Musician Baluji Shrivastav has recently been made an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours list for services to Music.
The Indian-origin instrumentalist has a long and illustrious career, including performances with Stevie Wonder in Hyde Park and Coldplay at the London Paralympics closing ceremony.
Baluji is also founder of the Inner Vision Orchestra, the UK’s only blind orchestra – an initiative supported by the GLFB – and the Baluji Music Foundation.
Blind since eight months old, Baluji’s courageous attitude to life is reflected in his approach to music. In his recent interview with the GLFB team, Baluji spoke passionately about his personal mission to develop the potential of visually impaired people so that they can contribute to society, become independent, and lead full and happy lives.
On being awarded an OBE
I am totally thrilled and humbled to receive an OBE. It is a validation of a lifetime dedicated to music. It is a precious recognition and affirmation of the work of the Inner Vision Orchestra to demonstrate the power of music to transform lives.
One of the aims of the Inner Vision Orchestra is to give a platform to visually impaired people to increase awareness of their work and talents and in so doing, create access to as many opportunities as they deserve. We may not be able to see, but we want to be seen, and to be heard!
On the role of musicians with sight loss in the music industry
This is an area which merits more research. I commissioned a piece of research, ‘Blind to the Facts’, 20 years ago to examine what difficulties musicians themselves said they experienced.
The Inner Vision Orchestra was formed as a result of the lack of sufficient performing opportunities identified in the report. Musicians with sight loss can be easily marginalised which means missing out on networking – an essential feature of the music business.
I would like to commission research into the UK music industry, to discover how many people with sight loss are employed, and what their roles within it are, how they are recruited, and what opportunities could be further developed and how.
On where his heart lies, musically
I was brought up with classical Indian music – a bottomless treasure chest of melody, rhythm and improvisation that enables me to respond and interact with other kinds of music.
Music is a universal language, and the power of a musician to communicate is not only affected by knowledge of technique, and the ability to listen to others, but on the ability to connect that knowledge with the fundamental emotions of human experience.
On Inner Vision Orchestra’s work
The Arts Council, Welsh Arts Council, GLFB and Islington Community Chest have supported the Inner Vision Orchestra in our 2012, 2013 and 2014 tours, which enabled us to play in some of the best venues in the UK, perform on BBC TV and Radio, and entertain many people. We published a report for venues and promoters to offer guidance on hosting blind performers.
Inner Vision Orchestra
In 2015, together with Dr David Baker from the Institute of Education (IOE), and supported by Arts Council England and British Council, we toured seven regions of India, recording and performing, and researching sightless musicians from different regional musical traditions.
It is going to be published as part of the IOE’s continuing research into visually impaired musicians’ lives, which Baluji Music Foundation is also supporting. We hope to bring some of these blind musicians and dancers to play with the Inner Vision Orchestra in the UK.
We are also working on a film about the Inner Vision Orchestra called ‘Colours of Sound’ (working title) set to be completed by the end of the year.
On his latest projects
I am planning a tour of my composition ‘Sitar-Guitar Suites’, trying to fund the Urdu opera I have composed with Italian Golden Globe Award winning film composer Dario Marianelli.
I’m also hoping to record a new classical album with the great tabla player Zakir Hussein for ARC Music Productions International, along with writing ‘My Life and A Chair’ for Park Theatre.
I’m working on more Inner Vision Orchestra music workshops across London with music and dance for visually impaired people, and organising more performances as well. I have plans to set up an Inner Vision Youth Orchestra, and possibly an agency to find work for musicians with sight loss.
You can help GLFB continue our vital work for visually impaired children and adults in the local community by making a regular online donation, or by leaving a legacy gift in your Will, which will help us safeguard services for future generations.