Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kaivalya Kumar – “Musicians should think, all the time, about enriching the content of their music”

Introduction: Kaivalya Kumar (born: 1963), the son of the Kairana stalwart, Sangameshwar Gurav [Born:1932] tried very hard to avoid a career in music. Discouraged by his father's moderate success in the profession, Kaivalya educated himself for a career in business, and engineering, achieving academic distinctions in both. When none of these gave him a professional opening, he turned to classical music. He took a degree in music, surrendered himself to rigorous training under his father, and launched himself into the ancestral profession. Finally, destiny smiled. Kaivalya occupies the “A” grade of All India Radio, enjoys a respectable presence on the concert platform, has released several commercial recordings, and received honours from cultural organisations all over the country.

Kaivalya spoke to Deepak Raja on June 4, 2001

My training with my father has the strong Kairana gharana bias of his own music. But, I have also been taught some ragas and bandishes, which my grandfather, Ganpatrao, had learnt from Bhaskarbuwa, and documented with detailed notations. A good part of the Bhaskarbuwa legacy came from other gharanas – Gwalior, Jaipur and Agra. Our family archive has over 250 ragas, with several bandishes in each of them. My father had chosen not to master some of these ragas or bandishes because they either did not suit his musical temperament, or were too demanding considering the manner in which his voice had been trained. He found me capable of handling some of them, and trained me in their exposition.

Beyond the family’s musical legacy, I have been influenced a lot by Kumar Gandharva’s music. My father and he were close friends; he visited us often. He was an exceedingly creative musician, with a passion for tonal precision, inspired by our own Kairana gharana fountainhead, Abdul Kareem Khan. I liked Kumarji’s short tans, and his use of the poetic form as a musical element. I have tried to incorporate these into my singing.

I try to think about the content of my music from the angle of compensating for its weaknesses. Our Kairana tradition is very strong on the communication of a raga’s emotional content. But, do we utilise all the elements of music to achieve the desired result? We tend not to give due respect to the poetic form of the bandishes. And, especially in vilambit laya [slow tempo] rendition, we are inclined to make the rhythm almost irrelevant. Without disturbing the essential melodic fluidity of Kairana vocalism, I try to allow the poetry and the rhythm a bigger role in the communication of the emotionality of the raga.

As a performer, I am concerned that my music should be as satisfying an emotional experience for the audiences, as for me. When I am practicing, I sing to an imaginary audience, and try to anticipate its responses to my music. Fortunately, our audiences have a tradition of responding overtly to music. In the performing situation, I hear exclamatory remarks, such as “Wah”, or “Ahahaha” or “Aaaah”, or I suddenly find people listening with their eyes closed. Each of these is a different category of response. Over the years, I have begun to understand what each of them means, even if I cannot describe their precise connotation. The understanding is important because I should know which of these makes more sense to me than the others.

It is important for musicians to think, all the time, about enriching the content of their music. In many ways, Khayal music has become much richer in the last few decades. But, in many ways, it has been impoverished. Unfortunately, in today’s world, there is very little dialog between scholars and connoisseurs on the one hand and musicians on the other. Musicians themselves, too, are no longer interested in discussing and thinking together about the content of music.

You rarely find musicians even attending concerts of other musicians, especially those of comparable stature. Each one is so involved with his own little world, that the sharing of musical ideas is negligible; and that too is taking place by imitation, rather than by an interactive process. From the accounts of our elders, this was not so in earlier days. There was a healthy exchange of ideas even between rivals. Great musicians attended each other’s concerts with great respect. The music of our generation is missing out on something valuable because we are not willing to make such efforts.

(c) Deepak S. Raja 2001
Read a detailed profile of the artist in: "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change".
The finest recordings of Kaivalya Kumar have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

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