There is no reason to underrate Padwal's evident sincerity towards his developing skill, learning and collaborating.
Some unique aspects in Padwal's focused and continuing work in music: As a solo musician, he has taken up something new — to start from scratch and has dedicated it to the national anthem. Many would say that it was the easiest thing to do. But then, the easiest hasn't been done before using some of indigenous musical instruments — and not in using the national anthem, at least.
He indulges in the different rhythm patterns in the playing of the national anthem, on different instruments and not just one, says a lot about the joy he takes in making music. He knows the minutest pleasures in their make, metal and structure — it is evident in his music.
He is not keeping what he collects to himself. He is collaborating while traveling. This generosity enriches Folks-wagon, a project he is currently engaged with. Look up his music jamming on YouTube. Some of these are not formal gigs.
These are simple jamming with amateur musicians — who — until he lands at their place or town to make music — are mostly strangers to him.
He works his way out through strangers and towns and villages and people new to him — through either social networking or by reaching out to locals. In Bengal and tribal areas of Jharkhand, he has chanced upon certain interesting revelations regarding the musicians he met.
The music he learns and collects in his heart is worth the adventure, perhaps. “My travels in Rajasthan and the northeast have been the longest and more in number. It is here that I have picked a lot from other musicians.”
When you hear Padwal's playing of the stringed instruments in his take on the national anthem, look at how meticulously he has shrunk the physical distance between their place of origin in his playing.
I would keep an ear and eye on what he picks from his next adventurous travel to Kashmir in his continuing chapter of India's musical oneness.