By Mudassir Raja
As a child, he used to make fun of singing but with the passage of time, he has become a world-renowned musician and flautist.
Naveen Kumar has not only gained international fame but also created nine different new flutes. His contributions to Bollywood and orchestra music have duly been recognised.
Naveen recently visited Doha. He led a performance entitled ‘Music of Bollywood With Naveen Kumar.’ The orchestral music was organised by Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and the Embassy of India in Qatar in connection with ongoing Qatar-India 2019 Year of Culture.
Community caught up with the easy going flautist glean his musical journey.
Talking of his origins, Naveen said: “I come from a small town in south of India. My father worked in telecommunication sector. He is the one who used to push me to sing when I was two or three years old. My grandfather used to be a singer. He used to sing folk songs. I used to mimic him. I have a daughter and a son.
“When I was in Grade 7, I got an opportunity to sing in our school. I took my dad’s flute and played it. My school headmistress was so impressed that she gifted me two flutes. Then I started playing flute and it came naturally to me. My brother also used to accompany me.
“My mother took me to a vocalist for learning music. My music teacher told me that he could teach me violin and not flute. He told me to forget about flute if I wanted to become a vocalist. I said okay to him for the sake of learning. But, I did not stop playing flute. When I was in Grade 9, I started playing flute for Air India. My name used to be announced on All India Radio every morning. When my music guru heard me playing flute, he stopped teaching me. Then, my mother took me to a traditional music school. My parents always supported me in my learning.”
To a question about when he really got a break in the music world, Naveen said: “My father gave me a book about flutes. I learnt about different kinds of flutes. I started making my own flutes. I got an actual break in 1984 by Ilaiyaraaja, a famous Indian film composer.
“I used to work in a studio in Chennai. In 1986, the studio caught fire and all my flutes were burnt. I was really upset and thought all of my life was lost. My mother bucked me up. I started making flutes again. Today, I have more than 300 flutes of different kinds; it is the maximum number possessed by any individual in India. I have invented nine flutes. Wherever I go in the world, I just pick different flutes.”
Regarding the lyric compositions he has created, Naveen said: “I along with my brother, who is a tabla player, have composed music for seven Telugu movies. I am very happy to be a musician because it is a learning and creative process for me. I, however, wanted to concentrate on flute and have established myself as a flautist.
“In music, we have to involve both our mind and heart. Everybody can play a flute. But the thing is to get involved in it and give a physical reaction to it. We have to give flute a life by playing it. A R Rahman [globally famed Indian musician] used to tell me to close my eyes when playing a flute. When you close your eyes you focus better and get a kind of spiritual help. I took the words and I just did it. I have created many flute compositions. I have created my own albums. There are very small things around that you get attracted to. And, it will not happen within certain parameters. It should come naturally. Initially, I also used to follow and copy compositions of many noted musicians. With the passage of time, I started creating something better. As far as flute is concerned, if you listen to any of my music, you will recognise that it is Naveen’s composition. I have achieved a certain kind of uniqueness.
“I do not practice with one kind of flute; I play a variety of flutes. I have been merging different flutes together and creating a new song. We should create something out of the box every time. I have created nine different flutes, my own brands. I have introduced strings inside the bamboo flutes. I have also made these strings electrified.
When asked where in the world he has performed, he said: “I have played with London Philharmonic Orchestra along with A R Rahman. I have also performed in Los Angeles. My recent performance here in Doha is the third with an orchestra.
So what, in essence, is a flute for him?
Naveen smiled and said: “Every tradition has its own musical instrument. People have created their own distinct instruments. Many kings had their specific instruments. Flute does not belong to anyone. It is a very natural instrument. A man in a forest once heard a sweet voice that was coming from small holes made in a bamboo stick by an insect. That was a flute. He brought the bamboo to his village and started playing it. In my life, flute carries a very high value. I speak with it. It is my life. There is no Naveen without flute.”
Does he have advice for aspiring musicians?
“The music journey is very difficult. It is not a one or two-day story. This is a lifelong journey. I will advise young musicians to first go for formal education. They should have a plan B because music is a big game. It is like standing on a sword. They should learn music properly.
About his future plans, he said: “I am going to start master classes in India in the near future. My long term plan is to set up a school of bansuri [flute]. I organised World Wind Festival in India two years ago when I brought together all wind instruments. I want to continue this festival in India.
We as Indians cannot live without music. Similarly, music cannot live without flute. The instrument will always stand out. It will not fade away. At the same time, I tell young learners to learn different music instruments and new technologies.
About his experience of performing in Qatar, he said: “This was my second performance in Qatar; the first time, I had a smaller show. It has been a wonderful experience. I am happy that I performed here. I enjoyed performing with Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. The Qatar-India Year of Culture is a mind-blowing opportunity for artistes in both countries. It is a great platform. I am also going to propose a similar concert in Mumbai.”
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