Blind musician who’s worked with the stars made OBE
Baluji Shrivastav is a modest man. He’s just been made an OBE for services to music in the Queen’s 90th birthday honours list, but remains humble when asked about it.
“I was a little bit puzzled by it,” he says.
“I’m still not sure I deserved it, but obviously am thrilled to receive it.”
Baluji’s story is one of triumph over adversity. Blinded at a young age, he has never let his disability hold him back, and says music is all he’s ever wanted to do.
“I believe music exists with life,” Baluji tells the Gazette.
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“The air, the water, the earth, the sky. These are all nothing without music. If birds can sing, so can I.”
Baluji was born and grew up in India, where he learnt his signature instrument the sitar and honed his music skills. He tells a story of how he was working as a music demonstrator in a local shop one day in the late ’60s when a tourist brought a guitar in, which he played for him for a while.
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“It was only after he left that the people in the shop said to me ‘do you know who that was?!’ I said I thought it was just a tourist, but they told me it was George Harrison!”
Baluji soon began travelling as a music teacher, and came to Islington in 1982 to teach local girl Linda Shanson how to play Indian music.
“Had I known she wanted to learn south Indian music we never would have met,” he jokes.
“But I came here and began giving her lessons. One year later we had fallen in love and been married, and I’ve been here ever since.”
And Baluji, now of Highbury, has had quite the life. His mastery of several different instruments, coupled with his selfless work for the blind community, has meant he’s been able to perform with some of the world’s most famous musicians, from Stevie Wonder to Annie Lennox. He even performed with the Coldplay at the closing ceremony of the London Paralympic games in 2012.
“It’s a wonderful experience playing with someone live, because it’s so different from doing a recording. The Coldplay performance was fantastic,” he says.
In 2008 Baluji established the Baluji Music Foundation “to promote the understanding and enjoyment of music and performing arts from the Indian Sub-Continent”. Each week he also shares his talents with the local blind community at Islington Outlook, where he teaches music from 1 till 3 every Friday, as well as being the founder of the Inner Vision Orchestra, the UK’s only blind orchestra.
And it is this community, says Baluji, who he has to thank for his recent achievement.
“I’m so thankful for the support of the foundation, of the disabled and blind communities, and of all my family and friends. I couldn’t have done it without them.”