Thursday, April 15, 2010

The evolution of Khayal vocalism

March 30, 2010

KHAYAL VOCALISM - Continuity Within Change:
Deepak Raja
DK Printworld (P) Ltd.,F-52 Bali Nagar, New Delhi-110015. Rs. 460.

It is invaluable as a written document and as a book of reference and study for students and others interested in khayal

One does not often come across a book on Hindustani music that treats the art with the precision of a science. But then, this study by Deepak Raja of the evolution of Khayal vocalism through the system of gharanas would probably not have stood scrutiny had he not adopted such an approach. One reason is that music, like all art, is as technical as it is subjective. Therefore, it becomes necessary to establish thebasis on which the techniques of various artistes can be evaluated. The other reason relates to the nature of music as an aural art, and the difficulties of discussing it in writing. Such writing necessarily bristles with technical terms.

As the author describes, compares and contrasts thedifferent styles and draws a technical-historical sketch of thegenre over the past century, bringing the discussion into thepresent day, there are portions that probably only a practising musician would understand. It makes one wish thebook had an aural complement.

Yet the work is invaluable as a written document and as a book of reference and study for students and others interested in Khayal. In contemporary times, when students are given to asking questions instead of learning by rote, it could well form the basis of combined study and discussion between gurus and their disciples.

For his analysis, Deepak Raja divides gharanas into theAgra, Gwalior-Agra, Jaipur-Atrauli, Kairana, and Patiala legacies. Before taking them up for discussion, he provides a detailed introduction.

Taking an analogy from the plastic arts, he differentiates thethree major genres of Hindustani vocal music — Dhrupad, Khayal, and Thumri — by their relative stress on architecture, sculpture, and ornamentation and these in turn, he explains, signify respectively the structure, the contours and the way music seeks to please.

In a rather painstaking effort, Raja spells out his methodology — the number of recordings he listened to, their contents, and the factors that weighed against drawing definitive conclusions about, say, the individual's style or theinfluences that contributed to the music. These ‘x' factors, if one may so term them, are so many — it could be non-availability or poor quality of recordings, lack of information on deceased artistes, or the sheer unpredictability of human nature — that at times one is tempted to ask why was it necessary to put a subjective art through such a precision-controlled apparatus. However, to quote from Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar's foreword, “…we should value literature which helps musicians understand their struggles, makes audiences sensitive to the struggles of musicians, and holds both parties responsible for preserving and strengthening thetradition.”

The foreword provides an overview beyond the technical. Kashalkar speaks of the importance of “understanding the personality of the raga, and the range of emotional statements it can make.” He goes on to point out the important role the gharanas of Khayal played “in evolving different approaches to communicating the raga experience.” He describes a gharana as “the accumulation of musical wisdom, rather than a xeroxing machine.”

This book is also valuable for non-technical readers. Besidesthe annexure, “An introduction to Khayal,” and the glossary,the short biographies of artistes and the interviews of current performers are sure to invite their interest.

© Copyright 2000 - 2009 The Hindu

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kshem Kalyan (Khem): The "precious" Kalyan

When I first heard Kshem Kalyan, I was totally charmed. I looked for authoritative documentation; but I found none. I acquired the few available recordings of the raga from the market and from collectors for a clearer view of its melodic personality. This, too, was not satisfying. I consulted Purnima Sen, the only living vocalist, whose recording I had. Then, I worked on the raga with my Sitar for a whole week. At the end of this effort, I could not manage more than 5 minutes of alap without repetition. I figured then that this was no ordinary raga. It was not even just another rare raga. It was a special raga, perhaps beyond reach without a Guru. But, I can share with you what I discovered.

Kshem Kalyan (or Khem Kalyan, or simply, Khem) is a post-sunset raga of undocumented history and grammar, whose commercial recordings are also hard to find. Having to retain a distinctive identity within the overcrowded Kalyan family also makes it a raga of limited improvisational potential. This challenge is probably sufficient to explain its rarity. The raga remains in circulation – even if only barely – because some musicians and some audiences value the distinctive musical statement it makes.

Kshem Kalyan is, in my view, Yaman Kalyan with a vivacious twist. Admittedly, there are other Kalyan family ragas, which would also answer to this description. Kshem Kalyan is, then, Yaman Kalyan with a distinctive vivacious twist. A majority of gharanas might dismiss such ragas as “thumree material”, worthy only of 15-minute rendition. But, vocalists in some gharanas treat the raga with a lot of respect, and present them, with aplomb, in Khayal style, over a full 45-minute duration.

For instance, Purnima Sen, the senior Agra gharana vocalist, told me that Kshem Kalyan was one of the favourite ragas of her principal Guru, Ata Hussain Khan (Agra-Atrauli gharana), from whom she learnt it. He used to sing this raga for over an hour without any repetition. Ata Hussain also described Kshem Kalyan as a “precious” raga – akin to an heirloom piece of jewelry, and advised her to perform it selectively, only for knowledgeable audiences.

There is no mention, in the authoritative texts I consulted, of either Kshem Kalyan or even of raga Kshem, thus also ruling out the possibility of Kshem Kalyan being a compound raga. The raga, therefore appears to be an independent melodic entity, conceived probably as a variant of Yaman Kalyan. To the best of my knowledge, the raga has been performed primarily by vocalists of the Agra-Atrauli gharana. To a lesser extent, it gained currency in the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana. In recent years, it has been performed very competently by Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, a mature vocalist of the Kishori Amonkar lineage. The raga is virtually unknown in instrumental music.

I could access only three recordings of this raga – an unpublished concert recording by Sharafat Hussain Khan, a recent recording by Purnima Sen -- both of the Agra-Atrauli tradition -- and a published recording by Nissar Hussain Khan (EMI/ HMV:STC-04B:7407) of the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana. On his concert recording, Sharafat Hussain can be heard challenging the audience to identify the raga. The Nissar Hussain recording, interestingly, does not identify the raga at all, but calls it “Kalyan Ka Prakar” (A Kalyan variant). The rarity of the raga can also be judged from the fact that the three available recordings feature the same vilambit and drut Khayal bandish-es in the raga. Interestingly, the vilambit and drut bandish-es also have identical melodic contours, differing from each other only in lyrics and the tempo of rendition. This suggests that the raga is acknowledged to be of limited melodic potential.

Melodic personality
Predictably for a rare raga, available recordings vary in their treatment of it, without necessarily differing substantially on the identifying features of the raga. With the help of available, recordings, I have attempted to codify its melodic distinctiveness.

Available recordings suggest the following salient features in its melodic personality. The raga has the highest risk of confusion with Yaman Kalyan, because it uses the same tone-material (S-R-G-M-M^-P-D-N). This risk is highest in the madhyanga (mid-octave region) of the middle octave, where Yaman Kalyan exhibits its distinctive personality with the unique pattern of twin-Ma usage. Secondly, Kshem Kalyan is virtually identified by its melodic action in the uttaranga (upper tetrachord) of the lower octave. In the descending motion, if ineptly handled, the melody risks confusion with raga Maluha Kalyan and Hansadhwani. In the ascending motion, it risks confusion with Hansadhwani again, and Hem Kalyan. The raga is therefore codified in a manner that avoids these risks, along with the risks it accepts in the process of so doing.

The raga has a quadratonic ascent of stark tonal geometry (S G P N ), with each swara having equal weightage. The descent is hyper-heptatonic, (S’ N D P M^ M G R), with (tivra/ sharp) Ma^ being deployed subliminally as in raga Shuddha Kalyan, and (shuddha/ natural) Dh deployed subliminally as in raga Bihag. The zigzag phrasing of the raga is so essential to differentiating it from Yaman Kalyan, that it seems unreasonable to classify the raga as either araoha-pradhan (ascent dominant) or avaroha-pradhan (descent dominant). The raga is almost totally resident in the lower half of the melodic canvas, and hence classified as purvanga-pradhan. The raga appears to revolve largely around the middle-octave Re, suggesting it as the vadi swara (Primary dominant). This vadi is also sound as a means of distinguishing the raga from Yaman Kalyan with its vadi at Ga. The signatory phrases of the raga suggest Pa in the lower octave as the probable samvadi (Secondary dominant) of the raga. This would distinguish the raga from Maluha Kalyan with its strong Dh in the lower octave.

(Swaras in parenthesis indicate subliminal usage)

S R S P. / P. N. R S/ N. S G M R G R or N. S G R/ S G P / P S’ S’ or P N S’ or P N (D) N S’/ N S’ G’ M’ R’ S/ R’ N (D) P/ N (D) N (D)P / P (M^) G/ M G R G R or P (M^) R/ N. R S P./ N. S

The pakad (catch phrases) of the raga: S N. R S P/ N S G R

The phraseology outlined above is, admittedly, an inference of the composer’s intent from available recordings, and therefore, a theoretical construct. Even within the small sample of recordings available, there exist deviations which either interpret the zigzag phraseology of the raga liberally, or allow the raga to drift closer to Yaman Kalyan. Both these are “predictable” tendencies in this raga because, as conceived, the raga is a melodic entity of limited improvisational potential, and a tilt towards Yaman Kalyan, its probable inspiration, would be the most “logical” and defensible. An alternative phraseology, incorporating these tendencies, and accepting a less distinctive raga-ness, may be documented thus:

S R S P. or R N. P or R N. D. P / P. N. R S or D. N. R S / N. S G M R G R or N. S G R or D. N. R G R / S G P / P S’ S’ or P N S’ or P N (D) N S’/ N S’ G’ M’ R’ S or D N R’ G’ R’ N R’ S/ R’ N (D) P/ N (D) N (D)P / P (M^) G/ M G R G R or P (M^) R or M^ G M G R/ G ( R ) S / N. R S P./ N. S

Purnima Sen provided her own documentation of the chalan of the raga as it was taught to her by Ata Hussain Khan.

S G M G R/ G S R N. P./ N. S./ S G P M^ G M G R/ G S/ R N. S/ S G P/ (N) DD P D N D P/ M^ G M G R/ S N. R N. P./ N. S/ S G G P/ N D P M^ G M G R/ S G P M^ R S/ P N (D) N S’ or P N S’/ N R’ G’ R’ S’ N D P/ S GG P P (N) DD P D N D P/ M^ G M G R S N/ S G R G S R N. S

Her notes also provided additional insights into the intonation rules. Tivra (sharp) Ma is used subliminally most of the time; but it has a longer duration when the phrase M^-R-S is sung. Likewise, Dh is subliminally deployed most of the time; but is more pronounced in the phrases P (N) DD/PDNDP.

Even a mature musician cannot acquire a good grip on this raga from this documentation, and the study of a the few available recordings. Kshem Kalyan needs to be learnt from a Guru qualified to teach it.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Shahana: the popular Kanada

I first heard Shahana from Ustad Vilayat Khan. Must have been in the early 1970s. He drifted into it without announcing the raga. As the raga unfolded, I said to myself -- "How clever! He is playing Darbari with a twist -- replacing the Komal Dh of Darbari with a Shuddha Dh, and delivering an entirely different musical experience!".

In those days,Kausi Kanada was the most commonly heard Kanada variant. Shahana was a relatively unknown raga. Over the last quarter of the 20th century, however, Shahana (also known as Sahana or Shahana Kanada) grew considerably in popularity. As a result, today, you are likely to hear it as frequently as Darbari -- the primary Kanada. Shahana is classified as a member of the Kanada group because it shares with Darbari Kanada its descending melodic line (n-P/g-M-R-S).

The raga finds occasional mention in mediaeval texts, but was probably documented only in the 19th century. The name “Shahana” is of Persian origin, with mediaeval texts referring to it as being allied to a Persian melody called Firodast. This Persian melody is unknown in India now, but may have once been in circulation. Another perspective interprets Shahana as a blend of Darbari Kanada, Adana, and Malhar. Considering the seamless character of the raga, this theory could be more analytical than historical. The Carnatic (South Indian) tradition has an immensely popular raga of the same name, which bears no resemblance to Shahana in the Hindustani system.

Between the three major authorities, who have documented the raga, we have four variants of its melodic personality. The Subbarao version deploys only komal (flat) Ni, while the Bhatkhande version deploys both shuddha (natural) and komal (flat) Ni in the ascent, and only komal (flat) Ni in the descent. The Tagore version, cited by Bhatkhande, matches the Subbarao version in swara material, but varies in phraseology. The Patwardhan version legitimises a Bhimpalas suggestion in the uttaranga, a Megh Malhar suggestion in the madhyanga (mid-octave region), and the Adana suggestion in the uttaranga. However, Patwardhan suggests that this raga originates as a blend of Darbari and Malhar, but also sees shades of Bahar in it.

Considering that poetry composed in the raga has a decent presence of imagery related to spring and the rainy season – both suggesting a relief from extreme conditions – a degree of euphoria is, indeed, integral to the psycho-acoustics of the raga within the culture-specific context.

Subbarao B. Raga Nidhi. Vol. IV, 4th Impression, 1996, Music Academy, Madras.
Ascent: n S g M P n P/ D M P S’: Descent: S’ n D n P/ D M P g/ M R S

Bhatkhande Sangeet Shastra Vol. IV, 2nd Edition, 1970. Sangeet Karyalaya, Hathras. Ascent: n S g M P n P N S’ Descent: S’ n D n P M P g M R S

The Tagore version cited by Bhatkhande:
Ascent: n S R g/ M n P/ M P n S’: Descent: S’ n D n P/ g M R S

Patwardhan, Vinayakrao. Raga Vigyan Vol. V.5th Edition, Sangeet Gaurav Granthamala.
Ascent: Rn S Mg M P/ n D n P/ M P n P S’: Descent: S’ n D n P M P Mg M R S

Subbarao and Patwardhan consider Pa-Sa as the primary and secondary dominants of the raga. Both Subbarao and Bhatkhande consider the raga to be anchored in the upper half of the melodic canvas. Contemporary practice appears to reflect all the tendencies documented by authorities, along with a sharper differentiation of Shahana from other members of the Kanada group, now consisting of over 30 melodic entities.

Contemporary practice
Contemporary interpretations of Shahana appear to conform to three broad patterns.

Ustad Vilayat Khan rendered Shahana on the heels of Bageshri (December 1973, unpublished). The melodic identity of the raga revolves around Dh in the uttaranga (upper tetrachord) of the middle octave, suggesting a Bageshri bias (g-M-D/ D-n-P). In the poorvanga (lower tetrachord), his interpretation of the raga has a touch of Bhimpalas (R n-S-M/ g-M-P/ S-g-M-P-g-M-R-S). This Shahana variant recurs on his son, Shujaat Khan’s commercial recording. The Bageshri-biased pattern is also evident in Ustad Ameer Khan’s rendition of the bandish “Sundar angana baithi”(EMI/HMV: STC:850351).

The second pattern conforms to the Bhatkhande documentation incorporating the twin-Ni usage. This can be heard in the Dhamar composition “Kunjan udat gulal” performed in the Darbhanga (Vidur Malik) gharana of Dhrupad. This feature may suggest the Bahar / Malhar facet of the raga.

The third pattern is the one performed by Jaipur-Atrauli vocalists, and heard on a recording by Dhondutai Kulkarni. This interpretation of the raga has shades of Darbari Kanada, Adana, and Bhimpalas, while retaining its distinctive deployment of shuddha Dh (g-M-D-n-P). In the poorvanga, it follows the Darbari phrasing (n-S-R-g-M-R-S) along with Bhimpalas (R-n-S-M). In the uttaranga, it uses the Adana ascent (M-P-S’), as well as Bhimpalas (M-P-n-S). In the descent, Adana phrasing (P-n-P) features alternately with the distinctive Shahana phrasing (D-n-P).

The skeletal phraseology of Shahana is drawn using the following recordings as reference. Ustad Vilayat Khan (December 1973, unpublished), Ustad Ameer Khan (EMI/HMV: STC:850351), and Pandit Jasraj (EMI/HMV: STCS: 851013). It also incorporates the twin-Ni option exercised by Darbhanga gharana Dhrupad vocalists.

Chalan: P.n. P. N. S or n S n R S/ n S R g M R S/ R n S M/ S M M P or S R g M P/ g M D n P or g M n P / M P S’ D n P/ M P S’ or M P n S or M P N S’ N S’/ R’ S’ D n P/ n M P g/ M R S

Though different musicians and gharanas emphasise different facets of Shahana, the raga has stabilised with the use of a single Ni (komal), and come to be identified by a few catch-phrases in the uttaranga (g-M-D/D-n-P/ M-P-S’/ D-n-P) along with the generic Kanada descent (n-P-g-M-R-S). Another significant tendency evident in the raga is the omission of the explicit Malhar suggestion (S-n-D-n-P), documented by significant authorities of the 19th and early 20th century. Such tendencies towards the standardisation of the melodic personality normally accompany a raga’s growing popularity in response, perhaps, to the need for its categorical differentiation from allied ragas.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York