Niladri Kumar, Sitar/Zitar Artiste
“Classical music is an introvert-ish form of joy”
April 05, 2017

You are a master of the Sitar, and then you went on to invent the Zitar… Are you the same person and the artiste while playing these two instruments?

Firstly, I am not a master. I think of myself as a student of the Sitar and also of the Zitar, which is an electric Sitar. There are certain obvious similarities while playing the two instruments but then there are a few very different approaches to the music when it come to the Sitar and the Zitar.

What prompted the creation of the Zitar; has that process and the instrument itself been a liberating experience for you?

I don't think anyone really creates something out of nothing. There is always a basis for any new idea or creation and that is something which is the start or the germ of an idea to happen. What was probably more exhilarating for me was, when over a decade later, after the creation of the Zitar, I see so many musicians following the same principles under different dynamics and names. That, for me, is in some way liberating but not entirely since the work has just begun in my opinion.

Did re-imagining the instrument also change your own relationship with your music?

It’s true that the Zitar has changed my perception of music in a big way and hence my response to it but what is the bigger truth is that the Zitar is a result of various responses I received from different corners about music and how it is perceived by different people. The response to all that was in a way why the Zitar happened.

My own perception of music did alter for various things and as a matter of fact for certain and my belief in traditional things became even stronger. Change, I believe, should be the only constant in an ever-evolving journey as a musician. But the roots, I’m convinced, have to be firmly deep in some form of a traditional practice and value.

Change, I believe, should be the only constant in an ever-evolving journey as a musician. But the roots, I’m convinced, have to be firmly deep in some form of a traditional practice and value

Do you remember your first performance with the Zitar?

It was in the year 2002. My first experiments with the electric pick-up was on one of my father’s old favourite Sitars, and I remember playing a couple of pieces at a private concert in Mumbai. I do remember it quite fondly.

Why did you pick a fiery red as its colour?

I guess because I always loved the red of the Ferrari and I thought, if not the car, at least I could have a Zitar in that colour. An instrument in red is usually quite striking when it is under lights and you really cannot miss it. Plus, I wanted the Zitar to look radically different from the traditional Sitar.

In its very sound, the zitar has a very sensual appeal; is it meant to be that way?

No instrument has a sound of its own. It needs hands to be played on with. No hands have a sound of their own; they need a heart to be played with. No heart has a sound of its own; it needs a mind to be played with. And no mind is a mind unless you have a life journey to go with it. So for any instrument to have a certain sound appeal, it is actually a musician’s life-journey.

Yours then has been a journey that has two integral identities; a classical and a contemporary identity. How do these co-exist within you? Do you have to disengage with one identity to engage with another?

That’s a good question. The difference in a classical and a so-called contemporary idiom lies in the sound and the surrounding accompaniment to that sound and the approach towards it. Although both need to have soul, feeling and of course, skill, the result could resonate very differently for those listening to it. The funny part though is that, for a performer, it sometimes is like two sides of the same coin.

Sitar Maestro Niladri Kumar plays excerpts of 3 Ragas in 3 Time Signatures in 1 flow. Mian Ki Malhar - Rhythm Cycle 7 - (Ni)

Music, on the other hand, is like a vehicle, and if it is driven with the fuel of compassion, it will reach the best destination. Even if it does not reach the best destination, it does not harm anybody, intentionally or unintentionally.

But to be able to innovate and experiment, a strong foundation is key, right? Yours is the classical. Do you believe then that it is imperative to keep re-jigging the old to be able to grow and reach the music out to a larger audience?

I don't think it needs to be imperative. What it surely needs is a super strong traditional foundation with the vision and passion to try and be part of the ever- evolving envelope of younger audiences and their tastes and what relates or vibrates with them. Sometimes re-discovering the old is a great way to reach out to a larger audience since some of them are already in tune with those melodies or sounds.

Do you think of classical music as elitist and perhaps not inclusive of those who are not familiar with it?

There was a time not very long ago when classical or any form of music was not considered worthy enough for the higher class and a particular caste of people to practice and make a profession out of it. Today, a few people very conveniently bracket it as elitist or for the initiated, informed, et al. Why aren’t popular music buffs ever questioned about what is it that they relate too when they say that they love and listen to popular music? I wonder often what they hear in it that they don't hear in the more traditional forms of it. It's the lifestyle that is associated with the music that is more attractive and magnetic in a way for people to easily warm up to it. Classical music is an introvert-ish form of joy that you derive, experience. It might be difficult to dance to it unlike other forms but it surely it could make you dance from within.

Interviewed by Akhila Krishnamurthy

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its nice


June 16, 2017

wow! hadn't heard the instrument before this. Great write up!

Shashikala Raghuraman

May 02, 2017

I am really interested to hear the Zitar in your next show :) Looking forward. Best of luck


April 26, 2017

A very intriguing personality with the right attitude :) love the interview


April 26, 2017