Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Shujaat Khan – “I almost joined a tea estate as a Manager; but destiny had other plans”

Shujaat Khan spoke to Deepak Raja on July 21, 1996

1960, I was born. I have no idea what was happening until 1966, when I performed for the first time, accompanying Abba (intimate form of address for the father). Then, the wagon began to roll..getting noticed... child prodigy...everything is hunky dory.

The turmoil began when my parents were heading for a separation. I was, then, old enough to know what was going on, but not old enough to handle it. This must have left some lasting impression on me, and my music. Abba was, then, not very good at putting father and Guru together. Growing up with him (in the absence of the mother) was difficult.

Between 18 and 22 I went industry, fusion music, sports, foreign travel, women ... but luckily no alcohol or drugs. There was (during that period) always music in my life; but not much disciplined practice. I was seen as a gifted musician, but a waster. I was having a great time, and beyond that, I didn't care.

At 24, I decided to settle down, and got married. After marriage, we continued to live with Abba until, one day, I decided to quit. Walking out on him could well have damaged my career; but I didn't care. I could make a living in many other ways. In 1985, I almost accepted a job as a Manager in an Assam tea estate. But, destiny had other plans.

It was October (1985), the beginning of the music season. I decided to rough it out for a while, and test out the concert market. There was probably something in the stars. And, also, something that had happened invisibly to my music during the wild years. I found that my music had changed tremendously. And, people's attitudes had improved a lot.

As my musical career took shape, my faith in our system of music was reconfirmed. As an education, there is really no substitute for living with the Guru. Because, you just can't put your finger on taleem (training/ apprenticeship). When, how, and under what circumstances you will acquire that flash of insight into the secrets of the Guru's music is impossible to predict, and therefore impossible to schedule. The magical quality of that experience had to express itself in my music. And, I should think, it does.

It isn't a musician's job to interpret his own music. But, I can try.

In my search for my own finished product, the first thing I worked on was how I returned to the bandish (the composition) after finishing a tan. Most musicians will take a tan, and round it off with a tihai (a symmetrical melodic structure consisting of a phrase repeated thrice) which is mostly pre-composed and ends at the sam (the first beat of the rhythmic cycle). I decided I needed to do something different.

I started working on the amad (the last part of the composition, preceding the return to the mukhda or the theme/ refrain of the composition) especially, the type which merges almost imperceptibly with the composition. An amad rich with multiple variants was the forte of the great vocalists of yesteryears. I tried to recapture some of that old magic of amads.

Then, I worked on the rhythmic component of my music. My choice fell, by temperament, on the jod (the simple two-beat rhythmic movement that follows the free-flowing alap). I enjoy playing this form, and have tried to make it more interesting without doing any damage, either to sitar music, or to the Vilayat Khani style, or to Indian classical music.

Over the last five years, I am delving deeper into vocalism. This comes naturally to me. By the time I arrived, Abba had already entered the gayaki (the style simulating vocalism on instruments) phase. The tantkar ang (the style appropriate to plucked instruments) remains with me as a part of my training. But, what I play is influenced more by the Vilayat Khan gayaki style and the great vocalists I have heard.

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Raga Shree: Supplicant, spooky, or belligerent?

Shree is amongst the oldest raga-s in the Hindustani art music pantheon. But, it is not clear whether the melodic entity currently identified by this name is, indeed, the one that claims considerable antiquity. Quite irrespective of its evolutionary path, the contemporary Shree also commands immense stature amongst raga-s because of its profundity, and its association with a powerful archetypal entity in Hindu mythology.

Shree: The archetype
The "Shree" syllable is one of the two most powerful sounds in the psycho-phonetics of the Vedic tradition, the other being "Om". While "Om" represents man's relationship with the spiritual world, "Shree" represents the material man. Together, they represent the totality of man's aspirations.

In mythology, the "Om" phonetic, because of its abstract nature, remains a calligraphic deity. But, "Shree", the phonetic-calligraphic archetype, is also personified as the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, the giver of wealth and prosperity, and the consort of Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the universe.

Amongst the major female deities in the Hindu pantheon, Lakshmi occupies a pride of place, ahead of the ferocious Durga, the destroyer of evil, and the gentle Saraswati, the giver of knowledge and accomplishments in the fine arts. Interestingly, Durga and Saraswati also have Ragas dedicated to them, although, neither of these two enjoy the status of Shree either in the popular mind, or in the world of music.

The Shree Suktam (Hymn to the goddess Lakshmi) from Rig Veda, considered the most powerful Mantra for invoking the blessings of Lakshmi, describes her as the Great Facilitator of all the material tasks of the world, and thus, the symbol of ultimate effectiveness. In this hymn, the supplicant prays for protection from hunger and poverty, and for the boon of fame and prosperity.

Interestingly, the Shree Suktam is totally silent on the legitimacy of the means by which man may acquire wealth, as also on the ends to which wealth might be deployed. In a sense, thus, mythology treats the blessings of Lakshmi as being desired, or desirable, for their own sake.

Whether oppressed by the fear of poverty, or fired by the lust for wealth, man has the choice between turning supplicant before the goddess, and setting out to conquer the world. But, quite irrespective of the stance he adopts, and perhaps precisely because he has a choice, man cannot escape oppressive anxiety as a permanent feature of dealing with his material self.

In comparison, the other two major goddesses do not give man any options. Militancy or even anxiety are totally inconsistent with Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and the fine arts, who represents the highest level of culture. And, the ferocious Durga is the one whose help man seeks in order to destroy his enemies. In either case, supplication is the only route to divine grace.

Pandit Omkarnath Thakur (Sangeetanjali Vol. VI) provides a different perspective on the mythology and Rasa values of this raga. Of the six primary raga-s of the Hindustani tradition, five are said to have emanated from the five mouths of Lord Shiva, while the sixth is said to have emanated from the mouth of Parvati. Having emanated from "Shree-mukha", it was named Shree. He carries forward this association into describing the mood of the raga.

He suggests that Shree is a raga of the "Bhayanaka Rasa" (the sentiment of fear). To him, the prescribed time for performing this raga (around sunset) is the time when nature and humans are at peace, but the disembodied spirits (of whom Shiva is the Lord) become active, and aid the black magic of Tantriks. To him, the atmopshere created by the raga suggests activity in the netherworld -- spooky, and eerie in a manner that makes ordinary mortals fearful.

Even if the genesis of the association of the archetypal Shree with the Raga is no longer traceable, the metaphor is not out of place.

Shree: The melodic entity
"Shree" belongs to the Purvi Parent Scale, one of the ten modal structures which form the foundation of the Hindustani Raga system. Like other members of this Scale, it is prescribed for performance around sunset.

Swara material:
Ascent: S r M^ P N/ Descent: S N d P M^ G r
Re and Dh are Komal (flat), Ma is Tivra (sharp)

The primary dominant Swara is Re, and the secondary dominant is Pa. All other Swaras are of normal emphasis. Dh can be, occasionally, used subliminally in a Ni-Pa melodic descent. In Shree, unlike most other Ragas, Sa (the tonic) is not considered a raga-neutral resting point or melodic centre because of its proximity to the Komal Re, which has to be kept in sharp focus.

Orthodox musicians believe that post-sunset Purvi scale raga-s ought to be centred in the upper tetrachord. In accordance with this belief, they frequently take advantage of the ascent-oriented character of the Raga, and perform compositions which have the Sam (first accentuated beat of the rhythmic cycle) falling at the "Re" in the higher octave. Such orthodoxy accentuates the ascent in the treatment of the Raga, and imparts to it a distinctly strident quality.

The Raga, as currently performed, is identified by two catch-phrases: Sa-Ni-Re and Re-Re-Pa. These phrases define the two faces of Shree. Sa-Ni-Re has an abbrasive quality while Re-Re-Pa imparts a supplicant character.

Some musicians believe that, in order to fully express the emotional content of Shree, the Komal (flat) Re and Dh ought to be distanced from their neighbours, Sa and Pa, by the use of fractionally sharper microtones of Komal Re and Dh. But, there is also the opposite view, which reccommends suppressed microtones of Re and Dh. Authorities also acknowledge non-standard intonations of Ga, Ni, and tivra Ma in this raga. Shree is thus amongst those ragas, where the aesthetics of intonation play a far greater role in the communication of musical ideas than its melodic grammar.

Pandit Omkarnath Thakur (Sangeetanjali Vol.VI) observes that Shree is considered a difficult raga to perform as much because of its requirement of non-standard intonation, as of its restless, spooky, eerie phraseology.

Phraseology: Re and Dh are Komal (flat), Ma is Tivra (sharp)
S N. r/ N G r/ r M^/M^ G r / r M^ P/P M^ G r OR r r P/P M^ G r/r M^ P d/M^ G r/ r M^ P N S'/ P N S' N r' OR P S' N r'/r' N d M^ d OR r' N d P / d M^ G r OR M^ P d M^ G r/r d M^ G r OR M^ N M^ G r/G r S N. r/S N. r/ G r S

Note: In an increasingly rare version of the raga, the ascent into the uttaranga goes r-M^-d-N-S rather than r-M^-P-N-S indicated above.

In the lower tetrachord, and in the descent, a mis-handling of the melodic phraseology of this Raga exposes the Raga to the risk of confusion with Puriya, or its Puriya Dhanashree variant.

Shree: The experience
Although Shree is amongst the Raga-s popular with audiences, its performances are rare. Commercial recordings of Shree, and recordings in private collections establish that this Raga demands musicianship of a high order.

Amongst vocalists, Pandit. DV Paluskar (HMV-8TCS-048-3836) and Ustad Ameer Khan (unpublished) have treated Shree as a deeply devotional, though anxiety-laden Raga, while softening its aggressive stance. To achieve this, they adopted a variety of devices.

They sang poetry which is explicitly devotional in content, and biased their Raga development towards the lower tetrachord. In the melodic treatment, they made generous use of the Sa-Pa movement, in addition to the comparatively restless Re-Pa movement. They de-emphasised the strident Sa-Ni-Re catch-phrase and replaced it often with the less disturbing Re-Re-Re. The structure of their Tan-s is dominated by the characteristic phraseology of the raga, and avoids geometric or kaleidoscopic melodic devices.

Ashwini Despande's Shree (recorded in 2000 for India Archive Music, New York), is broadly in the Paluskar-Ameer Khan territory of Rasa values. Her ati-komal Re and ati-tivra Ma intonations assure for her rendition the anxiety-laden quality that characterises the raga. But, in her rendition, it is possible discern a yearning for peace and tranquility -- a drift towards Shanta Rasa.

Flautist Pannalal Ghosh (HMV-6TC-O4B-7182) appears to see this Raga as primarily disturbing and unsettling in character, with a touch of stridency. His treatment is ascent oriented and upper tetrachord dominated. He accepts the Re-Re-Pa movement as the primary identity of the Raga. The other catch-phrase Sa-Ni-Re comes into focus in the higher octave. His fast-paced composition has its "Sam" on the Upper-Re. His Tans predominantly use the phraseology of the Raga. The leaps between tonal clusters are less prominent than in Paluskar or Ameer Khan. The juxtaposition of tonal pairs is absent.

Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, who has articulated the eerie, spooky facet of the raga's personality, would have been the ideal musician to demonstrate it. Though his recordings of the raga are not available, we do have wothwhile specimens in renditions by Kumar Gandharva (concert 2/2/1975) and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (concert undated). In addition to being masters of intonation, these two musicians have deployed unorthodox phrasing and acoustic effects like variations of volume and timbre with stunning effect for shaping the atmospherics of the raga. The two recordings I cite here will probably remain amongst the most interesting and original recordings of Shree for this reason.

A drift towards aggressiveness is evident the Shree recording of Sitarist Pt. Ravi Shankar and Sarodist Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (Duet:HMV-EALP-1296). The raga form appears to support Pannalal Ghosh' interpretation. But, because of the plucked character of their instruments, they tilt towards a strident expression. Their melodic focus remains in the lower tetrachord. But, the use of Jhaptal with irregular cadences (10 beats in 2-3-2-3 subdivision) for the medium-paced composition makes it mildly menacing. Their melodic approach utilises the raga's phraseology, as well as geometric and kaleidoscopic devices. The powerful strokes of Ali Akbar Khan, supporting the kaleidoscopic patterns of tonal pairs, impart an eerie virility to the under-current of tension in the Raga.

Shree: The Vilayat Khan interpretation
Ustad Vilayat Khan sees Shree clearly as a Raga of the warrior. His Shree rendition at the Thirakwa Memorial concert at the Bhulabhai Desai Institute, Bombay (1976, unpublished), and his later recording of the raga for India Archive Music, New York, both testify to this. The Ustad is able to express this hitherto underplayed facet of the Raga by merely re-defining the scale, and supporting his melodic interpretation with power-packed execution.

Superficially, his interpretation of the Raga form only appears to add a belligerent emphasis on the "Dh" Swara, to supplement the already strident "Re" in the lower tetrachord, which is the melodic focus of the Raga. The accent on "Dh" dilutes the status of the adjacent Pa, which is the Secondary Dominant Swara of Shree. A weaker Pa also neutralises the supplicant mood of the Re-Re-Pa phrase, one of the two keys to the Raga's melodic character.

In the Vilayat Khan interpretation, Re and Dh become isolated, but corresponding Swaras of equal weightage, almost like two Dominant Swaras. But, this apparently minor nuance, perfectly consistent with the easily recognisable Raga form, is actually quite fundamental.

Ustad Vilayat Khan has shifted the notional focus of the Raga from the Sa-to-Sa octave to the Ni-to-Ni octave. In the Sa-to-Sa octave, the two tetrachords are assymetrical . The lower tetrachord has a sharper ascendency, while the upper tetrachord has a weaker and uneven ascendency. The ascendancy of the first step in both the tetrachords is hesitant, and becomes aggressive only later. By notionally adopting a Ni-to-Ni scale, the Vilayat Khan interpretation makes the two tetrachords perfectly symetrical in their tonal geometry. This shift creates a qualitatively different melodic canvas for the treatment of the raga -- essentially more amenable to symmetric and geometric phrasing.

Vilayat Khan's militancy appeared to require a dominant Swara in the upper tetrachord, to be utilised as a corresponding power centre to the Re in the lower tertrachord. The Dh Swara, in first-fifth correspondence with Re, was the ideal choice. The impact of this correspondence is enhanced by the formation of symmetrical tetrachords, to the base Ni (lower octave) and Tivra Ma (middle octave). This shift of focus delivers distant swara clusters between which he can move swiftly without hindrance and launch sudden offensives on any part of the melodic battlefield to any other part. This focus shift gives him an original, more expansive, phraseological frame for developing the Raga, in a manner which is totally consistent with its accepted grammar.

Amongst the performing arts, dance and theatre, rather than music, have often been considered the appropriate platforms for the depiction of valour, because depicting the application of physical force requires the manipulation of the human body. Vilayat Khan's interpretation of Shree is, therefore, a significant aesthetic achievement.

Ustad Vilayat Khan’s Shree is so radical compared to Shree, as commonly encountered, that a knowledgeable reviewer of his recording was obliged to suggest that the Ustad should have called it by a different name. This proposition is debatable because it is not the first time, nor the last, that a great musician has revealed a hitherto unexplored facet of a raga; and the event can hardly be considered a good enough reason to give it a new name.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York
The finest recordings of Raga Shree have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Raga Megh Malhar

This essay is now published in my fourth book:

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


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Music is not just about music

“The knowledge of music becomes an effective means of attaining one-ness with Lord Shiva; for by the knowledge of music, one attains to a state of absorption and it is by attaining such a state that one-ness with Shiva could be obtained… One ought not to indulge, out of delusion, in worldly songs…”
Skanda Purana, Suta Samhita.

“To the yogin whose spirit attains a unified state in the uniform bliss engendered by delectation of objects like music, there occurs an absorption and anchoring of the mind in that bliss. Where there is a continuous and long flow of sounds from stringed instruments, one becomes freed of other objects of cognition and becomes merged in that ultimate and verily of the form of that Supreme Being.”
Vijnanabhairava Tantra

“We adore the Supreme Being of the form of sound (Nada Bramha) which is the one bliss without a second, and the light of consciousness in all beings that has manifested itself in the form of the universe. By the adoration of sound (Nada) are also adored God Bramha, Vishnu, and Maheshwara, for they are the embodiment of sound.”
Sharangadeva in Sangeet Ratnakara, 1.3.1-2

“One attains the Supreme Being by practicing continuously the chanting of the Samans (the sacred Vedic mantras set to music) in the prescribed manner and with mental concentration. The singing of the songs Aparanta, Ullopya etc… the songs composed by Daksha and Bramha, constitutes indeed liberation. One who knows the correct playing of the lute, has mastered the subtle semitones, and understands the rhythms, attains the path of liberation without any strain.”
Yajnavalkya Smriti, 3.4.112-15

“O Mind! The knowledge of the science and art of music bestows on a person the bliss of oneness with the Supreme Being. Music such as is accompanied by the blissful oceanlike stories of the Lord which are the essence of love and all the other sentiments blesses a person with oneness with the Lord. Music such as that cultivated by the discerning Thyagaraja bestows on a person affection (for fellow beings), devotion (to God), attachment to good men, the Lord’s Grace, austere life, mental concentration, fame, and wealth.”
Sangitajnanamu in raga Salagabhairavi by Thyagaraja

“O Mind! Drink and revel in the ambrosia of melody; it gives one the fruit of sacrifices and contemplation, renunciation, as well as enjoyment; Thyagaraja knows that they who are proficient in sound, the mysic syllable OM, and the music notes – which are all of the form of the Lord Himself – are liberated souls.”.
Ragasudharasa in raga Andolika by Thyagaraja

“Two Bramhana lutists are singing to the lute; this thing, the lute, is verily the embodiment of beauty and prosperity; and these musicians of the lute do verily endow him (the patron) with prosperity.”
Taittiriya Bramhana, 3.9.14

“These that sing to the lute indeed sing of Him (the Supreme Being) only; hence it is that they attain riches.”
Chandogya Upanishad 1.7.6.

“Whatever poetic utterances there are, and the songs in all their entirety, are aspects of Lord Vishnu, in his sonant form.”
Vishnu Purana. 1.22.84

Translations from: Sources of the Indian Tradition, Vol. I, Wm.Theodore de Barry Ed. 2nd edition, 1966. Columbia University Press, New York & London.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Buddhadev Dasgupta -- “But for the radio, I would have died unknown”

Dasgupta spoke to
Deepak Raja
on October 27, 1997 and December 3, 1998.

I was born in 1933 at Bhagalpur in Bihar. My father was a government servant on transferable duty. Being a music enthusiast, he made it a point to establish contact with local musicians wherever we moved, and quickly became a part of the local music circle.

As a child, I showed no particular inclination towards music. My parents' early attempts at getting me interested were most disheartening. The turning point came when I was nine years old. We moved to Rajshahi (in present-day Bangla Desh), where the local Zamindar (feudal chieftain), and also the region's most distinguished musician, was an exceptionally handsome man called Radhika Mohan Maitra.

For all his wealth and social status, Radhu Babu, as he was affectionately called, was an unassuming man. At my father's invitation, he agreed to give a performance at our house. I cannot recall if his music made much of an impression on me. But, the visual image of this attractive man, playing his tantalizing instrument, captivated my imagination. It was pure, and simple, hero-worship.

I desperately wanted to be like him, and to learn from him. My father vetoed the idea on the grounds that the transferable nature of his job would deny continuity to my training. When this domestic dispute was revealed to Radhu Babu, he pleaded my case with my parents.

My father was candid with him. He argued that I was not an heir to ancestral lands, and would have to qualify myself professionally to make a decent living. Radhu Babu assured my father that if, at any stage, my music interfered with my education, he would suspend my training in music. On this condition, I was allowed to study with Radhu Babu. In less than a year thereafter, my family moved to Khulna (also in present-day Bangla Desh). Radhu Babu, by now a close friend of the family, continued to visit us from Rajshahi -- for a few days each time -- and to teach me.

Then came independence, and the partition (1947). My father was transferred to Calcutta, the provincial head quarters of undivided Bengal, which remained in India. Radhu Babu lost all his ancestral properties in East Bengal, and also moved to Calcutta to make a living as a professional musician. I was fifteen then. From then onwards, right upto my Guru's demise in 1981, I had permanent access to him.

In Calcutta, Radhu Babu visited us twice or thrice a week, at any time on any day. There were days when he would spend hours socializing with my parents; and others when he would land up an at an unearthly time and grill me for hours. During semester breaks at my college, I lived with him to learn. It was a Guru-Shishya relationship in the traditional mold.

Guru, a tough task-master
My Guru was a strict disciplinarian. The slightest sign of insubordination provoked a reprimand far more hurtful than the physical violence, with which Ustad Alauddin Khan is reported to have disciplined his students. Throughout my years in formal education, my Guru remained my father's staunch ally in demanding academic excellence from me as the price for the freedom to pursue my passion for music.

Academic and musical pursuits coexisted comfortably until I reached the fourth year of my degree course at the Bengal Engineering College. At that stage, the conflict between my passion and my vocational direction became crushing. I had been brainwashed into believing that getting anything less than a first class amounted to failure. For the first time, I feared the such a possibility, and considered quitting engineering studies in favour of a career in music.

My father was reassuring, but blunt. He offered a deal. I had his permission to get a second class, if that was inevitable; but I had to continue. In his opinion, I had the makings of a fine musician; but I just did not have what it takes to be another Ali Akbar Khan. Ali Akbars are not made; they are born , he said. I yielded; but I think that was a mistake.

Contrary to everyone's fears, I got a first class mechanical engineering degree in 1954, and started my career with the Calcutta Electric Supply Company, which I served until retirement at the age of fifty-five in 1988.

On call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day
An engineering career with a power supply utility cannot be a five-day-week, nine-to-five job with casual and privilege leave benefits. Even over Weekends, I was never sure of being able to travel for concerts. Going abroad for concert tours of two or three months was inconceivable. For almost ten of these thirty-five years in service, I had to live on the premises of the generating station, and be on-call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Except in and around Calcutta, I had virtually no presence on the concert platform. My primary access to audiences at large was through my broadcasts over All India Radio's local (medium wave) station. But, in those days, Calcutta radio was received avidly, even if faintly, by serious music lovers from all over the country. Were it not for All India Radio, I would have died unknown.

I had started performing over the radio in 1949, at the age of sixteen. In 1961, when I was twenty-eight, I got my first booking for the National Programme of Music broadcast live from Delhi, on Saturday nights, and relayed nationally over all stations. In a year, a maximum of twenty-six Hindustani musicians, including the dead, get this honor.

This momentous opportunity almost eluded me. I was, at that time, in charge of shift operations. On the eve of my departure for Delhi, there was a breakdown at the power station. An absence of twenty-four hours even over a weekend could not be permitted. My colleagues explained to my English boss my caliber as a musician and the magnitude of the opportunity and the honor. I made it to the airport just in time.

Walking the tight rope
My entire musical journey has been a story of walking the tight rope between my profession and my passion. Only after 55 am I giving to music what it has always deserved. The economic security of my profession has enabled me to remain faithful to my musical heritage, and to resist pandering to the popular taste. But, in the process, my music has been deprived of something -- I wish I knew what.

(c) Deepak S. Raja, 2000
The finest recordings of Buddhadev Dasgupta have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd.New York.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Raga Madhuvanti: Multani's cousin

Madhuvanti is a popular pre-sunset raga. Though it is possibly a raga of considerable antiquityl, its present nomenclature could be of recent origin. The raga is audava (pentatonic) in the ascent and sampoorna (heptatonic) in the descent. Although the raga is not encountered in the Thumree genre, it has a lyrical and poignant mood, which has given it limited entry into other romanticist and even popular genres.

Ascent: N. S g M^ P N S’/ Descent: S’ N D P M^ g R S.

The raga is allied to Multani, which has an identical ascent, but differs in the descent. Multani uses komal (flat) Dh and Re in the descent instead of the shuddha (natural) Re/ Dh used in Madhuvanti. In addition to using different pitches of Re and Dh, Multani intones them subliminally, while Madhuvanti deploys them explicitly, and often even emphatically. Despite this, authorities acknowledge that Madhuvanti does possess a “Multani facet”. This facet surfaces in the descent when the two discriminants are either underplayed or skipped altogether. Their occasional omission or suppression is, evidently, considered legitimate. To this extent, the raga suffers no damage by the sporadic use of ambivalent phrasing.

Authorities consider Ma^ and Sa to be the vadi-samvadi pair (primary and secondary dominants) of the raga. Being pivotal, the vadi deserves greater attention. Though the vadi concept has never been satisfactorily defined from an empirical-analytical standpoint, Tivra Ma is a rare swara in the role.. A vadi swara is understood to represent the melodic personality of the raga. It is normally the swara on which the raga’s crucial phrases culminate most frequently and/or most emphatically. Mukhda-s of bandish-es in the raga also tend often to culminate on the vadi swara. In this sense, Tivra (sharp) Ma is an unlikely vadi for any raga because of its uniquely anxiety-laden psycho-acoustics, and rare usage as a terminal point for phrasing.

It can, however, qualify as a vadi in a probabilistic sense of being the most frequently intoned swara of a rendition. This condition would be met if the raga is rendered with its center of gravity in the madhyanga (mid-octave region). This alternative interpretation of the vadi is tricky because such a vadi could have to compete with another “vadi”, which gets defined as the most frequent and emphatic terminal point of phrasing. The vadi status of tivra Ma in Madhuvanti is precarious because it cannot leap out of the rendition as a vadi is expected to do, and might thus get subdued by some other swara which may do so.

Madhuvanti recordings of Shivkumar Sharma, Jasraj, Bismillah Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Ravi Shankar, Rashid Khan, LK Pandit, and Hafeez Ahmed Khan, were reviewed for clarity on this issue.

Ravi Shankar, Bhimsen Joshi, and LK Pandit allow Re to perform an important role in the rendition. However, they make a special effort to emphasise the probable vadi status of tivra Ma, and also maintain the raga’s center of gravity in the mid-octave region. In fact, all of them also invest considerable melodic effort in using Tivra Ma as a terminal point for phrasing, exploiting its heart-rending character. In the renditions of these three, one also notices a highlighting of Dh, the second important discriminator between Multani and Madhuvanti. Hafeez Ahmed glosses over the importance of tivra Ma, but is equally emphatic about Dh. Bismillah Khan’s Jhaptal bandish (accompanied by Bageshwari Qamar), opening with the sam on tivra (sharp) Ma suggests the special status of this swara. A painstaking, deliberate, effort at the melodic exploitation of tivra Ma is, however, not evident in Bismillah’s recording.

In Shivkumar Sharma’s recording, Re and (komal) Ga are given considerable importance, without any obvious effort to emphasise Ma as the probable vadi. The Jasraj rendering is a liberal, romanticist, interpretation of the raga, underplays the two discriminants between Multani and Madhuvanti (Re and Dh) rather generously, and even allows shades of Piloo to drift and out of Madhuvanti. In his interpretation, the documented vadi swara of the raga (Ma^) does not emerge even as a probable vadi. Rashid Khan’s Madhuvanti underplays Re as well as tivra Ma, but appears to highlight Ni. Despite these features of a rendition romanticist in its demeanour, his rendition preserves the melodic identity of Madhuvanti well within its recognizable boundaries.

From this evidence, it appears that musicians of the senior (70 +) generation pay considerable attention to the importance of Tivra Ma, while the younger generations do not consistently to do so. For the majority of musicians, Re is a favoured and emphatic terminal point of phrasing probably because it is an unequivocal discriminator between Madhuvanti and Multani, and because, unlike tivra Ma, it delivers a release of aesthetic tension. The discriminator role of Re becomes even more critical considering that Multani and Madhuvanti share a bias towards Tivra Ma. These factors have affixed the melodic focus of the raga in the poorvanga, and made Re and Tivra Ma partners in establishing the melodic personality of the raga.

Interestingly, Girija Devi described Madhuvanti as an “orphan” raga which had no parents (vadi-samvadi), and whose soul lay in its Tivra Ma (conversation with your commentator February 24, 2004). With a debatable vadi and an unidentifiable samvadi, Madhuvanti may be a case of raga-ness being sustained by its phraseology, relying substantially on looped phrases.

Chalan: (Skeletal phraseology): S N. S/ M^ g R S R S/ M^ g P M/ g M^ g P or M^ g M^ P/ P M^ D D P/ g M^ P N/ N S’/ P N S’ g’ R’ S”/ R’ N S’ D P/ D M^ P g/ M^ P g R S R/ N. S

This phraseology redefines the scale of the raga as a pattern of descending pairs of swara-s in the ascent and ascending pairs of swara-s in the descent. Placed in sequence, the ascent and the descent acquire a hopping character. This approach is apparent in the manner in which Bhimsen Joshi, Ravi Shankar, and even Girija Devi have treated the raga. Based on their treatment, a redefined scale for Madhuvanti, would read as follows:

Ascent: S N. G S M^ g P M^ D P N D S N R’ S/ Descent: N S’ D N P D M^ P g M^ S R N. S.

Interestingly, this approach could have the effect of focusing the rendition of Madhuvanti in the mid-octave region, and sharpening the psycho-acoustic impact of tivra Ma, the theoretical vadi of the raga.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd., New York
The finest recordings of raga Mahuvanti have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Ashwini Bhide Deshpande – “I am happy with being just a good musician”

Ashwini spoke to Deepak Raja on September 9, 2000, and August 13, 2001

In my family, we studied music just as we studied mathematics, grammar, science, history and geography. Only the schools were different. Ever since I can recall, Narayanrao Datar, a vocalist of the Vishnu Digambar [Gwalior] tradition came home three times a week. My grandmother would take the first lesson from him; thereafter, my mother would take hers, and I would sit last. That was the routine. Over and above this, all family members, my parents included, were enrolled at the Maharashtra Music School where we attended classes thrice a week.

With this training, I passed the Sangeet Visharad when I was 16. At that stage, I had no idea about the depth of our music, or what “gharanedar music” [music as performed by vocalists of the established stylistic lineages] was, or about the journey upon which I had embarked. Had the world of music not encouraged me as generously as it did in later years, I might never have become a professional musician.

Around that time, we also shifted to a different part of Bombay. Datar’s home tuitions ceased, and my mother, Manik Bhide, started guiding me. By that time, she had been a disciple of Kishori Amonkar for over a decade, and had pursued intensive training with her, with several hours of training every day of the year.

After I completed my high school at the age of 16, I was encouraged to enter the All India Radio Competition. A few months before the contest, I had a serious illness, and feared not being able to compete. At that stage, my mother took charge of the situation. For the next two months, she hammered my music, and my confidence, into shape for the competition. I topped the competition; but in retrospect, that was a minor pay-off. Those two months transformed me totally – as a person and as a musician. For the first time, I sensed the majesty of stylised vocalism, and realised that what I knew was not even a tip of the iceberg. From then onwards, music became an important direction.

Until my marriage, my mother trained me with ruthless discipline. Along with this, I was pursuing my academic career, going through postgraduate studies in Microbiology, and working towards my doctorate at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. After marriage, I have continued to train with my mother, albeit with a declining frequency as my family and career have begun to claim an increasing proportion of my time.

In 1995, my mother wanted me to deepen my understanding of ragas as performed in our gharana. She persuaded Ratnakar Pai, a senior musician of the Jaipur-Atrauli tradition, to guide me. Pai Buwa [a term of respect for the elderly] is an exceptional musical mind, with amazing clarity about the melodic contours of ragas and the subtle distinctions between them. Being advanced in years, he cannot provide intensive training. He therefore teaches me compositions in different ragas, and I imbibe their melodic subtleties through them.

The use of pre-composed material as the main teaching device is well established [in Hindustani music]. It is especially important in our gharana because it is Dhrupad-based. Its musical wisdom is built into our compositions. But, as I found out after beginning training with Pai Buwa, our view of the composition as a repository of the raga form goes well beyond the Dhrupad notion. The Dhrupad view is that a composition is a comprehensive melodic map of the raga form, and of the literary content. In the Jaipur-Atrauli tradition, each composition is treated almost like a raga. Conceptually, we do not perform a raga; we perform a composition. The pre-composed shell of each composition emphasises a particular facet of the raga. That facet must also dominate the improvisations undertaken in its presentation. This is why different Khayals of our gharana in the same raga, when performed, can create the illusion of being in different ragas.

This approach to transmitting the tradition also has another advantage. Khayal permits us certain freedoms, which are inconceivable in Dhrupad. And, Alladiya Khan utilised these freedoms to make the transition from Dagarvani Dhrupad to our style of Khayal singing. According to Pai Buwa, our Khayals are not intended, specifically, for performance in any particular tala or even at a particular tempo. They can be sung in any tala, and at any tempo. Mastering the Khayals in their excruciating detail is sufficient training for us to adapt them to different rhythmic formats.

Considering the present stage in my life, and his, Pai Buwa’s training does occasionally throw up unresolved aesthetic conflicts. There are, indeed, several ragas on which Pai Buwa and my mother differ. This is natural because Pai Buwa and my mother were taught by different Gurus, though from the same gharana. On account of such differences, I have dropped certain ragas from my repertoire. I will let my aesthetic convictions decide when, if ever, I should start performing them again.

Other influences on my music have been Pandit Ravi Shankar and Kumar Gandharva. As a young girl, I was involved with a couple of projects of Panditji. During that period, his approach to music, with its explicit rhythmicality, made a deep impact on me. Amongst vocalists, Kumarji was a hot favourite in my father’s home. Every recording of his was actively discussed by the family. From this influence, I probably acquired a special feel for the poetry as a musical element, and the variations of timbre, which discerning listeners have observed in my singing.

The overwhelming influence on my singing has undoubtedly been my mother. Contrary to popular belief, I have never studied directly with Kishori Tai [term of respect, meaning elder sister]. I have always been my mother’s disciple, and have acquired Kishori Amonkar’s training through her. The most important value I have acquired from it is the insight into the systematic unfolding of the raga, of revealing every single strand in the warp and weft of its fabric. This, I believe, is Kishori Tai’s most significant contribution.

It does not bother me if my music is compared to Kishori Tai’s in minor respects too. For one, I am proud to belong to this distinguished lineage. Secondly, neither originality, nor gharana purity, can possibly have the same meaning today as they did half a century ago. We no longer live in a world where we can insulate ourselves totally from the dominant influences of our times emanating outside our gharana. It is no longer possible to be either your Guru’s replica, or a totally original musician. We start with something we inherit, keep absorbing other influences, and shape our individuality as we go along. What matters ultimately is how we put it all together.

I don’t know if I am the most successful, or the finest, vocalist of my generation. Success is like the morning dew. It lasts only as long as it lasts. You realise this even more acutely when you are a woman. A woman goes through so many physical and emotional changes through her life, that she can never really take her grip over her voice and her music for granted. Life for us is a constant struggle against these changes. But, there’s no reliable method for controlling their impact, and also no way of predicting how each transition will affect our performing capability.

As a professional musician, you cannot get attached to success in any case. Competition is a reality, and good for us. At least four or five of us [female vocalists in the plus/minus forty age-group] have a reasonable following; we are all working hard at our music; and none of us is complacent. In today’s environment, there is, of course, much more to being a successful musician than just being an excellent musician. But, I am not too concerned about what that “much more” might be, because I don’t need success that desperately. I am happy with being just a good musician.

© Deepak S. Raja. 2001
Read a detailed profile of the artist in: "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change" . The finest recordings of Ashwini Bhide Deshpande have been produced by
India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Karlheinz Stockhausen on music

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was a genius who redefined music . He is regarded as the most daringly original (Western music) composer to have emerged in the latter half of the 20th century. He has written an astonishing variety of music, leading the way to the exploration of electronic music, intuitive music, and the synthesis of a wide range of musical cultures. I present below a few excerpts from his book: “Towards a cosmic music”, a selection of conversations and interviews, which reveals the philosophy that underlies his growth as a composer, performer, and musical innovator.

“I have found that what I am trying to do in my music, has been better expressed than I could express it myself, in the books by the Indian Maharishi Aurobindo. His work will shape the whole new Age of Aquarius.”

“Pop musicians try to respond to the desire for kicks that every generation wants to have in its own way. And, then, naturally they are not aware of what all these new sound combinations and discoveries are for; so they fall back on very banal militaristic music. Yes, militaristic – because it is based on this periodic beat, which makes people march without knowing. And, so they become uniform. I am very sensitive to this because that was exactly the way the Nazis tuned in the population with marching music on the radio…”

“When a musician walks on stage, he should give that fabulous impression of a person who is doing a sacred service. In India, in Bali, when a group of musicians are performing, you don’t feel they do it to entertain you. They do it as holy service. They feel a need to make sounds, and these sounds are waves on which you ride to the eternal.”

“If they (musicians) bring an atmosphere of peaceful spiritual work to a society that is under so much strain from being controlled by technical and commercial forces – that is their social function. They would bring this sacred atmosphere that people can no longer find in their daily work. That is their function, rather than being entertainers, and killing time for people who want to escape from their problems. Musicians should bring them to the essential, and more than anyone else, musicians can do that, because they are the only artistes who can create in front of other people. Poets don’t do it. Painters don’t do it. They work at home.”

Reproduced from: Stockhausen, Karlheinz. “Towards a cosmic music”, Element Books Ltd., Shaftsbury, Dorset, UK, 1989.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Yashwant Buwa Joshi – “The basic requirement of music is a magical quality called “Rang”

Yashwant Buwa spoke to Deepak Raja on June 5, 2003

I was born and brought up in Pune. My father operated a couple of cabs in the city. He was untrained in music, but had a lovely voice and sang devotional songs very well. That is all I can claim by way of a family background in music. It was my uncle, Govardhan Buwa Naik, who was responsible for pushing me in this direction. He was an alumnus of the first batch (1901) of Vishnu Digambar’s Gandharva Mahavidyalaya (Music College) in Lahore under a nine-year apprenticeship in music. The only explanation for his having gone there was that lodging, boarding, and training were free. That was my grandfather’s way of ensuring that his family could survive on his income. Govardhan Buwa could not sing, but became a competent player on the Harmonium, Tabla and Dilruba (a short-necked, fretted, lute of the bowed variety). So, after graduating, he started a music school in Bombay. Because he had no children, he was keen that I should train as a musician and take over its management after him.

At my sacred thread ceremony, which took place when I was nine, my uncle invited the famous vocalist, Mirashi Buwa (Yashwant Sadashiv Mirashi). My uncle’s Guru, Vishnu Digambar, and Mirashi Buwa had studied together under Balkrishna Buwa Ichalkaranjikar. My uncle and Mirashi Buwa thus belonged to a close-knit gharana fraternity. Mirashi Buwa had just moved to Pune from Nashik, after serving a leading theatre company for 24 years. Over lunch, my uncle requested the stalwart to teach me, and he agreed. This is how it started. Every single day, after returning from school, I would go to Mirashi Buwa’s house and learn music. As luck would have it, my uncle died within a year of my starting music lessons. There was no longer a ready business awaiting me. But, I continued studying music.

The relationship was in the traditional mould, the only difference being that I continued to live with my parents. I paid no fees, and spent all my time – other than school – with my Guru. Initially, the teaching was by the “direct method” – reproducing what the Guru sings. No questions were to be asked. No logic was to be understood. Despite this, within five years, I found myself so intoxicated with music that I could no longer concentrate on my studies. So, four years short of graduation, I quit school in favour of music.

Making a living
My training with Mirashi Buwa continued for 12 years. By this time, I was 21, and had to start making a living. Music was all I knew. Those were difficult days for musicians, particularly in Pune. I spent a whole year contemplating my course of action. My childhood friend, and neighbour from Pune, Ram Marathe, was by now in Bombay, making some headway as a professional singer. So, in 1950, I decided to take on the world with his helping hand. Though I had no experience, the only path open to me was teaching music. Fees were poor in those days. Each student would pay Rs. 10 or 15 per month. With great difficulty, I earned about Rs. 50 a month. But, living was cheap – my monthly food bill was Rs. 30 -- I managed. Though I did not ultimately inherit a music school, teaching was evidently my destiny anyway. For over 50 years now, I have been teaching. I must have, by now, taught over 125 students. Several have become successful vocalists. Some are just making a living as music teachers. Some pursue other professions and enjoy music as a hobby. And, many have merged into the faceless audience of Hindustani music.

Moving to Bombay widened my horizons. Soon after I moved, Jagannath Buwa Purohit moved into our locality. I was greatly attracted to his style. So, I studied with him for about six years. In the same spirit, I studied with KG Ginde, SCR Bhat, Nivrutti Buwa Sarnaik, Master Krishnarao Phulambrikar, Mallikarjun Mansoor, and the Natyasangeet singer, Chhota Gandharva. In my childhood, I had heard Ramkrishna Buwa Vaze, and his style had made a deep impact on me. So, in my singing, you will find the glimpses of each of these stalwarts.

The philosophy of music
I am conservative, but not orthodox. I have a strong foundation laid in the Gwalior style. But, I was never a prisoner of the gharana. I sought out every musician whose style attracted me, and learnt from him what I could. Jagannath Buwa often told me that the basic requirement of music is that magical quality called “Rang” (literally: colour). As a quality in music, “Rang” transcends considerations of voice quality, grammar and communication of rasa (emotional content). Public appeal is not my yardstick for validating my music. I will not sacrifice the dignity of my art to charm audiences. I will not, for instance, make a Thumree out of a Khayal, or start singing with my body. But, an artist cannot be a mere scientist. If he wants to command an audience and also command respect, he has to strike the tricky balance between the sanctity of art and the listening pleasure of audiences. If he cannot do this, he can remain a teacher.

My recordings have been in the market for several years. I have been performing on the radio since 1946, and also broadcast two National Programmes over All India Radio. And, for a long time, nobody noticed. In the last ten years, people suddenly realised that Yashwant Buwa can also sing. Today, I have admirers not only in our home state of Maharashtra, but also in Calcutta, Delhi and a few other cities. Several institutions have bestowed honours on me for my services as a teacher and performer. At 75, I can still hold an audience for two hours. I have no regrets. But, had recognition come when I was younger, people would have heard better music from me.

The pursuit of music – then and now
Our times were tough. The status of musicians in society was low. There was no support for music either from government or from private benefactors or institutions. There was no ‘career’ in music, except for the greatest. Audiences were small. The Guru was the only source of musical inputs for students. There was radio, and there was the gramophone; but not many people could afford either. There were concerts; but mainly for invited audiences.

To begin with, finding a Guru was tough. We did not pay fees, but rendered all manner of services in lieu of training. The relationship was totally one-sided, and often oppressive. He taught the way he wanted to, and there was no appeal against it. There was no notation, no possibility of recording training sessions, no grammar, no logic. You could encounter musicians who could sing a raga very well, but go blank if you asked them the scale of the raga. Learning was primarily by reproducing what the Guru sang. From studying music, to making a career, it was struggle, struggle, and struggle. The positive aspect of this was that, because of the price they had paid for their success, the survivors conducted themselves, and practiced their art, with dignity. They treated that passage between the stage and the audiences as sacred.

The situation today is exactly the reverse. Anyone can learn music if he can afford it. Good Gurus are, of course, more scarce than they were in our times, and locating them can take a lot of trial and error. Recorded music is so accessible that it is possible to become a reasonable vocalist even without a Guru. The relationship between the Guru and his disciple is now a commercial one. A student can demand an explanation of the logic and get it. He can record training sessions for revision. Career opportunities are plenty, and the money is good for the successful. Society, government, and institutions encourage music.

Most important is the emergence of a market, with audiences willing to pay for music. For creating a substantial class of connoisseurs, we have to thank the educational efforts of the two giants, Bhatkhande and Vishnu Digambar, and their followers. Glamour and money have now made music a rat race that everyone with half a chance wants to join. The journey is still tough. But, it is a struggle, which takes the dignity of the art as its first casualty. It makes art cross the frontier between the musician and the audience to plunge into pockets. And, yes, many bright kids now get money and fame ahead of maturity, get bloated heads, stagnate, and fall by the wayside. The demands of success are changing, as they inevitably will. Despite these anxieties, I am optimistic about Hindustani music for several reasons – today’s kids are intelligent and talented, studying music is no longer difficult, and there are ample opportunities for building a career in it.

(c) Deepak S. Raja 2003

Read a detailed profile of the artist in: "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change".
The finest recordings of Yashwant Buwa Joshi have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Lyle Wachovsky's introduction to "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change"

Deepak Raja's second book is a comprehensive study of khayal vocalism through the stylistic analysis of nineteen contemporary vocalists. It is informed by the concept of "continuity within change", an approach which embraces "style" as the confluence of traditional gharana stylistics, contemporary non-gharana based stylistics and each artist's individual stylistic contribution.

"Continuity within change" is thus seen as an essential underpinning and strength of all Hindustani classical music, not just vocal music, and to a great extent responsible for its vitality and continued enjoyment by successive generations. The expansiveness and thoroughness of Mr. Raja's investigations are immediately apparent as he lays out the parameters of khayal vocalism drawing on notable scholarly sources to further document his analysis and make the case for his view of the elements that constitute khayal vocal style. With similar attention to detail, Mr. Raja provides an overview of the stylistics of each gharana intimately tied in with the crystalization of each gharana's style by the music of the seminal artist of each gharana, before delving into the analysis of individual contemporary artists.

Seriousness of intent and comprehensiveness are to be expected, and as noted above, Mr. Raja has more than fulfilled expectations. But, the presentation of an incisive method of analysis coupled with clarity of vision in its use, is rare. Mr. Raja has always had a special interest in the presentation structure of khayal vocalism. He has developed and expounds a critical approach based on the metaphor of architecture and uses it to great effect in his analyses, first identifying and delineating the basic khayal structures in use and then, after distinguishing sculpture (the shape of a phrase) from its ornamentation, goes on to make a critical assessment of their usage.

Writing on vocalists from both unique and varied stylistic backgrounds, Mr. Raja shows his method to be a valuable analytical tool applicable to all of them as a means of identification and comparison. This is a concise, well-considered methodology of comparative analysis, the brilliance of which is that its simplicity of application generates extensive results.

Equally valuable and fascinating, are Mr. Raja's interviews with the artists: he has a facility for extracting from each artist an intimate and revealing portrait in words. These interviews together with the stylistic/structural analyses provide an unparalleled and integrated overview of each artist's life and musical life as a khayal vocalist, and of the state of contemporary khayal.

It is personally gratifying to me that I was in the position to nurture the development of Mr. Raja's thoughts on the various aspects of khayal music into a cohesive and integrated critical assessment of khayal vocalism and khayal vocalists. I am particulalry pleased that Mr. Raja has been able the extrapolate so much from the diverse group of vocalists that I have chosen to record, a group that does not include many of the most famous names, but does include a fair share of less-known and virtually unknown artists.

Artistry of a high order and thoughtful individuality mark both the artists examined and the resulting examination.There is nothing quite like this wonderful book in my experience of Indian classical music analysis.

Lyle Wachovsky
India Archive Music Ltd. New York
August 7, 2008