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MUSIC MAESTRO: Continuing a regal legacy
MUSIC MAESTRO: Continuing a regal legacy

BY A STAFF WRITER

Meet Hitesh Master, the Mundelein, Chicago based musician who traces his lineage to legendary musical figures such as Baiju Bawra and Gopal Nayak.

Today he is amongst a few Indian musicians in America who are practicing and propagating Hindustani Classical music to a young generation of Indians and Americans who have grown up listening to Rock and Jazz.


Just like his ancestors who were amongst the chief founders of Hindustani Music, in India, Hitendra Kumar Nayak, popularly known as Hitesh Master, chose to make music his primary vocation. His love for music and a passion to impart his knowledge did not restrict him to India, but also took him to Zambia and finally to Chicago, America, where he chose to settle down and continue the legacy of his forefathers.
Hitesh Master today lives and works in Chicagoland with his musically inclined family. He conducts private music lessons for students interested in everything from learning harmonium to piano to Bollywood music to Hindustani Classical. Master also travels all across the US to perform all forms of music ranging from traditional Garba, Bhangra, Arangetram, devotional and classical music. He has also performed with Bollywood music personalities such as Kavita Krishnamoorthy, Bappi Lahiri, Mahendra Kapoor, Suresh Wadekar and Sadhna Sargam during concerts all over in US.
Master, comes from an illustrious musical lineage and his forefathers were Raj Gayaks in princely states in India during the 16th century. It was the time when music in India was at its pinnacle with the likes of Tansen performing in emperor Akbar’s court and Raj Gayaks were given the highest honor.
And even though the era of nawabs and true connoisseurs of unadulterated forms of music is long gone even in India, Master chose to stick to his family tradition. Despite the fact that survival in the contemporary world practicing Hindustani music, especially in another continent away from India sounds more passionate than practical, Hitesh Master can be a befitting example of how musical legacy survives all odds.

THE ROYAL FAMILY CONNECTION
The Nayak clan to which Hitesh belongs is an honorary title given to people who learn music from their forefathers and are experts in both practical and theoretical aspects of music. Hitesh who was born in the illustrious city of Nadiad in Gujarat, India, famous as the birthplace of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, was surrounded by musical traditions.
Hiteshs’ father Pandit Vraj Lal Nayak popularly known as VM Nayak was appointed as the Raj Gayak by Nawab Dilawar Khan of Junagarh in the princely court in Junagarah Palace in Guajarat, During the 1920’s his hallmark in classical music was so famous that he was also appointed as Raj Gayak by the then Maharaja of Udaipur and was also a Raj Gayak in Indore.
Visibly nostalgic at the esteemed tradition in music that his family is blessed with, Hitesh shares, “My father Late Shri VM Master learnt music from eminent musical personalities such as Ustad Jhande Khan Sahab, Ustad Rajab Ali Khan of Devas Gharana in MP and Ustad Latif Khan Sahab of Beenkar Gharana.” Hitesh recalls, “During olden times too my father believed in understanding the basic tenets of music and he was awarded a masters degree in Lucknow. His quest to encourage youngsters to learn music was reflected in the fact that he was one amongst the people who stated Baroda Music College back in 1933.”
Interestingly the Nayaks deeply entrenched musical tradition comes from a chain of their ancestors who were amongst the most sought after musicians in ancient India. Hiteshs’ great grandfather Pandit Vadilal Shivram Nayak was the Raj Gayak of Vanda state in Gujarat and the famous Jai Kishen in of Shankar Jaikishen fame learnt music from him.
The Nayak clan was continuing the illustrious tradition until a sudden event led them to reestablish themselves. Talking about life in pre independence era India as seen and experienced by his father and their ancestors, Hitesh says, “The Raj Gayaks were extremely well paid and were regarded as highly respected members of the society. My father was fortunate to see that acclaim however post India’s independence when the princely states were abolished, the Raj Gayaks suddenly found themselves with no vocation. It was then that with the help of the Diwan of Junagarh that my father was invited in Nadiad to settle down.”
Continuing the emotional family story, Hitesh says, “Once in Nadiad my father had to find a new profession. However his love for music was so great that he did not desert it. He opened a music shop, took music lessons and began making harmoniums that he had learnt as a hobby. By now my father married and even though my mother never performed music as was the tradition amongst womenfolk during that time she took deep interest in music and helped in making harmoniums. Making a harmonium is a labor-intensive job, where you use pure teak wood and everything is handcrafted. It used to take up to one month to make a single harmonium.”
He adds, “By now my parents had my elder brother and me and our sisters and we were all brought up with musical upbringing and everyday riyaaz was religiously followed in our household. However given his experiences where he had seen first hand how suddenly the most acclaimed musicians were left to look for survival he also instilled in us a need to study academics too.”
Hitesh says, “Until my father passed away in 2006 in India, music remained the guiding force in his life.”

Bringing Hindustani Music to America
Talking about how he decided to come to the US and professionally pursue Hindustani music when not just the West but even the trend in India was leaning towards R&B, punk and rock, Hitesh says that moving to US was an organic process. He believes good and fundamental knowledge of music never goes waste. People may be going after fads but eventually if you have a solid musical background it sustains you. Talking about his musical upbringing he says, “Growing up I had the opportunity to learn from maestros themselves. People like Ustad Bashir Khan, many Raj Gayaks and Pandit Ram Baba Petiwala who was a Sant of that era used to visit our house in Nadiad. Post abolishment of princely estates many musicians had no work as music in that era was either listened by either the very rich or very poor. Often my father would arrange for house concerts for these musical geniuses who having no other place would stay with us for even months and as a gratitude began teaching us music. Hitesh informs that his move outside of his home state of Gujarat began with Mumbai first. He says, “I started learning music at the age of 3 and my first professional performance was when I was 9. After my Bachelors in Science I began visiting Bombay. My brother started a Bollywood singing group in 1970 and he used to sing songs of Mukeshji, Raj Kapoor and other hits and I used to play music. My family has always remained that bridge between classical and light music and we used to perform various genres such as classical, drama music and Bollywood music. In the early 80’s by virtue of my father’s repute in music industry I had the opportunity to work with stalwarts like Kalyanji, Ram Laxman, Rajesh Roshan and Nandu Dandekar. But I bid goodbye to Bollywood in 1990 as Bollywood music was losing its essence and also my job required a lot of travel and it was getting difficult to balance work and family. My wife had a job in Chota Udaipur then. During this time my brother Mahendra Nayak moved to Zambia and I too got an offer to teach music in an international university in Zambia. I taught music in Africa for 7 years and then when the situation in Africa too wasn’t that great I decided to move on. In 1997 I came to Chicago as my brother-in-law was here. I came to Chicago with the vision to practice music here too even though I knew it will be a challenge. Initially I found a great difficulty in establishing myself and worked in a gas station too. During this time I met Atul Soni who was a hobby singer and went on to become just like my brother. He offered me to live with him in Mundelein and after 2 years when I settled down I called my wife to join me. I began by taking music classes in Lake County and I also met the small Hindustani music community in Chicago.
Chicago has been a great place to play music as I met a lot of people from my hometown here who were eager to help. Hitesh who also heads the music group Orchestra Sa Re Ga Ma says that along with his group he has also dabbled in fusion and has performed jazz and raga together.
Father to two grown up sons Chintu and Harsh he has also imparted his musical legacy to them. While Chintu is a professional musician and has created jingles for commercials Harsh is a singer but hasn’t started it professionally.
Amongst his musical career highlights, Hitesh says are many but he loved being associated with the US edition of Zee TV’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa in 2007. As a member of audition team he traveled to NY, Dallas and in Chicago also conducted training in Dallas. Besides this he says, “When I get request from the younger generation Indians and also some Americans to learn traditional instruments such as harmonium, that is my greatest reward.”

 


“Despite the fact that survival in the contemporary world practicing Hindustani music, especially in another continent away from India sounds more passionate than practical, Hitesh Master can be a befitting example of how musical legacy survives all odds.”

“When Mahendra Kapoorji came to US in 2000 he asked for me and we provided band orchestra and continued doing it for musicians such as Sadhna Sargam,Suresh Wadekar, Kavita Krishnamoothy and Bappi Lahri” – Hitesh Master


“When I came in 2000s I also saw an eagerness amongst Indians to learn Indian music as most Indian Americans that had come during 70’s and 80’s were either doctors or in academics and they were looking for a creative outlet for their kids.”


Master, comes from an illustrious musical lineage and his forefathers were Raj Gayaks in princely states in India during the 16th century. It was the time when music in India was at its pinnacle with the likes of Tansen performing in emperor Akbar’s court and Raj Gayaks were given the highest honor.

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Update: 04-August-2017

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