Raga is not just melody, it’s a living soul – Rose Okada

Raga is not just melody, it’s a living soul – Rose Okada

A child prodigy, Rose Okada was born in Detroit, Michigan into a musical family and began her study of western classical music as a child. Beginning with the piano at age five, she added violin at age six and later the guitar at age twelve. From a young age, she played violin in a string quartet with her sisters.

She performed in orchestras for over twenty years, including an eight-country European tour in 1974. Rose sang in performances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in 1979 as a member of the Wayne State University Symphonic Choir along with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. In 1988 Rose relocated to Portland, Oregon.

Rose began her study of Indian classical music in 1990 by taking a few introductory lessons with violin virtuoso, Dr L Subramaniam. She says in one interview that she took two years to unlearn what she had learnt in Western Classical music, 'to empty the cup' before filling it up again with Indian music. “Once you know how to do things you can see the similarities, but the best way is to totally start again.” For instance she says the Sarangi is played with the cuticle rather than the finger tips as one does in Western instruments, and so one can slide one’s fingers while playing the instrument.

She studied Hindustani vocal with Nirmal Bajekal, a student of Prabha Atre. Rose travelled eight times to India for Hindustani music study from 1992 until 2001. She studied Hindustani violin in Mumbai with D.K. Datar and began studying tabla in 1991. During 1994 and 95 she became a student of Ustad Zakir Hussain with tabla classes in Seattle. She says that while it is commonly understood that raga is the melody of the music and tala is rhythm, “raga is much deeper than just the melody it is a living soul.”

She also studied tabla with Pandit Samir Chatterjee and Hom Nath Upadhyaya of Nepal. In 1994 Rose began her study of the Kirana style vocal and sarangi, soon becoming disciples of both the vocal genius, Pandit Pran Nath and sarangi maestro, Ustad Hafizullah Khan. Khansahib was the son of the great vocalist, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan and Khalifa (hereditary head) of the Kirana Gharana. Rose accompanied Pandit Pran Nath on the sarangi in raga classes and performances in Portland, San Francisco, New York, Delhi, Bremen and in Paris.

Indian music holds a special place in Rose’s heart. “Indian Classical music’s most distinctive character lies in its intuitive and spiritual nature with the individual musician as nucleus of this divine art form. It is he or she, having mastered their craft through years of sadhana, riyaz and sacrifice with the blessings of the guru, surrendering to the spontaneity of the music where they soar above the realms of expectation every time they sing or perform on their instrument while showing their own individual genius. And in that journey lies the joy and liberation of the world that listens,” she says.

Speaking about the Gharana tradition of Indian classical music, Rose says, “Gharana in Hindustani Classical Music is based on a rich musical lineage, born through the concept of Guru-Shishya parampara. The concept of gharanas include a lineage of hereditary musicians, their disciples and the particular style of music they represent. In the case of Khayal gharanas, a performance style can be considered a gharana style if it has endured through approximately three generations of continuous cultivation.”

Rose explains her understanding of the concept of Gharanas – “Ghar means home or family and most gharanas are named by the city of its founding musician. Each gharana emerged from a creative genius whose musical ideas were passed through the generations to bring forth a new style and approach to the music in form, pitch, vocal tone and interpretation. These traditional musical lineages had to sustain themselves through oral, highly secluded and sometimes secretive modes of instruction. The gharanas flourished in clusters, which preserved and enhanced the music flowing from gurus to disciples.”

Interview with Rose Okada

Over the years, Rose has given many performances and school lecture demonstrations on the classical music of North India. She brought Ustad Hafizullah Khan to the United States three times, performing with him on sarangi and tambura in Portland OR, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City. In 2002, after the passing of Khalifa Hafizullah Khan, Rose began studies with Khansahib La Monte Young, an American composer, singer and director of the Mela Foundation and the Kirana Center for Indian Classical Studies in New York City.

In 2003, Rose became a board member of Kalakendra Society for the Performing Arts of India. Kirana West of Portland Oregon was founded on the inspiration of Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pandit Pran Nath and Ustad Hafizullah Khan, with the goal of continuing their work through performances and a music school. Rose also has a great interest in the continuation of the art of sarangi playing and in sharing this beautiful instrument with the West. She teaches sarangi in Portland and New York.

She says that while the Sarangi is described as a solo instrument, it is actually played with the table for rhythmic accompaniment and with the tambura to set the Sa. So when the three instruments are playing, one feels a “deep sense of oneness” says Rose.

(Rose Okada plays seven instruments and is the vocal disciple of Pandit Pran Nath (disciple of Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan) and sarangi and vocal disciple of Ustad Hafizullah Khan (son of Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan). She is based in the US. (www.kiranawest.com)