Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Two decades and the fourth book

Sumana Ramanan, the music columnist for the Mumbai Mirror thought music critics were a dying breed, and I was something of an anomaly in the business-dominated city of Bombay. I am not sure it was a dinosaur she was talking to. But, I am grateful that she found my two decades in musicology, and the release of my fourth book news-worthy. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change"

When my work on Khayal vocalism was published (2009), it did not receive the promotional support it probably deserved.

In the hope that work like mine is not subject to accelerated obsolescence, I am submitting it again for the consideration of those who may have missed it earlier.

Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change (Slide Presentation)

(c) Deepak S Raja 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

Deepak Raja: Two Decades in Musicology

It was around this time in 1995 that Lyle Wachovsky of India Archive Music Ltd., New York, commissioned me to write commentaries on the CDs he was producing of Hindustani music. Till then, I was a musician (among other things). Since then, I have been a musicologist (among other things).

A brief flashback on my two decades in musicology.

Deepak Raja: Two Decades in Musicology

(c) Deepak S. Raja 2015

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Prof. Ashok Ranade on Dhrupad

The decline of Dhrupad had begun with the disintegration of the Mughal Empire. By the time of India’s independence, Dhrupad was often described as “a museum piece”. The revival, such as is evident, was fuelled by the following Dhrupad acquired in Europe, starting from the mid-1960s. 

By the end of the 20th century, Dhrupad vocalism could boast of a small group of musicians who were credible at home, but were dependent overwhelmingly on the Western market for their livelihood. Never before has a genre of art-music been pronounced dead in India, experienced so shaky a revival with home audiences, and become popular enough with alien audiences to become so largely dependent on them. This makes Dhrupad one of the cultural enigmas of cultural anthropology.

The Indian Musicological Society decided to take a look at Dhrupad, and asked me to edit a contemporary survey of Dhrupad for its Journal. Of the various interviews I conducted as part of the study, the one with Prof. Ashok Ranade in August,1998, was eminently rewarding. I present here the recordings of that interview in two parts. 

Prof. Ashok Ranade on Dhrupad Part I

Prof. Ashok Ranade on Dhrupad Part II

An accessible and approve transcription of the interview was published in the JIMS Annual 1999, edited jointly with Dr. Suvarnalata Rao. .

Perspectives on Dhrupad: Prof. Ashok Ranade

(c) Deepak S. Raja 1999-2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

"The Raga-ness of Raga-s" by Deepak Raja

My fourth book on Hindustani music comes off the press in the next 48 hours. The publisher says we need to print a direct mail brochure. I ask him how many copies we should print, to whom we direct the mailing, and whether anyone reads print brochures any longer. He doesn't know the answer. I don't either. Perhaps nobody does. So, he asked me if there was an alternative. I told him I will give it a shot. And, this is what came out of it. Check it out.

The Raga-ness of Raga-s. A Video brochure

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan: The Last Interview

Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan

By Lalita Khanna
From: The Souvenir of the
Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan Music Festival 1975

Monday, August 17, 2015

Interviews with Vidushi Dhondutai Kulkarni (1927-2014)

In 2003, I began work on a commentary to accompany a recording by India Archive Music, New York, of Vidushi Dhondutai Kulkarni, the only disciple of Kesarbai Kerkar. Around that time, I was also writing regular features on Hindustani music for SRUTI magazine, published from Chennai, and planning my book on Khayal vocalism. I requested my Guru to give me formal interviews, of which I obtained two over the next couple of months. 

The interviews have been expertly processed and edited by my friend, Kishor Merchant. 
I am sharing  both the interviews here.

Music lovers may feel free to download. 

Dhondutai interview 07-06-2003

(c) Deepak S. Raja 2003-2015

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Aesthetic obsolescence VI: Limitations of Youtube data

A good deal of the discussion relating to my recent studies revolved around the reliability and propriety of using Youtube viewership data. The prefatory remarks to my very first essay on the subject had admitted that the data source is far from ideal for systematic research, and that I was using it in full awareness of its limitations.

This is why I submitted the data to only a basic level of mathematical analysis. The measure I used was a simple “average views per month of availability” with respect to the aggregate of views over a period. Throughout the reporting of the results, there was only minimal reference to the mathematical ratio. I preferred, instead, to call it an “audience involvement measure”. I did not report any of the statistical trend analysis I had done on the data for my own understanding. Even the graphic treatment of my computations was historical and generational rather than musician-specific.

I understand that, despite its known limitations, Youtube viewership data is now being used by researchers even in the more advanced research environments. Presumably because it is better than nothing, its use will not stop, And, because of its known limitations, the controversy over its value, too, will not end.

For those who feel interested in this issue, I decided to write out this report on the subject.

ONE: Youtube reports “views” for each recording. The first question is: what is a view? For a 30 minute video, what minimum duration of viewing qualifies as “view”? Further, is a 10 minute viewing the same viewership value as a full 30-minute viewing? We have no way of knowing this and, therefore, of using the notion of “viewership” more intelligently.

TWO: In the early days of Youtube, there was a duration limit on the uploads. This affected Hindustani music very significantly, as most performances exceeded the limit, and had to be split into 2, 3, and sometimes 4 parts for upload. After the duration limit was lifted, mostly complete performances were uploaded. Looking at that data today, can we consider the viewership data for a concert split into 3 parts comparable with that of a complete performance as a measure of viewership involvement? There is no logical way of building this known discrepancy into our measurement of audience involvement.

THREE: Youtube viewership data is cumulative from the date of uploading. By using that data, I am implicitly accepting one view of 2006 on par with one view in 2015.  During this period, Youtube viewership has grown exponentially, and its audience profile for every kind of content has almost certainly changed radically. Intuitively, we know the assumption is flawed. But, we have no way of adjusting for this flaw in our analysis and interpretation of the data.

FOUR: Another problem with cumulative data is that it obliges us, for instance, to equate 20,000 views accumulated over 20 months with 40,000 views accumulated over 40 months. Intuitively, this equation does not look reasonable. One of the two has to be more valuable as a measure of audience involvement. If the propensity of a recording to accumulate viewers is important, 40,000 over 4 years is more valuable. And, if the speed of audience accumulation is considered important, 20,000 over 20 months is more valuable. Youtube data, as available, does not permit us even to ask such a question, leave alone answer it.

FIVE: The Youtube audience is global, and so is the audience for Hindustani music. But, we have no data on the nation-wise mix of viewership for each recording. In our analysis, we are obliged to treat the viewership number as a homogenous mass -- which it certainly is not. By implication, we are assuming that foreign audiences of Hindustani music —across all nationalities and cultures -- have the same relationship with the music, and the same profile, as Indians have. There is enough evidence to show that this is not so. Our analysis and interpretation of the numbers can therefore lead to unjustified and even misleading inferences.

SIX: Although Youtube is a video medium, a large amount of Hindustani music on it constitutes either only audio content supported by a still visual, or audio supported by a slide-show. The nature of the content is itself not uniform. In fact, even the notion of “viewership” may be irrelevant to a lot of the content. Do 100 people listening to an audio recording with just a photograph of the musician on the screen represent the same level of audience involvement as 100 people watching him or another musician in action on film? If not, how do we devise an “equalization factor” between the three formats?

SEVEN: This listing merely covers data source features which impinge directly upon the focus of my studies. Researchers with different perspectives could enumerate a different, and perhaps larger set of limitations.

It appears that, with specific reference to Hindustani music, Youtube neither offers a uniform media experience to its audience, nor publicly provides a rigorous measurement of audience engagement. What, then, is Youtube data good for?

I believe it is better than nothing. It cannot be said to represent “statistics”, but can represent “orders of magnitude”. It can be used only as indicative and never as conclusive. Inferences should be drawn most judiciously from its analysis, with every inference reflecting the analyst’s awareness of data limitations.

A close scrutiny of Youtube user-interface suggests that a lot of very sophisticated analytics are being generated on viewership/ audience engagement by its managers for internal consumption. And, these analytics are being used for strengthening the relationship between Youtube and its users and advertisers. It is safe to assume that the viewership information Youtube currently offers publicly is also aimed at strengthening those relationships. It was not intended to be helpful to researchers and may, in fact, have been purposefully kept unusable for such purposes.

As Youtube grows into a major cultural force, it will find it necessary to understand itself better in order to keep growing.  For this, it will need to engage constructively with social scientists and media researchers in all the geographies and cultures where it has a significant presence. This could launch an era of greater transparency in Youtube analytics.

Until then, the Indian musicologist should be content with “orders of magnitude” and indicative inferences. Is this better than consulting 10 veteran Rasika-s and observers of the music scene? I believe so, because Rasika-s can acquire "personal" preferences (biases, prejudices); impersonally generated numbers cannot. 

© Deepak S. Raja 2015

Tejaswinee Kelkar, Musicologist, IIIT Hyderabad, writes: 

How the data from hundreds and thousands of videos are even displayed to users for search queries is not an uncomplicated task. It is well known that in search algorithms, popular musicians / videos that are viewed more are marked as relevant far more times than other ones. This skews the access to videos that aren't by the few of the most popular artists. It is known that search queries make views and results quite a bit unequal, by algorithmically computing relevance based on things like 'views', which can be very misleading many a times. 

This means that the search and view data that we have is already skew and a little less indicative of actual preferences, as opposed to bottlenecked by search results options that are shown. This is worthy of enquiry because we are talking about a system in which the available choices are more salient for views than ideally 'all possible' choices. 

On google trends, https://www.google.co.in/trends/explore#q=raga they do allow us to peek at search query data on various google products including youtube, and including country of origin of query etc. On this site it is possible to find query results, which i think could be a good way to substantiate what we are finding already from the data you have collected. 

Computational ontologies are quite responsible for the structure of music query results. The IEEE ontology, which is used for music databasing in most software such as iTunes, etc - is completely unrelated to the actual structuring features that we would like in classical music, as it has categories like 'genre', 'artist', 'album', which are less relevant to us than, say 'raga', 'gharana', 'form (khyal / dhrupad)' etc. We are trying to work on this by developing new ontologies that are relevant to the categories we want to search, and trying to build a system which will search open data (like youtube) through ontological annotations.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Aesthetic obsolescence: V

Earlier essays in this series have looked at this subject from several angles. I now attempt to tie up the various strands of thought by including data on contemporary Khayal musicians, using the same measure of audience involvement as in the earlier studies.

Unlike earlier studies, however, I shall not report the audience involvement measures for each musician individually. I avoid this for two reasons: Firstly, such measures are irrelevant to the purpose of this study. Secondly, there is a danger that individual measures for contemporary musicians might be interpreted in a manner unwarranted by the limitations of the data and the nature of the study. 

The contemporary vocalists covered by this study are: MaliniRajurkar, Veena Sahasrabudhe, Kishori Amonkar, Jasraj, Shruti Sadolikar, Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, Shruti Sadolikar-Katkar, Ulhas Kashalkar, Rajan+Sajan Mishra, Venkatesh Kumar, Ajoy Chakravarty, Gauri Pathare, Arati Anklikar-Tikekar, Manjusha Kulkarni-Patil, Rashid Khan, Kaushiki Chakravarty, Jaiteerth Mevundi, Dhananjay Hegde, Manjiri Asnare-Kelkar, Sanjeev Abhyankar.

With respect to contemporary musicians, a small change had to be made in the selection of sample recordings. For this sub-sample, I have only considered recordings uploaded after January 1, 2010. This is because Youtube viewership data is cumulative from the day of upload of the recordings. This would have made data for the senior and the very young musicians non-comparable. By limiting the duration of the upload dates between January 2010 and May 1, 2015, I have made sure that the data across the contemporary sample remains broadly comparable. This of course assumes that even the youngest of the considered musicians has been on the horizon of significant musicianship for at least five years. This was the only refinement possible to the methodology of a study made using data of known and admittedly limited value. 

The focus

We are looking at the involvement of the present YouTube audience in the Khayal vocalism specimens of musicians born between 1872 and 1980, a period of 108 years. Assuming that the earliest uploaded recordings were made after the musician had reached at least 30 years of age we are looking at music of the period 1902-2015. At the audience end, we are looking at listeners who are between 30 and 75 years of age in 2015.

By the Jose Ortega generational model of 30 years constituting a distinct cultural generation, we are looking at music made by 3.8 generations of musicians, and its hold on the minds of 2.5 generations of audiences. However, Ortega also suggests that the face of the world changes in some ways every 15 years – which is half a generation. We are therefore probably looking at the music of a period within which the world has changed, in some ways, as many as seven times.

Graph 1 plots the average monthly Youtube views reported for the Khayal music of 33 Khayal vocalists, born between 1872 and 1980. Significant patterns are as follows:

ONE: The long-term trend-line confirms our view that, the older is the music on offer, the less likely it is to be heard by listeners of Hindustani music. The obsolescence hypothesis is adequately supported.

TWO: The wavelike pattern reflects the simultaneous effect of multiple generations of listeners relating to the same music. In any given population, at any given time, there will be emerging generations, and receding generations of listeners as well as musicians.  The musical values and preferences of the two will diverge partially while also being partially convergent. This partial overlap creates a wavelike formation.  The graph shows seven or eight waves of varying durations over a period of 105 years of music, perhaps suggesting that the musical culture has thrown up significant representative musicians each time the world has changed a little.

THREE:  The suggestion of a long-wave postulated by the Kondratiev Model discussed earlier in this series of essays is also evident in this graph. After Abdul Kareem Khan (born 1872), the graph shows the next big upsurge in culturally relevant musical value with Kishori Amonkar (born 1931) – a period of 59 years.Though it may be a bit early to speculate on the emerging scenario, there are signs that the Amonkar peak may be bettered by vocalists born around 1980 – 50 years after her.

FOUR: If the world changes in some ways every 15 years, it is proper to look at groups of musicians born within the same 15-year period (rather than individual musicians) as collectively expressing the “zeitgeist” of the era. The complex pattern of Graph 1 can be simplified, and made historically more relevant, in Graph 2, derived from the same set of computations as Graph 1.

This graph once again confirms the obsolescence hypothesis, and does so perhaps more sharply than the previous one. In addition, it suggests that the world has perhaps changed significantly six times (rather than seven or eight) in the last 105 years. The peak of this step-graph represents the era of DV Paluskar, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, Jasraj, and KishoriAmonkar (birth: 1920-1935).

Two successive half-generations after them do not appear to claim a comparable share-of-mind amongst audiences. This appears to validate my contention that the first post-independence generation of Hindustani vocalists remained under the stylistic shadows of the pre-independence giants, failed to address their own generation effectively, and thereby caused a substantial loss of audiences to Hindustani vocalism.

It is with the third half-generation after the peak (born 1965-1980) that audience involvement shows a brisk rise with the possibility of matching – and perhaps surpassing – the highest peak evident so far. If a long wave of 50-60 years heralds a paradigm shift, this indication suggests that Hindustani vocalism could be on the threshold of one.

Non-Khayal repertoire

Unlike Dhrupad vocalists, Khayal vocalists have always maintained a non-Khayal repertoire as an integral part of their musicianship. In an earlier essay, we have observed that this non-Khayal repertoire of departed musicians dominates the interest of contemporary Youtube audiences. This is, of course, a commentary on the musical values of contemporary audiences more than the musical tendencies or temperaments of the musicians of the past.

We may now consider whether the pattern holds true when contemporary musicians are considered along with departed musicians. This relationship is reflected in Graph 3, which superimposes audience involvement measure with respect to non-Khayal repertoire upon the measure for the Khayal repertoire. In order to preserve the historical focus of this study, the comparison is, once again, presented by 15-year periods, rather than for individual musicians.

The inferences from the emerging pattern are as follows:

ONE: The long-term trend-line for Non-Khayal repertoire exhibits a much sharper obsolescence factor than the trend-line for Khayal repertoire. This confirms our earlier observation that Non-Khayal repertoire responds more efficiently to changing aesthetic values and musical needs of society because of the freedom it enjoys from the relatively more durable musical values characteristic of the Khayal genre.

TWO: It is also significant that the upswings in the viewership of Khayal recordings have consistently been accompanied by much sharper upswings in the viewership of non-Khayal recordings. Likewise, a stagnation or depression in Khayal viewership is accompanied by a stagnation or depression in the viewership of Non-Khayal recordings. This would imply that the appeal of a musician’s non-Khayal repertoire is more crucial to his/ her professional success than that of his/her Khayal repertoire.

THREE: The long-term trend line of the Non-Khayal repertoire runs at double the audience-involvement level of the Khayal repertoire trend line.  This pattern confirms our view that contemporary audiences are far more involved with Non-Khayal repertoire of any era within their frame of consideration than with the Khayal repertoire.  This may be interpreted to imply that The Khayal genre, as hitherto understood, is fast ceasing to satisfy the musical needs of a vast majority of contemporary audiences.

FOUR: Genres may become obsolete; but musicians do not – because they have to survive. The Khayal genre must therefore now take a back-seat in the total musical persona of a classical vocalist, and/or undergo a major re-calibration of its aesthetic assumptions in order to remain relevant to contemporary society.

FIVE: From the contemporary perspective, the last paradigm shift in Hindustani vocalism is traced to the 15-year period that felt the impact of DV Paluskar, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, Jasraj and Kishori Amonkar. For that period (See Graph 3), the audience-involvement for Non-Khayal music runs at about 900 viewers per month above that for Khayal music. For the first time since then, the latest period under review shows a gap of over 600 views per month between the two graphs.

When such a large gap emerges between durable musical values and ephemeral musical values, the community of musicians can be expected to narrow it in the interest of their own economic security. How does this happen? For an answer to this question, we draw on Prof. Ranade’s observations on how a mainstream genre builds, maintains and protects its supremacy. Amongst other processes, it does so by (a) adopting the features of the ascendant or rival genres and (b) by attracting talent from all kinds of sources.

Firstly, the proportion of Non-Khayal repertoire to a musician’s total public presence will shoot up. Instead of being the “dessert” at the end of a meal, it will progressively become the “Main Course”. Secondly, the stylistic distinction between Khayal and Non-Khayal repertoires will narrow. Khayal renditions will have to start reflecting the musical values of Non-Khayal genres, if they wish to command an audience at all.

The same process may also be viewed a little differently. The predominance of Non-khayal repertoire as a success factor for professional musicians will tend to attract vocalists who have the training and temperament more suited to Non-khayal music than to Khayal music. Their presence in the Khayal segment – such as they may be able to achieve – will give them the respectability of the “Classical Music” platform, without putting their competence to test. Under such conditions, their Khayals can only remain unconvincing by the traditional yardstick of Khayal vocalism. Both these processes would be logical manifestations of a paradigm shift -- either imminent or already under way.

What is Khayal or Non-Khayal?

The present author has surveyed the Youtube portfolios of 33 departed and contemporary Hindustani vocalists for this study, recorded over a century. With particular reference to contemporary musicians, he has had to resolve interesting conceptual issues while classifying individual recordings as belonging either to the “Khayal” or “Non-Khayal” categories.

The researcher in Hindustani music today encounters a bewildering variety of “genres”, many of which neither have appropriate names, nor a well-defined character. An attempt is made here to list some of the names that have suggested themselves.

Khayalised Thumree, Thumriised Khayal, Khayalised Sargam, Sargamised Khayal, Bhajanised Thumri, Bhajanised Khayal, Thumri-ised Bhajan, Khayalised Bhajan, Kriti-isedKhayal, KhayalisedKriti,  Bhajanised scriptures, Scripturised bhajans, Scripturised Khayal, Khayalised scriptures, Vocal-instrumental jugalbandi, Hindustani-Carnatic jugalbandi, Hindustani-Carnatic fusion, Hindustani-Carnatic-Western Pop/ Jazz  fusion, Hindustani-Opera fusion.

All these “genres” respond to a notion of Raga-ness, even if only tangentially or remotely. But, the relationship is incidental more than purposive. Even where the Khayal is encountered in its original architecture, the manifestations of Raga-ness in the rendition rarely cross a set of identifying phrases.

This suggests that Hindustani music audiences are now so hungry for novelty, that almost any well-trained vocalist can create a niche for himself/ herself by creating a new "genre", as long as he/ she can execute it with competence and confidence. And, if his/her non-Khayal repertoire clicks with the audiences, he/ she need not fear being astutely evaluated by orthodox audiences for his/ her Khayal competence.  

A highly fragmented aesthetic environment does not, of course, push the orthodox Khayal featuring a deliberate Raga exploration entirely out of circulation, or place it under an immediate threat of extinction. As we have observed earlier, today’s audience consists of several generations of listeners and several generations of musicians. The orthodox Khayal can still remain (like Dhrupad) in marginalized circulation for another couple of generations; but perhaps not longer. And, even during its residual life, it will change beyond recognition. This is because the very essence of a paradigm shift is that it changes society’s perception of itself, never to return to its original state.

Cultural projections are difficult at this stage because, tangentially, the age-profile of the Indian population has to be a determining factor. Long term projections suggest that the youngest age group will remain substantial as a proportion of the total population for several decades more, while the "senior citizen" segment will grow, shaping an entirely new demography. 

According to an authoritative study reported on April 17, 2013 by The Hindu, every third person in an Indian city is a youth. In about seven years the median age in India will be 29 years, very likely a city-dweller, making India the youngest country in the world.

It is impossible to foresee how these schizoid realities will affect the future of the Khayal. This is relevant because the Khayal (along with Dhrupad) represents the more durable aesthetic values in the musical culture valued presumably more by the receding generations, while the non-Khayal (and non-Dhrupad) genres represent the more ephemeral values, supposedly valued more by the emerging generations.

The totality of the contemporary Hindustani vocal experience suggests to me the features of Post-modernism.


As a cultural movement, postmodernism has its epicenter in Europe. Its original triggers obviously have nothing in common with the Indian socio-economic reality. It is therefore difficult to define postmodernism in the Indian context. It is, however, possible to relate some of the well-documented features of postmodernism to the manifestations of their worldview in the contemporary Hindustani vocalism.

Charles Jencks, a reputed interpreter of postmodernism, describes a postmodern building as – “part modern, and part something else: vernacular, revivalist, local, commercial, metaphorical, or contextual”.[Jencks, Charles: What is Postmodernism, quoted in Key Ideas in Human Thought. Ed: Kenneth McLeish, 1993. Facts on File Inc., New York, Pg. 584-585]. McLeish observes that “There are no boundaries [in postmodernist art] save our individual competence: creator and spectator are locked in a conspiracy against history, against geography, and against specificity, which may be seen as liberating or destructive (the lunatics taking over the asylum!}, but which is entirely without precedent in the story of the arts”.

Foster points out with reference to postmodern films [Foster, Hal. Postmodernism: A Preface, Ed. Post Modern Culture, Pluto, London, 1985], that postmodernism is “a combination of lots of different genres, signs, and cultural elements. The features of postmodern films are hedonism, and decadence – things that are often seen towards the end of a culture’s life. … A feature of postmodernism is its ability to shock, without linking this device to a message”. In a similar vein, Jean Luc Goddard described his films as having “a beginning, a middle and an end; but not in that order.”

The postmodernist worldview rejects the existence of anything called “human nature” [Chagani, Fayaz. www.geocities.com/Athens/Agora/ 9095/ postmodernism. html] . It argues that there is nothing universal  – whether in a global context or in a culture-specific context, or even across time  – about the manner in which people convert sensory stimuli into meaning. This "weltanschauung" does not therefore accept any established assumptions regarding the proper, or even the most efficient, means of communicating in any language – whether verbal or otherwise.  In the postmodernist world, there is no fundamental purpose for something to be what it is, except that it is what it is.

Note: The computations supporting the above graphs can be provided on request to scholars and researchers at the author’s discretion.

© Deepak S. Raja  2015

Friday, May 15, 2015

Aesthetic obsolescence IV

In the earlier essay, we found that the non-Khayal repertoire of Khayal vocalists achieves a much higher level of audience involvement than their Khayal repertoire.  The musician lives with this reality every day and responds according to his temperament and inclinations. He does not need to figure out the extent to which this is attributable to his Khayal-related status, to the independent appeal of his non-Khayal repertoire, or to the uniqueness of the combination. But, the researcher does need to resolve this issue.  

If we are to judge the strength of the non-Khayal segment of the musical culture as a possible challenge/ distraction to the fundamental character of the Khayal as we know it, we need to isolate the non-khayal segment for measurement. Circumstantial evidence of this can be obtained from the analysis of audience involvement in the music of the specialist performers of the non-Khayal genres. In this analysis, the absolute numbers delivered are as important as the trend of obsolescence. This essay attempts to look at these patterns.

Research design

The methodology followed is identical to the earlier studies conducted on samples of Khayal vocalists.

The sample of available Youtube recordings was drawn from the leading specialist performers of non-Khayal genres in the segments of the Thumri and allied genres, Ghazals, and Bhajans. For want of the author’s knowledge, specialist performers of the regional devotional genres were not included.  The musicians were chosen for the significance of their presence on the concert platform over a long enough period.

In the Thumree segment, two of them – Girija Devi and Chhannulal Mishra – are still alive, and are included.  In the Ghazal segment, the sample selection was restricted to the singers of the classical ghazal – Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan, while the more recent singers of the modern ghazal have been excluded.

This approach has given us a sample of 11 musicians in whose case, a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 35 recordings were available for the measurement of audience involvement.


The graphic plot shows a long-term growth trend of audience involvement. But, it also exhibits two waves within the period considered. The two peaks are represented by Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan. Two waves, within a long-term growth trend is a pattern very similar to the pattern noticed in the earlier study of the non-Khayal repertoire of Khayal vocalists. The generational interpretation of this graph could be similar to that of the graph seen in the earlier study. 
 It would appear that at this particular juncture in history, two generations of audiences are involved with the music of the specialist performers of the non-Khayal genres. However, the two titans who dominate the two visible peaks – Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan are born at an interval of only 13 years. This might mean that, in effect, only one generation of musicians appears to dominate the non-Khayal music-scape at the moment. This compares with three, perhaps four, generations of audiences involved with the Khayal music of the past generations of vocalists.

While we may consider these two giants as representing the same generation and appealing to the same generation, a certain obsolescence factor is evident even in their relative scores.  It is probably the younger end of the audience generation which gives Mehdi Hassan a score almost four times the score obtained by Begum Akhtar -- ostensibly emanating from the older end of the same generation. 

The power of the specialist non-Khayal indicator as an influence on Khayal music is more sharply reflected in its absolute numbers than in the obsolescence trend. The bar-graph tells the story.

The Khayal music of Khayal vocalists begets only 203 viewers per month of recording availability. Compared to this, their own non-Khayal music notches up 914 views, and the non-Khayal music of the specialist performers of non-Khayal music crosses that 1000 views per month. 

Admittedly, this average for specialist performers of the non-Khayal genres is greatly bolstered by Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan, and not every musician achieves their level of audience involvement. However, the average of over 1000 views per month cannot be ignored as a perceptional reality of the musical culture and of relevance to professional musicians.

By pure arithmetical coincidence, if we add the audience involvement ratings for Khayal and non-Khayal repertoires of Khayal vocalists, we get a figure almost exactly equal to the audience involvement rating of the specialist non-Khayal performers. We may then surmise that the primary motivation for Khayal vocalists to perform non-Khayal music is reaching out to a much larger audience.

The interaction of genres

With audiences exhibiting a marked preference for non-Khayal repertoire, the Khayal will tend to shrink in terms of its durational presence on the concert platform. As this trend gathers momentum, Khayal vocalists will begin to lose their aesthetic grip over the Khayal as a genre. Their approach to the Khayal will increasingly reflect the aesthetic values of the non-Khayal repertoire in vogue.

This process may be better understood with a historical analogy from the print medium in the country, which is familiar to most of us.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the mainline dailies published a sports page only twice a week.  In those days, several sports magazines (weeklies/ fortnightlies/ monthlies) showed a healthy growth in sales and revenue. The mainline dailies saw this opportunity for an enlargement of their share-of-mind and share-of-market, and stepped up sports coverage to every day. By the 1980’s all the specialist sports magazines had died for want of readers and advertisers.

The same thing happened to the film-magazine boom of the 1960s and 1970s. By the year 2000, mainline dailies which earlier had only weekly/ bi-weekly cinema supplements, began cinema coverage on a daily basis. Almost all film magazines have since been gasping for breath. This history repeated itself with the arrival of specialist society/celebrity magazines in the 1980s.  By 2010, society and celebrity coverage has become regular Page 3 material in the mainline dailies. The specialist magazines in this segment of journalism are now virtually extinct.

As a result of these changes, India's mainline English dailies have changed almost beyond recognition in the last 30 years.

In the present context, there is no reason to believe that a transformation of the Khayal will drive the Ghazal or Thumree totally out of circulation. But, as the Khayal starts resembling the relatively Raga-neutral genres in some respects, it will shrink the aesthetic space available to them for remaining in independent circulation. And, some would argue that this tendency is visible already.

It has been argued, for instance, that Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan brought so much melodic sophistication to the Ghazal, that they left the original Banaras Thumree struggling for survival. It has also been noted that once the Khayal genre annexed and enriched the Bandish-ki-Thumree as the Chhota Khayal, the Bandish-ki-Thumree lost its footing in the musical culture.  Further, it is observed that with the advent of the romanticist brigade in Khayal vocalism – Kumar Gandharva, Jasraj and Kishori Amonkar – the Bol-banav Thumree and some other semi-classical genres lost a good deal of their aesthetic  territory.  These are purely aesthetic observations, which are impossible to either prove or disprove. But, they are not  rendered invalid by this alleged infirmity.

Here we go back to Prof. Ranade’s argument stated in the earlier essay. The dominant mainstream genre tends to protect its dominance – amongst other tendencies – by adopting the musical features of ascendant rivals.  By this reasoning, Khayal, the dominant mainstream genre, is likely to respond to the threat/ opportunity presented by the non-Khayal genres by adopting their musical values. This possibility does suggest a paradigm shift because the Khayal is founded on the durable musical value of Raga exploration, while the aesthetic assumptions of the non-Khayal genres are fundamentally Raga-neutral, even though Raga-s may in practice, inform their melodic content.

Is this happening already?

The Youtube data studied so far pertains to vocalists who are either already departed, or in their advanced years. We need to examine several additional pieces of contemporary and/or  trend-related evidence to support the hypothesis emerging here. These may constitute the objects of continued enquiry.

© Deepak S. Raja 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

Aesthetic obsolescence III

In the earlier essay, an attempt was made to ascertain the patterns of aesthetic obsolescence in Khayal vocalism across the last century over the period 2010-2015. Appropriately for the focus of the earlier study, the non-Khayal repertoire of the considered vocalists was left out of the measurement. However, as a parallel reality, and a component of the share-of-mind a musician enjoys with audiences of his own and future generations, it cannot be ignored.

Unlike practitioners of the medieval Dhrupad-Dhamar genre, Khayal vocalists have, for long, retained an involvement with the semi-classical genres. This facet of Hindustani vocalism acquires greater importance because of the major changes that have taken place in the music-scape, particularly after independence. The specialist singers of the semi-classical Thumree and its allied genres have virtually disappeared from the scene. Simultaneously, vocalists trained in the Khayal genre have adopted these genres in performance, and also added the Bhajan to their musical persona. Several leading Khayal vocalists of the 20th century are acknowledged to have contributed significantly to the evolution of these two genres.

It is neither possible, nor necessary, for us to ascertain whether their non-Khayal repertoire has contributed to their share-of-mind as Hindustani vocalists, or the other way round.  There exists a synchronous relationship between them, which needs to be examined from the point of aesthetic obsolescence. This essay attempts to explore this relationship.

Research design

The research design is identical to the design of the study of aesthetic obsolescence of Khayal repertoire. The sample consists of the same vocalists, truncated by the non-availability of data for some of the vocalists.  Of the 21 vocalists considered in the earlier study, 8 had to be dropped on account of inadequate or missing data. Expectedly, the number of Non-Khayal recordings available for logging was consistently much smaller than Khayal recordings. The minimum readings considered acceptable for considering any vocalist were 3, and the maximum readings available for any musician was 34. Average views per month of exposure were computed precisely in the same manner for comparability of results.

The repertoire considered in this study covers Thumree, Tappa, Dadra etc., Ghazal, Natya Sangeet, Bhajans, patriotic songs, regional devotional music, and songs performed in Hindi or regional films.


The first table and graph plots average views per month of recording availability against the year of birth of the musician. The picture differs substantially from the pattern seen in the earlier study of Khayal recordings. While the Khayal viewership graph showed a long-term linear trend accompanied by a series of wave patterns, this graph is predominantly an exponential graph, with the hint of a wave within it. This means that the more recent the musician, the more disproportionately he gains viewership amongst present-day audiences for his non-khayal repertoire. Worded differently, non-khayal repertoire music tends to become obsolete faster, and with greater certainty, than Khayal music.

The two-wave pattern evident in this graph also has a defensible generational interpretation. It would suggest that, currently, the non-Khayal musical values of two distinct generations of musicians engage the attention of Youtube listeners. The first is represented by the musical values of Bade Gulam Ali Khan and the second predominantly by Bhimsen Joshi, but also Kumar Gandharva and DV Paluskar. It is interesting that the same set of musicians showed a three-wave pattern with four peaks for Khayal music. This further establishes the difference between Khayal music and the non-Khayal repertoire of the same musicians. Their Khayal repertoire has an audience of three or four generations, while their non-Khayal repertoire repertoire commands the attention of only two. 

These patterns support what is known about the semi-classical and allied genres of vocal music. Relative to Khayal vocalism, they are designed to appeal to a much larger audience, which is more likely to respond to ephemeral musical values the the more durable musical values. 

There are no significant cycles apparent in this graph, and the possibility of a paradigm shift does not appear to arise from available data.

The second graph below provide further insights.

On an average, vocalists considered here have logged almost double the viewership for Non-Khayal recordings compared to his/ her Khayal repertoire. Even within the overall pattern of faster obsolescence of non-Khayal recordings, the absolute level of durability of appeal is substantially higher for non-Khayal music than Khayal music. But, the pattern deserves a closer look.

DV Paluskar’s non-Khayal repertoire logs twice the rating of his Khayal repertoire. After him, the multiplier shows a smart rise. Bhimsen Joshi’s non-Khayal repertoire is almost 4 times more popular than his Khayal repertoire. And, finally, with Kumar Gandharva, the non-Khayal repertoire almost touches 8 times the Khayal level in terms of audience involvement.  The sharpness of this trend would suggest a backdrop of fairly radical changes in the social and economic environment of which musicians and their audiences are concurrent products.

It appears that the non-Khayal repertoire, which has a faster rate of obsolescence, is claiming a progressively higher share-of-mind amongst audiences. This has several implications for the musical culture, all of which are already on the horizon.

Implications of the patterns

The inflow of fresh talent into classical vocalism could shrink, with more and more trained singers opting for a career in the non-Khayal genres. Because of this, the non-Khayal genres could witness the emergence of high quality specialist performers. Khayal vocalists  -- once they have established their credibility as trained classical singers -- will be drawn towards increasing their involvement with non-Khayal repertoire to protect their share-of-mind and share-of-market.  

The most significant implication of the patterns evident here is that the Khayal appears to be a receding genre in terms of the society’s share-of-mind, and the non-Khayal genres of vocal music appear to be the ascendant genres. This indication may require further evidence to be stated with greater certainty. But, it is not insignificant even with the evidence available here.

The eminent musicologist, Prof. Ashok Ranade made some interesting observations about the behavior of the dominant genre in times of challenged dominance.

“.... we should look at how any musical form achieves and sustains its dominant position. First, it attracts all kinds of performers towards it. Second, it tries to assimilate the musical tendencies of other forms. Third, it allows individuals enough freedom to express themselves, especially in the initial stages. Fourth, it makes allowances for a distinction between the larger disciplinary model of a gharana, and the style of an individual musician.” (Journal of the Indian Musicological Society, 1999)

This summarises the history of Khayal vocalism fairly accurately. For the present, we may focus  sharply at the prospect of the Khayal as the threatened genre adopting musical values of its challengers as a protection against its own extinction. 

The Khayal is three-dimensional genre – it is a contemplative art, an expressive art, and a communicative art. Its contemplative facet involves an improvised exploration of the Raga’s melodic and emotional personality. It is this facet that distinguishes it from the non-Khayal genres of vocalism. If the Khayal is tending towards imitating the non-Khayal genres, what it is abandoning is either the Raga discipline or the deliberate exploration of the Raga’s melodic-emotional personality, or both. It is in this context that the issue of an impending paradigm shift may be relevant.

At this point, we may recall what a paradigm shift means in the present context.  When a musical value, considered fundamental for long, is abandoned by a majority of  performing musicians -- without necessarily identifying an emergent alternative -- a paradigm shift can be said to have taken place.

The contemplative facet of Khayal vocalism, and the centrality of Raga elaboration to it, is a musical value considered fundamental for at least more than a century.  It faces the prospect of being abandoned in favour of the more ephemeral musical values of the non-Khayal genres.  The architecture of Raga rendition  characteristic of the Khayal may remain in circulation even with a shrinking presence. But, its distinguishing feature, as has been understood so far, could be headed for extinction.

This study began with looking at aesthetic obsolescence of the music of eminent Khayal vocalists, and incidentally of the major Khayal gharanas. Now, having considered the divergent patterns in the non-Khayal music of the major Hindustani vocalists, it has raised issues relating to the aesthetic obsolescence of the Khayal genre itself. There is insufficient evidence yet to permit a categorical view on this possibility. It may therefore remain, for now, a hypothesis based on astute observation, and theoretical speculation.

© Deepak S. Raja 2015