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.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shujaat Khan – “Most duets are a farce”

Shujaat spoke to Deepak Raja on September 18, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Raga Desh – classicist as well as romanticist

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

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

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

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

Chalan: (Skeletal phraseology)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desh in 20th century music

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

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

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

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York

Monday, May 11, 2009

Raga Vachaspati in Hindustani music

Vachaspati is a Carnatic raga, representing the Vachaspati parent-scale (64th Melakarta). In its Hindustani adaptation, it has the tone material of raga Yaman with a flat (komal) Ni replacing the natural (shuddha).

Ascent: S R G M^ P D n S' Descent: S' n D P M^ G R S

By Hindustani raga grammar, this has been interpreted as the Kalyan parent-scale in the lower tetrachord and the Kafi parent-scale in the upper tetrachord. For Hindustani musicians, Yaman is the most logical reference point for Vachaspati because, strictly in scalar terms, replacing the Shuddha NI of Yaman with a Komal Ni delivers the Vachaspati scale. But, the issue is a little more complicated.

The most important aspect of the Yaman-to-Vachaspati transformation is the disappearance of the Ga-Ni axis in first-fifth correspondence. Without the Shuddha Ni, the new raga has to find an alternative axis to revolve around. The treatment of the raga by Hindustani musicians tends to explore several alternatives [Re-Pa, Ga-Dh and Ma^-ni], without being able to settle down with any of them. Such experimental uncertainty is  evident in the Vachaspati renderings of musicians of even great stature, as it reflects the current stage of evolution of the raga in the Hindustani system.

From readily available references, it appears that Pandit Ravi Shankar's interpretation of Vachaspati is academic, precisely according to its scale. He does not omit Re and Dh in the ascent, as some Hindustani musicians have tended to do. As a result, the lower tetrachord remains close to the Yaman, and the upper tetrachord avoids proximity to the Gawoti/ Kalavati flavour. The melodic centre of gravity remains in the mid-octave region, where the two scales coalesce. Interestingly, and probably to accommodate a suggestion of the Carnatic style intonation, Panditji occasionally uses a subliminal touch of flat (komal) Ga along with the natural (shuddha) Ga and natural (shuddha) Ni along with Sa.

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Santoor.EMI/HMV: STCS:04B:7375) omits the Re tone in the ascent and frequently omits the sharp (tivra) Ma from the descent. (Ascent: S-G-M^-P-D-n-S' Descent: S'-n-D-P-M^-G-R-S or S'-n-D-P-G-R-S). Vocalist, Jagdish Prasad (unpublished) omits Re as well as Dh from the ascent (Ascent: S-G-M^-P-n-S' Descent: S'-n-D-P-M^-G-R-S.

The legendary Ustad Ameer Khan, who too had a penchant for Carnatic ragas (e.g. Hansadhwani, Charukeshi, Basant Mukhari/ Vakulabharanam), recorded an untitled and self-composed raga (INRECO:LP: 2411-0001,1982), which appears to be his interpretation of Vachaspati. Why he left it untitled is a mystery. In this raga, he omits Re and Dh from the ascent, and Dh from the descent. (Ascent: S-G-M^-P-n-S' Descent: S-n-P-M^-G-R-S). Ustad Ameer Khan's treatment of the Re tone in the descent is fleeting or summary.

Amarnath Mishra, a Benares based sitarist, trained by a leading Sarangi exponent, (published by India Archive Music, New York) conforms to the version which omits Re in the ascent. In addition, Mishra uses melodic features of Saraswati, an allied raga which includes Re, but omits Ga in the ascent and descent (Tone material: S R M^ P D n). Mishra's inclusion of phrases such as S-R-M^-R and S-R-M^-P, along with the characteristic M^-P-M^-R, incorporates the Saraswati identity. (For Saraswati: textual reference: Subba Rao B, Raga Nidhi, Vol. IV. 4th impression.1996 Music Academy, Madras. Pg.68.)

Vachaspati is increasingly becoming familiar to Hindustani audiences by its chalan (distinctive phraseology). This chalan itself is fluid because of the recency of the raga's introduction into Hindustani music and the handful of musicians of stature who have worked on shaping its distinctive melodic identity. The variance extends to the predominant mood of the raga, with renditions ranging from the profound to the vivacious and, of course, some which oscillate in between.

The transformation of Carnatic ragas into Hindustani melodic entities has been an uneven process. While some ragas like Abhogi, Hamsadhwani, and Kirwani have acquired a stable Hindustani identity reasonably fast, several others are unstable several decades after their introduction. Under such conditions, every musician playing these ragas risks confusion in the audience mind by calling his interpretation by the same Carnatic name. In addition, he also risks the disapproval of those Carnatic-oriented audiences, who might find themselves uncomfortable with all Hindustani treatments in general.

Chandni Kalyan -- an alternative name

This assessment of the risks probably persuaded Ustad Vilayat Khan, in the 1970s, to coin a new name “Chandni Kalyan” for Vachaspati. The word “Kalyan” establishes the raga’s anchoring in the Kalyan parent scale, and its affinity to Yaman, the main raga of the Kalyan scale. The prefix “Chandni” alludes to the precedent of Chandni Kedar which comes into being by replacing the Shuddha Ni of Kedar with a Komal Ni. Yaman Kalyan undergoes an identical transformation in Chandni Kalyan. The prefix was, therefore, considered appropriate.

Though Vachaspati is known to a large number of music lovers, familiarity with the Chandni Kalyan coinage is still restricted to Ustad Vilayat Khan’s audiences. Its logic could, however, assure wider usage for the name, if the raga itself becomes more popular.

Musicologists have often argued that Hindustani music tends to adopt merely the scales of Carnatic ragas, without concerning itself with the totality of their raga-ness. The musical approaches of the two traditions are so distinct that a cross-cultural transformation acceptable to both traditions may be impossible. The Hindustani tradition does, however, attempt to achieve a stable melodic personality for each adopted raga which may, or may not, appear satisfactory to aficionados of Carnatic music. The maturation of these personalities requires several musicians of great stature to devote their musical energies to the process. Until this happens, Hindustani as well as Carnatic audiences will perceive these transformations as awkward in their raga-ness.

Chandni Kalyan/ Vachaspati might still be at this half-baked stage of raga-ness in the Hindustani tradition. Its  authoritative grammar will be written only after its literature has matured. Until then, each musician’s interpretation of it must be accepted on its own terms, and judged only on its distinctiveness and aesthetic coherence.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bahauddin Dagar -- “In the beginning, your Ustad teaches you; thereafter, your instrument teaches you”

Bahauddin spoke to Deepak Raja on 9/11/02

People often introduce me as the 20th generation of the Dagar lineage, referring to Nayak Haridas Dagur of the 16th century. But, we don’t have clear proof of this. I am comfortable with tracing the lineage to eight generations, to Baba Gopal Das, who converted to Islam, and became Baba Imam Baksh in the 18th century. My father, Zia Mohiuddin and uncle, Zia Fareeduddin, had both studied vocal music, the sitar, and the Been, from my grandfather, Ziauddin Khan, who had studied the Been with Bande Ali Khan, the legendary beenkar. At home, my grandfather routinely accompanied himself on the Been, and was also an accomplished sitar player. Professionally, of course, he remained a vocalist.

As far as I know, the Been has been a part of our family’s training in music for several generations. If anyone wanted to start performing on the Been, he had to seek permission of the elders. Our family sees the Been and vocal music as complementary arts. It is true that all instruments derive their inspiration from vocal music. But, in our family, the Been has been treated also as a guide to vocal music. The subtleties of intonation, and intervallic transitions in Dhrupad are often explained by demonstrating them on the Been.

In the 1950s, after independence, when my father and uncle came to Bombay from Udaipur in search of a career, they had only a sitar with them, and no decent place to keep the instrument. They certainly had no money to buy a Been. They had hoped to make their careers as sitarists, starting initially as teachers. But, by then, the idiom of the sitar was moving dramatically towards dazzling artistry. They had a few students. But there was very little real interest in their soulful style of playing. Finally, they abandoned the sitar – my father in favour of the Been, and my uncle in favour of vocal music. But, they remained loyal to Dhrupad. That was the turning point in their lives. They contributed to reviving interest in Dhrupad, and were able to build a following as teachers and performing musicians.

I had my early training on the sitar with my mother. Then, I played the Surbahar for a while. It was in 1982 (age 12) that I started studying the Been with my father. Dhrupad training has vocal music as the base. So, that was there throughout. The sitar requires nimble fingers, while I found that my hand was rather heavy for the instrument. The surbahar requires long fingers. In relation to the size of my palm, my fingers are short. So, I was not happy on the Surbahar either. Temperamentally also, the Been suited me better than the other two instruments. I am often tempted to sing in public. But, I practice only on the Been, and only learn by singing. Now there is no going back. I will stay with the Been.

My father was as gentle a teacher as he was a father. He never pushed me towards learning, or practice. He merely warned me that I could not expect to inherit his musical capabilities and professional stature without working for it. If I wished to grow up merely as his son, I was free to do so. But, to become a musician, I had to cultivate the attitude of a disciple. His method of teaching was subtle, and mysterious in its effectiveness. In each raga, he would give a student a few key phrases that captured its soul. Then he would ask him to work on them till the spirit of the raga revealed itself. And, we did find that once we had mastered the key to a raga, the whole raga opened itself up effortlessly when we sat down to play.

On technical issues, his method was immensely patient. He would let a student keep repeating the same mistake until the student himself realized something was going wrong. When the student started becoming uncomfortable, he would point out the right way to handle the music or the instrument. I have watched him train scores of students, and it is truly amazing how little visible effort has gone into their grooming. He taught me exactly as he taught his other students.

Performing career
In 1990, when my father died, I was only 20, with only five or six years of proper training on the Been. At that stage, I was not upto the mark – in fact, nowhere near being upto the mark. Despite this, financial considerations forced me to plunge into the profession. So, I started performing wherever I got an opportunity, and started teaching, while my own training continued with my uncle, Zia Fareeduddin. I dare say, if my father had been alive, even today, I would have been performing very little.

Teaching was a source of income. But, more than this, it was a part of the family’s philosophy of music as a profession. My father believed that by teaching, you ensure that you are always surrounded by music and musicians. He often said that you often notice your own mistakes only when you see your students making them. While you correct your students, you correct yourself too. He therefore believed in teaching generously, and holding nothing back. He knew that everything taught comes back to the teacher several fold in terms of learning.

The early years after my father’s death were difficult. Professionally, what helped me most was the 3-year fellowship the Lakhanpal Foundation granted me unconditionally immediately after my father’s death, and the concert-tour of the US organized for me by the SPICMACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music Amongst the Youth) in 1994. I shall always remain grateful to these institutions. These two gestures of support enabled me to stand on my feet, and build a career.

Gradually, I started getting concerts in India and abroad. Initially, Europe and the US accounted for a large part of my concert presence. In the last couple of years, however, the Indian market has grown well. I have been accepted at some of the major Indian events – Sir Shankarlal Music Festival in Delhi, the Dover Lane Conference in Calcutta, the Tansen Festival in Gwalior. Today, almost 80% of my concerts are in India, and the fees are also improving fast. Culturally, the big cities have become westernized and affected; but audiences in the smaller towns of Maharashtra, MP (Central Provinces), Bihar, and Punjab are showing a lot of interest in Dhrupad and the Been. Southern audiences are also taking interest in the Been now, and I have an educational tour planned in the South with SPICMACAY.

Some of this growing interest is curiosity about the “Mother of all Indian instruments”. But, when people hear the music, they are pleased. Many people, even in India, come to me and want to learn the Been. This is, of course, a tricky one because they have to be in Bombay for me to teach, and they have to own a Been which can cost upto Rs. 35,000 (US$ 900). Some of my American and European friends have offered to sponsor deserving Indian students with a gift of an instrument. So, something worthwhile is taking shape. There is already a great shortage of beenkars.

In the younger generation, I am the only performing beenkar. Asad Ali Khan’s teenage nephew, Zaki Hyder, is not performing yet. If we don’t do something now, there will be no beenkars in the future. I am very happy with the opening up of the Indian market. The money and the goodwill from foreign concerts are welcome. But, I have no special fascination for foreign travel, and I never want to settle abroad, no matter what the financial rewards might be. For my foreign tours, I now keep one Been in the US, and another in Europe. I will continue to travel, perform; but will always return.

The posture
My father was the first significant beenkar to shift from the traditional posture to the Carnatic style posture. He had, of course, learnt the Been in the traditional posture, holding it under his right arm, and across his chest. My grandfather probably also played in the traditional posture. My father made the change because the lap-top posture gave him much greater control over the meend through the in-tandem use of three left-hand fingers, without compromising the impact of the strokes. He found that this was a very valuable asset in the alap, which was his forte. The posture he adopted conformed to the prescription in our scriptures that the top of the stem at the left end should be at the same height as your left shoulder. Therefore, no traditional tenet of Been playing has been breached by the change.

In the early stages, I was taught the Been in the traditional posture, and I have experienced the difference. When you hold the instrument across your chest, your approach to music changes entirely. The melody and the strokes both become more agile, drifting towards the sitar idiom. If you want to play an alap-dominant, soulful quality of music, the lap-top posture works better.

But, interestingly, the change of posture introduced by my father did not obviate the need for tailor-making the instrument. The distance between the two gourds is defined by the waistline of the beenkar, and this requirement remains valid because of the size of the gourds. This is why the 150-year old Veena of Murad Khan, now in possession of Pandharinath Kolhapure, has multiple sockets for fixing the gourds. That was an interesting experiment. The Carnatic Veena does not have this problem because the gourd sizes are smaller, and the construction of the instrument is different. And the combination of design and posture works fine for their music.

The posture change introduced by my father need not be a major issue of debate. The Vajrasana posture evolved in the era when the music was performed in the temples and in the courts. In that environment, it was considered proper and respectful for a musician to be on his knees, and not to expose his feet. For the same reason, the traditional posture for the sitar and the surbahar was also Vajrasana, changing only later, when musicians found Vajrasana less efficient for playing the music they wished to play. Today, we should consider the issue in relation to how efficiently it delivers the music.

The idiom
In his early days, my father used to perform the entire Dhrupad format, along with all components of the Pada and tar-parans. I have recordings to demonstrate his technical prowess in all the departments of the Been idiom. As the years rolled by, he began to concentrate more on the melodic subtleties of the raga in the alap-jod-jhala movements, because he derived much greater pleasure from them. When I discussed this with him, he said that he had allowed his temperament to guide his art, and asked me to allow my inclinations to define my art. He often said – “In the beginning, your Ustad teaches you; thereafter, your instrument teaches you. You have to work equally hard with both of them”. I am now beginning to understand what he meant.

In the rendition of the Pada and the tar-parans, the Been does have a small problem because of unidirectional strokes. I pluck with my bare fingers; but even if I wore a mizrab (wire plectrum) as other beenkars do, I will not get the clear separation between the composition and the improvisations as effectively as the sitarist achieves with bi-directional strokes. I have tried playing Masitkhani compositions; it does not work. Also, the stroke density is too high for the Been. Our instrument is meant for delivering the maximum musical value with the minimum number of strokes.

One solution is singing the whole Dhrupad composition first to familiarize the audience with its melodic contours, and then play it on the Been. This method is getting a good response. I am not sure this is a perfect solution. But, I don’t have one today. It could take me another ten years to find one.

(c) Deepak S. Raja 2002
Thwe finest recordings of Bahauddin Dagar have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Raga Hemant: Genesis and trajectory

This essay is now published in my fourth book:

Removing it from here was proper, though not obligatory, in order that my publisher's investment in the book is protected. 


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Raga Malti Basant – a rare fragrance of spring

I have had occasion to study Malti Basant while writing a commentary on a recording of it by Ulhas Kashalkar.

Malti Basant is a rare raga of the Marwa parent scale of Hindustani music. Amongst major authoritative sources, the solitary available reference I could find was from the Gwalior maestro, Narayanrao Patwardhan (Raga Vigyan, Vol. VI, 2nd Edition, 1964. Sangeet Gaurav Granthamala, Pune). Patwardhan describes the raga as a fusion of Puriya, Basant, Hindol and Sohini.

Ascent: SNrS/ SG/M^DS’
Descent: SNrND/ M^G/SMM^MG/ M^GrS.

The vadi-samvadi pair (the primary and secondary dominants) is identified as Dh and Ga. The various melodic component ragas are identified as follows:

Basant: M^GMGrS
Puriya: M^GrS-rSN
Hindol: SDNM^D
Sohini: SNrND.

Other than the Ulhas recording, the only readily available recording of the raga was an unpublished concert of Sharafat Hussain Khan (1930-1985) of Agra gharana. Interestingly, Sharafat renders the same vilambit bandish as Ulhas does.

Sharafat’s Malti Basant rendition confirms Dh and Ga as the vadi-samvadi pair of this raga. It also confirms that the raga’s centre of gravity lies in the lower half of the melodic canvas. However, in the poorvanga (lower tetrachord) Sharafat feels free to introduce a touch of Lalit in the raga (NrGM/M^MG) as a substitute for the Basant phrasing (SM/ M^MG). In the uttaranga (upper tetrachord), Sharafat tends to ignore the Hindol ascent (GM^DS’) in favour of the Sohini ascent (M^DNSrS).

In the recording, I also notice an occasional, obviously inadvertent, use of komal (flat) Dh in lieu of the shuddha (natural) Dh characteristic of this raga. In summary, it appears that Sharafat performs Malti Basant as a free amalgam of Marwa, Puriya and Sohini, adding to it a touch of Basant or Lalit with twin-Ma usage. Marwa and Puriya have a stronger presence in his rendering than Sohini because of the poorvanga bias of the raga. The Hindol facet of the raga is substantially played down. In the totality, however, the identifying features of the raga are under control.

Ulhas had the following comments about Malati Basant (message of June 5, 2003): “I have heard Malti Basant from my guru, Gajananrao, and from Latafat Hussain Khan and Babbanrao Haldankar. My impression is that this raga has been sung mainly in the Agra gharana. This raga is actually an old version of raga Basant, which used shuddha (natural) Dh instead of the komal (flat) Dh currently in use. According to Raga Vaibhav, a publication of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, it was also known as “Mandir Basant”. Although the raga has shades of Puriya, Sohini as well as Basant -- there is no Hindol in it -- it is not a compound raga.”

As is to be expected in performances of rare raga-s, Ulhas’ treatment of the raga differs from its treatment by Sharafat Hussain. Throughout the alap of the vilambit khayal, the Puriya and Basant facets of the raga are treated as parts of a fundamentally seamless melodic entity. However, Ulhas does use the introduction of the Basant facet intermittently as an element of surprise in an otherwise Puriya dominant treatment of the raga. This gives the raga the semblance of a compound raga. The Sohini facet of the raga often gets accidentally highlighted when Ulhas chooses to vary a Puriya phrase (NDM^) and replaces it with a Basant flavoured phrase (NDM), creating an aural image, which approximates the Sohini descent (NDG). In the taans section, the raga takes on a different flavour. Because of the speed of execution, the intonation of Komal (flat) Re, which is already subdued in the Puriya facet of the raga, is subdued even further, while Ga gets emphasised, being an important melodic centre of the raga. As a result, the descending tans occasionally acquire a suggestion either of Hindol with Tivra (sharp) Ma or of Bhinna Shadja with shuddha (natural) Ma.

Historically, as Ulhas suggests, the raga may have evolved as a variant of an equally rare raga currently known as Shuddha Basant or Aadi Basant, also of the Marwa parent scale. This raga was apparently in reasonable circulation in the Dhrupad era, has been performed by Ustad Vilayat Khan in the early 1960’s (unpublished), and by the sitarist, Subroto Roy Choudhry on a CD published by India Archive Music, New York.

The two recordings on hand – those of Ulhas and Sharafat Hussain -- support the view that Malti Basant was not conceived as a compound raga. Like all rare ragas, the grammar of Malti Basant is fluid. These ragas have a few identifying features, which are probably defined by the few bandishes in circulation. Within the boundaries of the bandish, the raga is amenable to variable interpretation, without any major damage to its essential raga-ness.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gundecha Brothers--“Nobody invites a poor musician to perform”

Ramakant and Umakant Gundecha spoke to Deepak Raja on September 2, 1998

In 1981, when we decided to join the Dhrupad Kendra in Bhopal as students, we both had Masters degrees in music, had received several years of training, and had reasonably secure jobs. But, both of us had this longing for music with much greater depth and substance.

Joining the Dhrupad Kendra meant relearning everything from a different perspective, and committing ourselves to Dhrupad as a career. Professionally, this was a high-risk decision to take in those days because the Dhrupad revival was yet to begin. We took the decision because it meant greater personal satisfaction to us as musicians.

In retrospect, there is no reason to regret that decision. We have never asked ourselves whether we might have done better as Khayal singers. Everything seems to have fallen into place. We have received the best possible taleem available in present times. Today, after receiving excellent training in Dhrupad, we are convinced that this is the only music that satisfies us. Over these years, the Dhrupad movement has also gained momentum.

We do not subscribe to the theory that the shortage of competent performers in Dhrupad, or its novelty for a majority of the audiences can explain what we have been able to achieve. Nobody invites a poor musician to perform, no matter how rare his style of singing is. Audiences do not come specifically to hear Khayal or Dhrupad. They come to hear classical music. You either qualify as a classical musician, or you don't. Nothing else matters. This is as true for us, as it was for the pioneers of the Dhrupad revival in modern times -- Ustad Nasir Ameenuddin and Nasir Moinuddin Dagar, better known as the Senior Dagar Brothers.

If we have been able to find a place in the major events of Hindustani music, it is because we are musicians of acceptable quality. The fact that we perform a genre that is not very widely practiced or heard, is an additional, but marginal, consideration.

In a broader context, and for the same reason, we are not in total sympathy with the concept of holding "Dhrupad Sammelans" as a means of promoting Dhrupad. Dhrupad already suffers from having been marginalized by a long absence of competent musicians. You cannot restore Dhrupad to a place of honor in classical music by perpetuating its isolation. You can do so only by producing outstanding musicians, who can compete effectively with performers of other genres in the mainstream of the music world.

And, this is where the distinctive quality of the Dagar gharana's music and its training appears. From the days of the Senior Dagar Brothers, it has become evident, that the style of this gharana has far greater appeal for contemporary audiences than the Dhrupad performed by other gharanas. A very important aspect of this training is the voice-culture practiced in the Dagar family. This training has made a great contribution to the public acceptance of the Dagar style of Dhrupad. And, it is now proven that the training of this gharana has the ability to produce outstanding musicians.

Our Ustads, Zia Moiuddin and Zia Fareeduddin Dagar have been virtual crusaders for the art of Dhrupad. In the Dagar tradition, they have been the first, the most committed, and the most successful as teachers of Dhrupad to students outside their own family. As teachers, they have produced more successful concert performers over the last 20 years than any other teacher of Dhrupad.

Their commitment and excellence as teachers of the basics of Hindustani music -- the science of intonation, voice culture, the achievement of tonal precision, handling of the raga form, the achievement of its emotional impact, and disciplined creativity -- has been outstanding.

Today, these are claimed as special features of Dhrupad perhaps because thorough taleem in these aspects is no longer available to Khayal singers. But, they are fundamental to Hindustani vocal music, and it is important that these disciplines are being preserved at least in the Dhrupad gharanas.

When we call something "Shastriya Sangeet" -- whether Dhrupad, or Khayal, -- it has to be, by its very definition, music which has a "Shastra", a sound theoretical foundation. And the performing art has to retain an intimate relationship with a tradition of scholarship.

We might surmise that Dhrupad, which is today considered to have a superior grounding in "Shastra", probably declined when it drifted away from its moorings in the "Shastra". By the same logic, we might say that those Dhrupad traditions which have survived, and are growing in acceptance, are those that have retained their fundamental soundness.

In addition to the soundness of the basics, the Dagar style has remained popular because it concentrated on the melodic facets of Dhrupad's esthetic appeal. In doing so, it subordinated the role of percussion to the melodic facet of music.The overly masculine or aggressive musical expression does not find place in the Dagar style. They have preserved a strong bias in favour of the elaborate alap of the Dhrupad tradition, and meticulously observed the relationship between the poetic and melodic forms.

The same esthetic perspective dominates the choice of compositions in the Dagar tradition. Although we sing compositions in a variety of Talas -- Chautal, Dhamar, Sul, Tivra, Matta Tal, and Jhaptal -- we do not sing any compositions without a poetic element. Compositions with meaningless consonants -- prevalent in other Dhrupad traditions -- are not performed in the Dagar style. The Dagars have taken the view that there is enough melodic development with meaningless consonants in the Nom-Tom alap, and extending it into rendition of compositions of the Tarana variety is unnecessary.

Beyond these general features of the Dagar style, our Ustads have sought to build a closer relationship between Dhrupad music as sung, and as performed on the Rudra Veena. Although vocal music and the Rudra Veena have always been companions in the Dhrupad tradition, the "Been Ang" (lit:the style of performing on plucked instruments, specifically of the fretted lute family) influences our own singing much more than has traditionally been the case. This appears to have a special appeal for contemporary audiences nurtured in an age dominated by the Sitar, Sarod, and the Santoor.

Against this background of the gharana and our taleem with our Ustads, we ourselves have tried to introduce elements which make for wider acceptability of our music.

The main effort we have made is in the field of the poetic element. We realized that in the Khayal-dominated era, the poetic element is faded into relative insignificance, both in terms of the musicians' presentation of it, and the audiences' receptivity to it. Dhrupad has to treat poetry with respect. Therefore, it must make an effort to adopt a more modern literary idiom.

We have selected some medieval and even modern poetry, and cast it into the melodic framework of traditional Dhrupad compositions. And, this has received a very encouraging response from audiences. We also felt the need to create compositions in currently popular ragas, such as Charukeshi (a Carnatic raga, introduced to Hindustani music less than 50 years ago). We selected poetry for such compositions, cast them into melodic-rhythmic frameworks, obtained the approval of our Ustads on the soundness of the compositions, and have started performing them. This, too, has been very well received by audiences.

In our presentation, we tend to avoid the “ladant-bhidant” relationship between the vocal music and the percussion accompaniment. Our melodic development receives a "theka" support just as in Khayal presentation, although we certainly have a much more lively interaction with percussion in the rhythmic play than Khayal. We also provide our percussion accompanists ample spaces for Pakhawaj solo passages, just as Sitar and Sarod players do.

This is not merely a concession to the expectations of audiences nurtured by post-Dhrupad musical genres. It is also critical to preserving the melody-dominant character of the Dagar gharana's music without denying the rhythmic element and percussion its due share of importance.

In India, we find that almost 70% of our audiences are hearing Dhrupad for the first time. Most of them are below the age of 40. Thanks to the media coverage of Dhrupad, and of our own careers, the younger audiences appear to have a strong curiosity about Dhrupad. They see it as being perhaps more authentically Indian than Khayal or Thumree music merely by virtue of being older. But, what is important is that they are liking what they hear. One of the reasons might well be that Dhrupad is more accessible to uninitiated audiences than Khayal because of the separation of the melodic from the rhythmic. This separation frees them from the simultaneous need to keep track of melodic and rhythmic manipulation.

But, the more important aspect of audience acceptance is that it is the alaps that are more widely appreciated. The taste for the elaborate alap might have been created by the great instrumentalists of our times, who have retained the three-tiered Dhrupad style alap in their music and popularized it. Because the Dhrupad alap has become familiar through instrumental music, and probably Khayal is losing its contemplative, soulful movements, audiences could be appreciating this facet of Dhrupad even more.

A broadly similar picture emerges amongst audiences in the US and Europe. Relative to the size of Khayal-oriented audiences, the Dhrupad-oriented audiences are larger in the West than in India. The mystique of an "ancient" art form, of course, has a greater appeal for Western audiences. But, they too value the Dhrupad alap more than the compositions, and for the same reasons as Indian audiences.

With a resurgent market in India and in the West, naturally the drift of promising talent towards Dhrupad is now snowballing. The Dhrupad Kendra at Bhopal is now attracting exceptional talent in good numbers. We, the Gundecha Brothers, are ourselves planning to set up a residential Gurukul-type Dhrupad institute shortly, and plan to select at least 10 students for prolonged intensive training. Looking at the overall trends, we feel confident that in the next couple of decades, there will be at least three times as many competent Dhrupad singers on the mainstream platform as there are today.

The situation regarding Pakhawaj is also improving fast. The growing popularity of Dhrupad has created a shortage of competent Pakhawaj players. The few competent Gurus we have today are experiencing an ample demand for their training. Hopefully, the next generation of Dhrupad vocalists will not have to face the same shortage of percussion accompanists as we have had to live with.

Unfortunately, unlike the Tabla, the market for Pakhawaj solos has not yet developed well enough to make Pakhawaj more attractive as career. To give a boost to this art form, we sometimes encourage our Pakhawaj accompanists to present short solo items at the end of our concerts. But, considering that even Tabla solos have a shrinking market, a Pakhawaj solo market may be a long way off.

Dhrupad is now being re-integrated into the mainstream. The issues of making a decent living that should have troubled us when we opted for Dhrupad, need not bother the most promising Dhrupadiyas of the next generation.

The current trends in Dhrupad presentation and audience acceptance will, we feel, persist and mature over the next few decades. The Dagar style will continue to grow in popularity.

As an interesting, but related, phenomenon, the Agra gharana of Khayal music, which retains the strongest link with its Dhrupad ancestry, could ride back to popularity on the strength of its Dhrupad flavor.

Yes, just as we have made a few minor innovations in Dhrupad presentation, there may be some more to come. But, Dhrupad cannot change very much without losing its identity. And, judging from the emotional and esthetic needs of audiences, it does not seem that they want it to change too much, either.

Reproduced, with the publisher’s consent, from “Perspectives on Dhrupad”, edited by Deepak Raja, and Suvarnalata Rao, published by the Indian Musicological Society, Baroda/ Bombay. 1999

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.