Roopa Panesar, sitar player

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

It was my parents who initially pushed me to learn sitar and introduced me to my Guru, Ustad Dharmabir Singh ji, aged seven. I had shown an interest at a very early age as I loved the sound of the instrument. My parents had always aspired for their children to learn music as they were never allowed the opportunities when they were younger. My music training under the guidance of my Guru intensified over the years. I was also fortunate enough to have learnt from great maestros visiting the UK from India which enriched my knowledge. Alongside my musical training, I completed my education and qualified as a Chemical Engineer. After working for a couple of years in industry, I had a career break and I seemed to be getting lots of musical opportunities which included performing and collaborating with other musicians from other genres. I found the musical work and development extremely fulfilling and did not even realise that I was now more or less a full-time musician!

Who or what have been the most significant influences on your musical life and career?

My Guru, Ustad Dharambir Singh ji has massively influenced and steered my musical career. I feel extremely grateful to have been guided by him all these years. His guru was the legendary Ustad Vilayat Khansaheb, who is an eternal source of inspiration for me.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Returning to live performances after the pandemic and after having experienced a close, personal loss.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I always feel that more could be done! It is an aspect that comes with playing Indian Classical Music as it is largely improvised and a musician’s view on each Raga tends to grow with age/time so there is never really a sense of achievement as such.

Tell us more about your new album SUBHA. What was the inspiration for this album and what have been the pleasures and challenges of producing it?

Subha is a morning Ragas album and I was heavily encouraged by my Guru to record some Ragas/compositions with Ramdas Palsule ji who is a great tabla player. He was visiting the UK at the time and we had the opportunity to sit and jam a few times. We had fun jamming and decided we should record together in a relaxed setting. I had also been furthering my research on the Ragas played on the album, so it felt like a great time to document my thought process.

Can you tell us a little more about the Ragas that feature on this album? Why are they special for you?

Rag Ahir Bhairav, Gujri Todi and Bhairavi are all morning Ragas. They are all peaceful in nature. I personally feel the sound of these Ragas are devotional and exhilarating which is why I love to play/hear them. They also provide a great canvas for improvisation and melodic development which is suited well to the Sitar.

What do you do offstage that provides inspiration on stage?

Practise, introspection and faith.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To consistently improve by your own standards and be able to share your music with listeners who are eager to listen.

What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?

Pursue your dreams, work damn hard and stay grounded.

What’s the one thing we’re not talking about in the music industry which you really feel we should be?

It is something that is talked about but maybe not enough: that is the healing power of music. Creating more music that is inspired and based on healing frequencies and sounds with the intention to uplift listeners.

What next? Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

I am working on my next album which has more collaborative work. This was recorded at Real World Studios, and I am really looking forward to sharing this with listeners as it was recorded after quite a pivotal time in my life.

What is your most treasured possession?

My sitar!

What is your present state of mind?


Roopa Panesar’s new album SUBHA is available now

Roopa Panesar remains firmly within the Hindustani classical idiom, but brings a distinctive style to sitar performance. Born in Leicester, she is considered one of the finest sitar players to emerge on the Indian classical music scene from the UK. 

She is a disciple of the renowned educationist and leading musician of the UK, Ustad Dharambir Singh ji MBE (a disciple of the late Ustad Vilayat Khan). She began her training at the age of seven, under her Guru, until the present day.  She also learnt from the senior most disciple of the late Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pandit Arvind Parikh ji. Her musical vision has been enriched while receiving guidance from other outstanding musicians visiting the UK including Ustad Shahid Parvez, Pt Buddhaditya Mukherjee and Ustad Bahauddin Dagar.

(Image credit: Darbar Festival)