Thursday, August 21, 2008

Arti Anklikar Tikekar -- “It is the mind that sings, and not the voice”

Arti spoke to Deepak Raja on December 20, 2003

In the last few years, I find that my definition of the beautiful in music is changing. When I look back on my youth – 20 years ago, when I entered the profession – I realize that I had very strong ideas about what is good music. Everything that did not fit this notion did not seem to even qualify as music. I went through several years of believing that Kishori Amonkar’s music was the only music that qualified as music. And, yes, I also studied with her for a few years.

As I started getting exposed to other leading musicians, I started seeing the beautiful facets of their music too. Then started a phase in which I wanted to sing the alap like one vocalist, bol-anga like another, and tan-s like yet another. Gradually, this too faded away, and I started seeing the beauty and integrity of every approach in its completeness. Once I reached this stage, I realized the futility of following models of vocalism, and began relating the universe of musical ideas to my own musical personality – who I am, what my voice can deliver, what I enjoy singing.

The stages through which I have passed are necessary stages of evolution. The world of music is so vast that it is impossible to enter it – in the early stages -- without wearing the blinkers of the gharana-s or models. It is only when we have absorbed one model well that we can start looking for our musical selves in a larger universe of musical ideas. The search for our musical selves is also a natural stage of evolution in life. At some stage, the reliance on borrowed ideas induces a feeling of hollowness within us. We feel the need to immerse ourselves so totally in our music, that we lose consciousness of our selves. This is a difficult stage for audiences to handle.

There is a substantial section of the audience that wants to hear Arti singing like Kishori Amonkar. This audience becomes uncomfortable when Arti starts singing what she wants to sing. It is a rough ride for the musician as well as the audiences. But, it is nothing new in our tradition. Every musician has had to go through this. As my neural chemistry changes, my music will also change. If Arti dives deep enough into the reservoir of her musicality, she will transmit the joy of the experience to her audiences. And, finally, this is what the audiences look for in the musical experience.

I am not belittling the tricky aspects of the transition in terms of audience expectations and their fulfilment. Yes, there is some dissonance amongst some sections of the audience. Yes, my audience profile seems to be changing without any shrinkage of numbers. I am probably no longer making too much sense to the younger crowd, but drawing the more mature audiences. But, I now have to be honest to myself, sing with conviction and total involvement, and let the audience factor recede from my consciousness.

For helping me along in this direction, I am indebted to my current guru, Dinkar Kaikini. It is not easy to guide a musician at my stage of evolution. I have been around, and fairly busy for 20 years now. By objective standards, I have no compelling reason to undertake a major overhaul of my music. But, what I do have is the inner urge – a spiritual urge, if you like – to grow as a musician, and through my music, as a human being. At this stage, my Guru’s inputs are no longer a matter of imparting knowledge of raga-s, or bandish-es or techniques of melodic execution. These are incidental.

Kaikiniji has made me realize that it is the mind that sings and not the voice. He has begun to untangle the cobwebs in my mind so that I might discover my musical self. He has made me sense the emotional charge inherent in every swara, and demonstrated to me the means of expressing it. He has helped free my mind from the reference points that had orientated my music so far. He has set me off on the path of self-discovery. I cannot say that I have got there. But, knowing where you have to go, and being on the path is a good beginning. At least I have a good chance of getting there if I persevere. If the audiences accept the results of this journey, well and good! If they don’t, I have to be prepared for the consequences.

© Deepak S. Raja. 2003
Read a detailed profile of the artist in: "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change".
The finest recordings of Arti Anklikar-Tikekar have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Abdul Lateef Khan --“When I accompany a vocalist, I merge my personality into his”

The life and times of Abdul Lateef Khan, as narrated to Deepak Raja on March 5, 2000 and March 21, 2001

I was born in a village called Guhad in the Gwalior state either in 1924 or 1925. In our times, people were not very precise about dates of birth. Mine is the fifth consecutive generation of Sarangi players in the family. We have been residents of Gwalior for several generations -- my ancestors were in the service of the princely state.

My parents had eleven daughters before I was born. When my father died at the age of seventy, I was just twelve years old. In those days, music was taught almost exclusively within the family; so my training would have been a major problem for my mother. Fortunately, one of my sisters had married Sikandar Khan, a well-known Sarangi player. He trained me for eight years. When I was about twenty, Ustad Sikandar Khan died.

This was a major crisis in my life, and the future looked very grim. At that stage, an uncle took me to a famous Sarangi player in Delhi – a gentleman I shall not name – and placed me under his tutelage. For a whole year, this great Ustad submitted me to unimaginable exploitation, verging on slavery, without giving me a single lesson. I could not take it any longer, and quit.

I was then introduced to Ustad Ghulam Sabri Khan Ambalewale, also based in Delhi. He accepted me as a disciple, treated me like a son, and gave me excellent training for three years. Things were too good to last. Fate intervened again. Those were days of great tension between Hindus and Moslems in Delhi. There was a communal riot in our locality, during which the Ustad disappeared without a trace. Nobody knows what happened to him. All enquiries in all quarters drew a blank. His disappearance is still a mystery.

I was heart-broken. I had no option but to return to the security of the extended family in Gwalior and start earning. Entry into the profession was difficult. I eked out a living, initially, in the dancing halls, accompanying Tawaifs [courtesans] on the tabla and the harmonium. If you think the status of the Sarangi player was low in those days, you cannot imagine how much lower that of tabla and harmonium accompanists was.

During that period, a sarangi player of some stature taunted me about my credentials as a sarangi player. This hurt not only my professional pride, but also my family pride. My moment of truth had arrived. That day, I decided that I would never set my hands on any instrument other than a sarangi. For the next two years, I practiced sixteen to eighteen hours a day, and faced starvation frequently. I emerged from the experience as a polished sarangi player, and mature human being.

Self-discovery and technique
During this period of self-discovery, I developed a technical relationship with the instrument, which differs from the techniques in vogue in my youth.

I have adopted a fixed-pitch tuning for my instrument. My sarangi is permanently tuned to the pitch of C sharp, irrespective of whether I am playing a solo, or accompanying a male vocalist, or a female vocalist. Depending on the requirement, I adjust the scale-base for the purpose of fingering, and retune the sympathetic strings. My melodic strings are always tuned to C sharp as the tonic.

This is far more difficult than it seems, and takes a lot of practice. But, I have found it necessary for getting a response of stable acoustic quality [timbre] from my instrument. Instability in this aspect of the music is not acceptable to my ears, even if it is acceptable to audiences.

My fingering technique probably developed in response to this peculiar tuning practise. I use the first finger for S,R,G, the second finger for M, P, and the third finger for D, N, S, and the higher octave. The last finger is used only for “kans” [fleeting/ summary intonation].

In the profession
Thereafter, I qualified for full-time employment with All India Radio, which I served for over thirty years, until retirement. In addition to giving me economic security, the radio station gave my art the exposure that elicited invitations to accompany some of the greatest vocalists of the century on the concert platform and on commercial recordings. Amongst the modern greats I have accompanied, I have enjoyed a special relationship with Mallikarjun Mansoor [the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana maestro]. He commissioned me to perform frequently in various parts of the country.

When I accompany a vocalist, I have to merge my musical personality totally into his. My job is to provide support to him, and not to compete with him, or to teach him on the stage. In an extreme case, I am obliged to save his face, even if his music is outrageous in some respect. No matter what he does, I cannot do anything that exposes his weaknesses. Such occurrences can be frequent, and especially frustrating on the radio, where I cannot choose whom I accompany. But, that is a price I pay for the economic security of a job.

Irrespective of the stature of the vocalist to be accompanied, the task of an accompanist is infinitely more challenging than that of a soloist. In addition to the self-control and emotional maturity that he requires, performing with great vocalists tests his competence and versatility as a musician. At short notice, without any rehearsals, I can be asked to accompany a vocalist performing any genre of music – Dhrupad, Khayal, Thumree. I have encountered situations when I have been engaged to accompany a series of singers from different gharanas [stylistic traditions] in the same music festival, one after another. In any kind of situation, I have to deliver a competent accompaniment.

In over 50 years of performing, I have acquitted myself honourably as an accompanist. But, it can often be very disorienting. If my basic training had not been strong, an accompanist’s life could well have left me with no musical idea that I can call my own. This is why I believe that a Sarangi player must have a very sound basic training in the vocalist’s art, along with his own art. And, this training should give him insights into the specialities of the different gharanas. If, for some reason, he gets indoctrinated into any particular gharana, he could become a very clumsy accompanist for vocalists of other gharanas.

I admit that, for a Sarangi player, it is not easy to keep his vision intact while earning a living as an accompanist. But, it is not impossible. If his basic training is sound, he can make the mental switch between the different approaches to performing.

Approach to solo performance
As a soloist, I have to recognise the limitations of my ability to hold audience attention. I don’t have the advantage of the human voice; and I don’t have recourse to poetry. I have, therefore, to pay special attention to the structure of my presentation – but within the established Khayal or Thumree genres.

The sarangi was designed to replicate the human voice. The vocal genres of Khayal, Thumree, Tarana etc. are the natural territory of the Sarangi. These genres also equip the Sarangi player with a vast resource of musical ideas and expressions. I therefore have little sympathy with Sarangi players who are trying to look outside the vocal idiom for their musical material for solos. Technically, anything can be attempted on the sarangi, or any other instrument; but to what purpose?

The legacy
One of my sons is now an accomplished Sarangi player, and employed with All India Radio. So, the future of the Sarangi in my family has been secured for yet another generation. I am now training my 18-year old grandson, the seventh generation in the family. For him, the radio does not look like a viable solution; but other avenues have opened up for Sarangi players. He is getting the best training I can give him. I would like to live long enough to see him well settled.

(c) Deepak S. Raja

The finest solo recordings of Abdul Lateef Khan have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.