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An Exclusive Interview with Shubha Mudgal, Hindustani Classical Singer

Shubha Mudgal, a well known singer of Hindustani classical music, was trained by finest musicians in India. In addition to being a singer she is also a recognized composer. She was also awarded Padma Shri in 2000 for her contribution to Indian music, apart from other numerous awards.
Starting her career 1980s with classical music, she began experimenting with other forms in the 90s. She came in popular limelight with her singles like ‘Ab Ke Sawan’ & ‘Dholna’. Recently, she has given voice to the compositions of Kabir.

Mythical India got a chance to interact with the living legend over an email interview to understand her views about Indian music, art education, her upcoming projects and much more.

Mythical India Shubha Mudgal

Picture Credits: Prabhu Prakash (Instagram – @prabhu677)


Mythical IndiaYou were born in an academic family as both your parents were professors of English literature. You also got trained in “Kathak”. Please tell us something about your initial years with dance & music.

Shubha Mudgal: My parents Jaya and Skand Gupt, both teachers of English Literature at the University of Allahabad, shared a passion for music and the arts. It was due to their active encouragement that I was exposed to music, dance, poetry and theatre as I grew up in Allahabad. I was taken to listen to music concerts as a child, encouraged to read, and given every opportunity to engage with the arts, not necessarily as a performer. I learnt to be a keen listener first, and was also encouraged to learn. My parents also had eclectic tastes in music, so they encouraged me to listen to all kinds of music from India as well as from other parts of the world. There was therefore no pressure to listen only to the forms of music they preferred. I could listen to classical music, to popular music and to non-Indian music as well.


Mythical IndiaWhile you were graduating from Delhi University, you continued your training and was trained by many great masters. How has been the experience? Do you believe that this training lead you into being a versatile musician?

Shubha Mudgal: I’d like to bring to your notice that I have never studied at Delhi University. This information is completely false. I studied at the University of Allahabad and did my Masters in Music from the same institution. Simultaneously I received training in the guru-shishya parampara form eminent scholar-musician-composer Pandit Ramashreya Jha “Ramrang”. I later moved to Delhi where I also received guidance from Pandit Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, Pandit Vasant Thakar and Smt. Naina Devi. I was also to receive guidance from great masters Pandit Kumar Gandharva and Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki for a few years that were very impactful.

My gurus, whose names are mentioned above, were all liberal thinkers and avid collectors of knowledge. They believed in learning from as many sources as possible and I think it is their eclecticism that influenced me as well as their other students. I could not have learnt from different masters had my gurus not been open to the idea of my doing so.

Mythical IndiaWhat are your famous forms of music? You have tried various forms including the pop but we have learnt that you particularly enjoy Thumri and Dadra?

Shubha Mudgal: I have studied two forms of Hindustani classical music for almost four decades now and these are Khayal and Thumri-dadra. These are my areas of specialization, although I have also occasionally been involved in projects of popular music.

Mythical India

We as fans of your music would also want to know why haven’t we heard more of pop songs of Shubha Mudgal after the success of ‘Ab ke sawan’, ‘Dholna’ and ‘Ali more angna’. Would you agree that you have left your fans wanting for more?

Shubha Mudgal: Please remember that the conventional mainstream music industry in India is almost extinct now, even though some companies and labels continue to have offices and staff in different cities. It is the independent music labels and artistes who now self-publish and distribute online and which continue to be vibrant and creative. I am proud to be part of this movement of independent music and have been self-publishing and distributing for years, from 2003 to be exact when my husband Aneesh Pradhan (eminent tabla artiste, scholar, author and composer) and I set up as an independent distribution channel for all musicians working with Indian music in all its diversity.

Mythical India Shubha Mudgal

Picture Credits: Prabhu Prakash (Instagram – @prabhu677)

For a musician it is impossible to cease making music. So I continue to make music, classical, pop, devotional and experimental. But unlike the music companies of the yesteryears I don’t have a huge marketing team pushing my work. Those who follow my work look for my music online and find it easily enough, but those who wait for a publicity blitzkrieg to discover a new track won’t find it

Mythical IndiaAs a singer you have done numerous live performances as well as studio recordings. Which of these two you enjoy more and why?

Shubha Mudgal: Both have their own challenges and strengths and as a student of music, I am enriched by both experiences. The microphone in a recording studio is a tough teacher who does not spare anyone, so from each experience of recording I learn a lot about voice, microphone techniques and more. From the experience of live concerts also there is much to learn, analyse and work on. Therefore both are important in a musician’s journey.


Mythical IndiaYou were also a part of Central Advisory Board for Education and worked towards introducing arts education program in the education system. Do you feel there has been a change in our education system regarding performing arts and if yes, how much has it changed since then?

Shubha Mudgal: I’m afraid not much has changed since the recommendation to include arts education in mainstream education was made in 2005-2006. NCERT has I believe set up a separate department for arts education, but I am unable to say with conviction that any great change has occurred. Arts still continue to remain a neglected part of our system of education. Educational material focusing on the music of India remains unavailable or scarce, and therefore a lot remains to be done in the field of arts education.

Mythical IndiaOur readers would also like to know about your projects like Sangeet Kosh (wiki for Indian Music) and the musical label Underscore Records that you founded.

Shubha Mudgal: Both these projects take advantage of the ease of communication offered by internet technology which has empowered artistes greatly to self publish and distribute instead of relying on the services of record labels. Both projects are ambitious in their vision but suffer from lack of resources. Both projects focus on dissemination of music and authentic information about music. Both projects still need to be developed to their full potential.

Mythical IndiaAs a renowned performer and musician in the field of Indian Classical Music with so many awards including the Padma Shri, do you think that our heritage and culture of classical music is losing the sheen in front of contemporary pop or Bollywood music? Young generations are not introduced to classical arts and so they are more inclined to EDM and hip hop.

Shubha Mudgal: I don’t agree with the argument that this is a war between film music and classical music. I respect and enjoy popular music and am proud of its international success too. At the same time, I believe that no one form of music, however popular, can be the sole representative of Indian music. I am convinced that in a country as diverse as India, there is space for all kinds of music, provided we respect that diversity, in music as well as in other aspects of life.

A lot of young people are studying classical music and are devoted to it. But we as a society need to nurture their interests and provide an atmosphere for them where their interests and skills can bloom. If the study and pursuit of classical music is going to be a hardship exercise, young artistes may shy away from making a full time commitment.

Mythical IndiaAccording to you what should be done to keep the heritage alive and taking the tradition forward?

Shubha Mudgal:
I don’t really have a ready formula, because this is a complex issue and requires the support of the public. But exposure to traditional arts, teaching the young to respect heritage and heritage arts are some of the basic concepts which could start to make a positive change.

Mythical IndiaFinally, our readers would like to know what next they can hear from Shubha Mudgal?

Shubha Mudgal:
As always, I have only music to offer readers, but in 2017, I hope to be able to make a humble offering of a collection of short stories I am writing based on the central theme of Indian music. This will be my debut as an author and I am both nervous and excited about it, and seek the good wishes and support of music lovers and readers alike.


We would like to thank Shubha Mudgal for sharing her views with her. We leave you with her one of her popular numbers(Source: Rajshri Productions)

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