Vidya Rao is a performer of thumri-dadra and ghazal. Disciple of the legendary singer, the late Vidushi Naina Devi, she has continued her study under Vidushi Shanti Hiranand and Vidushi Girija Devi. Her initial training in khayal was under the late Prof. B.N. Datta and thereafter under Pandit Mani Prasad. Her repertoire also includes the songs of medieval sufi and bhaktipoets, verses from Hindu and Buddhist texts and the Islamic forms of naat, soz and nauha.
Advisor and friend to the Kabir Project since 2002, Vidya features in our films (Koi Sunta Hai) and audio CDs (Kabir in Thumri). “Singing Kabir in thumri is all about bringing the emptiness of shoonya into the very ornamented form of thethumri. Kabir may be stark and evoking the emptiness (shoonya)of the sky (gagan). But when I think of the way the sky is adorned with the sun, the moon, the rainbow… How can you say it is empty? Emptiness has this adornment. And the adornment is empty. To me they are true, when they are together.”
Vidya has performed at national and international forums, lectured and conducted workshops, composed and sung for the theatre, film and dance. She has also researched and written extensively on music and the performing arts, with a special focus on gender and musical form. Her most recent work, Heart to Heart: Remembering Nainaji, is a memoir of life with her guru Naina Devi. She was the recipient of a Fellowship from the Ford Foundation, and a Senior Fellowship from the Ministry of Culture (Government of India). She has been Visiting Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Study, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. In 2012-2013, she was Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Nantes, France. In 2014 she was at a Residency at Smith College and the Five Colleges Inc for performances and lectures. She is actively associated with several NGOs - among them Beeja Vidyapeeth (environment), the Deer Park Institute (philosophy and art) and Matrika (maternal and reproductive health).