Times of India 4 April 2020
Lyle Wachovsky, a collector of rare unpublished recordings discovered artiste after artiste and paid them handsomely, unmindful of his own diminishing fortunes Is it possible to own a treasure chest filled with rare gems and still be bankrupt? Yes, in a world where the arts have value only if they can be commercially monetised.
A New York-based collector and publisher Lyle Wachovsky set the Indian classical music world buzzing this week when he announced on social media that he had no money to pay his rent, but is still holding on to hundreds of hours of unpublished recordings by great Indian artistes, including sitar star Vilayat Khan and rare archival pieces sung by Amir Khan.
Lyle Wachovsky has unpublished recordings of great Indian artistes, including sitar star Vilayat Khan. In the pic Vilayat Khan (left) with shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan (right)read captionLyle Wachovsky has unpublished recordings of great Indian artistes, including sitar star Vilayat Khan. In the pic Vilayat Khan (left) with shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan (right) Over the years, Wachovsky discovered artiste after artiste and paid them handsomely, unmindful of his own diminishing fortunes, a bit like the music-obsessed landlord in Satyajit Ray’s ‘Jalsaghar’. He was scarcely able to retrieve the investments he made through his label, India Archive Music, but that didn’t stop him. As musicologist Deepak Raja says, “He deserves a Sangeet Natak Akademi award for his contribution to Indian classical music. His built the careers of many artistes and all the top musicologists were his allies.”
Wachovsky recorded Shujaat Khan and Rashid Khan long before they became celebrities. And when the reclusive singer Dhondutai Kulkarni was being rejected by Indian record labels, Wachovsky offered her a vast sum to record what he deemed was pure Jaipur gharana music—which remains unpublished.
Wachovsky discovered artists like Shujaat Khan (in the pic) long before they became celebritiesread captionWachovsky discovered artists like Shujaat Khan (in the pic) long before they became celebrities“He is unique and eccentric,” says sitar guru Shujaat Khan. “If, but only if, he believed in your artistry, he was generous to a fault. Lyle has some of the most beautiful recordings.” Sarod maestro Tejendra Majumdar adds, “No one in India has done what he has done for our music. He discovered me at the beginning of my career, around 1989, and supported me. He would inspire us in such a way that we would give our best performance. We are all trying to help him now.”
When the downloading revolution hit the music world, Wachovsky refused to relent to the MP3 model because it would compromise the quality of the sound. “I have about 100 unpublished CDs by the greatest masters making sublime music,” he announced in his Facebook fundraiser where he has pronounced bankruptcy. “Who in God’s name might be interested in investing about a million dollars in Indian music is beyond me. But I have to do something-—lacking any heirs, I’ll be forced to give it away…”
Wachovsky announced on a Facebook fundraiser that he was bankruptread captionWachovsky announced on a Facebook fundraiser that he was bankrupt Wachovsky’s love for music can be traced back to 1969 when, as a senior majoring in medieval history at the City College of New York, he walked into a class on the basics of Indian music taught by Ravi Shankar, who had just been discovered by the US. He was smitten. A few decades later, Wachovsky became obsessed with another great sitar maestro,Vilayat Khan. In 1989, he paid for him to fly from Dehradun and rented him a small house in Somerset, New Jersey, where he funded him along with a young tabla player, Akram Khan, for six months. During this time, he recorded him relentlessly—enticing him with generous amounts of cash, and visits bearing paan—at the Astoria Studio in Queens. He used top-class sound engineers and a 48-track NEVE board which could have recorded an entire symphony orchestra. It was at this time that he recorded Vilayat Khan’s ‘Saanjh Saravali’. “The 78-minute bada khayal style rendition of this raga will qualify amongst the greatest pieces of instrumental music recorded in the post-independence era,” says Raja.
Wachovsky’s love for Indian classical music class can be traced back to 1969 when he attended a music class taught by Ravi Shankar (in the pic)read captionWachovsky’s love for Indian classical music class can be traced back to 1969 when he attended a music class taught by Ravi Shankar (in the pic) Wachovsky was also the first publisher to carry extensive sleeve notes with the albums, detailing minutiae of what was being played or sung, analysing the raga, the style, and the musician, with academic precision. “I wanted to give people more knowledge. People in the US had no idea about this music, they had not grown up with it.” He deliberately avoided popular light or pseudo-spiritual music and album titles like ‘Sounds of India’. Instead, his sleeve designs always have a simple photograph of the artiste usually taken by him, an acclaimed photographer in another avatar.
I have about 100 unpublished CDs by the greatest masters making sublime music…Who in God’s name might be interested in investing about a million dollars in Indian music is beyond me. But I have to do something—lacking any heirs, I’ll be forced to give it awayLyle Wachovsky, New York-based collector and publisher“The fact that he is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy is a kind of indictment on the state of patronage of arts, wherein very few have the conviction to come forward and truly support such endeavours,” says Irfan Zuberi, project manager of the national cultural audiovisual archives, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in Delhi.
The fact that he is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy is a kind of indictment on the state of patronage of arts, wherein very few have the conviction to come forward and truly support such endeavoursIrfan Zuberi, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts When this writer met Wachovsky a few summers ago in New York, he made her listen to one of his rare albums together, pointing out nuances between the notes and describing funny stories about the sitar player the day it was recorded. Before leaving, he extracted a promise that if I came across any old recordings lying in some forgotten drawer or with a dying collector, I would make sure these priceless heirlooms don’t just get lost. Clearly, some music travels in realms beyond geography and its custodians hear what most others may not.