Kaushiki Chakrabarty could reproduce Hindustani classical vocal patterns at the age of two. Maestros visiting the ITC Sangeet Research Academy (SRA), where Kaushiki grew up, soon discovered a new game: they would hurl the most complex of patterns at her, using only the 'aa' vowel instead of pronouncing the notes, and wait for her to identify the notes and reproduce the patterns. This is something she could do instantly and consistently. It would not be an
overstatement to assert that Kaushiki was a child prodigy. However, unlike many prodigies who flicker but fail to flourish, Kaushiki kept her promise. At 12, she was a scholar at the ITC SRA, at 14, she was on a 50-concert tour in the US with her father and guru Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty, at 16, she took the world of music by storm with her first solo concert in Delhi and by her early twenties she was being hailed as the brightest young female vocalist of her generation. She is 31 now. Over the last decade, she has successfully obliterated the gender qualifier. Connoisseurs agree that Kaushiki is, quite simply, the best Hindustani vocalist of her generation today.
Kaushiki has performed at the prestigious Dover Lane Music Conference in Kolkata for nine years between 2000-2012. She has performed twice at the Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsava in Pune. She has performed multiple times at the Tansen Samaroh in Gwalior, at the Harbhallab Sangeet Sammelan in Jalandhar and at Saptak festival in Ahmedabad. No other vocalist of her generation has had the privilege of performing in every major Hindustani music festival in India.
Kaushiki began her training under her mother Chandana Chakrabarty. Subsequently, she learnt from the legendary Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghosh, before becoming a disciple of her father, vocal maestro Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty, under whom she continues to learn. Her taalim under her three gurus, especially her father, has ensured that she has equal command over the various vocal forms that fall under the umbrella of Hindustani music.
Her prowess as a khayal singer is well known, but she is adept at singing other ‘light classical’ genres like thumri, dadra, kajri, chaiti, bhajan etc. Whatever her chosen form, her singing is characterized by a fine balance of virtuosity, intellectual rigor and aesthetic sensibility. Her mature vistaars in khayal and her emotionally charged improvisations in thumris are as powerful as her supersonic taans across three and a half octaves. Though she is one of the foremost
representatives of the Patiala Gharana today – and of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s gayaki – she has analyzed every aspect of the gharana before internalizing it. Many aspects of the Patiala style are tailored for the male voice; Kaushiki has excluded these from her singing. This is not to say that her singing style is stereotypically feminine, with an overt emphasis on sweetness. She has carefully blended lilt and force to forge a gayaki that is distinctively her own.
Kaushiki’s versatility has enabled her to be part of several projects outside the traditional space of Hindustani music. She has sung for music director A.R.Rahman for the film Water and has shared album space with the likes of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Lata Mangeshkar in Jana Gana Mana, also produced by Rahman. Recently, Kaushiki has lent her voice to a number of film soundtracks like Chaplin, Chitrangada,Panch Adhyay , including for music director Shantanu Moitra. Her performance of an original song on the popular music programme MTV Coke Studio has won her many new fans across the globe.
Kaushiki has recorded many albums and has received several prestigious awards, including the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Purashkar (awarded by the Government of India) in 2012, the BBC award for outstanding achievement in 2005, and the GIMA award for her album ‘Yatra 2’ in 2012.
Reviews and comments
Indian vocal recordings tend to appeal to South Asian audiences more than Western ones. Maybe it’s the language barrier (although many Indians tell me they can usually understand very little of a vocal performance) or the heavy-going mannerisms that much of the vocal music utilises. However, Kaushiki (she seems to have dropped her surname Chakrabarty for this disc) is someone who breaks those barriers down in an instant. The daughter of the celebrated singer Ajoy Chakrabarty, Kaushiki won the Asia category of the BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music in 2005. This recording shows how deserved that award was.
Kaushiki has a wonderfully pure and focused voice that seems to stop time in the slow alap of the opening dhrupad in the evening ‘Raga Poorvi’. This is followed by a pair of more flamboyant khayals and then an alteration of South and North Indian vocal forms. The South Indian ‘Thillana’, with violin and clay pot, is fantastically playful; ‘Dadra’ is a romantic composition of her father’s with heartfelt sarangi playing, depicting the lovers Krishna and Radha during the Holi festival of colours, and the final ‘Bhajan’ is a stately prayer to the elephant-god Ganesh with violin, featuring her father on harmonium. This first disc – recorded at Sense’s studio in Gujarat – is particularly appealing for the range and variety of its shortish pieces and the diverse instrumentation.
The other two discs are from a live recording made at the Saptak Festival in January. Kaushiki gives a magisterial performance of ‘Raga Rageshri’, with a long, drawn-out musical architecture. After the short alap, the khayal is slow and sustained, although the pace increases towards the end. There are two ‘Bandish’ which include some extraordinary vocal displays. Often these can sound showy, or just silly, but Kaushiki manages to keep them integral to the internal energy of the performance. The closing ‘Thumri’ is relaxed and gorgeously lyrical: perfect for winding down.
Not surprisingly the applause at the end is tumultuous. - Simon Broughton
The soothing and potent voice of one of India’s most promising hopes is beautifully captured in this triple-CD released by the British-based Sense World Music label. The first part was recorded by the company in its purpose-built studios in North India; the two others are live takes recorded at this year’s Saptak Festival in Gujarat. Together, they reflect the astonishing maturity and range of an artist who, at only 26-years-old, has reached a remarkable height of musical prowess. This is thanks not only to her regular releases (this is her fourth so far), but also her total investment in live performances.
What further distinguishes Kaushiki is her ability to interpret the Raga and Tala of both the North and South India. Few artists can boast such a total command of these complex and varied repertoires. The young singer does not shirk such challenges and opens with one of the most rigid ragas in Indian classical music, the “Dhrupad”. “Double, triple and other multiplied rhythmic variations are a key feature of Dhrupad,” explains in the sleeve-notes the British musicologist John Ball. Kaushiki interprets them with gracious ease.
The Raga Bageshree that follows are composed by her father Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty, who has guided his daughter throughout her career. This 24-year-old complicity explains the ease with which Kaushiki tackles a raga that demands an utmost control of breathing, as the slow initial tempo gives way to a rich and lively climax. Her mellifluous voice tackles a rich assortment of Indian styles, from the lively “Tarana” style of the North to its southern counterpart called “Thillana”. The emotional dimension of this music is thrillingly captured by the singer who has hugely benefited from the guru-shishya system of teaching she has enjoyed from an earliest age. This, according to Ball, involves “the complete emotional, intellectual and spiritual surrender of the ardent shishya (trainee) to the guru.” When well executed, it reflects the full gamut of human emotion and a high degree of maturity from the vocalist. - Daniel Brown, July 2007