Rakesh Joshi- an Indian Maestro in Manchester
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Rakesh Joshi is a maestro, harmonium player, keyboardist and singer originally from India. After completing his musical training, he moved to the UK in 1997, and has lived in Manchester for 22 years. In addition to his own musical performance, Rakesh also teaches harmonium, keyboard and North Indian vocal styles to a variety of pupils across the North West.
"Manchester I will say is a really beautiful city, which I love because it’s especially a music city. When I came there wasn’t such great opportunity, but a lot of opportunities are increasing and music is developing, expanding."
Rakesh’s musical life history
Rakesh came from a musical family- his parents were not full-time musicians, but his father played violin and harmonium and sang in the divine tradition, and his mother sang Indian poetry.
"I actually met so many scholars of languages, literatures and music, so my dad and mum were actually professors so I was brought up on a university campus for eight years- I met amazing legends of music, literature, dance, it just gave me an opportunity to understand the art of Indian music."
Rakesh completed his studies in India, and alongside gaining a Masters degree in commerce, he also achieved a musical diploma. During his musical education, he studied with Gurushis of Indian music, including Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty. Much of his musical career in India involved keyboard work, such as playing harmonium and synthesisers, in studio recordings and Guajarati film music recordings, as well as creating background scores for film.
"In India keyboard was my main instrument, and I really wanted to become a good Indian pianist, I still do- I play grand piano, I play raag on a grand piano."
When Rakesh came to Manchester, he met some talented vocalists singing in the North Indian style, and began to sing himself:
"I was inspired to pick up vocals and solo singing, started folk singing, Indian divine songs, and poetry singing. So a good 10 years I have practiced my solo singing, and I have started enjoying teaching vocals as well."
For the last 19 years, Rakesh has been harmonium, keyboard and North Indian vocal styles to students across Manchester.
"Teaching is such a great experience meeting different students and communities- not only Indian students but Western students are learning as well. And I will say teaching is a life-long learning experience whilst I’m doing this work, and actually I’m very passionate about teaching Indian music to my students."
"And I very strongly believe that any one can sing- I know someone might say “I’m a bathroom singer” or “I’m a dodgy singer”, but I think if someone has been a little trained, anyone can sing, any human can sing well, yes."
The purpose and motivations of Rakesh’s music-making
"I think I’m a very creative person and I always like to create something and give something to my students, and for myself and for the world. I believe I create something specific with the divinity message, you know- soulful music, happy music, meditative music."
These motivations to perform and teach music have led Rakesh to found Indian choirs in Manchester- the adult choir, Bharatiya Vrund Gaan, is the first Indian choir of its kind in the country, alongside its children’s choir, SHIVA.
"The reason I have given that name, SHIVA, is because of “ohm”… So the ohm sound is come from Shiva- ohm is universal, eternal, and is the generator of Indian music, because all the notation comes from the sound “ohm”."
An important element of Rakesh’s music making is his interest in combining the musical styles of Western classical music and Indian classical and folk music:
"I was interested in this since my childhood, I always liked to create one big Indian symphony- I will say, I would like to keep the authentic flavour, because then it is a special Indian orchestra- there are so many beautiful Western orchestras in the world, but it’s nice to keep an authentic flavour of India- the dream when I was, I think, 7 or 8, since then I’ve had an aspiration, to create an Indian symphony in the UK or wherever in the world."
Rakesh aims to eventually have a full ensemble that includes an orchestra, his choirs, and dancers in traditional Indian styles. He believes the combining of Indian and Western musical elements helps these traditions to continue.
"When you say “classical music”, I think youngsters especially were running away. But, then a couple of youngsters came forward and gave an absolutely amazing demonstration, and international musicians have given a flavour… So the trend of Indian vocal has developed so much in India now, I think it’s just amazing."
Indian music-making in Manchester
Rakesh feels that the audience reception of Indian music in Manchester varies considerably depending on the type of music being performed:
"For choir, we have received quite a good audience, but say when an Indian maestro is playing instrumental music, we saw a really good house-full in concert, but for vocal, when maestros come, I think we’ve found in Manchester there’s some low audiences. I don’t know why. But when there’s a Bollywood, that show is always sold out a couple of weeks before."
For Rakesh, one of the most notable differences in performing Indian music in Manchester has been the lack of access to other Indian musicians:
"Yeah, I miss some support of authentic Indian musicians. There are some in England, but I think in Manchester particularly… For example, if I need a pakhavaj player, which looks like a two-sided drum, there’s none in the UK. So I do miss good musicians’ support here in Manchester, some of the good singers as well."
Rakesh sees a future for Indian music in Manchester, both through teaching and through Indian-Western musical fusion. "Because the keyboard is my main instrument, a good 300- 400 students have learned from me. I can see them, they’re all around and doing practice, and it’s coming on very well. I think for more generations if you give a fusion concert to them, they really enjoy."
"I think my voice is heard somehow- that’s why they come to learn from me, to sing in my choir, to apply for it, but now I want to create this symphony, and I think some of the highly professional media and companies, or promoters, I would like them to hear me more."
Raag Yaman (see video)
Rakesh sings and performs raag Yaman on the harmonium- a raag is a melodic framework for improvisation within Indian classical music. Raag Yaman has an emotional association with the evening. Following the scales of Indian classical music, sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa, In raag Yaman the 4th note ma is sharpened and the 1st and 2nd notes sa and pa are omitted when the scale is sung in ascending, as Rakesh demonstrates in this video.
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Rakesh Joshi- an Indian Maestro in Manchester
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