13 Questions

13 Questions with Milap’s Alok Nayak

“I firmly believe Indian music, and Indian arts more widely, are universal – anyone can enjoy them.”

There are many ways of responding to the enforced limitations of a lockdown. We can cocoon ourselves, we can grow frustrated, we could learn new skills or we can just try to get through the days.

We are going through difficult times and there is no right answer as to how we should be coping or spending our time. But one of the most inspiring things I have seen lately is the way that some artists have chosen to respond to these restrictions, by using the time to create, to engage and to continue being artists.

Milap and it’s roll call of musicians and artists are one such shining example, arranging a run of online gigs, studio recordings and other creative endeavors.

To celebrate their work, we spoke to Milap’s Artistic director, Alok Nayak and asked him 13 questions.

Read on to find out more about being adventurous, mixing modernity with tradition and the parable of the man in the flood.

1. What is Milap doing right now during lockdown and how is that working out?

Alok Nayak: “Since March 2020, Milap has been creating and sharing a lot of interesting content online, mostly on our YouTube channel and Facebook page. This has included our iconic Music for the Mind and Soul concert series, currently produced as exclusive studio recordings.

“These concerts, just like they are live, and in-person, are designed to help people escape from the daily stresses and troubles of everyday life with some of the best artists of Indian classical music. We’ve also been able to share instruments and styles we normally can’t, and you can see on our YouTube playlist what we’ve been working on.

“Apart from that, we moved our regular weekly training sessions (for all ages, all backgrounds) online, and started some fun ‘Try It Out’ sessions in singing and dance. Lockdown in 2020 started with the idea of keeping Indian arts alive and keeping our audiences and participants happy and inspired; however, as time went by, we shifted our focus to permanently moving a lot of our work online, and we hope they will always continue in addition to live events and sessions.

Milap has recorded some unique concerts and albums over the years, and music videos too, with our band Tarang. Lockdown has given us the chance to work on publishing and distributing more, and we’ll be sharing more music online in the coming years.

“So far, audiences have appreciated what we have shared, because lockdown has given us the chance to collaborate and experiment. One highlight was the ensemble music video The Thillana which brought together India’s top artists in a special South Indian composition. We have settled on a pattern of performance series’, recordings and online festivals, and enjoyed sharing a Diwali series and our first Milap’s 12 days of Christmas.

We’ve had a lot of encouragement from our viewers and listeners, and we’ll definitely keep doing this in the future.”

2. How have you personally been coping with the lockdown situation?

AN: “It has been one of the most challenging times of our lives. I’m grateful that our family has put 2020 behind us, and we look forward to a better 2021, but we have seen hard times all around us and had our share of ups and downs.

“The pandemic and lockdown coincided with the imminent arrival of our Second child, born in October. Lockdown featured a toddler, pregnancy, a new baby together with the challenge of keeping Indian arts alive and Milap thriving. We have had some of the most memorable and happy times during lockdown, and innumerable good and bad experiences we will always treasure.”

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3. What inspires you to produce music?

AN: “I always start with a blank page, and think of what the most daring, adventurous and challenging idea might be we could pull off. We have a team of composers and creators who work together, and we try to challenge each other all the time.

“Personally, I am also inspired by people and places, by ideas and politics and am driven by the possibility of pushing boundaries in a deep-rooted, fantastic tradition. Normally, Indian classical music is improvised and driven by teachings and concepts handed down over generations. Compositions are shared and adapted but generally traditions are preserved.

“My vision is to produce music which preserves and disrupts at the same time, because it can demonstrate the amazing nature of our genre. It is both fixed and free, and has survived centuries of historical and geographical change. I want to show the world that Indian Classical Music can move, take root, adapt and grow, and it can be inspired by the people, places and history of where it moves.

“One of these ideas is encapsulated in the work of our ensembles. Milap founded a choir, orchestra and a band in England (Samyo, Sabrang, Tarang) which are amazing creative outlets for new Indian music.

“We also coined the term ‘Great British Gharana’, which describes our belief in a new approach and style of Indian classical music which is distinctive and unique to this country. The 2017 Album Tarang is a good example of the type of music I like to create, and it featured the work of composer-producer Girishh Gopalakrishnan, was co-produced with Archana Shastri, and a team of wonderful Tarang artists.

“We have loads of ideas for 2021 and 2022, and we hope people find our music unexpected, surprising and challenging.”

4. Recommend one band or album that you think we should check out

AN: “Our 2017 album Undone, by Tarang (of course!)”

5. When did you last make yourself do something you didn’t want to?

AN: “Last week! Every so often there is a task, conversation or challenge that (between you and me) I would rather not take on. But that’s life with running an organisation, and especially during tough times.”

6. What’s your guilty listening pleasure?

AN: “90s pop music, Bollywood love songs.”

7. Can you cook?

AN: “Yes.”

8. What words of warning would you give your younger self?

AN: “Hopefully I would inspire rather than warn my younger self! I would encourage him to try, fail, learn and try again, and to be brave, adventurous and bold. I would also share the parable of the man in the flood and warn myself to recognise life as a series of opportunities – you either take them or miss the boat.

“The parable of the man in the flood –

A man is caught in a flood and goes to his roof to wait it out. As the flood waters rose, his neighbours told him, ‘You have to leave, the flood is going to wash everything away.’ Calmly, the man replied, ‘It’s not a problem, God will save me.’

As the waters continued to rise to the second floor of the man’s house, a boat came by with rescuers. They said, ‘Quickly, get in, the flood is going to wash everything away.’

Again the man replied, ‘It’s not a problem, God will save me.’

As the flood worsened, the man was forced to climb onto the roof of his home. A helicopter came, threw down a ladder and the rescuers said, ‘Climb up. The flood is about to wash everything away.’

One more time, the man said, ‘It’s not a problem, God will save me.’

Finally, the flood washed everything away, and the man drowned. When he reached heaven, he saw God. The first thing he asked was, ‘Lord, I was so certain you would save me, what happened?’

Very perplexed, God said to the man, ‘I just don’t know, I sent neighbors, a boat and a helicopter to save you.'”

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9. How would you describe yourself?

AN: “I thought I would be good at describing myself, but it’s quite difficult! I am full of contrasts, I suppose. Quiet but outspoken, calm but angry when it matters. I love to express my feelings and connect with people, but I’m reserved in new company.  I am judgemental but keep my opinions of people to myself and generally I’m an idealist and optimist.”

10. When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

AN: “I’m sure it’s something funny that our three year old daughter said or did. She’s an entertainer and a livewire!” 

11. What is your favourite view?

AN: “Looking over Singapore bay – it represents good luck, blessings and the opportunities that have come our way in Milap. It is stunning but also meaningful, because it is the location of Milap’s first and still long-lasting international partnership. Going and working at The Esplanade Theatres was a dream come true, and I have spent a lot of time soaking it in, pinching myself to appreciate the opportunity I had to take Milap to a city like that!” 

12. When did you last shout at the TV?

AN: “Most likely at Everton match, or at Trump.” 

13. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.  Is there anything else you’d like to say?

AN: “It’s great to get the opportunity to talk about my work in Indian music. The genre is huge worldwide, but sometimes in England it’s pigeonholed, or put it into the big ‘World Music’ category. It’s sometimes misunderstood as a music belonging only to South Asian minorities.

“In truth, Indian classical music dates back centuries, and is probably one of the world’s oldest art forms, because it’s represented in ancient scriptures. But it’s an incredible genre, as it has established traditions, adapted, evolved and then re-established new traditions again.

“What we know today of Indian Classical music is relatively modern, and only 300 – 400 years old. So, it’s thrilling to work in in a way where you adapt modernity with tradition, art music and commercial music, and try to find a balance between culture and commerce.

“I firmly believe Indian music, and Indian arts more widely, are universal – anyone can enjoy them, because they tell stories, reflect seasons and emotions, and use improvisation, composition and collaboration all together. I hope readers will look up some of the music I share.”

For more information on Milap, click here.

For Milap’s YouTube channel, click here.

For more information on Tarang, click here

3 replies on “13 Questions with Milap’s Alok Nayak”

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