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Musical baithaks (small, informal sittings) are where Indian classical and traditional music performances have been enjoyed for centuries. Such baithaks, however, have become rare in recent decades, particularly among Indians living away from India, with performances held mostly in formal settings like concerts in large venues.

The informal charm of a baithak and the bonhomie among listeners and performers that it creates is always special. Baithaks are a great opportunity for artistes to connect with connoisseurs in an intimate setting and give of their best without the pressures of a formal performance. It’s a great setting for audiences and artistes to connect and for the more junior artistes to build up their confidence.

Reviving baithaks in New Zealand is Naad Charitable Trust, through well-known percussionist and teacher Manjit Singh. Naad organised its second monthly baithak on Sunday, July 8, at a small, intimate venue in Papatoetoe. It plans to host such baithaks every month, featuring its own students and other artistes from Auckland and surrounds.

“The main aim was to create a common platform where students and teachers of different Indian classical music schools and local musicians can come together and appreciate music. I wanted the students to perform on a regular basis to gain some performance skills and confidence,” Mr Singh told The Indian Weekender. The baithaks are free and attendees can donate voluntarily.

Sunday’s baithak saw a mix of students and experienced musicians perform to a group of about 50 keen listeners. Students of the Rhythm School of Indian Music Komal Chand and Aanchal Chand began the sitting with a traditional bhajan. The pair returned later in the evening to render ghazals, much to the appreciation of the audience.

Sitarist Lester Silver, now a regular at many Indian music soirees, played a delightful composition in raga Bhimpalasi, a samay ka raag, in slow, medium and fast tempos. Over the years, the Hamilton-based Lester Ji has blossomed into an engaging performer with a growing repertoire.

Accomplished vocalist and teacher Mayur Tendulkar sang next, starting with raga Madhuvanti – another samay ka raag – and a thumri, after his late revered guru Shobha Gurtu. The thinking musician that he is, his vocalism is at once intellectual and emotive, a rather rare quality among the avant garde in Hindustani music. Samvadini veteran Samir Bhalodkar and Manjit on Tabla accompanied him.

Manjit played a tabla solo next, orally demonstrating the many bols and kaidas of several traditional tabla-playing gharanas across Northern India with great finesse. Ghazal and Sufi singer Bhupesh Kaushal brought up the finale with two ghazals and a Sufi song.

The next baithak, on August 19, will feature well-known Gurbani singer from the Amritsar, Rajwinder Kaur, who will earlier perform at the Bhai Mardana Music Festival at the Mangere Arts Centre on August 17-18.

First appeared in The Indian Weekender dated 10 July, 2018.