« For the past 20 years, Hindustani music, North Indian classical music, has been part of my daily life, nurturing my reflection on silence, enriching the depth of my expression, teaching me the nuances of language and healing my pain. A modal music par excellence, it unfolds in space like the ocean: behind its horizontal and infinite appearance, it hides a deep and unfathomable verticality.
For the past 20 years, I have been drawing on the musical works of Hariprasad Chaurasia, Bismillah Khan, N. Rajam, Lata Mangeshkar, Salamat and Nazakat Ali Khan, and so many other geniuses of the Hindustani tradition, for endless inspiration, peaceful spirituality and beneficial respite.
Music is not universal. Each people invent its own language. The language of music is the intimate expression of the spirit of a community of human beings.
Hindustani music maintains a deep, conscious link with spirituality and nature. With spirituality, because it takes roots in the religious music played in temples thousands of years ago to pay tribute to the divine. And with nature, because each raga (melodic scale, mode, colour and path) corresponds to a particular time of day, position of the sun or moon in the sky, season and so on.
To approach the classical music of North Indian, I considered that I had to study its language and the system that comprises it (grammar, vocabulary, rules) but also I wanted to try to feel its spirit through its landscapes (forms, lights, textures and climates) and experience it physically, in my body, as well as through its narratives (historical, imaginary or mythological) and its heirs and creators. I had to learn, to travel and to meet.
Learning. Over the past 4 years, I spent a lot of time discovering Indian literature and cinema, studying the history of the sub-continent and deepening my knowledge of Indian music. Several musicians from the Hindustani tradition have fed my knowledge of dhrupad and khayal singing, tabla and bansuri, as I discovered them, at the whim of encounters along the years. In January 2023, I was lucky enough to spend a month studying with Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, the greatest flutist and master of bansuri and my gateway to Hindustani music and its most sublime expression.
Travelling. I travelled alone in North India for several months, crossing several thousand kilometres by sleeper train, country bus, auto rickshaw, on foot or by bicycle. In December 2021, in the middle of the Covid pandemic and the ensuing draconian restrictions, I went from Delhi to Mumbai via Jaipur, with streets sometimes deserted. The following year, I set off again to cross India from east to west, travelling up the Ganges Valley from Calcutta, the fallen cultural capital, to Lucknow, the city of the past splendour of Indian Islam, via Benares, the sacred city of Hinduism, and Gwalior, the capital of one of the great schools of classical music, before returning to Mumbai, India’s most populous and cosmopolitan megalopolis. In August 2023, I was back again exploring rural India in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Meeting. Musicians, people, flavours, languages, colours, sounds, imagination, odours, landscapes, light.
During my travels I was overcome by a profound sense of peace. It wasn’t that I felt at home there, but rather it was as if I’d always been there. Everything that was surprising, different, or even surreal at times, seemed natural and self-evident. The landscapes and encounters I experienced on these journeys also had a profound effect on me, bringing me a new, luminous and deep inner peace.
In my search for the spirit of Indian music, I found answers to my questions as a musician, as a woman and as a human being. I sensed the extent to which, in contemplation and abandonment to the flow of reality, time can embrace eternity.
I wrote this impressionist repertoire using the language of Indian classical music, while maintaining a personal and contemporary approach. A repertoire for today, a music that is both intimate and personal, based on tangible sensations and at the same time anchored in the traditional source by an explicit link. The instrumentation is unique, reflecting both the contemporary aesthetic and the strong link with the source: piano, drums, sarod, pakhavaj, tanpura and myself on flute and vocals.
In Hindustani music, a piece of music that develops into a raga lasts about an hour (depending of course on the evening or the constraints). The whole concert takes place with the tanpura as accompaniment, playing a bourdon that never changes note, creating a trance, a completely hypnotic sensation (Alice Coltrane, among others, made extensive use of this instrument in her work after her conversion to Hinduism). In the West, where modal music is rare, nobody would risk playing the same tonic note for a complete hour of a concert, because the challenge is so immense.
How can you renew a musical discourse by keeping a single bourdon and an unchanged tonic for an hour or more? Yet I wanted to take up this challenge and write the entire repertoire based on a single tonic. It’s a constraint I chose, but it’s also linked to the choice of the sarod, a string instrument from the Hindustani tradition that can play all modes but only from a single tonic.
The sarod, like many other instruments in the Hindustani tradition, was born of the meeting of Hindu and Muslim civilisations at the time of the Mughal invasions of India. Neither the sarod nor the tabla (from the Arabic tabla meaning « small drum ») existed in India before the invasions. The Mughal Empire in India was a very special empire in that it was a melting pot. To put it simply, the Mongols, following in the footsteps of Genghis Khan, invaded Baghdad in 1258, sampled/discovered the refinement of the Arab and Persian palaces of the Abbasid Khalifa, converted to Islam (the first notable conversions took place in 1295) and then invaded India in 1526. In India they founded the Mughal Empire. Before their invasion, music in India was reserved exclusively for religious purposes and was not played outside of temples. But as the palaces of Muslim emperors were built, court music began to emerge. It was at this time that new instruments emerged from encounters between musicians from India with their counterparts from Iraq, Syria and Iran. The sarod is one of the emblematic instruments of this contact and embodies the richness of this cross-pollination.
The Landscapes of Eternity repertoire is a fresco of different landscapes at different times of the day, each with its own particular vibrancy, telling the story of my journey through the meanders of Hindustani music and its sensory and imaginary landscapes. »
Naïssam Jalal ( Translated into English by Samuel Young)
Production : Les Couleurs du Son – Tour’n’sol prod / Coproduction : Fondation Royaumont et Points communs – nouvelle scène nationale de Cergy-Pontoise / Val d’Oise