An exposure to a multitude of influences played a vital role in building Anirudh Varma’s—a pianist, composer and producer from Delhi—unique style of music. Experimenting with classical ragas through contemporary perspectives, he founded The Anirudh Varma Collective in pursuit of combining diverse musical sensibilities. In this edition of Soundscape, we speak to Varma, who will perform with the Collective at the Mahindra Kabira Festival today, about his musical journey and the group’s future plans. Excerpts...
What has inspired your musical style?
Even though I started my musical journey as a student of Western classical music with the keyboard, in hindsight, I realise that it was almost as though I was meant to explore Indian classical music. My great-great-grandfather, Major Ranjit Singh, founded the Prayag Sangeet Samiti in Allahabad. My paternal grandfather, late SN Varma, though a lawyer by profession, was also a classical musician. Over time, I was drawn towards Indian classical music for its strong emotional quality. This helped me explore my own hybrid way of playing the piano, and looking at compositions.
How did the Collective come into being?
It began as an academic research paper in 2016 when I was pursuing my Master’s in Performance Studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi. I was working on the demo of my full-length album around the same time. I felt like I wanted to translate the research paper into a performance-based project, and explore Indian classical music from a contemporary lens yet present it in a rooted format. I have always loved the idea of collaborations. When this project began, I was looking for artists who were willing to push themselves outside their comfort zone, were open-minded yet grounded within their own genres and art forms too.
Take us through the process of working on Chayanat.
Our second single Chayanat has been composed and written by the legendary Pandit Kumar Gandharva. We invited his grandson, Pandit Bhuvanesh Komkali, to present a reimagined version of the composition. We began working on this track about two years ago. In the composition, the naayika [heroine] is taunting her lover for having found his contentment elsewhere, yet she maintains her emotional equilibrium.
This bandish in Chayanat is the embodiment of feeling one’s emotions to the fullest, while quietly letting them go. We decided to keep a subtle yet effective arrangement, wherein the essence of the raga and bandish are not lost yet there’s a new perspective to it.
What are you working on next?
Currently, we’re working on completing our second album—due in February 2022. We plan to release our next single Bihag in the first week of December.
‘Chanayat’ by The Anirudh Varma Collective is available on all major streaming platforms(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)