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Making Music: The Culinary Compositions

Jogiraj Sikidar – 1st September 2020

Food and music have been best friends for centuries. Globally, a lot of musicians have waxed lyrical about their culinary and gastronomical adventures. But food has not merely been the way to the heart for these composers and performers, it has gone a long way in influencing their music as well. Be it Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gioachino Rossini and Giuseppe Verdi in the West or Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Allah Rakha and Asha Bhosle in the East.

I have often observed that musical and culinary aesthetics as well as creativity is the main topic of discussion among musicians and artists often refer to the taste as flavour notes, top notes and bottom notes. Food and music clearly share many characteristics.

In Indian classical music, food is often used to explain certain balancing techniques. For example, my Guru would often refer to the main ingredient of any dish as vadi and the second most important ingredient as samvadi. For the uninitiated, the primary note of the raga is the
vadi and samvadi is the second-most prominent note. If you don’t get the balance just right, both the composition and the curry will not be worth your time.

In yet another extremely imaginative yet fascinating session, my Guru compared a vilambit khayal (introductory, slow tempo composition) to biryani (rice and meat dish). Biryani is alway scooked on slow fire and there are many layers to this aromatic rice dish. Similarly, my teacher explained, the slow composition will have to be built slowly and then layers need to be added to do justice to this genre of Indian classical music.

Many great composers and performers were not only connoisseurs of gastronomic delights, a whole lot of them even contributed to the world of recipes. For example, famous Indian classical vocalist Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was also known for his amazing skills in the kitchen. He would often be found instructing his wife in matters of culinary when he could no longer cook on account of being paralysed. In his earlier years, the maestro would carry a canister of ‘ghee’ (clarified butter) in his luggage when on concert tours. When the ghee would finish, he would tell his Tabla player that it was time to head home.

The list of famous musicians who are good cooks is pretty long. The Dubai-based daughter of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the Sarod maestro, recalls the times when her father and the Ustad Vilaayat Khan, the Sitar maestro, would team up after many a concert for an off-stage jugalbandi to cook some lip-smacking chicken.

Legendary Tabla maestro Ustad Allah Rakha (the father of Ustad Zakhir Hussain) was known for his signature mutton curry.

In yet another example, Bollywood legend Asha Bhosle has taken her love for cooking to another level and has been running a restaurant chain in the UAE and the UK for close to two decades now. Her secret recipes of baingan ka bharta and Muscat ghost (green eggplant and mutton dishes) are her fans’ hot favourites.

At the end of the day, it’s all about indulging your fine senses as the great parallels between the cognitive and sensory processes are quite usual among musicians.

So, when you next receive an invite to any musician’s home, make sure you work up an appetite for a lavish, mouthwatering spread and some great music.