Thursday, July 31, 2008

Uday Bhawalkar -- "Dhrupad is not a guarantee of a comfortable life"

Uday Bhawalkar spoke to Deepak Raja on October 2, 1998

My family hails from Ujjain. In 1981, when I was 15, I read an advertisement in the newspapers inviting applications for Dhrupad training, under the guidance of Ustad Zia Fareeduddin Dagar. I sought the permission of my parents to apply. Since I was the youngest in the family, with no responsibilities, they readily agreed. I also asked my music teacher for permission; he also agreed because I would receive training in the Dagar tradition, which was highly respected.

Right from childhood, I had very little interest in conventional education. I was crazy about music. My elder sister, who is a good singer, had already started training me in the Khayal style. I had finished my first part of B.Mus. (Bachelor of Music) with five years of training. I did not know much about Dhrupad at that time. All I was looking for was a great Guru; and this advertisement seemed to open the right kind of doors for me.

The selection panel accepted my application. Initially, I could only follow the ragas. I could not figure out what was going on in the hour-long Dhrupad alaps that my Ustad used to sing. It is only when the compositions started, along with percussion accompaniment, that I could make sense out of the music. Gradually, things fell into place.

When I finished my four-year tenure at the Dhrupad Kendra in 1985, I decided that Dhrupad is the only music I want to sing – whatever the consequences. I wanted to continue my training under my Ustad’s elder brother, Ustad Zia Moiuddin Dagar. Therefore, I came to Bombay.

I do not have any regrets about having chosen the Dhrupad route. It is, of course, true that there is much greater competition in Khayal, and Dhrupad is emerging as an attractive novelty for a large number of music lovers. However, making any kind of career in classical music is not a bed of roses, and Dhrupad is not a guarantee of a comfortable life.

The improving demand for Dhrupad today only means that I happen to be doing the right thing at the right time. Nevertheless, the right thing is the right thing for me because of what I want to do with my life.I do not believe any genre of music – whether it is Khayal, Dhrupad, or Thumree -- is complete in itself. Each of them has its individual inclination and character. Dhrupad suited my temperament.

It is difficult to judge whether it is Dhrupad that interests my audiences, or Uday Bhawalkar. I believe that Dhrupad is attracting the audiences, rather than my own competence. However, it is also true that if I did not qualify as a singer, I would not get as many opportunities to present my music as I do. If Dhrupad now interests many more communities, it is because our Ustads have trained disciples well enough to command the respect of audiences.

After my performances, people often tell me that my music sounds different from that of my Ustads. This is important because our training has given us the basic equipment, and allowed our individuality and creativity to express itself. In the Dhrupad tradition, this may be happening for the first time; and it is necessary. The Dagars are allowing us the freedom to shape Dhrupad.

I would have no interest in a form of music that is stagnant. If I have to enjoy my own music, I need to feel that I am adding something new to it all the time. If my musical vision is acceptable to audiences, fine. If not, I still have to enjoy my music, and keep working upon what I have learnt.

There are, indeed, signs of a Dhrupad revival in India. The music is reaching out to audiences in a very different way. This is happening because, for the first time, the great Dhrupad gharanas have opened their doors to musicians from different backgrounds.

In the Dagar family, my Ustads are the first to take up training as a serious activity. In the other Dhrupad gharanas (ex: Maliks of Darbhanga gharana) too, the teaching of students outside the immediate family, is a recent development.

When I perform, people often tell me that they like the music, and it has changed their pre-conceived ideas about Dhrupad. They confess that they thought of Dhrupad as an aggressive style of singing, more like a wrestling bout with percussion. This impression gained circulation because too many musicians, lacking in balanced training, forgot that the range of improvisation should include poetic, melodic, as well as rhythmic elements.

Several factors are helping Dhrupad’s growing popularity. One is the absence of the Harmonium accompaniment, which more and more audiences find disturbing. In our gharana, we do not use harmonium accompaniment. The Elder Dagars (Nasir Moinuddin and Nasir Ameenuddin) did use Sarangi accompaniment often. In our stream of the Dagar style, however, the music is much closer to the Rudra Veena; so even Sarangi accompaniment would not be appropriate.

Second is the novelty, and acoustic richness of Pakhawaj accompaniment. To begin with, it is a change from the ubiquitous Tabla. Pakhawaj becomes more interesting because of the way in which we handle the interaction between the melodic development and rhythmic improvisation. Unlike Khayal, we do not suppress it altogether. But, unlike some Dhrupad gharanas, we also do not allow it to take off into a rival concert. Our gharana has developed a way of interacting with the rhythmic element, more akin to modern instrumental music. This method has great appeal -- not just musical, but also visual -- for audiences today.

Thirdly, and perhaps most important, audiences seem to like the gradual build-up of the structure in Dhrupad, in contrast to the immediate and simultaneous entry of all the elements in the Khayal form. Moreover, of course, the peace and tranquil quality of the vilambit alap in Dhrupad, without an explicit rhythm, seems to be satisfying a very important need amongst contemporary audiences.

In the west, I know mainly European audiences. Speaking of Europe in general, audiences represent a variety. One kind of audience is coming just for Indian classical music. This audience does not know Dhrupad from Khayal from Thumree. Another segment is coming just for something Indian. And, then, there are audiences, specially in the Netherlands, who know Hindustani classical music well, who have been exposed to many musicians, and are deepening their understanding with every exposure.

My impression is that Dhrupad is more popular in Europe than Khayal. The audiences show a special appreciation for the Dhrupad alap. They can share its meditative and peaceful quality. However, this is also a very important reason for the growing popularity of Dhrupad in India.

Actually, the alap component in the Bada Khayal is supposed to provide the same leisurely exploration of the meditative quality of music. Therefore, it is odd that Dhrupad should have such a great advantage. The only explanation would be that, perhaps Khayal singers have started neglecting some of the beautiful things the Khayal form took from Dhrupad. Therefore, audiences are now turning to Dhrupad. The wheel may have come full circle. In the past, the Khayal developed when Dhrupad started becoming soulless. And, now, the dryness of the Khayal is probably helping Dhrupad to return.

As far as I know, the significant gharanas of Dhrupad are still the Dagars and the Maliks of Darbhanga. The third is the Bishnupur gharana of Bengal, which is stylistically quite close to the Bettiah School of Bihar. The Dhrupad revival is helping each of these three traditions, though in different ways, and in varying degrees. This is especially the case in relation to the Western market for Dhrupad performances, teaching, research material, and recordings.

In India, we tend to have strong gharana loyalties. In contrast, the foreign market, especially Europe, requires a greater variety to satisfy its special needs. In search of this variety, students, impresarios, researchers and recording companies seek out good musicians from several traditions, and patronize them. It should not surprise you to discover that European followers of Dhrupad have a broader exposure to the stylistic variety of Dhrupad than most Indian audiences.

In its totality, I think the Dagar style still leads the genre in terms of its following. I am referring especially to the Zia Moiuddin and Zia Fareeduddin stream of the Dagar family, which has brought vocal music closer to the Rudra Veena idiom. You will notice that we sing as much of Jod and Jhala in our alaps as we do the free-flowing alap itself.

It is true that Dhrupad is now drawing a larger number of students, perhaps even of superior talent, than has happened in a long time. But, I get the impression that a lot of them expect that Dhrupad will not impose upon them the hard work and struggle associated with shaping a career in classical music. This worries me. I am also concerned that my juniors are not trying to think originally about their music. They are not aware that the source of a musician’s success lies in his own personality, in his own introspective ability, in his assessment of his own strengths and weaknesses.

The shortage of great Ustads will become more acute. We have to think about what we, as the next generation of teachers, can do for training musicians for the future. I am keen to impart the same quality of training to my students that I have received from my Ustads. However, I have so far not come across very inspiring students.

At present, my hopes rest on the three blind students who are learning from me under a scholarship instituted by Mr. Kishore Merchant of Bombay. They are talented, they work hard, and have started singing well. But, as they go along, they will have to face the basic issue of earning a livelihood. Unless I am able to accept total responsibility for their future, I cannot predict how music will fit into their wider concerns.

The scene is more encouraging in Pakhawaj. Actually, there is no shortage of Pakhawaj players. There are plenty of excellent soloists. But, great soloists do not have the temperament for accompaniment. The present shortage of good Pakhawaj accompanists will not last long. The leading Pakhawaj maestros are serious about teaching, and have several promising students.

The best way for us to promote Dhrupad is to work hard at our music, attract good students, and devote time and energy in producing better musicians. It helps to produce reference material in the form of books, videotapes or recordings. But, all this works if you are preserving quality material, there is a significant number of serious students wanting it, and a mechanism is available for dissemination.

I do not think Dhrupad Sammelans or Dhrupad Melas of the variety held in Varanasi and Vrindavan are doing anything substantial to preserve or promote Dhrupad. I am not sure if they enlarge the audiences for Dhrupad. Many foreigners attend these events. And, if some musician catches their fancy, they invite him/her to their home countries for concerts and teaching. We should think seriously about whether the randomness of such occurrences justify the effort and the expense.

On the other hand, events like Sir Shankarlal Music Festival in Delhi and the Harballabh Sangeet Mahasabha in Jallundhar or Sawai Gandharva Festival in Pune – I have performed at all these – do much more for Dhrupad. It is in these events that our caliber as musicians is tested. When these organizers and audiences accept us, Dhrupad is able to enlarge its audience. So, we keep coming back to the same issue. We have to establish our musicianship before we are invited to such events.

Reproduced, with the publisher’s consent, from “Perspectives on Dhrupad”, edited by Deepak Raja, and Suvarnalata Rao, published by the Indian Musicological Society, Baroda/ Bombay. 1999

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Somnath Mardur – “Training my children was my highest priority”

Introduction: Somnath Mardur (born: 1944) is an unassuming musician, whose world has so far been limited to local radio broadcasts, and concert appearances in, and around, his native Dharwad. His musicianship may have remained unnoticed by the world outside, had it not been for his son and disciple, Kumar (born: 1982), who is now rated amongst the most promising vocalists of his generation. Somnath studied under the eminent Kairana maestro, Basavraj Rajguru (died: 1991), and is an “A” grade artiste on All India Radio. Beyond his formal tutelage, he also admits to a significant influence of the Gwalior-trained original, Kumar Gandharva.

Mardur spoke to Deepak Raja on March 30, 2004.

I received my initiation in music at the age of eight with Veerappayya Swami, an ascetic musician, who followed the Gwalior style. After three years with him, I started studying with Basavraj Rajguru.

Basavraj is known as a stalwart of the Kairana gharana. But, he was heir to a more complex legacy. He was a disciple of Panchakshari Swami (died 1944), a mystic-musician, who ran an ashram (a seminary-cum-conservatory) in Gadag (near Dharwad) with a couple of hundred students. Basavraj was trained, for several years, by Swamiji from 4.00 am to 7.00 am every day. Panchakshari Swami had been trained originally as a South Indian (Carnatic tradition) musician. Under the influence of Sawai Gandharva (the principal disciple of the Kairana founder, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan) who hailed from our part of the country, Swamiji was attracted to the Kairana style. So, he became a disciple of Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan (Abdul Kareem Khan’s uncle and associate). Then – I am not sure about the year -- Abdul Waheed Khan migrated to that part of India, which later went to Pakistan,. So, Panchakshari Swami continued his training in Hindustani music with Neelkanthbuwa Alurmath of the Gwalior gharana. My Guru, Basavraj Rajguru was a product of this background.

I studied with him starting in my teens, and remained attached to him until his end (died: 1991). But, I was hungry for newer ideas, and got them from wherever I could. For a few years towards the end of his life, Mallikarjun Mansoor (died: 1992), also taught me. From him, I learnt several ragas and bandish-es of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. Other than my direct Gurus, Bhimsen Joshi, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and Kumar Gandharva have also influenced me. Amongst these, Kumar Gandharva was unique. He was a self-made musician who followed nobody. He founded a one-man gharana with no disciples. The depth and complexity of his music were unfathomable. He was inimitable, and yet he influenced many musicians.

My performing career began in 1961 (age:17), when I stood first in the All India Radio competition. Thereafter, I have been broadcasting for over 35 years, and occupy the “A” Grade today. Very few people outside this region have heard of me. But, I have lived entirely off my abilities as a performing musician. In the early years, I taught music in schools and colleges. But, I found it impossible to combine that kind of work with my own pursuits as a musician. In Dharwad, where I live – unlike a big a city like Bombay -- even private tuitions cannot be a source of livelihood.

All significant musicians in our region have had secure jobs to keep the home fires burning. I have no agricultural land or property to live off. So, mine was a hard choice to make. I had confidence in my music, and that enabled me to live a life of self-respect, build a small house, and bring up my children. Moving to a bigger city has never seemed either possible or attractive. The Dharwad region is rich in its musical tradition. Life is peaceful and uncomplicated. It is only here that I could give my children the attention they have received. Shaping them into first- class musicians was my highest priority. They are free now to go out into the world, and achieve according to their potential. I am proud that they are receiving recognition and encouragement from the most discerning people.

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

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tagore – "Music is the purest form of art"

Reproduced from: Sadhana, the Realisation of Life,
by Rabindranath Tagore
1st edition. 1913, reprinted 1964

Music is the purest form of art, and therefore the most direct expression of beauty, with a form and spirit which is one, and simple, and least encumbered with anything extraneous. We seem to feel that the manifestation of the infinite in the finite forms of creation is music itself, silent and visible. The evening sky, tirelessly repeating the starry constellations, seems like a child struck with wonder at the mystery of its own first utterance, lisping the same word over and over again, and listening to it in unceasing joy.

When in the rainy night of July the darkness is thick upon the meadows and the pattering rain draws veil upon veil over the stillness of the slumbering earth, this monotony of the rain patter seems to be the darkness of sound itself. The gloom of the dim and the dense line of trees, the thorny bushes scattered in the bare heath like floating heads of swimmers with bedraggled hair, the smell of the damp grass and the wet earth, the spire of the temple rising above the undefined mass of blackness grouped around the village huts – everything seems like notes rising from the heart of the night, mingling and losing themselves in the one sound of ceaseless rain filling the sky.

Therefore the true poets, they who are seers, seek to express the universe in terms of music.

They rarely use symbols of painting to express the unfolding of forms, the mingling of endless lines and colours that goes on every moment on the canvas of the blue sky. They have their reasons. For the man who paints must have canvas, brush and colour-box. The first touch of his brush is very far from the complete idea. And, then when the work is finished and the artist is gone, the widowed picture stands alone, the incessant touches of love of the creative hand are withdrawn.

But, the singer has everything within him. The notes come out from his very life. They are not materials gathered from outside. His idea and his expression are brother and sister; very often they are born as twins. In music the heart reveals itself immediately; it suffers not from any barrier of alien material. Therefore, though music has to wait for its completeness like any other art, yet at every step it gives out beauty to of the whole. As the material of expression, even words are barriers, for their meaning has to be construed or thought. But, music never has to depend upon any obvious meaning; it expresses what no words can reveal.

What is more, music and the musician are inseparable. When the singer departs, his singing dies with him; it is in eternal union with the life and joy of the master. This world-song is never separated from its singer. It is not fashioned from any outward material. It is his joy itself taking never-ending form. It is the great heart sending the tremor of its thrill over the sky. There is perfection in each individual strain of this music, which is the revelation of completion in the incomplete. No one of its notes is final, yet each reflects the infinite.

What does it matter if we fail to derive the exact meaning of this great harmony? Is it not like the hand meeting the string and drawing out at once all its tones at the touch? It is the language of beauty, the caress, that comes from the heart of the world, and straightaway reaches our heart.

Last night, in the silence which pervaded the darkness, I stood alone and heard the voice of the singer of the eternal melodies. When I went to sleep, I closed my eyes with this last thought in my mind, that even when I remain unconscious in slumber the dance of life will still go on in the hushed arena of my sleeping body, keeping step with the stars. The heart will throb, the blood will leap in the veins, and the millions of living atoms of my body will vibrate in tune with the note of the harp-string that thrills at the touch of the master.

© Macmillan and Co. Ltd., London. 1964

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Shamsuddin Faridi Desai – "The Qadri Sufis regard music as a pathway to God"

Shamsuddin Faridi Desai,  amongst the last Rudra Veena players of the pre-independence generation, was not an easy man to interview. I tried once, and failed. But, Lyle Wachovsky, of India Archive Music Ltd., New York, managed to get something out of him. His finest recordings have been published by India Archive Music.

Excerpts from interview with Lyle Wachovsky, April 2004

I was born in 1936. My father, Mohammad Faridi Desai, was a court musician in the princely state of Bhavnagar in Gujarat (Western India), and tutor to the queen. He played the Been and was also adept at playing the violin, the piano, and the sarangi. He had studied with Ustad Waheed Khan of Indore, a disciple of the legendary Beenkar, Ustad Bande Ali Khan. My grandfather, Abdul Rehman, was in the army, but had also been trained as a Beenkar under Waheed Khan. In my early days, I played the violin and the mandolin, and switched on later simultaneously to the sitar and the Been.

I did my first concert on the Been in the presence of eminent musicians, and princes, when I was 15. It was very well received, and encouraged me to pursue the instrument. For a while I flirted with acting as a junior to Prithviraj Kapoor at Prithvi Theatres. But, once I got hooked on the Been, I lost interest in everything else.

I studied the Been under my father as long as he lived. After that, I studied, for five years, with Maharana Jaswant Singh (ruler of Sanand, near Ahmedabad in Gujarat), who was a fine Been player. Ustad Ghulam Qadir, who was the son of my father’s Guru, Waheed Khan, also guided me after my father’s demise. I started broadcasting from Ahmedabad radio station in 1957 (age: 21).

In 1959, Thakur Jaidev Singh, the well-known musicologist, who was advisor to the government, arranged for me to join the National Orchestra of All India Radio, based in Delhi. The orchestra has a full-time staff of 40 musicians. At the National Orchestra, I played the sitar and Been under great composers and conductors like Pandit Ravi Shankar, and Emani Shankar Shastri. I served the orchestra for 38 years, and retired in 1997. After retirement, I perform as a Beenkar, and am training my sons and a couple of students on the Been as well as the sitar.

My family’s style of the Been follows the Gauhar Bani, founded by Gopal Nayak. In our style, we are permitted only five forms of melodic execution – Soonth, Meend, Gamak, Lehek, and Dehek. Two forms -- Zamzama and Murki -- are explicitly prohibited. Our speciality is the richness of our jhala. We are taught 26 different strokes of the mizrab, and 18 different chikari perforation patterns.

An important part of our music is the link between our spiritual beliefs and pursuit of music. We belong to the Qadri sect of Sufism, which regards music as a path to the realization of God. The fountainhead of our gharana, Ustad Bande Ali Khan is reported to offered penance at the shrine of the Sufi saint, Khwaja Garibnawaz at Ajmer, and obtained a boon that he and his heirs would have the power to make people laugh or cry at will. It is that boon that inspires our music.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd.New York, producers of the finest recordings of Shamsuddin Faridi Desai.