Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sampoorna Malkuns: the concept and its manifestations

Though there are, indeed, raga-s by this name, Sampoorna Malkauns cannot be considered the name of a specific raga with well-defined melodic contours. It is a concept of tonally enhancing the pentatonic Malkauns into a heptatonic derivative in which the aural experience of Malkauns retains a significant, if not dominant, presence. Sampoorna (lit: complete scale/ comprehensive) Malkauns is, theoretically, an acceptable name for any heptatonic Malkauns derivative

As a raga-enhancement concept, Sampoorna Malkauns permits a variety of substantially dissimilar melodic entities with the same name, or even qualifying entities bearing different names. Also, by definition, each musician can create his own Sampoorna Malkauns, and submit it to the music community for acceptance.

When the tonal material of any raga is enhanced, the base-raga automatically acquires access to an enlarged inventory of phrases. This enlarged phrase inventory is pregnant with suggestions of other ragas. The composer-performer can decide how explicitly these "alien" melodic elements should be deployed in shaping the enlarged melodic entity. Two extreme levels can be defined, while acknowledging several intermediate possibilities.

1. Raga-enhancement: At this basic level, the musician enhances the tonal inventory of Malkauns, without allowing the “alien” swaras (essentially, Re and Pa) to define phrases distinctly attributable to other mature ragas. As a musical experience, this approach is intended to give you a heptatonic (Sampoorna) version of Malkauns, nothing more, nothing less.

2. Raga dovetailing: At a more categorical level of raga-enhancement, the enlarged melodic entity incorporates, formally and explicitly, some or all of the raga connotations of the enlarged phrase inventory, and allows them to participate in shaping a compound raga, using a systematic joinery device.

Amongst the various manifestations of the Sampoorna Malkauns concept, the most celebrated is that of Kesarbai Kerkar, the legendary recent vocalist of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana.

The Kesarbai version of Sampoorna Malkauns uses nine swaras (S R g G M P d D n) instead of the minimum seven. Its inventory of phrases is drawn explicitly for Malkauns, Bageshri and Kafi. The melodic features of the three ragas are woven intricately into an enlarged melodic entity in which Malkauns is one of three participants. The resulting melodic entity has all the qualifying features of a Sampoorna Malkauns. However, for this raga, Sampoorna Malkauns does not appear to be the most appropriate name, and the naming conventions for compound ragas might have been more appropriate.

Although trained in the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, Mogubai Kurdikar, a contemporary of Kesarbai's, took a different route to Sampoorna Malkauns. She used only seven swaras (S R g M P d n ), basically following the ascent/descent separation between the pentatonic and heptatonic facets of the raga. The Bageshri facet of Kesarbai's version was found entirely missing from the Mogubai interpretation. Her version remains close to the raga-enhancement end of possibilities.

Another fairly common compound raga, which goes by the name of Kaunsi Kanada, is also, conceptually, a “Sampoorna Malkauns” because it dovetails the pentatonic Malkauns with a member of the heptatonic Kanada family – in most cases, Darbari Kanada. Of course, being a compound raga, amenable to different approaches to dovetailing of its component raga-s, Kausi Kanada is also not a sharply defined melodic entity. Conceptually, raga Bageshri Kauns, performed in some gharanas, can also qualify as a Sampoorna Malkauns, though it may be named as a compound raga.

Yet another “Sampoorna Maulkauns” – though little known, and rarely heard -- is the Chandrakauns of the Agra gharana. This raga is not to be confused with the more popular Chandrakauns (S g M d N), which merely substitues the flat Ni of Malkauns with a natural Ni. On a recording I possess of Ustad Yunus Hussain Khan, the Agra Chandrakauns is presented with seven swaras (S r g M P d n ). However, the raga is also known to have been performed with only the shuddha (natural) Ni swara, and occasionally, both the Ni swaras. The Agra Chandrakauns comes through as a Malkauns, with an influence of Asavari/Bhairavi.

As is to be expected in a “concept raga” like Sampoorna Malkauns, the musician has immense freedom in interpreting the concept. And, greater the lapse of time since the raga was in reasonable circulation, the greater the emperimentalism that will be evident in the interpretation of the raga concept. I came across such an interpretation of Sampoorna Malkauns by the young sitarist, Shujaat Khan on a recording for India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Shujaat Khan's Sampoorna Malkauns
Shujaat's Sampoorna Malkauns is a tight interpretation of the qualifying condition, with no attempt at shaping a compound raga. It uses the minimum seven swaras (S R g M P d n), and could have been inspired either by Moghubai's Sampoorna Malkauns or the Agra Chandrakauns. His interpretation differs from the Agra Chandrakauns in that it uses the natural (shuddha) Re, more appropriate for a late evening raga, than the flat (komal) Re of the Agra Chandrakauns, which is more appropriate for “Sandhi Prakash” ragas.

In his presentation, Shujaat appears to be following two different rules for structuring the raga. One evident pattern suggests Malkauns in the ascent (S g M d n S'), and its heptatonic expansion (S' n d P M g R S), suggesting Jaunpuri or Bhairavi in the descent. The other suggests Malkauns in the upper tetrachord, and Bhimpalas in the lower. These are merely tendencies. Neither of these two rules, whether in isolation or together, explain the melodic structure of Shujaat's Sampoorna Malkauns. This is as it should be for a raga that is not intended to explicitly dovetail distinct ragas, and therefore not obliged to use any systematic joinery convention.

In Sampoorna Malkauns, the Jaipur Atrauli gharana treats the mid-octave region as the prime melodic territory of the raga, and uses Pa as the focal point for distancing Sampoorna Malkauns from Malkauns. Its slow-tempo khayal, "Baraj Rahi" - the only one heard in recent years -- revolves categorically around Pa in the mid-octave region. The Agra Chandrakauns adopts a dual approach by including compositions, which emphasize the pentatonic Malkauns facet with Ma as the melodic focus, as well as those, which highlight the heptatonic facet with Pa as the melodic focus.

Shujaat follows the ambivalence of the Agra Chandrakauns. In the alap-jod-jhala phase, Shujaat retains the ascent oriented and upper-tetrachord dominance characteristic of Malkauns. The composition, however, is Bhimpalas oriented, and has a strong emphasis on Pa. Shujaat attempts to weaken the Pa, and its Bhimpalas suggestion, by deflecting the emphasis towards Ma, but not very successfully.

Although the resulting melodic entity has acquired a perceptible fragrance of Bhimpalas and a whiff of Bhairavi, it comes nowhere near being an explicit dovetailing of phrases from these ragas onto the base raga, Malkauns. Shujaat resorts consistently to broad-span and bi-directional phrasing to ensure that Malkauns never recedes from the listener's experience of the raga.

All melodic enhancements of mature ragas are driven by the desire to shape a novel melodic experience without abandoning its reference point in a familiar melodic entity. The greatest challenge in such efforts is to create an aesthetically coherent melodic entity while pushing the familiar deliberately into unfamiliar melodic territory. This is why compound raga-s in general, and “concept ragas” like Sampoorna Malkauns in particular, are found to have been attempted only by musicians of some stature.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York. Shujaat Khan's recording of Sampoorna Malkauns has been produced by India Archive Music

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bahadur Khan -- Undeserved Oblivion

Bahadur Khan (1931-1989) was an outstanding, though inadequately recognised, sarodist, trained by his uncle, the legendary Ustad Alauddin Khan (Baba). By kinship, as well as tutelage, Bahadur Khan was a product of the Maihar-Seniya lineage, a trail-blazer in modern Hindustani instrumental music. Interest in his musicianship has received a fillip in recent years, because of his disciple Tejendra Majumdar’s emergence as a front-ranking sarod player.

Bahadur Khan was the son of Ayet Ali Khan, younger brother of Ustad Allauddin Khan. Ayet Ali was an exponent of the surbahar (a large-sized bass sitar). Being a man of withdrawn inclination, he evaded a performing career and devoted his life to teaching and the manufacture of instruments. Ayet Ali Khan is, incidentally, credited with re-engineering the Maihar design Sarod into the sophisticated acoustic machine it is today.

Bahadur Khan started training with his father at the age of five, and was sent off to Maihar, at the age of eight, for grooming under Baba, alongside cousin Ali Akbar. Baba put him through rigorous training in Dhrupad, Dhamar, Khayal, Tarana, and the semi-classical genres, in their vocal as well as instrumental manifestations. According to Tejendra Majumdar, his disciple, Bahadur Khan also trained briefly at Jodhpur with his cousin, Ali Akbar Khan.

In 1953, at the age of twenty-two, Bahadur Khan was appointed music director of the Little Ballet Theatre in Bombay, where he composed and conducted the score for some memorable productions. Simultaneously, he launched his career on the concert platform as a sarod soloist. His struggles on the concert circuit were subsidized by a presence in Bombay's film music industry. As a classical soloist, he had concert tours of the USSR, China, Europe, UK, the US and the Middle East. But, the concert platform at home remained largely unenthusiastic about him.

In 1965, he migrated to Calcutta, which treated him more kindly, but mainly as a composer and conductor of film scores. His score for the Bengali feature film, Suvarnarekha (The Golden Line. 1965) by the celebrated director, Ritwik Ghatak, won him accolades. His music for the Hindi film, Garam Hava (Hot Winds.1970), by the avant-garde director M.S Sathyu, was again generously awarded. He did scores for several less distinguished feature and documentary films.

Once settled in Calcutta, Bahadur Khan acquired promising disciples -- in Calcutta as well as Dacca (Bangladesh). He had active links with East Pakistan (present-day Bangaldesh) as some part of his family had continued to live there after partition. Towards the end of his life, in the 1980's, he was honoured with the "Tantra Vilas" title by the Bombay-based Sur Singar cultural organisation for his achievements as a sarod player. But, this was too little, and too late to salvage his career as a soloist.

Cruelty of the market
Bahadur Khan is a lamentable figure in modern Hindustani music. Opinions can vary about his musicianship; and they do. But, there is no doubt that the timing of his arrival was not helpful. The 1950's were a cruel period for budding careers in instrumental music. Vocal music enjoyed the lion’s share of the market, with a host of towering vocalists enjoying immense prestige and popularity. Though growing fast, the market for instrumental music was small, and did not permit more than one performer on each instrument to achieve a comfortable degree of success.

Amongst the string instruments, the sitar had an advantage over the sarod, by virtue of being a more mature instrument in terms of acoustic design and idiom, and of providing a larger reservoir of musicianship. Bahadur Khan was entering a “winner-take-all” market. In such a market, the winner could only be his cousin, Ali Akbar Khan.

Towards the end of his life, he recorded two long-playing discs for HMV/EMI, neither of which is currently available. Around the same time, his American disciple, Chezz Rook, also recorded a couple of his concerts. By this time, Bahadur Khan was in failing health, and well past his peak as a performer. The release of Chez Rook’s recordings by India Archive Music, New York, could give the music community an opportunity of reassessing Bahadur Khan as a sarod player.

Lyle Wachovsky on Bahadur Khan
Lyle Wachovsky is the Managing Director of India Archive Music Ltd., New York, the most influential producer of Hindustani music outside India.

“In my estimation, Bahadur Khan is one of India's greatest unknown musicians. While there is no denying the greatness of Ali Akbar Khan, I have developed a special fondness for his cousin, Bahadur Khan's brilliance in the traditional format.

“The structure of Bahadur Khan's presentation is – to me -- crystalline. His tone is beautiful; but he manipulates its character much as Vilayat Khan does. He had an intuitive and marvelous grasp of what each raga was all about -- a psycho-acoustic and possible visual conception -- which he translated into a complex emotional communication.

“I find his Darbari the only one I have heard which matches Vilayat Khan for a clear, if different, interpretation of a raga. In fact, I find Bahadur Khan to be a lot like Vilayat Khan. He was a serious virtuoso, who used all the strings and the rest of the instrument as well. He continuously varied the technique to make more-or-less the same basic phrases which continued to evolve into something new and different each time he repeated them.

“Chazz Rook, an American disciple of Bahadur's, described his Ustad as "the sarod player with a naked heart". He held nothing back in his presentation of the emotional content and the richness of each raga.

All the recordings of Bahadur Khan available for possible release were done in the last few years of his life, by which time, he was a mental and physical wreck. He died, virtually unknown and unremembered, in 1989.”

© India Archive Music Ltd., New York
The finest recordings of Bahadur Khan have been published by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.