Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Buddhadev Dasgupta -- “But for the radio, I would have died unknown”

Dasgupta spoke to
Deepak Raja
on October 27, 1997 and December 3, 1998.

I was born in 1933 at Bhagalpur in Bihar. My father was a government servant on transferable duty. Being a music enthusiast, he made it a point to establish contact with local musicians wherever we moved, and quickly became a part of the local music circle.

As a child, I showed no particular inclination towards music. My parents' early attempts at getting me interested were most disheartening. The turning point came when I was nine years old. We moved to Rajshahi (in present-day Bangla Desh), where the local Zamindar (feudal chieftain), and also the region's most distinguished musician, was an exceptionally handsome man called Radhika Mohan Maitra.

For all his wealth and social status, Radhu Babu, as he was affectionately called, was an unassuming man. At my father's invitation, he agreed to give a performance at our house. I cannot recall if his music made much of an impression on me. But, the visual image of this attractive man, playing his tantalizing instrument, captivated my imagination. It was pure, and simple, hero-worship.

I desperately wanted to be like him, and to learn from him. My father vetoed the idea on the grounds that the transferable nature of his job would deny continuity to my training. When this domestic dispute was revealed to Radhu Babu, he pleaded my case with my parents.

My father was candid with him. He argued that I was not an heir to ancestral lands, and would have to qualify myself professionally to make a decent living. Radhu Babu assured my father that if, at any stage, my music interfered with my education, he would suspend my training in music. On this condition, I was allowed to study with Radhu Babu. In less than a year thereafter, my family moved to Khulna (also in present-day Bangla Desh). Radhu Babu, by now a close friend of the family, continued to visit us from Rajshahi -- for a few days each time -- and to teach me.

Then came independence, and the partition (1947). My father was transferred to Calcutta, the provincial head quarters of undivided Bengal, which remained in India. Radhu Babu lost all his ancestral properties in East Bengal, and also moved to Calcutta to make a living as a professional musician. I was fifteen then. From then onwards, right upto my Guru's demise in 1981, I had permanent access to him.

In Calcutta, Radhu Babu visited us twice or thrice a week, at any time on any day. There were days when he would spend hours socializing with my parents; and others when he would land up an at an unearthly time and grill me for hours. During semester breaks at my college, I lived with him to learn. It was a Guru-Shishya relationship in the traditional mold.

Guru, a tough task-master
My Guru was a strict disciplinarian. The slightest sign of insubordination provoked a reprimand far more hurtful than the physical violence, with which Ustad Alauddin Khan is reported to have disciplined his students. Throughout my years in formal education, my Guru remained my father's staunch ally in demanding academic excellence from me as the price for the freedom to pursue my passion for music.

Academic and musical pursuits coexisted comfortably until I reached the fourth year of my degree course at the Bengal Engineering College. At that stage, the conflict between my passion and my vocational direction became crushing. I had been brainwashed into believing that getting anything less than a first class amounted to failure. For the first time, I feared the such a possibility, and considered quitting engineering studies in favour of a career in music.

My father was reassuring, but blunt. He offered a deal. I had his permission to get a second class, if that was inevitable; but I had to continue. In his opinion, I had the makings of a fine musician; but I just did not have what it takes to be another Ali Akbar Khan. Ali Akbars are not made; they are born , he said. I yielded; but I think that was a mistake.

Contrary to everyone's fears, I got a first class mechanical engineering degree in 1954, and started my career with the Calcutta Electric Supply Company, which I served until retirement at the age of fifty-five in 1988.

On call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day
An engineering career with a power supply utility cannot be a five-day-week, nine-to-five job with casual and privilege leave benefits. Even over Weekends, I was never sure of being able to travel for concerts. Going abroad for concert tours of two or three months was inconceivable. For almost ten of these thirty-five years in service, I had to live on the premises of the generating station, and be on-call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Except in and around Calcutta, I had virtually no presence on the concert platform. My primary access to audiences at large was through my broadcasts over All India Radio's local (medium wave) station. But, in those days, Calcutta radio was received avidly, even if faintly, by serious music lovers from all over the country. Were it not for All India Radio, I would have died unknown.

I had started performing over the radio in 1949, at the age of sixteen. In 1961, when I was twenty-eight, I got my first booking for the National Programme of Music broadcast live from Delhi, on Saturday nights, and relayed nationally over all stations. In a year, a maximum of twenty-six Hindustani musicians, including the dead, get this honor.

This momentous opportunity almost eluded me. I was, at that time, in charge of shift operations. On the eve of my departure for Delhi, there was a breakdown at the power station. An absence of twenty-four hours even over a weekend could not be permitted. My colleagues explained to my English boss my caliber as a musician and the magnitude of the opportunity and the honor. I made it to the airport just in time.

Walking the tight rope
My entire musical journey has been a story of walking the tight rope between my profession and my passion. Only after 55 am I giving to music what it has always deserved. The economic security of my profession has enabled me to remain faithful to my musical heritage, and to resist pandering to the popular taste. But, in the process, my music has been deprived of something -- I wish I knew what.

(c) Deepak S. Raja, 2000
The finest recordings of Buddhadev Dasgupta have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd.New York.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Raga Madhuvanti: Multani's cousin

Madhuvanti is a popular pre-sunset raga. Though it is possibly a raga of considerable antiquityl, its present nomenclature could be of recent origin. The raga is audava (pentatonic) in the ascent and sampoorna (heptatonic) in the descent. Although the raga is not encountered in the Thumree genre, it has a lyrical and poignant mood, which has given it limited entry into other romanticist and even popular genres.

Ascent: N. S g M^ P N S’/ Descent: S’ N D P M^ g R S.

The raga is allied to Multani, which has an identical ascent, but differs in the descent. Multani uses komal (flat) Dh and Re in the descent instead of the shuddha (natural) Re/ Dh used in Madhuvanti. In addition to using different pitches of Re and Dh, Multani intones them subliminally, while Madhuvanti deploys them explicitly, and often even emphatically. Despite this, authorities acknowledge that Madhuvanti does possess a “Multani facet”. This facet surfaces in the descent when the two discriminants are either underplayed or skipped altogether. Their occasional omission or suppression is, evidently, considered legitimate. To this extent, the raga suffers no damage by the sporadic use of ambivalent phrasing.

Authorities consider Ma^ and Sa to be the vadi-samvadi pair (primary and secondary dominants) of the raga. Being pivotal, the vadi deserves greater attention. Though the vadi concept has never been satisfactorily defined from an empirical-analytical standpoint, Tivra Ma is a rare swara in the role.. A vadi swara is understood to represent the melodic personality of the raga. It is normally the swara on which the raga’s crucial phrases culminate most frequently and/or most emphatically. Mukhda-s of bandish-es in the raga also tend often to culminate on the vadi swara. In this sense, Tivra (sharp) Ma is an unlikely vadi for any raga because of its uniquely anxiety-laden psycho-acoustics, and rare usage as a terminal point for phrasing.

It can, however, qualify as a vadi in a probabilistic sense of being the most frequently intoned swara of a rendition. This condition would be met if the raga is rendered with its center of gravity in the madhyanga (mid-octave region). This alternative interpretation of the vadi is tricky because such a vadi could have to compete with another “vadi”, which gets defined as the most frequent and emphatic terminal point of phrasing. The vadi status of tivra Ma in Madhuvanti is precarious because it cannot leap out of the rendition as a vadi is expected to do, and might thus get subdued by some other swara which may do so.

Madhuvanti recordings of Shivkumar Sharma, Jasraj, Bismillah Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Ravi Shankar, Rashid Khan, LK Pandit, and Hafeez Ahmed Khan, were reviewed for clarity on this issue.

Ravi Shankar, Bhimsen Joshi, and LK Pandit allow Re to perform an important role in the rendition. However, they make a special effort to emphasise the probable vadi status of tivra Ma, and also maintain the raga’s center of gravity in the mid-octave region. In fact, all of them also invest considerable melodic effort in using Tivra Ma as a terminal point for phrasing, exploiting its heart-rending character. In the renditions of these three, one also notices a highlighting of Dh, the second important discriminator between Multani and Madhuvanti. Hafeez Ahmed glosses over the importance of tivra Ma, but is equally emphatic about Dh. Bismillah Khan’s Jhaptal bandish (accompanied by Bageshwari Qamar), opening with the sam on tivra (sharp) Ma suggests the special status of this swara. A painstaking, deliberate, effort at the melodic exploitation of tivra Ma is, however, not evident in Bismillah’s recording.

In Shivkumar Sharma’s recording, Re and (komal) Ga are given considerable importance, without any obvious effort to emphasise Ma as the probable vadi. The Jasraj rendering is a liberal, romanticist, interpretation of the raga, underplays the two discriminants between Multani and Madhuvanti (Re and Dh) rather generously, and even allows shades of Piloo to drift and out of Madhuvanti. In his interpretation, the documented vadi swara of the raga (Ma^) does not emerge even as a probable vadi. Rashid Khan’s Madhuvanti underplays Re as well as tivra Ma, but appears to highlight Ni. Despite these features of a rendition romanticist in its demeanour, his rendition preserves the melodic identity of Madhuvanti well within its recognizable boundaries.

From this evidence, it appears that musicians of the senior (70 +) generation pay considerable attention to the importance of Tivra Ma, while the younger generations do not consistently to do so. For the majority of musicians, Re is a favoured and emphatic terminal point of phrasing probably because it is an unequivocal discriminator between Madhuvanti and Multani, and because, unlike tivra Ma, it delivers a release of aesthetic tension. The discriminator role of Re becomes even more critical considering that Multani and Madhuvanti share a bias towards Tivra Ma. These factors have affixed the melodic focus of the raga in the poorvanga, and made Re and Tivra Ma partners in establishing the melodic personality of the raga.

Interestingly, Girija Devi described Madhuvanti as an “orphan” raga which had no parents (vadi-samvadi), and whose soul lay in its Tivra Ma (conversation with your commentator February 24, 2004). With a debatable vadi and an unidentifiable samvadi, Madhuvanti may be a case of raga-ness being sustained by its phraseology, relying substantially on looped phrases.

Chalan: (Skeletal phraseology): S N. S/ M^ g R S R S/ M^ g P M/ g M^ g P or M^ g M^ P/ P M^ D D P/ g M^ P N/ N S’/ P N S’ g’ R’ S”/ R’ N S’ D P/ D M^ P g/ M^ P g R S R/ N. S

This phraseology redefines the scale of the raga as a pattern of descending pairs of swara-s in the ascent and ascending pairs of swara-s in the descent. Placed in sequence, the ascent and the descent acquire a hopping character. This approach is apparent in the manner in which Bhimsen Joshi, Ravi Shankar, and even Girija Devi have treated the raga. Based on their treatment, a redefined scale for Madhuvanti, would read as follows:

Ascent: S N. G S M^ g P M^ D P N D S N R’ S/ Descent: N S’ D N P D M^ P g M^ S R N. S.

Interestingly, this approach could have the effect of focusing the rendition of Madhuvanti in the mid-octave region, and sharpening the psycho-acoustic impact of tivra Ma, the theoretical vadi of the raga.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd., New York
The finest recordings of raga Mahuvanti have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Ashwini Bhide Deshpande – “I am happy with being just a good musician”

Ashwini spoke to Deepak Raja on September 9, 2000, and August 13, 2001

In my family, we studied music just as we studied mathematics, grammar, science, history and geography. Only the schools were different. Ever since I can recall, Narayanrao Datar, a vocalist of the Vishnu Digambar [Gwalior] tradition came home three times a week. My grandmother would take the first lesson from him; thereafter, my mother would take hers, and I would sit last. That was the routine. Over and above this, all family members, my parents included, were enrolled at the Maharashtra Music School where we attended classes thrice a week.

With this training, I passed the Sangeet Visharad when I was 16. At that stage, I had no idea about the depth of our music, or what “gharanedar music” [music as performed by vocalists of the established stylistic lineages] was, or about the journey upon which I had embarked. Had the world of music not encouraged me as generously as it did in later years, I might never have become a professional musician.

Around that time, we also shifted to a different part of Bombay. Datar’s home tuitions ceased, and my mother, Manik Bhide, started guiding me. By that time, she had been a disciple of Kishori Amonkar for over a decade, and had pursued intensive training with her, with several hours of training every day of the year.

After I completed my high school at the age of 16, I was encouraged to enter the All India Radio Competition. A few months before the contest, I had a serious illness, and feared not being able to compete. At that stage, my mother took charge of the situation. For the next two months, she hammered my music, and my confidence, into shape for the competition. I topped the competition; but in retrospect, that was a minor pay-off. Those two months transformed me totally – as a person and as a musician. For the first time, I sensed the majesty of stylised vocalism, and realised that what I knew was not even a tip of the iceberg. From then onwards, music became an important direction.

Until my marriage, my mother trained me with ruthless discipline. Along with this, I was pursuing my academic career, going through postgraduate studies in Microbiology, and working towards my doctorate at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. After marriage, I have continued to train with my mother, albeit with a declining frequency as my family and career have begun to claim an increasing proportion of my time.

In 1995, my mother wanted me to deepen my understanding of ragas as performed in our gharana. She persuaded Ratnakar Pai, a senior musician of the Jaipur-Atrauli tradition, to guide me. Pai Buwa [a term of respect for the elderly] is an exceptional musical mind, with amazing clarity about the melodic contours of ragas and the subtle distinctions between them. Being advanced in years, he cannot provide intensive training. He therefore teaches me compositions in different ragas, and I imbibe their melodic subtleties through them.

The use of pre-composed material as the main teaching device is well established [in Hindustani music]. It is especially important in our gharana because it is Dhrupad-based. Its musical wisdom is built into our compositions. But, as I found out after beginning training with Pai Buwa, our view of the composition as a repository of the raga form goes well beyond the Dhrupad notion. The Dhrupad view is that a composition is a comprehensive melodic map of the raga form, and of the literary content. In the Jaipur-Atrauli tradition, each composition is treated almost like a raga. Conceptually, we do not perform a raga; we perform a composition. The pre-composed shell of each composition emphasises a particular facet of the raga. That facet must also dominate the improvisations undertaken in its presentation. This is why different Khayals of our gharana in the same raga, when performed, can create the illusion of being in different ragas.

This approach to transmitting the tradition also has another advantage. Khayal permits us certain freedoms, which are inconceivable in Dhrupad. And, Alladiya Khan utilised these freedoms to make the transition from Dagarvani Dhrupad to our style of Khayal singing. According to Pai Buwa, our Khayals are not intended, specifically, for performance in any particular tala or even at a particular tempo. They can be sung in any tala, and at any tempo. Mastering the Khayals in their excruciating detail is sufficient training for us to adapt them to different rhythmic formats.

Considering the present stage in my life, and his, Pai Buwa’s training does occasionally throw up unresolved aesthetic conflicts. There are, indeed, several ragas on which Pai Buwa and my mother differ. This is natural because Pai Buwa and my mother were taught by different Gurus, though from the same gharana. On account of such differences, I have dropped certain ragas from my repertoire. I will let my aesthetic convictions decide when, if ever, I should start performing them again.

Other influences on my music have been Pandit Ravi Shankar and Kumar Gandharva. As a young girl, I was involved with a couple of projects of Panditji. During that period, his approach to music, with its explicit rhythmicality, made a deep impact on me. Amongst vocalists, Kumarji was a hot favourite in my father’s home. Every recording of his was actively discussed by the family. From this influence, I probably acquired a special feel for the poetry as a musical element, and the variations of timbre, which discerning listeners have observed in my singing.

The overwhelming influence on my singing has undoubtedly been my mother. Contrary to popular belief, I have never studied directly with Kishori Tai [term of respect, meaning elder sister]. I have always been my mother’s disciple, and have acquired Kishori Amonkar’s training through her. The most important value I have acquired from it is the insight into the systematic unfolding of the raga, of revealing every single strand in the warp and weft of its fabric. This, I believe, is Kishori Tai’s most significant contribution.

It does not bother me if my music is compared to Kishori Tai’s in minor respects too. For one, I am proud to belong to this distinguished lineage. Secondly, neither originality, nor gharana purity, can possibly have the same meaning today as they did half a century ago. We no longer live in a world where we can insulate ourselves totally from the dominant influences of our times emanating outside our gharana. It is no longer possible to be either your Guru’s replica, or a totally original musician. We start with something we inherit, keep absorbing other influences, and shape our individuality as we go along. What matters ultimately is how we put it all together.

I don’t know if I am the most successful, or the finest, vocalist of my generation. Success is like the morning dew. It lasts only as long as it lasts. You realise this even more acutely when you are a woman. A woman goes through so many physical and emotional changes through her life, that she can never really take her grip over her voice and her music for granted. Life for us is a constant struggle against these changes. But, there’s no reliable method for controlling their impact, and also no way of predicting how each transition will affect our performing capability.

As a professional musician, you cannot get attached to success in any case. Competition is a reality, and good for us. At least four or five of us [female vocalists in the plus/minus forty age-group] have a reasonable following; we are all working hard at our music; and none of us is complacent. In today’s environment, there is, of course, much more to being a successful musician than just being an excellent musician. But, I am not too concerned about what that “much more” might be, because I don’t need success that desperately. I am happy with being just a good musician.

© Deepak S. Raja. 2001
Read a detailed profile of the artist in: "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change" . The finest recordings of Ashwini Bhide Deshpande have been produced by
India Archive Music Ltd., New York.