Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The emerging generation of Khayal vocalists

At a function to release CDs recorded by two young vocalist friends -- Omkarnath Havaldar and Meghana Kulkarni -- invited  Shri Benne Prahlad Rao, a prominent patron of the performing arts in Bangalore, did the honors. I  was fortunate to be invited, and was requested to make a few observations. They could be of interest to music lovers not present in the auditorium of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs in Bangalore that evening. 

We are looking at Hindustani vocalism at a very interesting stage in its evolutionary history.

In the social sciences, a period of 30 years is widely accepted as representing a generation. Change is happening constantly, but remains imperceptible on a day-to-day basis. Every thirty years, however, we can expect to observe significant changes in all segments of human activity. This will logically include literature, the arts and culture generally. 

With specific reference to Hindustani music, I have found it useful and convenient to regard independence as the watershed event from which trends can be plotted. The first 30 years (1947-1977) were ruled by maestros of the pre-independence generation. In the second 30 years (1977-2007) we experienced the music of the first post-independence generation. And, now, starting 2007, we are witnessing the emergence of the second post-independence generation of musicians. And, it is useful to track what the music of each of the post-independence generations appears to represent. 

The first post-independent generation

It is my observation that Khayal vocalism of the first post-independence generation evolved largely under the shadows of the pre-independence generation. This is neither good nor bad; it is just the way it happened. Thus, we saw the emergence of Kishori Amokar xerox no. 4382, Bhimsen Joshi xerox no. 2597, Ameer Khan xerox no. 1573, and Kumar Gandharva xerox no. 845. 

During this period, it was evident that Hindustani music -- vocal music perhaps more than instrumental music -- experienced a thinning of concert audiences. I have seen brilliant 40-year old vocalists performing for audiences to audiences primarily above 65. And, it occurred to me that this music would very soon have to address empty seats. 

Two things probably happened which might explain this phenomenon. The corresponding generation of audiences could not relate to their music because it was out of synch with the aesthetic values of that generation. And, the senior generation of audiences (pre-independence generation) saw no great value in it because it was largely a poor xerox of the music of the pre-independence generation which was available in its original on concert length recordings. 

I believe something different is happening now.  

The second post-independence generation

I observe that, with the emergence of the second post-independence generation (+/- 30 age group today) of musicians  -- particularly vocalists -- younger audiences are returning to the concert halls. Recording companies confirm that there is now a booming demand of fresh young talent, and a shrinking demand for recordings of the pre-independence masters. It appears that an entirely new audience has emerged for Hindustani vocalism, and the corresponding generation of vocalists is able to relate meaningfully to it. The reasons for this are many and complex. But, in strictly musical terms, one can hypothesize what might be happening. 

The Gharana model of grooming has largely faded away. The Guru-shishya Parampara is gasping for breath. Aspirants to a life in music are now drawing their musical ideas from a variety of sources. The vibrant media environment enables the most promising among them to address substantial audiences much earlier in their performing careers than the earlier generations could do. In their search for their personal musical statement, and their need to present coherent music, they are forced to draw upon the source of music within themselves much earlier than their senior generations needed to do. 

The result is an engaging freshness and originality in their approach to music, and in their expression
The release of CDs by Omkarnath Havaldar and Meghana Kulkarni.
which their preceding generation did not have till much later -- if at all. As their music matures -- around the age of 40 -- it promises to be considerably different from that of the earlier generation at that stage. It is obvious that they have studied the music of the pre-independence maestros perhaps as text books; but their music is no longer being created under the shadow of pre-independence musical values. They are authentic products of their generation, and appear to be making sense to their own generations of listeners. 

Managing the dissonance

To their senior generations of listeners, their music can easily seem enigmatic, and even bewildering. The uncharitable -- and those suffering from aesthetic sclerosis -- may even dismiss it as confused,or lost, or worse, "wrong". The truth, however, is that change is inevitable, and even desirable so that music remains aesthetically relevant. The eminent musicologist, Prof. Ashok Ranade, has enunciated the idea that just as every society has economic and  political needs which are changing all the time, it also has musical needs which are dynamic in nature. Music remains relevant by changing in order to address these changing needs. 

Foreign scholars with deep involvement in Hindustani music have often envied our musical tradition for its ability to balance continuity with change, tradition with modernity, and conformism with originality. 

It is in this spirit that the custodians of the musical culture -- now consisting primarily of the first post-independence generation -- must learn to view the music of the next generation. As Pandit Shivkumar Sharma wrote in the Foreword to my first book -- "The only thing constant in music is change". What remains relevant for all times, he added, is the "Musician's Truth", the sanctity of the musician's relationship with his art. 

(c) Deepak S. Raja 2014