Famed for inventing a ‘zitar’, Niladri Kumar has a repertoire ranging from traditional, classical compositions on the sitar. Zitar is a combination of guitar and sitar that aims at targeting the younger generation in India and popularise Indian classical music amongst them. He will soon be releasing his new album Sur Yajna (Universal Music Publishing Group). An email conversation reveals some interesting facets of the artist:
Please tell us about your journey.
I started playing sitar at the age of four under the guidance of my father and guru Pandit Kartick Kumar. I had profound interest and passion for exploring our rich and vast heritage of Indian classical music, I spent numerous years of training to understand the diversity of gharana styles and mastering the technical skills which today, has helped me to create wonders with sitar.
How would you explain zitar for a layperson?
As a musician, my endeavours were always directed towards cultivating interest and respect for this traditional art form within the younger generation. Many youngsters today are greatly influenced by western music, I feel the inclination needs to be drifted to the vast musical heritage India has. Upon attaining exposure to this cultural wave, I attempted to relate to the likings of this generation. This aspiration to maintain a balance between tradition and modernity led to the invention of a truly dynamic instrument called the ‘Zitar. It’s a revolutionary instrument essentially an electric sitar. Its overdrive and rock distortion effects give it a resemblance to the electric guitar tones but the technique of playing it remains just as the sitar. Some of the Zitar licks famous in Bollywood have been: Bheegi bheegi in Gangster, Crazy kiya re in Dhoom, Desi boyz and Sun raha hai in Ashiqui 2.
Who and what have been your inspirations?
Too many to just name a few both in India as well as abroad. But if I have to name just one then it would have to be my father Pandit Kartick Kumar
Which have been your favourite concerts and share with us your experiences in other countries and with artists from other countries?
I would have to write a book to describe this question, but all concerts with Ustad Zakir Hussain on tour in India as well as abroad have been immensely memorable and fun.
What are your future plans?
My immediate plan is to release my new classical album Sur Yajna before I leave for the tour with Ustad Zakir Hussain’s masters of percussion.
Text by Ambica Gulati