journey so far….
It has been God's blessings, and my parents and grandparents efforts that I could play and win at the World stage, both at NHL, Bristol and World Harmonica Festival, Germany. Specially coming from India where blues and Diatonic Harmonica both are not very popular, it is a dream come true.
I am blessed with musical genes with my mother Archana Singhal and my grandfather Mr Dileep Naik always enjoying music. I grew up listening to both Indian and western songs. I was first introduced to Harmonica.
At the age of four when my grandfather gifted me a Hohner 10 hole diatonic harmonica. Diatonic Harmonica, supposedly a Western instrument had nearly lost its charm in India and Mr Naik is among the few players who enjoy playing this instrument a lot. Mr Naik is a businessman and a self taught musician who plays Diatonic harmonica, Tenor Saxophone and Flute as a hobby. He always played retro songs from fifties, sixties, seventies on harp and saxophone, and also joined by my mother and uncles on guitar and keyboard.
A year later I got a new Air Wave children Harmonica when Mr Brendan Power and Mr Abe Thomas visited Goa. The first songs I learnt to play were Oh when the saints, Blowing in the wind, Country roads and Besame mucho etc. Mr Naik lives in Goa and my parents made it a point to visit Goa in every school summer and winter breaks so that I got a chance to listen to jazz and blues, and without any specific intent, I gradually started developing a liking for this music.
I started taking formal training in Indian classical music with Mr. Madan Kumar when I was four years old, and it is continuing till date. Indian music is so vast and complete that I could play variety of music without really taking any training in those music styles, just because Indian music training helped me to understand the basics of music, understanding of notes and rhythms. Also listening to blues and jazz from great musicians from Goa like Mr Collin D'cruz and Mr Ashley Fernandes really helped. I play by ear, and till date have to learn to read and write musical notes. Mr Madan Kumar in fact taught me Indian classical music for four years between age 4 and 8 when I didn't even know how to read and write.
All my musical learnings were going in a very easy way till in 2014 I got a chance to attend a harmonica workshop in Pune by Mr Ben Hewlett, a great Diatonic Harmonica player and teacher from the UK along with his friend Mr Shirish Swami. Mr Hewlett loved my playing till date and called me and my grandfather for a detailed discussion on future plan. He was the one who gave a formal goal for my training and proposed a training plan for the next 4 years. He recommended that I got training from the great virtuoso Mr Howard Levy of the US who is 2 time Grammy Award Winner. Mr Hewlett also proposed to participate in NHL, Bristol UK and the World Harmonica Festival 2017, Germany.
Sir Howard Levy was kind enough to start my training via the video exchange program, and it really opened a new world of Diatonic Harmonica to me. His detailed yet simple instructions with a personal touch mesmerised me to the Harmonica learning, training me on new techniques and styles. I am still continuing with him, and feel greatly indebted to his coaching for my improvement. I also got a good keyboard which enhanced my playing skills as I could better understand the progressions, modes, scales etc.
I have been learning primarily jazz blues in western classical music, but with my Indian classical training, I got an idea of playing Indian ragas on the diatonic harp. This was never done before on a diatonic harp as was very difficult to get the exact note which are a must in playing Indian Raags. I gradually started practising this, and with Madan Sir's guidance and his own compositions, I have been playing melodious Indian Raags on diatonic harp.
One day in Goa, just on the go, Mr. Naik made me play with Lynx, one of Goa's best band. Later same way I got to play with many bands including Oasis and Jazz Junction in Goa. That gave me a confidence to play with live bands, and then on our family vacations around the world, it became a norm for me playing with any band on the street or by myself. I remember my father carrying an acoustic system on every vacation so that I could play solo on the streets, that took away all the fear of rejection. It was also mandatory for us kids, me and my little sister to learn 10 words each of the foreign country language we were visiting, and prepare a local famous song on harmonica. I played around the world this way from South Africa to Singapore, Hong-Kong, Japan, Australia, UK and Europe. Playing on the streets solo or with street/pub bands live, it gave me an impromptu connect with the players and people that really helped my playing further.
I was offered membership of the Indian Mouth Organ player community, being the youngest player, and was given an opportunity to perform at the Indian mouthorgan meet held in Indore in 2015. Also it was a pleasure to play at the International Jazz Festival 2016 in Goa and open the show with Mr Collin D'Cruz and his Jazz Goa Band.
Later in 2017, as proposed by Mr Hewlett, I participated at the National Harmonica League, Bristol UK and won all the prizes in my category - Diatonic Harmonica Solo jazz/ Blues/melody/group duo. At the inaugural function here I was also given the honour to play with the legendary Mr Adam Gussow, a great teacher and Blues player from Mississippi US. I also got an opportunity to open the evening concert and present the Indian raga at the NHL with great players from 5 different countries.
From here I travelled to Trossingen Germany to participate at the World harmonica festival 2017 where I got third position in Open Solo Diatonic jazz/Melody, and a fifth position in Open Solo diatonic blues/ rock category. Here I played my own composition which was based on an Indian hymn Hanuman Chalisa called as The Power of Hanuman. WHF 2017 is organised by Hohner, Germany who are instrumental in making this instrument so popular around the world. WHF was attended by 703 contestants and apart from competitions, there were live performances every night and jamming all through the day.
I love playing all genres of music including Blues, Pop or Jazz, Indian classical and even Bollywood music, but I want to present our great Indian classical music on diatonic harp to the western audience. I have completed third year of Indian classical music and want to further do Graduation and Post graduation in the same. Also I want to learn reading and writing English musical notation, and take formal education in Western Classical music. Harmonica, specially the diatonic harmonica, is such a sweet and small yet powerful musical instrument, and I would love to contribute in spreading its popularity in India and amongst kids. I even have a pendant of small Harmonica that I wear and play anytime, I love my Harmonica.
I have been able to come this far in my musical journey, and there is a long way ahead, and I am enjoying the journey…...