Angira Kotal- Sangeet Ratna In Conversation with Sanjeevini Dutta

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Angira Kotal tells Sanjeevini Dutta about the musical journey which has brought her to the Sangeet Ratna

Last year at this time, Angira Kotal was an unknown overseas student, enrolled on a Diploma course at the University of Essex. Then an event catapulted her into the limelight: encouraged by the reception to a thumri she sang on Wolverhampton City Radio's "Surtarang", Angira resolved to apply for the Milapfest Young Musician award- the Sangeet Ratna. In July, at a glittering event at the Capstone Theatre in Liverpool, she was declared a winner of the title (with a £2,500 cash prize) for the most promising young musician.

I speak to Angira six months after the event, as she prepares to give a concert, a double-bill with dancer Apoorva Jayarama (Nritya Ratna winner), in the same theatre. I make an unreasonable request but Angira sportingly agrees - to sing a small bandish for me at the end of our Skype interview.

Angira's earliest musical memories are learning sargams (musical scales), at her mother's knee. Ratna Kotal was a senior student of a well-established musician couple Mandira and Shyamlal Lahiri. There was always music playing in the home, and almost always classical. Angira’s father, an extremely busy Calcutta doctor would come home to relax and unwind with music. Their family favourites were the late Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and the upcoming Parween Sultana. 'There may have been some Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul Geeti, but my abiding memory is of Hindustani classical music' she says.

Aged five, Angira was learning with her mother’s teachers; later with Pandit Biresh Roy and Smt. Haimanti Sukla. Younger sister by three years, Atri, also began vocal training. The house resounded with the notes of the singing trio. However as Angira became a teenager, the academic pressures of school and later of an undergraduate degree took their toll on music training. She said of the time, 'You know how obsessed Indian parents are with academic achievement', 'I became distanced from my music practice'.

Angira understood that her parents wanted her to have formal qualifications so that she could have economic independence. However after a Bachelor degree in Engineering and Computer Science followed by a stint working in a technology company, Angira grew dissatisfied and disillusioned. This coincided with her finding a teacher under whom sister Atri had already started learning, whose personality and methodology clicked with her. She gave up the day job and started an apprenticeship under Ustad Jainul Abedin. She speaks with high regard for her teacher, whose modern and well-structured teaching methods fast-tracked her musical development.

This was in 2011, and now in the UK, doing a Post Graduate degree at University College London, Angira is training with Ustadji on Skype. The Sangeet Ratna award has given her a boost of confidence, and next Saturday 25 January, audiences will be able to experience Angira's talent themselves. I ask her what she thinks she brings to her singing. Angira replies that it is her 'compassion, dedication and her ability to drown herself in the moment'. She has no doubt that classical music gives all the scope to the practitioner to express the depth of their personality and the limitlessness of imagination. 'Khyaal' she says of the genre of Hindustani 'literally means the ''imagination''’. When I ask her if young people can relate to classical music she replies thoughtfully that the problem is not with the young generation but the expectations that are put upon them to connect to music in particular ways. Angira is confident that classical music has a central place in the life of society and the nation. 'In Kolkata at least, my teacher's classes are full of young people' she says.

Then I remind her of her promise and with no fuss, she launches into a bandish in Bihag. Her voice soars and dips. In the the short space of three to four minutes, Angira Kotal has given me a taste of the astonishing skill and technique she commands. Her thoughtful and intelligent insights, her quiet and modest expression and her natural ability, leave me with no doubt that Angira has a bright future in her chosen art. Pulse wishes this young singer the very best at the start of her musical career.