Young musician melds Hindustani classical with Western instruments

So young, yet so evolved - that was the sentiment most widely expressed when Nitish Kulkarni, already known in the community for his tabla playing skills, unveiled his new creation. An album of raag based, age-old musical compositions set to the accompaniment of western instruments. The fusion was at once delightful, melodious and heartwarming. The album was introduced at a program held at the Anjali Center on July 9.

Pathikawa (Guide), the album, has eight melodious classical compositions for which Nitish has arranged the music. The songs are rendered by Anita Kulkarni, Ravi Kolhatkar, Anjali Pandit, Sucheta Karandikar, Veena Watwe all well-known in the Maharashtrian community for their musical talents and Ashwin Rode, an Indian American youngster who learned classical music from Chandrakantha Courtney in Houston for ten years. (He is now working on his Ph.D. in economics at the University of California in Santa Barbara and continuing his classical music education under the guidance of the legendary Laxmi Shankar.)

Nitish’s grandmother, Leena Hardikar, spoke with great admiration of her grandson’s bent towards music from a very young age. She said he was following in the footsteps of his great grandfather (her father), Pt. V.R. Athavale, a well known teacher and composer of classical music in Pune.

Anita Kulkarni and Anjali Pandit gave a live performance of raag Madhukauns and Bhimpalasi, respectively, in the original Hindustani style. The audience then got to hear those raagas in the accompaniment of western instruments, the music composed by Nitish. Pathikawa is Nitish’s second album. The first, titled From The Heart, has ten instrumental melodies and is available on Amazon.

Nitish, son of Medha and Shirish Kulkarni, just graduated from Cy-Fair high school, where he played the clarinet in the school band. More significantly, he persuaded the band director, John Nelson, to add tabla to the percussion section. Needless to say, he was the band’s main and only tabla player. That initiative earned him a feature article in Halftime, a magazine dedicated to marching bands. Nelson told Halftime, “I was totally amazed at his technique and sound quality.” Nelson said he appreciates “the added educational and entertainment value provided by Kulkarni’s tablas” and is very happy that he and other band players got introduced to such a unique instrument.

Nitish told Halftime that at the state championships, it was the “coolest experience” when a percussion director from another school came up to him and said, “I want to shake your hand, because I think what you are doing is awesome.”

Nitish has given tabla accompaniment to a range of music professionals in the last four years.

He was one of three young musicians who presented a program to raise funds for Pratham last year in Houston. It is clear that Nitish has a talent for vocal music too.

When asked why he has not considered singing, he says he did learn classical vocal music for some time, can sing tunefully and has a good understanding of the intricacies. He also knows that many maestro vocalists  Pt. Jasraj, Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande, Suresh Wadkar, Pt. Suman Ghosh were tabla players who switched to vocal.

“But,” he says, “I don’t want people to say ‘he should have stuck to tabla’ when they hear me sing,” he says modestly.

He likes to describe Pathikawa as an attempt at cultural assimilation. It is not a remix, he insists. That word has a pejorative tone. It is a kind of ‘rebirth’ or classical raagas in a new avatar. He says his target audience is the many Indian Americans, especially the youngsters, who are not yet aware of the power of Hindustani classical music.

Nitish continues to take tabla lessons from Dexter Raghunanan, the tabla maestro who is originally from Trinidad, who was also present in the audience. He is headed to Indiana University in Bloomington in the fall where he aims to major in business and, maybe, minor in music. “Who knows,” he says enthusiastically. “I might even do a double major in business and music!”

— Rajeev Gadgil









Nitish Kulkarni is working with over 20 student musicians from different High Schools in the Cy-Fair area. They will be in a live concert called “Fusion”
featuring melodies composed by Nitish. The live performance is scheduled
for Tuesday, August 9, at 7:00 PM. at the Foundry Church, 8350 Jones Road. Admission is a low $5.