Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Raga Gorakh Kalyan – emerging as a Bageshri variant

This essay is now published in my fourth book:

Removing it from here was considered proper, though not contractually obligatory, in order to protect my publisher's investment in my book.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change

Author: Deepak Raja
Foreword: Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar
Introduction: Lyle Wachovsky
Paperback: Rs. 460.00. Hard-cover: Rs. 760.00


“Deepak Raja’s work is surely the most important contribution to literature on khayal vocal styles to come out in recent times. His minute and colorful analysis is astounding testimony to decades of deep aesthetic and intellectual engagement. His parsing of the formidable variables of Khayal style here is a real gift to those of us who have puzzled over the elusive qualities of this beautiful music. His essays on selected musicians are both enlightening and entertaining. I recommend this book to anyone who listens thoughtfully to India's classical music.”

Prof. Allyn Miner
Department of South Asian Studies
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphi, USA

Deepak Raja has adopted a unique kind of systematic analytical approach to the study of Hindustani music, which yields original and intriguing insights. Students and lovers of Indian music will find much that is compelling and thought-provoking in this book.

Prof. Peter Manuel
Professor of Music, John Jay College, New York,USA

“This book is a pioneering effort in the study of Hindustani Music. I know of no previous work that pays as much attention to detailed analysis of the individual stylistic characteristics of the great vocalists of the past. Moreover, the analysis is firmly grounded in an extensive study of a large array of recordings. This feature by itself is a huge departure from the established norms in past writing on this subject, in which the treatment has been with a broad brush, thereby often leading to generalities that are not objectively sustainable. Here an attempt is made to impose some rigor in this process, by relying on material that is available for detailed analysis – such as recordings, interviews and so on.

“Here, Deepak Raja applies to stylistic analysis a metaphor he previously originated, applying ideas from the plastic arts to the study of khayal styles. This metaphor involves looking at the total phenomenon of creativity in khayal styles as a meld of three facets: an architectural facet, a sculptural facet, and an ornamental facet. This point of view is original, stimulating and effective, and provides a conceptual and analytical framework for understanding Khayal stylistics. The reader will find much here that is of interest historically as well as musically. This book should be required reading for every serious student of music whose vision goes beyond performance alone. We are in Deepak Raja's debt for an outstanding book.”

Prof. Ramesh Gangolli.
University of Washington, Seattle, USA

“Basing the findings and conclusions on pointed instances from audio-recordings, using physical parameters for analysis and yet treating the art as an organic form, keeping the discussion restricted to the musician's music alone, the felicity in the use of language – impart objectivity, dignity and intimacy to Deepak Raja's writings on music. His deep knowledge of the music of the stalwarts and his eagerness to recognise and understand the music of the most recently risen artist have carried this book ahead of and beyond the earlier writings on the Khayala music.”

Prof. N Ramanathan
Professor of Music (Retd.), University of Madras
Currently, Adjunct Professor of Music, Chennai Mathematical Institute.

Deepak Raja has achieved a unique synthesis of articulate musical description and thoughtful cultural background. He supports and respects the traditions of Hindustani classical music; but manages to achieve the personal distance necessary to avoid the emotional and analytic excesses of many volumes in this field. “Khayal Vocalism” offers scholars an important alternative perspective on Indian musical priorities and thinking; it is essential for the interested listener (Indian or foreigner) who wishes to reach a better understanding of the most important vocal form in the classical music of 20th Century India.

Prof. Gregory Booth, Department of Ethnomusicology,
University of Auckland, New Zealand

“I am not an authority on Indian Classical music to ably judge the scholastic quality of “Khayal Vocalism”. But I know Deepak Raja and the dedication with which he works on a chosen project. Going through “Khayal Vocalism” I was highly impressed by Shri.Raja’s expertise and deep passion for the subject. I am confident that readers will find his analysis of great value”.

Mrs. Vijaya Mehta
Executive Director, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai

“Scholarly and meticulously researched, this is an extremely valuable book on Indian classical music.”

Namita Devidayal
Author of “The Music Room” (Random House, 2008)

"Like all Deepak Raja's writings on Hindustani music, including his earlier work, "Hindustani Music--a Tradition in Transition", the present work too impresses with the knowledge, information, candour, analytical acuity and felicity of expression that he has brought to it. Art music is rarely written about in such a clear, readable manner."

Shanta Gokhale
Culture columnist and theatre personality

“Assimilate like a student, analyse like a master, express like an artist. This has been the hallmark of scholar-musician Deepak Raja’s approach, making this wonderful book a seeker’s destination and a reader’s odyssey”

Ashok Roy
Author of “Music Makers” (Rupa, 2004)

To me Deepak Raja or Deepakbhai as I call him, is a senior disciple, a talented musician, a respected journalist, a critical analyst of Indian music and a close family friend.

As an author, his first book “Hindustani Music: a tradition in transition”, written in lucid and scholarly language, is much in demand. His second book -- “Khayal Vocalism: continuity within change” -- projects profound analysis of the vocal form of Khayal. His conclusions which maintains “Continuity within Change” is indeed thought provoking. I am sure it will be extremely useful to academically interested musicians as well as aspiring students.

Pandit Arvind Parikh
Eminent sitarist, and
President, Indian Musicological Society

I have known Deepak Bhai for a long time. I have seen his association with my Ustaad and father, Ustad Vilayat Khan and we have spent some wonderful times discussing music. His thoughts on our music and tradition I have always found to be very refreshing and I feel that he expresses them with a great amount of clarity. I always look forward to our meetings and our long chats.

Ustad Shujaat Khan, Sitarist

“As in his earlier book, -Hindustani Music – A tradition in transition”, Deepak Raja continues to provide a fresher and analytic evaluation of the changing profile of the khayal style in this book, covering all the major khayal gharanas of Hindustani music. Continuity and change is profoundly explained by the author. Scholar, performer and connoisseur –all will benefit from the reading of this valuable book.”

Prof. RC Mehta
Prof. of Music (Retd), M.S. Univ. of Baroda,
Founder – Editor, Journal of the Indian Musicological Society.

"Deepak Raja's book on Khayal vocalism is a remarkable output of research done over the years. He is one of the most outstanding musicologists I have ever come across, not only because of the depth of his scholarship in the field, but also because of his ability to think like a very sensitive performer. I am definite there will be wide appreciation of this masterly work"

Prof. Sugata Marjit
North Indian Classical Vocalist and
Director, Centre For Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkatta

“During my work in the Musicology department of the National College of Arts, Lahore and in the Sanjan Nagar Institute I have found Deepak Raja’s commitment to our classical music and his painstaking scholarship to be a very valuable asset. We have benefited greatly from his past writings and looking at his latest work I find it an even more valuable link in our fund of serious writings. We extend our gratitude and look forward to a further continuation of his important work in the realm of Indian Classical Music.”

Raza Kazim
Director, Sanjan Nagar Institute of Musicology,
Lahore, Pakistan

“Deepak Raja’s contributions to Sruti magazine have been weighty in substance but also very readable, addressed to the serious music lover, not the scholar. He is an editor’s delight; his copy needs no editing, and he has perfect understanding of the ideal length for the extremely readable profiles of khayal musicians, which we serialised in Sruti, and appear in this book. Here’s a role model for all aspiring writers on the arts—analytical and completely focused on the art and the process, not anecdotal like much writing we see in this genre.”

V Ramnarayan
Editor, SRUTI Magazine, Chennai

Friday, December 19, 2008

Raga Ahiri: Neither Ahiri Todi, nor Ahir Bhairav – just Ahiri

Until a few years ago, I had not heard Raga Ahiri. The opportunity of studying it came my way when I had to write a commentary on the sarodist, Tejendra Majumdar’s recording of this raga for India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Tejendra claims to have learnt this raga from his Guru, Ustad Bahadur Khan, as Ahiri, and not Ahiri Todi. In addition, he studied, from a private collection, an unpublished recording of the raga rendered by Nikhil Bannerjee. Tejendra vouches that the raga form, as taught to him by his Guru matches that of Nikhil Bannerjee. On this evidence, I am inclined to believe that Ahiri is a rare raga, which has been a part of the repertoire of the Maihar-Seniya repertoire.

The word "Ahir" refers to a community of cowherds in northern and western India. This suggests the origin of this raga in a tribal or folk melody, which entered the raga system by shaping variants of mature, major ragas. This possibility is suggested by the popularity of its compounds (e.g. Ahir Bhairav, Ahiri Todi, Ahir Lalit) and the rarity of the pure Ahiri.

Such situations are encountered when the pure form of a raga is either too similar to established ragas to sustain its independent raga-ness, or too limited in melodic potential to permit a sufficiently satisfying presentation. Isolating the pure form of ragas like Ahiri from their compounds -- conceptually as well as in practice -- is therefore a challenging task. Consequently, we encounter a variety of interpretations of such ragas in rendition, along with a scarcity of documentation, and lack of consistency in nomenclature and grammar.

In such situations, a residual derivation is occasionally possible with one of two approaches:
1. Ahiri = (Ahir Bhairav - Bhairav) or (Ahiri Todi - Todi)
2. Ahiri = {(Ahir Bhairav + Ahiri Todi) - Bhairav - Todi}

Considering that Ahiri appears, over the years, to have so totally submerged its identity into its compounds, neither of these derivations is particularly helpful. Tejendra Majumdar's Ahiri, therefore, requires us to accept it on its own terms, to be interpreted in relation to the most familiar reference points available.

Swara-samudaya (tone material):
Ahiri (Tejendra's interpretation): S r g M P D n

This interpretation combines the Bhairavi scale of Hindustani music in the purvanga (lower tetrachord), with the Kafi scale in the uttaranga (upper tetrachord). Apparent dominants: Komal Re and shuddha Ma. Their relative weightage is not possible to determine.

Subba Rao's documentation: (Subba Rao V. Raga Nidhi, Vol.I and IV. Fourth Impression, 1996, Music Academy, Madras)

Ahiri: S r G M P D n (Dominants: Primary: Sa. Secondary:Pa)
Ahir Bhairav: S r G M P D n (Dominants: Primary: Ma. Secondary:Sa)
Ahiri Todi: S r g M P d n N (Dominants: Primary: dh. Secondary:ga)
Ahir- Lalit: S r G M M^ D n (Dominants: Primary: Ma. Secondary:Sa)

On the dimensions of swara-samudaya and dominant swaras, Majumdar's Ahiri does not correspond to any of these raga parameters. It does, however, correspond to the swara-samudaya of Ahiri Todi, as documented by Manikbuwa Thakurdas, a scholar-musician of the Gwalior Gharana (Raga Darshan: Vol. III, First edition. Shri Lakshminarayan Trust, Rajpipla). The Thakurdas description of Ahiri Todi also approximates Tejendra's rendition in terms of aural images. According to Thakurdas, the purvanga of Ahiri Todi suggests raga Bilaskhani Todi, while the uttaranga corresponds to raga Ahiri.

Beyond this, the Thakurdas commentary becomes unserviceable. It states that Ahiri Todi and Ahir Bhairav are the same raga, and a documentation of the pure Ahiri is not available, though the raga finds mention in respected musicological texts. Moreover, Thakurdas considers Pa and Sa as the primary and secondary dominants, respectively, of Ahiri Todi. This conflicts with Subbarao's parameters for Ahiri, Ahir Bhairav and Ahiri Todi, as also with Tejendra's rendition of Ahiri.

These references, considered along with Tejendra's rendition, suggest two melodic tendencies of the pure Ahiri. With identical swara-samudaya for Ahiri and Ahir Bhairav, and using the shuddha (natural) Ga, Subba Rao apparently considers the pure Ahiri close to Bhairav. Tejendra's interpretation, on the other hand, uses the komal (flat) Ga, and suggests a proximity to the Todi group of ragas. Available evidence is insufficient to ascertain whether Ahiri and Ahiri Todi might have, at some stage or in some gharanas, been different names for the same raga.

Tejendra's own contribution to the interpretation of this raga seems considerable. The melodic personality of the raga has an impressionistic modernity which is inconceivable as having derived from either Ustad Bahadur Khan or Pt. Nikhil Bannerjee. This modernity is reflected mainly in the use of kaleidoscopic tonal patterns, which are compatible with the tone material of the raga, but lack well-defined melodic contours. This is, essentially, a post-Ali Akbar feature in sarod music, and assists greatly in projecting a persuasive holograph of a rare raga, whose distinctive melodic identity is difficult to sustain.

In simplistic terms, Tejendra's Ahiri is vaguely suggestive of Bilaskhani Todi/ Bhairavi in the purvanga and Bageshri in the uttaranga. The Bageshri flavor is also found in the uttaranga of Ahir Bhairav, and may therefore be assumed to belong to Ahiri. As performed by Tejendra, Ahiri exhibits a family resemblance with Ahir Bhairav and Ahiri Todi. Because of the raga's purvanga-dominant character, the Todi bias might prevail.

Chalan (Skeletal phraseology)
n.D.r/D.n.S /D.n.g r /r g M g r /S r g M /r g P M /g r g P /r g M D /D P D n D /M D S' (or) M P D n S' (or) M D n S' /D n r' S' /n D P D n D /n D M g r /P M g r /r n. D. S

In the phraseology, the dominant melodic foci are komal (flat) Re, shuddha (natural) Ma and shuddha (natural) Dh. In the alap. Tejendra appears to treat the komal Re as the pivotal swara. The two compositions he performs have their primary emphasis on the shuddha Ma, defining this swara as the second dominant. The importance of Ma probably belongs to the original Ahiri, considering that it is inconsistent with the character of Bhairav but is frequently encountered in renditions of Ahir Bhairav by scholarly musicians. This emphasis on Ma is important also because it weakens the adjacent komal Ga and komal Re, both pregnant with a bias towards the Todi group. In the ambient acoustic, Tejendra emphasizes Ma and Dh swaras, thus reinforcing the Bageshri chord, presumably supportive of the aural image of Ahiri.

Ahiri is prescribed for mid-morning performance. Consistent with its Todi/Bhairav affinity and purvanga bias, the dominant mood of this raga is somber. Despite the mildly euphoric potential of the shuddha (natural) Ma as a melodic focus, Tejendra's interpretation appears to veer towards pathos.

Tejendra's Ahiri is a complex raga to handle. Establishing Ahiri as distinct from the familiar Ahir Bhairav and Ahiri Todi, while retaining a family resemblance to them, is a task demanding formidable musicianship.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd., New York. Tejendra Majumdar's recording of Raga Ahiri is available from India Archive Music.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Purva and Puriya Kalyan: What’s the difference?

Purva (also called Purvya) belongs to a cluster of ragas bearing a family resemblance to raga Puriya in terms of swara material, and phraseology, melodic center of gravity, and therefore aural impression.

Swara material
Puriya: S r G M^ D N
Puriya-Dhanashree: S r G M^ P d N
Poorvi: S r G M M^ P d N
Puriya-Kalyan/Purva: S r G M^ P D N

What is common to all of them is komal (flat) Re, shuddha (natural) G, tivra (sharp) Ma, and shuddha (natural) Ni.

At the commencement of a concert at Los Angeles CA in 1991, Ustad Vilayat Khan introduced Purva with its ascent and descent.
Ascent: N r G M^ D N r' G'
Descent: r' S' N D P M^ G M^ r G\ N. r S

In a tape-recorded interview after the concert, the Ustad says that Purva is the same as the raga commonly known as Puriya Kalyan. He also argues that Purva is the right name for this raga and Puriya Kalyan is misleading because there is no trace of the characteristic Kalyan element in Puriya Kalyan. Although he does not identify the "characteristic Kalyan element", he probably considers the shuddha (natural) Re swara as essential for the Kalyan classification. If this is his argument, it has some validity.

Kalyan is a family of post-sunset ragas, which should use the shuddha (natural) Re swara. The komal (flat) Re of the Puriya cluster defines Purva as a "sandhi-prakash" (twilight zone, in this case, sunset-hour) raga. By this logic, Puriya Kalyan cannot be classified with the Kalyan family.

With these observations, Ustad Vilayat Khan has raised the issue: Are Purva and Puriya Kalyan two different ragas, or two names for the same raga?

Musicologist VN Bhatkhande looked at this issue in the 1940's, when Purva was a mature raga, and Puriya Kalyan had just begun to gain acceptance. Based on textual evidence, but very limited exposure to performances of Puriya Kalyan, Bhatkhande concluded that they are, indeed, different ragas. (Bhatkhande Sangeet Shastra. Vol.III, Ed.LN Garg, Sangeet Karyalaya Hathras, third edition, 1984. Pgs. 251-254)

Genealogically, Bhatkhande connects Puriya Kalyan to raga Purva Kalyan of the Gamanashram parent scale in the Carnatic (South Indian) tradition, which has identical swara material, and near-identical scale. Purva, on the other hand, he attributes to a combination of Poorvi, Maru and Gaura.(Ibid)

During the review of this recording, Ustad Vilayat Khan described Purva as Puriya with a Pa added to it,or Puriya Dhanashree with a shuddha (natural) Dh swara replacing the komal (flat) Dh. Therefore, it appears that the Ustad saw Purva clearly as a member of the Puriya cluster. However, it is also possible to interpret the same scale as Yaman with a komal (flat) Re replacing the shuddha (natural) Re. And, this may very well explain why the Carnatic nomenclature of this scale associates the raga with Kalyan (Yaman).

Thus, Ustad Vilayat Khan plays Puriya with a Pa and calls it Purva. And, Puriya Kalyan specialists perform a raga to the same scale, probably conceived as Yaman with a komal (flat) Re. What is the difference ?

To explore this issue, we can compare Vilayat Khan's Purva with the Puriya Kalyan of its most popular exponent, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi (Music Today: A:97009).

The most obvious conclusion is that neither Purva of Vilayat Khan, nor Puriya Kalyan of Bhimsen Joshi can escape the aural images of either Puriya or Yaman. Both the maestros also use the suppressed micro-swara of the komal (flat) Re characteristic of Puriya. A detailed examination of their respective phraseologies also fails to identify any distinctive phrase that one of them uses, and the other does not.

However, the aural experience they create is distinctive. Purva does, indeed, come through as closer to Puriya, and Puriya Kalyan does emerge as being inspired more by Yaman. The secret probably lies in the probabilistic technique of raga differentiation.

If you play Yaman with a komal (flat) Re, the ascent becomes pure Puriya anyway, while the descent remains Yaman until it reaches Ga, and returns to Puriya below it. Thus, if more phrases are ascending, and fewer are descending, Puriya dominates the aural experience. And, vice versa.

The second aspect of this same probabilistic technique is how much melodic development is done in the mid-octave region, where the Yaman flavor is dominant. If you de-emphasize the melodic development in the mid-octave region, Puriya can dominate the aural experience. And, vice versa.

The third facet of this technique is the use of multiple phraseologies. If you use the Puriya descent in the upper tetrachord (N-D-M^) in addition to the Yaman descent (N-D-P), and do so often enough, Puriya dominates. By the same logic, if you use the Yaman-type ascent in the lower tetrachord (N-r-G-M^-P) in addition to the Puriya ascent (N-r-G or N-r-M^-G), and do so often enough, the Yaman flavor dominates.

Allied to this approach is the inclusion/ exclusion technique of raga differentiation. If the Yaman flavor surfaces in the mid-octave region, it is possible to highlight the Yaman angle, or balance the two, by including the mid-octave region in a majority of phrases. This means using a phraseology, on an average, of broader melodic spans. Conversely,the Puriya facet is more easily isolated, by using phrases, on an average, of shorter melodic spans so that the mid-octave region can be excluded, when desired.

The probabilistic technique of raga differentiation is the most subtle and advanced of all melodic disciplines. On the basis of permissible phraseologies, the two ragas are identical. The only technique for differentiating them is through differential weightages given to different segments of the octave.

It is difficult for two ragas of such subtle differentiation to co-exist with anything like comparable circulation or popularity. It is a different matter – though not entirely irrelevant – that even audiences of considerable cultivation would find the differences imperceptible. Consequently, it appears that Puriya Kalyan, with the commonly understood Yaman as its reference point, has remained in circulation. And, Purva, with the more profound Puriya reference point, is now rarely heard.

This point of view is at variance with contemporary scholars and learned musicians, including Ustad Vilayat Khan, who regard Purva as the original name for the present-day Puriya Kalyan. The debate can continue.

© India Archive Music Ltd. New York. An outstanding recording of Raga Purva by Ustad Vilayat Khan (1991) is available from India Archive Music Ltd.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Raga Shuddha Kalyan: How and why it is changing

Shuddha Kalyan is a popular, though difficult, raga of the Kalyan parent scale. The raga is pentatonic in the ascent and heptatonic in the descent.

Ascent: SRGPDS'
Descent: S'NDPM^GRS

The ascent is identical to Bhoop/Bhupali, while the descent is identical to Yaman/Kalyan. This is why the raga is also occasionally referred to as Bhoop Kalyan. But, there is more confusion surrounding the raga’s nomenclature because some gharana-s refer to Bhoop/Bhupali (pentatonic) as Bhoop Kalyan. And, some refer to Shuddha Kalyan (heptatonic in the descent) as Shuddha Bhoopal. Although varying nomenclatures are a good indication of the two-faced character of the raga, we can stick to Shuddha Kalyan as the most widely used name, with a good chance of identifying the melodic entity beyond reasonable doubt.

According to Manikbuwa Thakurdas (Raga Darshan), this raga can be performed in either of its two distinct variants -- a Bhoop-biased treatment, and a Kalyan-biased treatment. In a Bhoop-biased treatment, the use of the Ni/Ma swaras in the descent should be subtle enough to be "apratyaksha" (subliminal/ implicit/ imperceptible). This is normally achieved by using the two swaras only in a meend (glissando) as grace swaras in the transition from Sa to (Ni) Dh and Pa to (Ma) Ga. When presented in the Kalyan-biased treatment, the Ni/Ma swaras can be "pratyaksha" (explicit) or "apratyaksha" (implicit), and therefore not limited to being treated as grace swaras.

Subba Rao (Raga Nidhi, Vol.IV) points out a third interpretation of the raga which omits the Ma/Ni swaras altogether. In such a treatment, distinguishing the resulting music from Bhoop/Bhupali requires great skill. This version was heard occasionally until the 1960s, and is virtually extinct now.

According to Kalyan Mukherjea (his e-mail of June 25,1999), an eminent disciple of Pandit Radhika Mohan Maitra, his Guru resolved this multiplicity of views as only great creative minds can -- by a poetic description. According to him, Ni/Ma are "astamita", like rays of the setting sun, which has already sunken below the horizon. This description permits the subliminal as well as the explicit use of the Ni/Ma swaras in the descent, as long as they claim no more than a subtle presence in the totality of the aural experience.

The raga permits phrases to culminate only on Sa, Re, Ga, and Pa. None of the other swaras are permitted the status of “nyasa swaras” [resting points] for phrasing. The primary melodic region of this raga is the region between the lower-octave Pa and the middle-octave Pa. This also happens to be the primary melodic region of Bhoop/Bhupali. Hence the exposure of Shuddha Kalyan to the risk of confusion with Bhoop.

Shuddha Kalyan avoids the confusion with Bhoop/Bhupali by its phrases P.D.P.S and S N. R, which rule out Bhoop/ Bhupali categorically. In addition, Shuddha Kalyan utilizes the Re swara as one of special emphasis, as against the Ga-dominance of Bhoop/Bhupali. Shuddha Kalyan prefers to use the Ga swara as a transitional swara in its journey towards Pa in a loop phrase RGPM^G as distinct from the direct DSRG or RPG characteristic of Bhoop/Bhupali.

The various views on Shuddha Kalyan appear to converge on one point – that, despite its heptatonic descent, the aural experience of the raga is intended to be near-pentatonic. On the basis of modern and contemporary practice, the raga appears to be anchored in the lower half of the melodic canvas, with a notional scale from the lower-Pa to the middle-Pa. Some musicians have chosen to locate the raga’s epicentre in the uttaranga [upper tetrachord] of the lower octave, while others have opted for the poorvanga [lower tetrachord] of the middle octave. Because the raga’s tonal/ melodic differentiation from Bhoop/ Bhupali and Deshkar is most explicit in the descent, the raga may be considered avaroha-pradhan [descent dominant]. This is the raga’s esthetic grammar, which refines its melodic grammar, and drives it towards literature.

A survey of available recordings of this raga reveals some interesting patterns. To begin with, Suddha Kalyan appears to have been performed only by musicians of considerable stature. Even these musicians appear to have performed the raga primarily at concerts, and rarely on commercial recordings. These facts suggest that the raga is regarded as a considerable aesthetic challenge, and those who do perform it do so after they have ascertained the receptivity potential of their audiences to the raga’s melodic subtleties. These subtleties of raga grammar might explain why vocalists have remained far more faithful to the near-pentatonic aural experience of the raga than instrumentalists performing on the plucked lutes – sitar and sarod.

But, there appears also to be a generational angle to the diversity in the handling of the raga’s near-pentatonic character, especially with respect to sitar and sarod renditions. Evidence of recordings by three generations of sitar/sarod players suggests that the ergonomic and acoustic aspects of music making have encouraged a steady drift towards a bolder expression of the raga’s heptatonic character and, by implication, a dilution of the near-pentatonic aural experience.

This tendency could partially also reflect the growing audience-friendliness amongst the younger Hindustani musicians. They are a part of the new “in-your-face” culture, which makes them abandon the subtleties and nuances of ragas in favour of the more explicit expression, which also happens to be less demanding in melodic execution.

By way of support for these observations, I rely on recordings of the raga by Ustad Ameer Khan [Vocal: HMV:STC:851005], Roshanara Beghum [Vocal: HMV:STC: 04B: 7702], Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande [Vocal: Music Today:A-92060], Shrafat Hussain Khan [Vocal: Concert: Unpublished] Ustad Vilayat Khan [Sitar: Concert at National Centre for Performing Arts, Bombay, February 8, 1998. Unpublished], Kalyan Mukherjea [Sarod: India Archive Music, NY], and a recording by Shujaat Khan [India Archive Music, NY].

The issue of maintaining the near-pentatonic aural experience of a raga with a heptatonic scale revolves primarily around the subliminal use of [tivra] Ma in the descent from Pa to Ga, and the equally imperceptible use of [shuddha] Ni in the descent from Sa to Dh. Since the ergonomic and generational issues stand out in bolder relief in the instrumental renditions, a detailed look at the sitar/ sarod recordings is revealing.

Ustad Vilayat Khan [born: 1928], the seniormost of the instrumentalists surveyed, remains remarkably close to the near-pentatonic experience of the raga throughout the concert. In the low-density melodic movements, he hardly ever executes the Ma/Ni swaras on the frets, always using the meend [string deflection] technique to approximate the vocalist’s subtlety. In the high-density movements, the Ustad sparingly uses the Ni fret supported with a plectrum stroke, but almost never the Ma fret. The dilution of the raga’s near-pentatonic character in Vilayat Khan’s Shuddha Kalyan, if any, [Example: S’NDPGRS] does not go beyond a near-hexatonic experience.

Sarodist Kalyan Mukherjea [born:1943] is more explicit in the use of the Ma/ Ni swaras, including supporting them with plectrum strokes. His interpretation of the raga permits medium density passages such as SN/ ND/ DP/ PM^ /M^G with gamak execution, which allow the Ma/Ni swaras as much weightage as other swaras. Despite its explicitness, this usage remains broadly “apratyaksha” [subtle/ imperceptible] because swaras taken in pairs do not constitute a phrase, and stop short of defining an explicit melodic contour.

Therefore, while Mukherjea treats the raga as being pentatonic in the ascent, and heptatonic in the descent, the experience of the Ma/ Ni swaras remains– as described by his Guru -- akin to the rays of the setting sun, after it has dipped below the horizon. Because the fretless sarod is a more hospitable instrument with respect to the Ma/Ni subtlety than the sitar, the liberality of Mukherjea’s treatment -- relative to Ustad Vilayat Khan’s -- may, therefore, have an element of generational preference.

The generational issue acquires some merit because, Shujaat Khan [Born: 1960] goes beyond Mukherjea in permitting the Ma/Ni swaras a presence in the raga. Shujaat’s deployment of these swaras is perhaps more prominent than even the “pratyaksha” treatment envisaged by Thakurdas [Ibid]. Shujat freely deploys phrases such as RGM^GR and PDNDP which can be interpreted as using Ma and Ni in the ascent as well as descent. Shujaat also feels free to construct descending alankar tans which define melodic contours with Ma and Ni as nyasa swaras [Example: GGRS/ RRSN/ SSND/ NNDP/ DDPM^/ PPM^G/ M^M^GR/ GGRS].

He therefore appears to treat the Ma/Ni swaras as permissible for sparing deployment, but not necessarily only in the descent, and not merely as incidentals to phrasing. Contextually, however, Shujaat’s usage hardly creates dissonance except for the abnormally critical ear. Despite the magnitude of his deviations, the aural experience of his Shuddha Kalyan remains within the recognisable boundaries of the raga.

This discussion could invite the argument that sitarists and sarod players should refrain from performing ragas like Shuddha Kalyan, whose subtleties their instruments cannot handle. But, this is an irrelevant line of reasoning in Hindustani music tradition, built on the assumptions of continuity within change. It accepts that ragas can, and do, alter their melodic grammar over time, even in the vocal expression. The motivation for these alterations is either greater ease of melodic execution or responding to changing aesthetic values.

Instrumentalists alter the raga form with the same motivation. Their alterations are merely more obvious than those of vocalists because of the perceptible mechanics of sound activation and melodic execution. And, to the extent that instruments increasingly dominate society’s experience of Hindustani music, their melodic-acoustic features reflect contemporary aesthetic values, while also altering our melodic experience of ragas and, indeed, our notions of raga-ness.

This perspective is easier to appreciate by visualising Shuddha Kalyan being attempted on the santoor, the Indian dulcimer, a staccato instrument. Even in the hands of the greatest santoor maestro, the instrument would be severely limited in its ability to deliver the micro-tonal subtleties of Shuddha Kalyan as hitherto prescribed. Unlike western classical music, which composes music uniquely for individual instruments, the Hindustani tradition accepts Shuddha Kalyan on the santoor with all its limitations, and will judge the results by the same fundamental yardstick – whether the melodic experience remains within the recognisable boundaries of the raga, as currently understood.

The operative phrase in this proposition is “the raga as currently understood”. Audiences acquire their notions of raga-ness from the mix of aural experiences to which they are exposed.

As long as the subtle and the not-so-subtle interpretations of Shuddha Kalyan are both in circulation, listeners hearing the less subtle versions will tend to mentally “fill in” the subtleties which they were supposed to hear, but do not actually hear in the music being performed. This great ability of the human aural mechanism constitutes some protection against the dilution of an exquisitely subtle melodic entity.

But, the music-scape of society is dynamic in nature. If the santoor should ever dominate our society’s musical experience, the ergonomic and acoustic uniqueness of the instrument will reshape the experience of Shuddha Kalyan, along with every other “raga as currently understood”.

If such an event comes to pass, nobody needs lose sleep over it because it will not happen either for the first time, or the last. The Hindustani tradition is robust enough to accommodate different notions of a “raga as currently understood” for vocal music, and for as many categories of instruments as are in vogue.

Deepak S. Raja
© India Archive Music Ltd. New York
The finest recordings of raga Shuddha Kalyan have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nancy Lesh (Kulkarni): “Dhrupad is the music for me. India is the place for me.”

The US-born Dhrupad Cellist, Nancy Kulkarni writes about her journey in Hindustani Music

My journey in Indian music started completely by chance. When I first came to India In I982, I had been playing Western cello for 13 years, had played in several symphony orchestras, including Principal Cellist of the Rome Festival Orchestra, and was currently Section Cellist with the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale of Florence, Italy. I was blissfully playing Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and all the greats of Western classical music.

Every summer was a three-month holiday from the orchestra, and that year I saw a special for a $500 round-trip ticket to Bombay. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to vacation in such an exotic land. However, I knew nothing of India and its music, and knew nobody who lived there. Nevertheless, I sewed a backpack for my cello with the intention of backpacking throughout India, and returning to the orchestra in the fall.

When I stepped off the plane in Bombay that June morning, I was immediately struck by the fragrance of burning campfires, mixed with cooking spices. That particular smell was very familiar to me, and I felt immediately that I had come home. I still relish that delightful smell each time I come to India. All the sights and scenes I experienced that first month were also strangely familiar. The next day I started wearing a sari with bindi, and soon had my nose pierced,Indian-style.

I spent the first month in Bombay, playing the Bach suites for solo cello in parks and hotel lobbies, and listening to concerts of Hindustani classical music every evening. I was amazed by all the new sounds I was hearing: sitar, sarangi, surbahar, bansuri, tanpura,tabla, pakhawaj. Growing up in the West, I had assumed that Indian music was of the “folk” category. I was thrilled to hear so many styles of classical music, and an amazing array of ragas. I was aching to learn some of this music on my cello. But where to start? With whom to study?

Fortunately I made the acquaintance of the noted scholar Dr. Narayana Menon, that time Director of the National Center for the Performing Arts. He gave me some advice which I have always cherished. He said that I must not be in a hurry to choose a teacher and begin studying. He advised me to spend my entire 3-month holiday listening to as many concerts as possible. From this, I will naturally find an attraction for a particular style or instrument. Then in my next trip to India, I can pursue a formal study with a chosen master.

I did as he said. The next day, I left for a music-listening tour of the major cities of Northern India, cello strapped to my back. Everywhere I went, I played Bach for locals in parks and hotel lobbies by day, and attended concerts at night. After a month of travel, I came to my favorite city, Banaras. I gave a recital for the Banaras Hindu University’s School of Music, playing the famous Fifth Suite for Solo Cello by Bach. At that time, Dean of Music Dr. Ranga Naiki, and musicologist Dr. Premlata Sharma were present in the audience.

After my recital, Dr. Sharma came to see me, saying, “It always amazes us how you Westerners are able to play note-by-note memorized pieces for hours.” I replied, “Its even more amazing how you Indian musicians are able to go on improvising in a single raga for hours, always fresh, and never repeating a phrase!” I asked Dr. Sharma her advice about pursuing a study of Indian music. “This instrument is perfect for Dhrupad,” was her reply. Only many years later, I came to know the wisdom in her statement. “We have one fine teacher of Dhrupad here at BHU, Dr. Ritwik Sanyal. I will introduce you to him.”

The next day, I went to Dr. Sanyal’s home for my first Dhrupad lesson, not having any idea what is Dhrupad! In all my travels, I hadn’t even one opportunity to hear this wonderful musical genre. As soon as I heard Dr. Sanyal’s alap in Bhim Palasi, I knew this was the music for me. The low ringing tones of his voice, the timeless un-measured movements of his alap, the poignant melody, all had me mesmerized. But what was even more thrilling, was when I found that I could somewhat reproduce those phrases on my cello. Hearing the familiar sound of my cello take in a new exotic expression, I could hardly contain my excitement! I came daily for lessons with Dr. Sanyal until it was time for me to return to Florence.

But, when the time came, I just couldn’t do it. In those days, public telephones were a rarity in Banaras, and after a many-hour wait, the connection was often bad enough to be useless. So I sent a telegram to Maestro RichardoMutti, Director of the orchestra in Florence, to please fill my post , I had to stay in India. I remained in India for seven years, studying two years with Dr. Sanyal, and five years with his guru, the Dhrupad veena master, Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. I was joined my husband and son, and my daughter was born in Panvel on the outskirts of Bombay.

Along with Dhrupad cello, I studied Hindi and Marathi. Those were wonderful years, and I will always cherish the memories of the Ustad and his celestial music. After the untimely demise of my Ustad in 1990, I visited India every year to continue my Dhrupad cello study with his brother, the eminent vocalist Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar of Bombay.

During these last 25 years of playing Dhrupad on my cello, I have tried all kinds of modifications to my cello, with the guidance of my guru. This has been an interesting adventure in itself. I currently have two extra strings, which are plucked in the chikari style of the rudra veena. My four melodic strings pass over a sloping elkhorn nut, modeled after the veena to produce a ringing tone. One can see from my photo that I have adopted the Indian posture, holding the cello while seated on a carpet. I have eliminated the vibrato, which I had so carefully groomed in my Western classical training, so that the subtle ornaments of Dhrupad are clearly articulated.

The rest is just the life of a striving musican. I can only thank my Gurus for the inspiration and guidance they have given me, which was so strong as to last all these years. I am looking forward to shifting myresidence permanently to Pune in 2008. India is the place for me!

(c) Nancy Kulkarni
The finest recordings of Nancy Lesh (Kulkarni) have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York. Nancy’s biodata and other CD releases can be accessed at www.Dhrupadcello.com.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Shujaat Khan -- “Success and growth as a musician are different things”

Shujaat spoke to Deepak Raja on January 16, 2004

Success and growth as a musician are different things. But, they are connected. If success is of the right kind, comes in good time, and one has the ability to digest it, it can be a great aid to achieving growth as a musician. On all counts, I cannot complain.

I have heard it said that an Indian musician does not achieve any credibility amongst Western audiences until he also commands a considerable presence and stature amongst audiences at home. This is not the way it has worked for me. US and European audiences opened up to me before the Indian market acquired serious interest in my music. Even today, when I am well established in India, almost seventy percent of my work is abroad.

There is a good reason for my exceptional success abroad. In the West, nobody cares about whose son you are, or whether your father is still around and whether you are still considered a “promising artist”. The market is willing to give you an opening if you deliver the goods, appeal to the imagination of audiences, and make people happy. Every decent musician can do this. But, the Western market also expects you to conduct yourself professionally – and this, every Indian musician cannot do. I have made a better headway abroad not because I am a great musician, but because I am a no-fuss, easy-to-deal-with guy who also delivers musical value. I don’t expect to be treated either like a king or God; I handle all my travel arrangements on my own, arrive at the venue in time, do my thing, collect my cheque, and disappear until the next time. It has taken me more than fifteen years to arrive at a situation of people valuing my music, independently of my professionalism.

Having achieved prior success abroad has helped me immensely in dealing with the Indian market. Whatever success I have in India today has been achieved with my self-esteem intact -- without the crawling, maneuvering, networking, and deal-making that dominates the world of professional Hindustani music. Because of my success abroad, I can command my price in India. It is not as if I do not do small concerts, subsidized concerts or even free concerts, in India. But, I have the freedom to do them when I so wish and for my own reasons. I don’t have to do them either because I am desperate enough to accept peanuts, or because I fear the consequences of poor visibility.

Having done well abroad has also helped me musically -- allowed me the time to liberate my Indian presence from the towering shadow of Ustad Vilayat Khan’s music. Had I been more dependent on Indian audiences for my livelihood, the market may have forced me to become a Vilayat Khan clone. You and I know what Ustad Vilayat Khan means to me musically. I cannot cease to be Vilayat Khan’s son and disciple any more than I can cease to be myself. I also love doing some of Ustad Vilayat Khan’s stuff – even willfully in addition to doing it unconsciously. But, I don’t want to be coerced into reaffirming my lineage at every concert, and in every raga.

By now, when India is taking me seriously, I am past forty -- no longer a kid. Nobody in his right mind can expect me to be a replica of Vilayat Khan at this stage in my life. I am not saying that the chain of expectations has been entirely broken. I can still hear orgasmic sighs and moans piercing the silence when, once in a while, I resort to a Vilayat Khan cliché. But, nobody feels cheated if I don’t do it.

With the passage of time, of course, an entirely new generation of listeners has emerged. To them, Ustad Vilayat Khan or Pandit Ravi Shankar or Ustad Ali Akbar Khan – though they are all alive – are only as real as Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru. These audiences are willing to accept me for what I am. So, from every angle, my prior success abroad has worked well for me. Of course, every gain demands a price. The price I have to pay for this is that I am away from my family for almost six months in a year.

I have often been asked how different the content of my music abroad is from the music I perform in India. Today – and increasingly over the last three or four years – there is no difference. But, I am a very situation-to-situation musician, and the environment affects me. Under ideal conditions, I deliver superlative music. Under less-than-ideal conditions, I deliver only competent music. The West provides me with ideal conditions far more consistently than India does.

By conditions, I mean the concert halls, the sound systems, the professionalism of the concert hosts, and the conduct of the audiences. Amongst these factors, the acoustic environment is the most important. I agree that in my grandfather’s time, great sitar music was performed without acoustically engineered concert halls and without electronic amplification. In those days, the audiences were small – 100/150 people – the sitars were designed to address these audiences effectively without amplification, and the music was appropriate for those conditions. Unfortunately, my music is a product of the microphone era and I play an instrument designed for electronically manipulated delivery of output. I have been pampered by the opportunity of performing at the finest concert halls in the US and Europe. The contrast hurts.

Audiences abroad will not allow me to stagnate
With the success and financial comfort I have achieved by now, my music could easily have stagnated. But, I am not satisfied with the music I am playing and, as I grow, my musical perceptions are also changing. Also, fortunately for me, the quality of my audiences, especially in the US and Europe, will not allow me to stagnate. I do not have any strategy for change at each stage. Nor do I – as a rule – analyze my music. But, when queried about it, I can look back and decipher some patterns of experimentation I have been through. The residue of each stage has probably remained in my music.

The early days were of playing the true Vilayat Khan music. Then came the stage of western influences. Both these faded away. Then I was on a simplification and relief trip. Vilayat Khan’s exploration of the melodic potential within a small region of the melodic canvas was so dense and rich that the listener got tired of it. It worked for him. But, I wanted to introduce some relief. So, after an intense phase of melodic exploration, I started introducing lighter passages, less dense in melodic content. Sometimes, I went so far in this direction that the profundity of the music got diluted. Similarly, I started simplifying bandish-es. That effort also went so far that the bandish virtually lost its contours, and almost became a scale rendering to percussion accompaniment. Both these fads passed. Then, at one stage, I started working on introducing the unexpected in my phrasing strategy – the kaleidoscopic juxtaposition of notes and phrases, Ustad Ameer Khan’s gift to Hindustani music. Even in this direction, I went so far that, sometimes, that I lost a grip over the expected. This too passed.

As a practitioner of an improvisation-dominant art form, I have persistently crusaded – through my music – against the dominance of sitar music by “Tihai-s”. If you are a master of the rhythmic element, and have a melodic imagination, you don’t need tihai-s. It is not as if I don’t use them. But, I am ashamed and even apologetic when I do. What is so musical about an expression which, everyone knows, you have practiced and perfected a thousand times at home, and will culminate with unfailing mathematical accuracy? There is something so childish about it! I never stop marveling at musicians who deliver pre-composed tihai-s, and look around for the applause. A small occasional tihai, which almost composes itself, and surprises even the musician, is a musical delight. That is the real role of the tihai in instrumental music.

I am attracted by the prospect of charging the atmosphere with the music – of saturating the air with the character of a movement. In this direction, I often find myself unearthing and reliving memories of my father’s music of the 1960s, and how he handled the exploration of melody. This is why, increasingly, I play fewer movements, and explore each of them in a sustained manner over a certain minimum duration without a break. You can see this most clearly in my jhala. My percussionist has been instructed to refrain from clever playing once I begin the jhala. In the jhala, I like taking up themes, and weaving my improvisations around them. With the constant acoustic-rhythmic experience of the jhala, like prayers being sung in a temple to the accompaniment of the temple gong or the bells, one can have the audience swaying in the seats in response to the music – put them in a trance. That’s why they are there, to begin with.

And, finally, my current fad. Bandish-es – vocal and instrumental – have traditionally been composed to begin on certain beats of the rhythmic cycle. I am now working on composing and playing bandish-es, which commence on unconventional beats of the rhythmic cycle. Their beauty is highlighted when I take an amad tan and dovetail it smoothly into the mukhda. The subtle interplay of melody and rhythm in such dovetailing fascinates me for now. So, if you are looking for something special in my music at the moment, look for what I am doing now in the medium-to-fast tempo bandish-es.

I am embarrassed by my success
By any conventional yardstick, I am a successful musician. I must be the only Indian musician to have had an Income Tax Department raid at home. I have and can buy everything I want. I even have a Grammy nomination to my credit, a hard-core dollars-and-cents testimony to musicianship, which cannot be bought, influenced, or lobbied for. I am secure enough in my profession to do all my experimentation with new directions in the concert hall, under the flood lights, in public gaze. But, when I study the music of the greats of my era, I am embarrassed by my success. I don’t deserve it. I have no desire to become a Page 3 celebrity. Unlike Ustad Vilayat Khan, I am not driven by the conviction of being born for a place in history. I am satiated with what I have. All I want now is to play the music that I am happy playing, and enjoy the love and warmth of my family and friends – all those who are not here only because I am Ustad Shujaat Khan.

(C) Deepak S. Raja 2007
The finest recordings of Shujaat Khan have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Purnima Sen – “I could easily have become a knowledgeable musician nobody wanted to hear”

Introduction: Groomed by three Ustads of the Agra tradition, Purnima Sen (born: 1937) is a rare female exponent of the avowedly masculine style. She holds a first degree in Anthropology from Hunter College, New York, occupies the top grade rating on All India Radio, enjoys a respected presence on the concert platform, has released four CDs, and divides her time between music, and caring for a family of successful legal professionals.

Purnima Sen spoke to Deepak Raja on January 6, 2003.

My father was an Economist, and headed the Economics faculty at the Baroda University from 1939 to 1944. That was towards the end of Ustad Faiyyaz Khan’s life. During that period, he heard the great Ustad on several occasions, and no wonder, developed a love for the Agra style. From my childhood, I was very keen on learning music, and my parents were most encouraging. But, when I was very young, my family moved to New York. During our stay abroad, my father made it a point -- whenever we came to India – to send me to a music teacher to learn music. When I graduated from Hunter College, New York, I had scholarships to study further. But, instead, I decided to return to India with my parents and study music. That was 1957, and I was 19 then.

My father took me to Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan, and requested him to teach me. The Ustad was a towering figure in the music world. He was the seniormost vocalist of the Agra gharana, and an adviser to All India Radio. He could boast of a galaxy of distinguished disciples. Teaching a near-beginner could not have been an easy proposition for him. But, my father persisted. Khansaheb auditioned me, and despite his reservations, agreed to teach. My father wanted the best available teacher, but also had apprehensions about the suitability of the masculine Agra style for me. Though the issue was not immediate – I knew so little then! -- Khansaheb was sensitive to it. He assured my father that I would learn to sing like myself, and not like him. Thus, I became a Ganda-bandh shagird (a ceremonially initiated disciple) of Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan.

He was very enthusiastic about teaching me. One day he landed up at our house, without notice, at three in the afternoon, and asked me to sing Multani. I was stumped by the suddenness of this test. But, I sang. He was very pleased, and asked me what I would like to learn next. This was an unusual situation. A disciple dare not suggest what should be taught next; the Ustad always knows best what to teach at each stage of progress. I had just heard Kesarbai Kerkar’s Lalit recording at that time, and loved it. I wanted to learn the raga. So, very hesitantly, I suggested Lalit. He hummed and hawed for a while, and said: “Lalit is very complicated. But, you can manage”. So, he taught me Lalit. Thereafter, he also taught me Desh and Basant. I learnt six ragas with him in about 18 months, before I got married, and moved to Calcutta in 1958. I did not realize how much he had taught me in so short a time. But, by the time I moved, I could perform a raga passably for 30 to 45 minutes.

Vilayat Hussain gave me a letter of recommendation to his cousin, Ata Hussain Khan, who lived in Calcutta. Ata Hussain was reserved initially – I was only 21 then. After auditioning me, he accepted me as a disciple. On the very first day, he took up Desi Todi – a raga I did not know – and asked me to follow him – to merely reproduce what he sang. He unleashed his sparkling tans, which left me stunned. He said: “Never mind; try whatever you can manage”. He was testing my grasping power. By the fourth session, I could reproduce his tans. Thereafter, my training settled down to an even keel. He was a very good teacher, who never lost his temper. He taught me most of the ragas I know. I studied with him for twenty years – from 1960 to 1980.

While Ata Hussain Khan was teaching me, his nephew (and Vilayat Hussain’s son-in-law), Sharafat Hussain started accompanying him to our house, whenever he visited Calcutta. On those occasions, Ata Hussain would ask Sharafat to teach me. Gradually, Ata Hussain encouraged Sharafat to initiate me into the more advanced aspects of Agra vocalism as, by now, his own health had started failing. From 1974-75, Sharafat Hussain started staying with us on his visits, and got more intensely involved with my progress. This association continued for almost ten years -- until he succumbed to a cancer. That brought to an end almost 30 years of my apprenticeship with Ustads of Agra-Atrauli gharana.

I have never looked at music as a career. It is as much a part of my life as is my family. I was empanelled with All India Radio in 1976, and am now a top-grade artiste. My concert appearances have been limited largely to Calcutta and Delhi, the two cities where we have homes, with an occasional concert in Bangalore. I have not promoted myself actively. I have made four CDs abroad, and they have happened on their own. I do teach music in Calcutta. This, too, is very limited because I and my husband divide our time between two cities. This can make unreasonable demands on my students.

All my Ustads, starting from Vilayat Hussain, were sensitive to the masculinity of the Agra style. This was important because the forcefulness of vocalization and intonation determines everything else. Ata Hussain, who taught me for the longest period, accepted that just as a woman speaks differently, and walks differently, she would also sing differently. If she did otherwise, she would sound ridiculous. So, they allowed me to interpret Agra vocalism in a way that suited my voice and personality. The issue became more pronounced in the tans department where the typical four-stroke tans of Agra-Atrauli style exposed me to the risk of harsher expressions. Sharafat Hussain worked very hard with me on this, and made it possible for me to sing them without sounding unmusical.

The same was true of Dhrupad-Dhamar. According to the convention in the Agra gharana, the Nom-tom alap and Dhrupad-Dhamar compositions were an essential part of my training. But, I was instructed not to perform them because they were too aggressive for me. I was fortunate in having this sensitivity amongst my Ustads. Without it, I could easily have become a knowledgeable musician, whom nobody wanted to hear.

(c) Deepak S. Raja 2003
Read a detailed profile of the artist in: "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change".
The finest recordings of Purnima Sen have been produced by India Archive Music, Ltd. New York. IndiaArcMu@aol.com.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Alladiya Khan-Kesarbai legacy: in sepia tones

An extract from:
The Music Room
By Namita Devidayal

About the book: When Namita is ten, her mother takes her to Kennedy Bridge, a seamy neighbourhood in Mumbai. There, in a cramped one room flat, lives Dhondutai with her bedridden mother and their widowed landlady. Little does Namita know that - despite her squalid surroundings - Dhondutai has inherited riches of a different sort. For, she is the only student of one of the legendary Jaipur gharana vocalist, Kesarbai Kerkar.

Dhondutai is the keeper of all the gharana’s secrets and of their rarest compositions. And yet, after a lifetime of training with the best teachers, Dhondutai found fame and recognition miserly towards her. Namita begins to learn singing from Dhondutai, at first reluctantly and then, as the years pass, with growing passion. Dhondutai sees in her a second Kesar, but does Namita have the dedication to give herself up completely to the discipline, like her teacher?

The Music Room is the story of Namita and her teacher, of the charismatic Alladiya Khan who was unable to pass on all his skill and knowledge to his sons, and of the foul-mouthed and bewitching Kesarbai. At its heart is Dhondutai, a character half tragic, half victorious; diffident yet full of single-minded determination. The Music Room is beautifully written, full of anecdotes, gossip and legend.

Namita Devidayal was born in 1968. She graduated from Princeton University and is a journalist with The Times of India. She lives in Mumbai. This is her first book.

The Vikramaditya Music Conference (1944)

The musical event of the century

It was the musical event of the century. There had been nothing like that before and there hasn’t been anything as grand since. For seven days, the air reverberated with music. Afternoon concerts merged into evening sessions, and late night ragas heralded the dawn, while the sun’s first rays would start filtering in through the glass windows along the hall. People reportedly fell sick from sleep deprivation in their eagerness to grab as many performances as they could. The week-long festival took place at the monumental Cowasji Jehangir hall—which has since been resurrected as a modern art gallery.

A vast private home next to Bombay’s opera house—a fifteen minute carriage-ride away from the venue—was converted into a day-and-night mess where food was cooked in gigantic vessels and served all through the day and night for the artistes and their ensembles. Some preferred eating before they performed, some after the show. There was no sense of time as they drifted from performance to rehearsal to performance. A humungous cauldron of steaming tea was perpetually on the fire.

It was at this festival that unknown musicians became overnight stars. A young man from Punjab with a gourdlike stomach and black twirling moustache stole the show with his brilliant renditions of khayal and thumri, and Ghulam Ali Khan became Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, though some suggest that the preface of Bade or ‘big’ may have had more to do with his physical size rather than his musical stature. A young sitar player from Calcutta, Vilayat Khan, shot to fame and went on to become one of the all-time great musicians of the century. A startlingly unassuming tabla player took the audiences by surprise with his virtuosity. He was Ahmadjan Thirakwa. But it was the vocalists who were applauded the most.

The conference was like a snapshot of all that had happened in the music world in the last fifty years. Great artistes performed and then, the following day, put aside their egos and accompanied their gurus on stage. Backstage, the harmony was countered by personality clashes and ego battles. The best known fight was the one that took place between Faiyaz Khan and Omkarnath Thakur, both famous singers, who argued over who would sing last, for the chronology of performances was a reflection of seniority and stature. The best always sang last.The decision of who went before whom had led to legendary quarrels which sometimes lingered on for generations, and was carried on by the artistes’ students.

One musician had left his position as court singer out of fear that the whimsical ruler would make him sing before a lesser musician. In this particular case, Omkarnath finally won—and established his position as arguably one of the finest singers of his generation.

An intriguing couple sat in the front row through most of the performances: an old man with white whiskers, and a pretty girl in her late teens. She wore a traditional nine-yard sari and a blouse with short puffed sleeves. Every one knew who he was—the great Alladiya Khan, but they could not place the girl who sat next to him, attentively listening to the music, her hands neatly folded on her lap. When anyone asked him who she was, he would laugh and say,‘My granddaughter!’ But they knew she couldn’t be. She wore a bindi—the mark of a Hindu. Some would then whisper among themselves, ‘She must be Manji Khan’s daughter. He’s so modern, he is the only one who will let his girl come out in public.’ And if Dhondutai and the big Khansahib heard this, they would just smile at each other.

Dhondutai later told me how Alladiya Khan was able to sneak her into the best seats in the house, which were a thousand rupees each, a princely sum in those days. These front rows of red velvet-lined sofas were reserved for wealthy connoisseurs and maharajas. Many of them bought the tickets because it was the thing to do, but didn’t show up.

Alladiya Khan could get Dhondutai to sit next to him because there were inevitably empty seats all around. ‘Because of his age, he couldn’t sit for long stretches. He would make me sit there, go away, and then come back, and I would report every thing that went on,’ she said. She dutifully sat there, concert after concert. She described who sang and what ragas they sang. There was one musician who was so restless as a stage artiste, that he started his performance on one end of the stage and by the end of it, had shifted to the other end, she recalled with a laugh.

‘There was a singer, Karamat Khan, who was supposedly one hundred and twenty-two years old. I asked the big Khansahib whether he was really more than a hundred years old, and he said, “Yes beta. I don’t know his precise age, but I do know he’s much older than me.’’’ ‘There were very few people Alladiya Khan wanted to spend time with, so he would chat with me a lot. Of course, it was always only about music. He would tell me of the days he tried to become a teacher of Pharsi (Persian) to earn a living right after his father, a reputed singer, died. That was before he joined the family ‘business.’ After that, he started training seriously under his uncle who would tell him, there should be no relationship between an artiste and a clock and taught him from midnight onward. Until you can translate what your mind wants into your voice, you shouldn’t get up from your practice…’

Dhondutai’s voice trembled slightly as she remembered her days as a pretty young thing who had the blessings of the greats. I couldn’t help the thoughts that passed through me. She had it all—the training, the exposure, the life-long commitment. What had gone wrong? Why hadn’t they recognized her as the real heiress of this music? It didn’t make sense, and these questions troubled me for years.

The last to perform at the Vikramaditya Conference, in deference to his stature, was Alladiya Khan. ‘When he started singing, his voice was slightly shaky, and I remember my heart sinking slightly out of concern that he would falter,’ said Dhondutai. He was over ninety years old. Would he be able to sustain an entire concert? A few seconds later, without blinking, he shot off a taan like a lightening bolt. You could almost sense the wave of electricity go through the audience. That was the last time Alladiya Khan sang in public.

© Namita Devidayal
Reproduced from: The Music Room, with the kind permission of the publishers, Random House India.

Book published: September 21, 2007. Pages: 320. Cover price: Rs. 395.00

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.