Darbar Festival

Wednesday 17 September 2014 - Sunday 21 September 2014

Indian classical music’s rich and expressive tradition contains a number of schools and styles – all of which can be explored at the Darbar Festival. 

Now a regular part of our classical music season, Darbar Festival returns to Southbank Centre bringing the best of Indian classical music to London. Here, Sandeep Virdee, the Darbar Festival’s Artistic Director, and Jameela Siddiqi, the expert who runs the festival’s Indian Classical Music Appreciation Course, explain some of the main styles you’ll hear this year.


‘All Indian classical music is raga based,’ explains Virdee. ‘A raga uses a series of musical notes upon which a melody is constructed. The way the notes are approached and rendered in the musical phrases – and the mood they convey – are more important in defining a raga than the notes themselves. In the Indian musical tradition, ragas are associated with different times of the day, or with seasons. A raga also has an identity or persona, just like a person with various traits. A good example of a senior vocalist is Dr Prabha Atre's concert – her return to the UK after 30 years.’ Prabha Atre performs at Best Then, Better Now: Legendary Prabha Atre on Sunday 21 September 2014 at 7.30pm, Queen Elizabeth Hall.


‘This is the most popular classical Hindustani (North Indian) music,’ explains Sandeep. The Khayal vocal style is based on a repertoire of short songs which the singer uses as the raw material for a longer improvisation. Usually they are accompanied by a harmonium or bowed string instrument, such as the sarangi, which takes inspiration from the vocalist’s melody line, alongside tablas and a drone. ‘Pandit Vinayak Torvi's concert on Saturday morning will enable you to hear morning ragas (melodies) not often heard, as most concerts take place in the evening,’ says Sandeep. Pandit Vinayak Torvi performs in Magical Morning Ragas on Saturday 20 September 2014 at 10am, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall. 


‘This is the oldest vocal classical music from India,’ explains Sandeep Virdee. ‘It is now very rare and there are very few exponents of the genre left, so we ensure that we feature dhrupad at the Darbar Festival.’ The style originates from the Hindustani (North Indian) tradition and is performed by a solo singer – or a small number of singers in unison – to the beat of a pakhawaj (a barrel-shaped, two-headed drum), rather than the tabla. Accompanying the vocalist are usually two tanpuras (a long necked plucked instrument that provides a drone) or maybe a rudra veena (a plucked instrument that has sympathetic strings which provide the familiar resonant buzz of some Indian classical instruments). ‘The Friday night concert by Prem Kumar Mallick and his son Prashant Mallick is one not to miss,’ adds Sandeep. Prem Kumar Mallick and Prashant Mallick perform in the second half of Bansuri And The Fast Side Of Dhrupad on Friday 19 September 2014 at 6.30pm, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall. 

Carnatic vs. Hindustani Music

‘The two kinds of Indian Classical music, Hindustani (North) and Carnatic (South) descended from the same parent tradition, which had its roots in ancient worship rituals,’ explains Jameela Siddiqi. ‘Many differences between the two traditions come from the fact the languages of the North and South belong to two entirely different language groups so the same musical concepts are often known by entirely different names. But the largest musical differences stem from Muslim rule in North India from the 12th to the middle of the 19th century which resulted in many Turko-Persian elements being introduced, while South Indian music remained relatively free from external influences.’ Sandeep Virdee continues: ‘The Darbar Festival is one of the only festivals globally that bring together the two traditions. We have programmed Hindustani and Carnatic double bills to give audiences a flavour of both.’ Hindustani and Carnatic double bills: Dhrupad And Shock Of The New on Saturday 20 September 2014 at 6.30pm, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall; Anticipate The Unexpected on Sunday 21 September 2014 at 1pm, Queen Elizabeth Hall. 

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