Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shujaat Khan – “Most duets are a farce”

Shujaat spoke to Deepak Raja on September 18, 2002

Surprising as it might seem, I am not a great enthusiast of the duet in Hindustani music. In most cases, it is a gimmick – especially when it is arranged between people who are ill-matched. In 90% of the cases, it turns out to be a farce. The quality of music turns out to be far inferior to what each of the musicians can turn out in a solo concert. This happens because there is neither a musical compatibility between them, nor a personal rapport. Each goes off into an ego trip trying to dominate the music. He ceases to be himself, and makes a mess of the music.

For myself, I find that there are very few musicians I can play with. One of the considerations is this notion of seniority. My seniors will not play with me because I am their junior, and I will not play with my juniors because I am their senior. There are very few contemporaries – plus or minus five years in age – whom I can possibly combine with; but not all of them wish to play with me.

I played with Ashish Khan once. A very good musician. Excellent concert. But, he had problems with my singing. He felt this was disturbing the flow of our music. A similar problem emerged recently with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. I would personally be quite happy to jettison my singing if it was only an ego trip for me. In truth, I have neither the desire, nor competence to be a vocalist. But, if the audiences like it, and demand that I sing, I am not going to shut that out. After all, I am a professional musician, making a living. Singing is a small part of my presentation; if it makes people happy, I will oblige.

A duet succeeds only when the two musicians don’t have to carry a massive burden of baggage on their backs, can play together without nuts-and-bolts planning, and with gay abandon. In this sense, Tejendra Majumdar and I are getting our act together very well. We have done only one concert together so far, but have done four recordings. The other person with whom I have a great partnership is the Iranian Khemancheh player, Kayhan Kalhor. I have done at least fifteen concerts with Kayhan, and a coule of CDs. And, of course, I have been able to accompany my father Vilayat Khansaheb effectively. But, that is hardly something to talk about.

Right from the first recording I did with Tejendra we have had no problems. That first Charukeshi we recorded together was a miracle considering that these two guys, trying to make music together, did not know each other at all until then. Tejendra is a wonderful human being, and an outstanding musician. We respect each other as musicians, and like each other personally. We have never had to do any detailed planning for our duets. The only thing we discuss and plan is the format of the performance, and the bandish-es. If anything like a method has emerged in our duets, it is intuitive. And, because it is intuitive, it will keep changing.

There is, indeed, a difference in our approach to music. In his gharana, they tend to open up the raga across the melodic canvas faster than we do. Our style adopts a step-by-step approach to melodic progression up and down the melodic canvas. So, sometimes, I find that he is racing ahead of me. But, the moment he realizes this, he comes back. In the duet, this occasional mismatch of progression approaches is not as disturbing as it might be in a solo, because in any case, we are often responding to each other’s efforts in a different region of the melodic canvas. The totality is, therefore, scattered anyway. So, it is not something that worries either of us.

As far as I can see, the only thing that has stabilized formally between us is that he allows me to lead the transitions – the shifts from one movement to another, and the stepping up of the tempo. He gets too deeply involved in his music to lead the way, and I like taking responsibility.

Tejendra and I have not done much more of stage concerts together because of problems of coordinating dates and schedules, and also because of the money. From the point of view of the concert hosts, the cost of the engagement doubles. So, our duet appearances have been limited to those who can recover the expense, and hopefully make a profit on it.

The collaboration with Kayhan Kalhor, the Iranian Khamencheh player, is an entirely different kettle of fish, and we have a lot of setting up to do. The Iranian Maqam system is broadly like our raga system. But, their intonations are different, and their phraseology is rather limited. But, there is some very deep musical thought in their system, just as there is in ours.

Kayhan and I might share some common scales, like Darbari or Yaman; but Hindustani musicians tend to do much more with it through improvisation than the Iranians would do. I cannot work on the scale as Kayhan does, because that would make the music very repetitive. And, he cannot do what I do with the scale because of his musical background.

There is a difference in our handling of the rhythm also. They think mainly in a rhythmic cycle of four beats, while we have innumerable talas, with their individual cadence patterns. So, sometimes, it can happen that if we are working on an 8-beat cycle, I will always come back on the first beat, but Kayhan might come back on the fifth, because he thinks in 4-beat patterns.

With Kayhan, therefore, there is a need for strategy. We simplify the melody and the rhythm to a great extent, so that each of us can handle the music in our own respective ways, while working together. Our third partner, the percussionist Sandeep in our ensemble, has now mastered the stylized rendition of the “theka” in a way that works for my duets with Kayhan. He simplify even the “theka” to as little as two or three beats to make sure that Kayhan is not strained by having to count the beats. To help Kayhan handle the rhythmic cycle – we work primarily in 8-beat cycles -- I give him frequent cues for his return from a round of improvisations back into the composition. And, for the “sawal-jawab” type of interaction with the tabla, to which I am averse, I leave that part entirely between Kayhan and Sandeep.

Even though there is some “setting up” required with Kayhan, we have worked well together because we like each other immensely. He is much younger to me; but hardly matters. We are good friends. I also admire the mind-blowing music he is able to create with his small, and relatively crude, instrument. He is an outstanding musician, who gets deeply involved in his music. We come from different traditions; so we have no scope for problems of one-upmanship. And, personally, I would like more and more people to appreciate the little-heard music of Iran, and the even more obscure instrument Kayhan plays – the Khemancheh.

This is why I was very happy when an Indian organization came up recently and asked for a duet concert between Kayhan and me in Bombay. Yes, the fees are nowhere near what we get paid in the US. But, we are both treating it as a picnic, and an opportunity to promote Iranian music, the Khemancheh, Kayhan, and of course, our partnership. And, the audiences will get excellent music. I know that our classical music crowd will be disappointed in the absence of thoroughbred Hindustani music. But, this is a different kind of music – possibly for a different kind of audience. If some people feel cheated, I cannot help it. You cannot please everyone.

If my partnership with Tejendra and Kayhan can produce equally good results, it just proves that the essence of a successful duet is a high level of individual musicianship, and the personal chemistry between the artists. Nothing else really matters.

©Deepak S. Raja
The finest duets of Shujaat Khan with Tejendra Majumdar have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd. New York.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Raga Desh – classicist as well as romanticist

Peter Manuel, an authority on the thumree and allied genres, has listed Desh amongst “thumree ragas” – ragas of the Khamaj parent scale, frequently encountered in the semi-classical genres. (Manuel, Peter. Thumri: in historical and stylistic perspectives. 1st edition. 1989, Motilal Banarasidass, New Delhi). As Manuel acknowledges, Desh is also performed in classical music. In classicist treatment, it adheres strictly to raga grammar, while in semi-classical (romanticist) treatment, the raga’s melodic boundaries are allowed to overlap with those of allied ragas. Desh bears a close resemblance to raga Kedaragaula of the Carnatic (South Indian) tradition. However, in recent years, the Hindustani Desh itself has gained acceptance in Carnatic music.

An important melodic feature of the raga is its use of two Ni (7th) swaras, the shuddha (natural) in the ascent, and the komal (flat) in the descent. The raga omits Ga (3rd) and Dh (6th) in the ascent, and takes a loop in the descent towards the bottom of the scale. Some authorities permit the use of komal [flat] Ni in the ascent too, though only through a descending phrase embedded in the ascent.

Ascent: S R M P N S’ or S R M P/ n D P/ M P N S’
Descent: S’ n D P/ M G R/ G S

The dominant swaras of the raga are Re (2nd) and Pa (5th). Authorities are willing to accept either of the two as the vadi swara (primary dominant), with the other being the samvadi (the secondary dominant). Manikbuwa Thakurdas, a Gwalior gharana scholar-musician, considers the raga to be descent-dominant, and having its centre of melodic gravity in the uttaranga (upper tetrachord). However, poorvanga (lower tetrachord) dominant and even Madhyanga (mid-octave region) dominant treatments are prevalent, thus reflecting the divergence of opinion relating to the relative importance of the two dominant swaras, and the consequent anchoring of the raga on the melodic canvas.

Chalan: (Skeletal phraseology)

N. S R M G R
R M P n D P
M P N N S’
N S’ R’
R’ G’ N S’ or R’ g’ R’ S’
R’ n D P
R G N. S

Pakad (identifying phrases): R R M P/ n D P/ R M G R

Although grammar permits the use of only shuddha (natural) Ga in this raga, the chalan permits a judicious touch of the illicit komal Ga in the Taar Saptak (higher octave). Bhatkhande describes this as an acceptable breach of grammar and attributes it to the raga’s probable search for tonal (1st/ 4th) correspondence with komal Ni. He also observes that this feature is found and accepted in several raga-s of the Khamaj parent scale.

Bhatkhande has described Desh as a raga of the Sorath Anga (facet /group) under the Khamaj parent scale. In this group, he includes three other ragas – Sorath, Jaijaiwanti, and Tilak Kamod. Amongst the cousins, Jaijaiwanti and Tilak Kamod most frequently expose the musician to the danger of confused raga-identities.

Ascent: D n D P R/ R g R S/ R G M P/ M P N S’
Descent: S’ n D P/ D M G R/ R g R S
Vadi: Re, Samvadi: Pa

Tilak Kamod:
Ascent: P. N. S. R G S/ R M P N S’
Descent: S’ N/ P D M G/ R G S or S’ P/ D M G/ R G S
Vadi-Samvadi: Sa and Pa or Re and Pa

Documentation of Desh, Jaijaiwanti and Tilak Kamod scales as per Raga Nidhi (Subbarao V. Raga Nidhi, 4th edition, 1996, Music Academy, Madras).

The available documentation of Tilak Kamod with respect to dominant tones does not conform to predominant practice over the last half a century. Probably with the intention of differentiating categorically between Desh and Tilak Kamod, recent practice of Tilak Kamod has come to accord pivotal roles to Ga and Ni. Bhatkhande recognises this, without according to them the roles of vadi-samvadi (dominants). He points out that phrases culminating at the lower octave Ni strongly suggest Tilak Kamod as distinct from Desh. His identification of the melodic signature of Tilak Kamod also recognises the roles of Ga and Ni (GRG/ SNPNSRG/ S/ RPMG/SRG/SN). This outline is fully supported by the structure of the most popular bandish-es in the raga. An empirical-analytical view would therefore support the identification of Ni-Ga as the vadi-samvadi pair, thus also differentiating Tilak Kamod from Desh more sharply. By this criterion, a prominent use of Ga or Ni as terminal points of phrasing would tend to push Desh into Tilak Kamod.

From the point of view of raga differentiation, Manikbuwa Thakurdas provides important insights. He points out that Tilak Kamod is a compound of two ragas – Tilak and Kamod. The Kamod facet of Tilak Kamod is represented by the phrases: RRP/ MRP/ DP/ and RPMGRGS. These phrases emphasise the Re-Pa transition, especially in the form of RPM or RPMG, which may be acceptable in Tilak Kamod, and contra-indicated in Desh. Incidentally, the Re-Pa transition, especially in certain kinds of treatment, also pushes Desh towards Malhar, and therefore, into the shadow of Desh-Malhar, a compound of Desh and Malhar.

While the Re-Pa transition is treacherous from the Tilak Kamod end, the ascending Pa-Re transition is dangerous at the Jaijaiwanti end. The risk is even greater in the Taar Saptak, if it is invited in conjunction with the touch of komal Ga as tolerated, though not encouraged, in Desh. Phrases like “nDPR” and “RGMGRgNS” identify Jaijaiwanti too categorically to escape the discerning listener’s disapproval.

Another confusion can surface in the deployment of the two Ni swara-s – the shuddha and the komal. The rule for twin-swara deployment mandates that one of them shall be used in the ascent and the other in the descent. If this rule is breached in the rendition of Desh, the rendition slips into the “Malhar effect”, and acquires shades of raga Desh-Malhar. Though the twin-Ni usage rule also applies to Malhar, its occasional breach has come to be accepted by the music community. The extension of this liberty into Desh is, however, contra-indicated.

The tricky aspects of raga integrity in Desh do not necessarily make it difficult to render. They merely demand that the musician choose between a classicist (Dhrupad/ Khayal) and a romanticist (Thumree) stance in his rendition.

Desh in 20th century music

The consensus on the raga-form is based on a survey of nine recordings of Desh in classicist presentation by some leading recent and contemporary Hindustani musicians: Ustad Faiyyaz Khan (EMI/HMV: STC:04B:7176), Nikhil Bannerjee Milestones: DX-430348 and T Series: SICC:028), Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (T Series: SVCC:019), Roshanara Beghum(EMI:STC:04B:7703), Mallikarjun Mansoor (Unublished concert), Hariprasad Chaurasia (EMI-HMV: STCS: 04B:5171), Ulhas Kashalkar (EMI-HMV: STCS:850620), and Rashid Khan (Navras: NRCC:0015).

In the recordings of Ustad Faiyyaz Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Roshanara Beghum, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, and Ulhas Kashalkar, the raga form is orthodox and immaculate. The same is true of the recordings of Nikhil Bannerjee, and Mallikarjun Manur, except that Mansur’s recording and one of the two recordings of Nikhil Bannerjee reveal an undocumented and rare facet of the raga, giving prominence to Ma. In both the recordings, the bandish-es have their sam at the middle-octave Ma in ascending melodic construction (SRM), en route to Pa, rather than the more familiar descending usage (MGR) or the looped usage (RMGR). None of these eight recordings has any trace of Malhar, Tilak Kamod, Kamod, Sorath, or Jaijaiwanti.

This leaves us with the youngest musician in the sample, Rashid Khan (born;1966), and his recording of a concert at Wolverhampton (England) in March 1993. The rendition consists of a Madhya laya khayal, followed by a Tarana, both in Teental. In this 50-minute rendering, consecutive twin-Ni usage, suggesting Malhar, occurs six times, the use of komal (flat) Ga suggesting Jaijaiwanti (MGRgRSNS) occurs once in the poorvanga, while the Sorath pattern (DPMR) omitting Ga in the descent appears three times. Before we judge these deviations from the raga form, we must also note that although the bandish forms are of the classicist genres, the manner of rendition make this a predominantly romanticist, thumree style, treatment. This is evident from the laxity of architecture and absence of the aloofness characteristic of the Khayal genre. In this rendition, we therefore observe a blurring of the dividing line between the Khayal and Thumree genres, reflecting the advanced stage of romanticism in Hindustani music.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York