20 Indian Musicians you Should have Heard at least Once in Your Life

They say music is food for the soul. TBI pays a tribute to 20 of the greatest musicians this country has produced. If you have not heard them yet, you must.

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

1. Mian Tansen (1506 – 1589)

One of the nine jewels (navaratnas) at Mughal emperor Akbar’s court — Mian Tansen is considered to be a pioneer of Indian classical music. His ragas are an important part of Indian culture and many of them contain the prefix, “mian ki”. For example, “Mian ki Todi” or “Mian ki Malhar”. Here is Pt. Shivkumar Sharma’s rendition of the raga, “Mian ki Malhar”.

2. Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941)

Amongst several other things, Tagore was also a celebrated musician. He has to his credit 2,230 compositions. He created his songs from scratch — the tune, the lyrics, et al. Rabindrasangeet is almost a genre on its own and the diversity in his music is beyond remarkable.

3. M. S. Subbulakshmi (1916 – 2004)

Subbulakshmi was a legend. She was only 13 when she gave her first performance at the Madras Music Academy and stunned the audience present. She would go on to create ripples across seven seas. She was the first musician to be awarded the prestigious Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.

4. Pt. Ravi Shankar (1920 – 2012)

His music cannot be penned down, for its impact has been so vast that it encompasses audiences across the world. Amongst his ardent admirers and students were The Byrds and George Harrison of The Beatles. If one were to begin naming the awards he won during his lifetime, one would not stop. From the Bharat Ratna to the Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire to three Grammy awards. He saw it all, he won it all.

5. S. Balachander (1927 – 1990)

This Padma Bhushan awardee was no less than a magician and his wand was his veena. He is credited with contemporarising the veena and boldly changing the grammar of instrumental music. His are indeed the strings of enigma. Prepare to be enthralled.

6. Pt. Shivkumar Sharma (1938 – )

A wonderful santoor player. Shivkumar Sharma is a one-of-his-kind musician. There is so much depth, so much playfulness, so much beauty in his music. He has been the recipient of Padma Shree and Padma Vibhushan and has won accolades around the world.

7. Lata Mangeshkar (1929 – )

She has been revered in the Indian music industry for over seven decades. Very few singers have such range and sweetness in their voices. After Subbulakshmi, she is the second vocalist ever to have been awarded the Bharat Ratna.

8. Mohammad Rafi (1924 – 1980)

Let’s face it. Bollywood would not have been the same without him….his music understood what Bollywood was about! It did what no one else has been able to do with as much flawlessness – it brought out the ada and captured the nuances of Bollywood moments.

9. Begum Akhtar (1914 – 1974)

A Padma Shree and a Padma Bhushan (posthumous) awardee, Akhtar was titled Mallika-e-Ghazal, so beautiful were her ghazals. Her music is achingly soulful and expresses a deep yearning.

10. Hariprasad Chaurasiya (1938 – )

An Indian classical flutist of utter brilliance, Chaurasiya, a Padma Shree and a Padma Vibushan recipient, creates wonders when he plays the flute. He has been bewitching audiences the world over with the new emotional ambience he’s brought to classical music.

11. Ilayaraja (1943 – )

Ilayaraja is one of finest composers India has today. Although most of his work is in South Indian languages, his influence is spread all over India. The range of music he has composed is mind-boggling.

12. Zakir Hussain (1951 – )

Padma Bhushan and Padma Shree recipient, Hussain is the youngest percussionist to have been awarded such high honours. This tabla maestro is capable of putting a beat to every millisecond of passing moment. Listening to him is pure bliss.

13. Bismillah Khan (1913 – 2006)

The spectacular shehnai player, Bismillah Khan, was a musician who managed to grasp the essence of Indian culture through his music. He was a Bharat Ratna as well as a Padma Vibhushan recipient.

14. A. R. Rahman (1987 – )

This man is a living legend. His music has the potential to reach corners of your emotions you did not know existed. From National recognition with a Padma Bhushan and four National Awards in his pocket, he is internationally recognised also, having won two Grammys.

15. Master Madan (1927 – 1947)

He died young at the age of 15, leaving behind just eight songs of exquisite beauty. He was a child prodigy, a ghazal singer par excellence.

16. Bhimsen Joshi (1922 – 2011)

This Bharat Ratna recipient was a Hindustani classical vocalist and a breathtaking one at that. Every nuance in his songs was profoundly clear and poignant.

17. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan (1945-)

This phenomenal sarod player is considered to be one of the greatest sarod players of the twentieth century. His music is as renowned internationally as it is on a national level and he considers his audience to be his motivation. He refuses to discriminate between genres and chooses to play “just music”.

18. R. D. Burman (1939 – 1994)

He was the man who brought in western tunes to the Hindi film industry and experimented with several other genres. He thought outside the box and broke the Bollywood music scene, marking his own niche. He is still a major influence on budding as well as established artistes of the industry.

19. Kadri Gopalnath (1949 – )

Kadri Gopalnath is a Padma Bhushan winning saxophone player and a pioneer of Carnatic music on the instrument. The kind of music he plays has a melodic richness and the amount of effort he puts in is beyond phenomenal.

20. Dr. L. Subramaniam (1947 – )

This violinist makes music of sheer class. A violinist of spectacular stature, Subramaniam has numerous awards to his name, including the Padma Bhushan.

There is just something about music reaching that corner of your emotional high, one which the mundane cycle of every day separates from your active conscience, that makes it so special. Do yourself a little justice – widen your range, strengthen that high.

Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us: [email protected], or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

Like us to get inspiring news daily


Subscribe for awesome videos