The Weekend Leader - More women need to be out there, feels singer Smita Rao Bellur

More women need to be out there, feels singer Smita Rao Bellur

SIDDHI JAIN   |  New Delhi


Among India's first female qawwals, Indian vocalist Smita Rao Bellur cannot imagine a life without music, and finds the countrys music space gender diverse and inclusive.

Excerpts from an IANSlife interview:

Q. Please tell us about your connection with Indian classical music?

Bellur: My tryst with Indian classical music started around the age of eight-nine and then my dad realised I had the potential. He wanted to get me trained after a few inter-school competitions in which I did well. By the age of 12, I was able to get a good Guru and I had started training. Initially, all the training helped me to quickly get into the fold. I practiced every day and I used to take daily lessons so it grew to be a part of me and there was no looking back.

I can't think of a time when I was away from music. Even though I may not have been performing all the time right from when I started learning, until now, music has always been a part of me and I cannot imagine a life without music. Today, if you ask me to stop singing, I wouldn't know what else to do. Although I am qualified to be an engineer, I would be miserable without music.

Music is my first love, classical music at that. Sufi music is part of that tradition, I also sing ghazal and other forms of mystical music. My days of training were very nice, very steep learning curves at several points and I am still a student, I still keep learning. My repertoire has to grow and I keep increasing it all the time. It's a part of the journey of the musician.

Q. The Indian music scene has seen as much female talent as male talent. Do you find the space as gender diverse and inclusive?

Bellur: Yes, I do find the space as gender-diverse and inclusive. Women are welcomed into this field as much as male singers are. Gone are the days when it was a taboo for women to sing in public, now it's open to all. But still, in genres of music like Qawwali, women are not present as much because traditionally, women were not taught to be Qawwals or they didn't encourage women to go to a stage and perform. I was lucky that I got the opportunity but the regular qawwals or the Darbari qawwals don't teach women to sing.

Q. What challenges do you face, as a female classical vocalist, some of which never come to the fore?

Bellur: There are quite a few that come to my mind. First and foremost, when she runs a family - unless she has the kind of support that her extended or core family gives her, it's tricky because you find a lot of vocalists who take a break in their careers when they bear children.. They have to look after the baby, the house, the kitchen, plan the nutrition for the family and yet be an artist. If one is working on top of this, it adds some more dynamics to the whole scenario. Art in itself requires a good 8 hours of practice, some alone time for contemplation for the artist, time for reflection, time for the creativity to expand, time to read to update one's knowledge, and so on. It's quite a time-consuming job.

That was one of the reasons why I left my job as a software professional to do music full time because I felt that it's an 8-hour job completely. More than a job, it's a passion but one also has to put in much more effort. While it's very interesting to pursue your passion so it doesn't feel like work. Today independent artists anyway have quite a tough time if they are performing in the genre of independent music. It's difficult and more so, when it's a woman.

Q. How can we encourage more women to come forth in the creative fields?

Bellur: I think more women can be encouraged into creative fields if there are support structures available, some funding maybe for the first album or demo to be released, recording studios, or small creative workspaces that encourage their studios to be used by women who want to put out their work, who are making it big.

Encouraging women in government festivals is also key because now it's quite difficult for women to manage completely on the basis of art, especially when it's independent music. Also, some support structures like baby care, and plug and play spaces where one can go, practice and record their music. That's the need of the hour, independent musicians are really finding it tough to manage the resources to record their first album, market it, put it out, and record videos. It is quite an expensive affair and any support towards this would go a long way for a woman.

Q. Your message to women?

Bellur: Women make good leaders, they are gifted with innate compassion and kindness in their hearts so when they come to the workplace, they bring a lot to the table. They take the initiative, ownership and they manage tasks well. Women make good managers. I think more women need to be out there at the forefront, leading organizations. In the art field, I would love to see more women come out because there is a certain amount of flexibility that is also available on offer. Art is a very good field where they can come out with their creativity and satisfy their creative intellect as well. Safety and security still remain a concern no matter whether the person is of any religion. I think safety and security should be provided to all women in this country. The growing misogyny is one more area in which I would love Indians to respect women of their country.

This is the country which has seen so much of Devi worship, so much of respect for Shakti, for Prakriti, for Bharat Maa, for Dharti Maa. I think we need to get that also in the current discourse and respect the women in our family who are helping us, who are looking after us. Treat women in society with equal respect and care for them as well. That's something I look forward to growing in the years to come. IANS

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