At 75-years-old Mungal Patasar is determined as ever to pick his sitar into new musical frontiers.
Patasar hit the three-quarter century mark on February 13. The Avocat Village, Fyzabad-born legendary fusion master says, however, his mind and body feel a fraction of that age. He revealed his days are mostly spent in isolation, practising his instrument and writing new music.
“By the grace of God everything is good. I still feel like I eh cross 50 yet. And ah serious about that. I still doing everything like before, ah running. exercising, practising six hours a day and writing new music,” a hale-sounding Patasar said during a phone call with the Kitcharee on Thursday.
For more than four decades the gifted sitarist has taken his unique East-meets-West Indian sound all over the planet. The former Mastana Bahar winner (1978) has played to mammoth appreciative crowds in Denmark, Switzerland and France. Still, he believes there is a new potentially receptive audience literally being birthed every day.
“I think the frontier keeps growing as children are being born every day. To catch the younger people, to have them appreciate your music, is what you have to do. I think I’m doing that right now by encouraging younger people to come into the group, that will capture that frontier. But it will take time. Those seven- and ten-year-olds today when they reach 15 the music will be in them. So, the next frontier is never ending,” Patasar said.
Basking in sweet musical solitude
Patasar, who was inspired to pick up the sitar after seeing Indian virtuoso Ravi Shankar play, said he is amused by artistes the world over lamenting over the lack of live audiences due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The veteran music man, who received the Praya Sangeet Sangiti Gold Medal while completing his Master’s degree in Allahabad, India says while he appreciates the energy an artiste can derive from live performance, he doesn’t believe it’s a necessary element to spark musical creativity.
“I have another spin on that,” he started rather philosophically.
“At my age you get to realise the urge to play for an audience is not a necessary fact to spur your creativity. In fact, I am enjoying the solitude and the kind of music that coming out of me I’ve never done before,” he continued.
The former public health inspector said the additional downtime has also encouraged him to pick up a whole new instrument.
“Now I’m on the keyboard. With the keyboard you get a better picture of where you going with the music. Previously my music was based on modal scales and now I’m experimenting with chord progression, but still not getting away from the modal scales completely. God willing, you will hear that new music when we start to record,” he said.
While he may not necessarily miss the stage, Patasar was equally quick to admit that his most memorable moments in music all occurred under its glaring spotlight.
From a five-minute standing ovation in Switzerland to a near escape from serious injury in the south of France, Patasar and his band Pantar have seen and lived some truly life changing experiences.
“The first standout moment is when we appeared in Switzerland. It is one of the places where the audience are connoisseurs and when an audience like that give you a standing ovation lasting more than five minutes….
“Then imagine my band play at Roskilde in Denmark, a rock festival. Rain was thundering down and all the rubber boots in Denmark was sold out. Imagine 90,000 people coming together on a field to see you play. Their reaction was nothing short of amazing. They didn’t want us to leave the stage and when the emcee went on to explain that there were other bands they pelt her with toilet paper,” he recalled with amusement.
The quick action of a stage hand in Montpellier, France, not only gifted him an unforgettable moment but also may have just saved his life, Patasar said.
“It was a storm and we on stage in the south of France. They were telling me get off the stage, but I couldn’t understand and a man just run on and put his hand around my head and pulled me aside. Next thing lights come crashing down right where I was standing. It was a hair-raising experience,” he recalled.
The epitome of racial integration
Patasar believes the universal love his band receives is a testament to their all-inclusive nature. Everyone is respected, valued and has a say in the direction of the music,” he said.
“If you know the composition of meh band it is the epitome of racial, religious, ethnic and musical integration. We didn’t have any barriers. The composers in the band had a different style of composing and that is what created Pantar. We get old playing music. The only thing that will stop us from getting together if one of us pass away,” he said rather seriously.
Patasar said openness to integration is at the very core of his musical DNA. He recalled his amazement at being rejected by East Indian music aficionados when he first started, while being openly embraced by “black Trinidad”.
“Indian people generally and up to today, could not have embraced the fusion that came out of me because it did not fit into any of the genres they appreciate: not chutney, Bollywood film songs or bhajans.
“They couldn’t identify with it. I empathise with that. My own brothers and sisters were a part of those that could not appreciate my music. They showed appreciation for me playing music, but they couldn’t truly appreciate music. I remember I gave my brother some of my CDs. I gone back a month later and the CDs still in plastic. Next time I go back it gone, yuh know he give it away. They just weren’t even interested in listening,” he said in a matter of fact tone.
Patasar said he takes great pride in knowing his music is devoid of pretense. He says he genuinely makes the music he wants to hear and share without identifying a predetermined market.
“In other words when I say it (his music) had no pretense I mean I wasn’t catering for an audience. Yuh see a Machel Montano, who I respect very much, he caters for an audience, for a group of people that want to wine. That was never our goal, our goal was for people to appreciate something we want to share,” he concluded with great conviction.