Dance of the senses: Titi Robin teams up with Murad Ali Khan and Gulabo Sapera for Khushboo
Titi Robin, acclaimed French composer and guitarist, is no stranger to bringing together various styles of music and dance from entirely different eras. This week, he is going to do something similar with two of his long-time collaborators, sarangi maestro Murad Ali Khan and Rajasthani folk dancer Gulabo Sapera, in an Indo-French music and dance performance called Khushboo.
To be accompanied by kathak exponent Mahua Shankar, tabla maestro Amaan Ali Khan, percussionist Dino Banjara and vocalist Shuheb Hasan, Titi, Murad and Gulabo will present an exhilarating performance, one that aims to transcend multiple boundaries of classical performing arts, while being performed along with world music. Ahead of the show, we spoke with Titi and found out about how they prepared for an event of this magnitude, and why it is important for him to relive the musical cultures of our forefathers. Excerpts:
It’s great to see you coming to India again. What are your expectations from Chennai’s audience for your show Khushboo?
I am very happy to be coming to Chennai. I have been here several times in the past, invited by the Alliance Française, and I have very fond memories here. It is therefore with great pleasure that I come back with this new artistic proposal.
How did the idea for Khushboo materialise? Could you give us a sneak-peek into what the show is all about?
In the beginning, it was an idea by my dear friend Murad Ali Khan who wanted to bring together, around the two of us, some of the Indian artistes with whom I have played in the past — one from the Rajasthani folk side and the other from the classical Hindustani side from Delhi.
Could you describe the process in which you went about preparing for the show? What were the different challenges that you faced along the way?
First, we had to choose the repertoire, but we had many possibilities because we have collaborated on several projects in the past and therefore have a lot of musical pieces in common. Then, it was a question of finding an instrumental cohesion within this new orchestra. Since they are all renowned soloists who come with a lot of experience, it was quite easy. We also distributed each of the solo improvisations, and then we worked hard to create Khushboo, which I would describe as a subtle and mysterious fragrance.
Your partnership with Murad Ali Khan is legendary. What makes your camaraderie so special and unique?
Above all, we are very close. Murad Ali Khan is a brother to me, but not before being a wonderful musician. Outside the stage, we are like brothers who like to share notes and rhythms and talk about everything and nothing — the dreamed life and everyday life, the poetry of Allama Iqbal and the Indian films of the past 50 years, our philosophies, and subjects like gastronomy and the current evolution of the world seen from the West or Asia, plus news from our families, relatives, and so on.
Is it fair to say that Khushboo has been one of the most fulfilling projects in your career?
All my projects are branches of the same tree. Even though this project was not mine originally (Murad Ali is the initiator and the artistic director), it naturally finds its place at the top of this tree. It’s with great pride that I participate in it.
On a personal note, how much has your own approach to music changed over the years? What are some of the biggest highlights of your journey so far?
Right from the beginning, during the ’80s, I considered music as a medium of thought, like a vision of the world. Without this philosophy, art is deprived of meaning. Till now I have not changed this point of view of mine. And my meeting with Murad Ali Khan confirmed this. He has the same point of view and it is wonderful for me. Today, with age, we have more experience of course, but I try to be faithful to my childhood dreams.
With regard to world music and blending multiple musical cultures, are there uncharted territories for you in your sights?
It’s true, the world is mixed today. But I think that respect for the traditions of our fathers is essential. When we borrow from cultures that are different from those that we were born in, it must be with humility and respect. As far as my compositions are concerned, I don’t do fusion at all (I don’t like this term) but we are reactivating very old aesthetic links that are pre-existing to our approach. Flamenco, for example, is close to my musical style, and is Western art, born in the south of Europe, and expressing at the same time strong connections with India, through vocal style, modal modulations, poetry and dance. Today, the powers that be are unfortunately often opposing the North, South, East and the West, while we are creating solid bridges between our cultures.
What next after Khushboo — do you have any other upcoming album or project in the works?
For the moment, no. I tour a lot, in France and abroad, and I have the pleasure of sharing the stage with magnificent artistes on beautiful projects, which completely satisfies me. I also recently released a collection of poems, and I am preparing a new one this year.
Do you have any unfulfilled goals in your career and life right now?
Of course, the ideal is unachievable, but we cannot help but chase it. Moreover, a goal is never definitively achieved. Every day God does, you have to go up the mountain again. As an artiste, you are always in danger (like a balancing act on a thread) where you are looking for balance and harmony, especially between artistic creation and private life. And, sometimes the two merge. Beauty comes at this price.
Entry free. February 9, 6 pm. At Edouard Michelin Auditorium.