Saregama holds the largest and plainly the most mouthwatering archive of recorded music of any of the subcontinent’s record companies. This 18-CD career retrospective from the santoor virtuoso Shivkumar Sharma illustrates that proposition. It begins in 1955 with ‘Santoor 2’ and ‘Santoor 1’ (yes, in that order) and ends in 1998 and Indrahanush with his budding santoor-maestro son Rahul. Along the way the music embraces dhuns (folk airs), Dogri folk music, his marginal time-filling ‘music director’ work as ShivHari (the Hari being bamboo flute maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia) from Silsila (1981), thematic work and masses of raga.
Saregama’s previous business names – HMV (India), the Gramophone Company of India Limited and so on – set the gold standard when it came to the nation’s recorded music. That’s not to say they automatically delivered high-carat gold. G.N. Joshi, the de facto producer of the hugely successful Call of the Valley (CD 2), lamented in his must-read biography Down Memory Lane (1984) how they got palmed off with technological hand-me-downs from the parent company in London. The company’s pressings were nicknamed Rice Krispies outside India; Saregama’s remastering has done away with the snap, crackle and pop of the old days.
My Music – The Saregama Years is hailed as Shivkumar Sharma’s complete works for the company. It includes his shellac-era output, though one must remember that even in the days of Beatlemania, the company’s Parlophone imprint released Love Me Do and A Hard Day’s Night on 78s, long after the whole world had supposedly turned on to microgroove. To finally listen to his earliest recordings for the company is nothing less than revelatory. To get a chance to compare his 1960 and 1980 approaches to the ‘adopted Hindustani’ raga Kirwani is nothing short of inspirational. To have the evidence of his progress is sheer bliss.
One of the hiccups with the set is that all original catalogue numbers are omitted. Without discographical information (the physical CDs say ‘See inlay card for details’ but readers, you are already ahead of me on that one…), it’s not easy to navigate chronologically with any surefootedness. Let two examples suffice. His debut LP – ECLP-2346 – is announced as being on CD 1 whereas in fact its A-side of Lalit and a dhun in Bhairavi appear on CD 2. Similarly, his 1987 double LP In Concert (PSLP 1481/82), as ever concert details unknown, with its three-sided Bageshwari and fourth LP side dhun in Mishra Pilu straddles CDs 10 and 11.
Packaging such a comprehensive legacy in a spiral-bound binder is cheesy – nor is it the best design solution. Surendra Narvekar’s curiously bloodless notes address his guru’s radical role in the assimilation of the santoor within the corpus of Northern Indian art music and the emergence of Sharma’s elegant signature style or baaj. Seekers of biographical information will be left hungry. Forgive and forget. Getting to listen to 18 CDs of such gorgeous melodicism and melody-in-rhythmicality reminds me: I’ve got the best job in the world.