One of the foremost vocalists of Hindustani classical music, Atul Desai was feted for his genius in preserving and continuing a lineage of traditional music and also for his numerous musical compositions for dance and his keen interest in electronic music. With skill, expertise and a vast repertoire in each of these genres, he straddled the traditional and the modern.
Born on January 31, 1934, Desai was a protégé of Pandit Omkarnath Thakur. Such was his commitment and devotion to his guru that his voice intrinsically reflected the master’s finesse and the finest of aesthetic ideals. His melodious renditions of bhajans, khayals and thumris, genial and cheerful disposition, magnanimity and deep spirituality added layers to his multi-faceted personality as did his artistic mastery of the art.
A top artiste of All India Radio where his concerts are broadcast regularly, Atul Desai gave lively and entertaining stage performances in India, the USA and Europe. His musical compositions include children’s productions, stage plays, radio features and TV films.
He was a composer of music for dance performances, notably Kathak. One of his contemporaries, N. Rajam, eminent Hindustani violinist, said his “singing was exemplary and his dance compositions were extraordinary”.
His interest in electronic music led him to the USA where he studied under David Tudor, a well known musician in the field. The musical archives house a large collection of electronic music composed by Atul Desai himself.
One of the few musicians of his time to be equally adept with dance compositions, he had a long association with Kadamb, a dance academy in Ahmedabad,Gujarat, co-founded by him in 1967 along with Kumudini Lakhia. Kadamb has become one of the premier dance institutions in the country; its performing group enjoys huge popularity in India and abroad. All the dance presentations of Kadamb at various Festivals of India in Europe, UK and the USA had music composed by Atul Desai. He received a scholarship grant from the Government of India for study and research into music accompaniment for dance.
Atul Desai passed away in January 2013 in Toronto, Canada. He was a recipient of the President’s Medal for Excellence in Music and a Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee.