(As published in India Currents)
Smita Nagdev was four when she adopted a wooden frame box as a sitar and imitated playing one. When the late Vasudevrao Ashtawale, a pioneering sitar player from the Gwalior Gharana, chanced upon the toddler twiddling with the imaginary strings, he took her under his wings. From these humble beginnings in Bhopal, India, Smita’s upcoming debut performances mark a major milestone in a soaring trajectory.
Learning in the guru-shishya (student) parampara, a totally immersive style of learning where the student becomes a part of the guru’s family, Smita’s formative years were spent watching her guru do his meditative practice/riyaz, and breathlessly listening to great artistes work out intricate musical patterns; in between her own lessons and shishya duties.
“Music has a spiritual connection to me, and I believe that it paves a path to self-realization,” says Nagdev.After Ashtawale’s death, Nagdev approached Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, the sarod maestro of the same gharana as her guru, to accept her as his student. She continues to be his student to this day.
Nagdev’s work is deeply nuanced and heartfelt. She seeks to continuously reaffirm the awakening quality of music, in her personal musical journey as well as through social causes. She is currently working with Norway’s famous blues guitarist, Aw Becaye, and a social service agency to put together a concert road trip to help victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy (disastrous 1984 chemical gas leak). Her U.S. debut should be the start of a long-term relationship with audiences here.
May 21, 7 p.m. The Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco. Free with museum admission. www.asianart.org.
May 24, 7 p.m. with New Directions. Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, San Francisco. $20 advance; $25 at door. Tickets: (800) 838-3006.www.fortmason.org.