Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Yaman needs no introduction. Check out one of the most intense renditions of Yaman by none other than Ustad Amir Khan. It is astonishingly simple, but beautiful. I have a bias for Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, but this has the potential to be the most favorite Yaman of the unbiased.
1. Vilambit in Jhumra Tala (his favorite :)) (43'21)
2. Drut in Teentala (11'11)
Accompanied on the harmonium by Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghosh, and on the Tabla by Pandit Gobinda Bose.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
As you may know, the krithi is the fundamental unit in a Carnatic musician's repertoire. The most common structure of a krithi is 2 lines of a pallavi, 2 lines of anupallavi, and 4 lines of charanam. The first line of a pallavi acts as a refrain, and is repeated after the anupallavi and charanam; on some occasions the entire pallavi is repeated. Each line of a krithi has a basic melodic structure given by the composer, but each school (and indeed each musician) may add different kinds of gamakams & improvisations to the lines in their renditions; these are usually built up from simple to complex. The basic melodic structure of a krithi determines to a large extent what kinds of gamakams can be sung on it; some krithis sound fine when performed by your average talented 12 year old, some others can be unbearable. Those others are also often the ones that offer the greatest scope for beautiful gamakams, and the Kamalambam Navavarna krithis fall into this category.
The Kamalambam Navavarna krithis are a series of 11 krithis composed on the goddess Kamalamba at Tiruvarur, by Dikshitar. (All of the krithis that I know of are devotional in nature.) All 11 of the krithis performed by D.K.Jayaraman are available as MP3s on the Carnatic Krithi Archive (scroll down a bit, look for the last file on each line: "original mp3"). They are in each in a different ragam, and a few different talams are used. Many of these ragams are "major", turning up regularly in concerts as main/sub-main pieces, e.g. Thodi (Hindustani: Bhairavi), Kalyani (Hindustani: Yaman), Sankarabharanam (Hindustani: Bilawal?), Ananda Bhairavi, Kambhoji, Bhairavi (I don't know the equivalents of these). The Carnatica website has a lot of detail on the beauty and complexity of the lyrics, but I've never really paid attention there.
The music, however, is brilliant. They are wonderful to listen to, over and over again, because their elucidation of the ragas -- at least in the ragas that I know -- is so very broad and complex. They are all also slow, majestic krithis, giving ample scope for each line of teachers to add a non-trivial stamp to their rendition of it. In the Kalyani krithi for example (the only one I can claim to have learnt), the T.V.Sankaranarayanan version here sounds to me nothing like what I learnt (the song itself goes from 4.50 to 10.05, the rest is an alapanai before and kalpanaswaras after), whereas the DKJ version above is a tiny bit closer, and the version by U.Shrinivas on the mandolin here seems a lot closer (song from 6.12 to 10.12).
I've never heard them performed all together, though a search shows that there are a few such concerts: usually, one krithi gets chosen as the main/sub-main piece of the evening, and performed independently. In fact, I've never heard the last few performed at all (but then I didn't grow up in India.) And because these krithis are so demanding, I can't imagine how it would be to perform them all together.
In the meantime, that's what recordings are for... I highly recommend listening to them, and of course, I'd love to hear your thoughts :)
Friday, October 27, 2006
Pandit Bhatkhande's book categorizes the Raga to the Vilawal that, as Rajan Parrikar's website corroborates. The vadi swar is Gandhar, and samvadi is Nishad, aptly so, because the meends involving these notes form the marrow of the Raga. Another noticeable facet is the sensual use of both Madhyams. The use of the Teevra Madhyam and its distribution with respect to the Shuddha variety appears to be different in different rendition styles.
I have heard many recordings of the Raga. Since I am inclined to the Kirana Gharana a little bit, I would start by mentioning Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Smt. Gangubai Hangal's renditions of the Raga. Both of their readily available tapes start with the Vilambit bandish "Kaise Sukha Sove", which is very popular, and indeed a very beautiful one. I don't remember Smt. Hangal's drut bandish, and commenters are most welcome to remind me of it. However, I do remember Joshiji's drut, "Lat Ulajhi Suljha ja Balam", which is one of the sweetest drut bandishes I have heard. I have a recording of Ashwini Bhide Deshpande singing the same bandish, and it is quite attractive. Rashid Khan's performance of the Raga is amazing, and I keep on listening to it very frequently. There's a long recording of Pandit Ravi Shankar, which is amazing, and is played with his idiosyncratic style of playing the Sitar. I am listening to more of him these days. Pandit Ranadhir Roy's recording of Bihag is again, one of the better performances when instrumental renditions are concerned. He is just astonishing like his recordings of Tilak Kalyan and Jaijawanti that have been mentioned on this blog earlier.
I am looking for renditions of two Bihag bandishes that I learnt, but have not heard in recordings or concerts. The first one is a Madhyalaya bandish in Rupak Tala called "Aaye Sab Mile", a Sufi kind of bandish, which is a prayer for the saint Khwaja Mainuddin Chisti and has some interesting words. It says:
Khwaja Mainuddin, Garib Nawaj.
Chisti Peer Tum
Hind ke Bali Ho
Puri Karo Sab Man ki Kaaj
and there's immense scope of Laykari in it because of the Rupak setting. There's another bandish called "Chhup Jaa Re Chandni Raat", which typifies the Bihag-ish feeling, and portrays the Viraha that Bihag's a trademark of.
Two cents from my side. Contributors of this blog certainly have more to say. You are welcome to continue this post, so are the readers of the blog.
Friday, April 21, 2006
My guruji has recently embarked on a project to help young and less known artists reach the mass who listen to Hindustani Classical Music. Though recent acquaintances made over the internet show rays of hope, I still believe HCM is a dying art. Moreover, the handful of people who do listen to Classical Music, listen to a small number of artists only.
They are both ignorant about the fraction of the past glory that exist in rare recordings, as well as the upcoming generation who might possess some promise. Well, we cannot do much about the heritage other than digitizing the recordings and labeling them with format MPEG II/Layer3.
Those who keep up with the core circles (primarily in Calcutta) and want to make a living by doing music only, are facing a challenge. I can hardly name more than two vocalists who have shown promise in the public sense during the past decade. People aren't eager to take up music as a career very easily. I cite one case at hand. I have met quite a few people over the past decade while taking lessons from my guruji. He, and people around had hopes. A few left music, some came to the US to pursue grad studies. The less brighter still continue taking lessons. Some people who have taken the risk are on their way to oblivion due to lobbying, politics and big organizations like the SRA who have not served the purpose that they were set up for.
My guruji and a few of his friends have started this organization that would focus on bringing unknown talents on stage. I am not sure about it's future, but it shows courage. Some hope too. Here's its vision.
‘Dithi’ is an organization born primarily out of love and admiration for Indian Classical Music. ‘Dithi’ embodies a vision. Staying within the bounds of our music, ‘Dithi’ aims at celebrating its magnificence, rediscovering its depths and reveling in its intricacies.
Even today, we get to hear good music from many who have not had their share of recognition. The promise of talent and good music is all that ‘Dithi’ rests its hope upon. It must be interpreted as an attempt to reaffirm our faith in the expanse and the future of Indian Classical Music. In its own humble ways, it desires to explore the possibilities that await our music. It desires to look beyond the apparent horizon of our music.
Perhaps, in course of time, ‘Dithi’ will make us look beyond, but not without your help. ‘Dithi’ needs the material and moral support of the lovers of Indian Classical Music. It cannot take a single step forward unless your advice, inspiration and patronage spur it on. It is your presence that it calls out for. It is your hand that its vision seeks. ‘Dithi’ needs you. On behalf of ‘Dithi’, we send an appeal out to all of you. We request you to come forward – we request you to make a success out of Dithi’s imperfect beginnings.
A couple of days ago, the inaugural concert of this community was held at the Birla Academy on the Southern Avenue. Though it aims at fostering the young talent, the first concert hosted a recital by the veteran Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta, maestro of the lineage of Ustad Murad Ali Khan, Ustad Mohammad Ameer Khan and Pandit Radhika Mohan Maitra, doyens of the Rampur Senia Gharana. I have heard that the concert was a success and witnessed the presence of a few stars like Ustad Rashid Khan.
I appeal to young and old, and the few readers I have left to be a member of this community and help forward this heritage of our country. The annual membership fee is Rs. 250, that translates to about $6. If you are eager to be a part of this process, please comment. Otherwise too, comments are welcome.
Cross posted on fflush(stdthoughts);, my personal blog.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
The story goes thus: When I was little (I don’t remember how little, of course); my dad used to play these few cassettes, out of which, I felt, a few stood out. And in them, were these recordings of patriotic songs by Calcutta Youth Choir, musically directed and arranged by Salil Chowdhury. Of course, there were other albums which I listened to over and over again; most prominently, Richard Clayderman In concert, Music of an Arabian Night by Ron Goodwin, and of course, The ultimate classical collection. The last three are musical genres which most people would be familiar with, if not in love with. However, I have spent the last couple of weeks, exploring, re-discovering and realizing the amazing genius of Salil Chowdhury.
It all started in Tokyo, as I was surfing the net till the wee hours of the morning, when I stumbled upon this site: http://salilda.com, and I realized the treasures which it contained. The song I started with is called O Alor PathaJatri, a choral song about new beginnings and a time of hope. I don’t remember exactly when it was written or what the basis of the lyrics are (they are a bit too profound for my limited Bengali knowledge); but the moment I listened to it, I fell in love with it all over again. Harmony, melody and orchestration is molded together in a tapestry which is tough to comprehend at times, but which endears itself to you, whatever your language is, whatever your musical tastes are.
Salil Chowdhury was a musician, deft in both Indian and Western Classical (as were his contemporaries); but what irks me is the fact that politics in the Indian Music Fraternity at the time when he was at his best never let him reach the heights of popularity that he should have. Then again, his music was never really popular music. At some level, you probably really need to appreciate the subtle intermingling of harmony and melody to appreciate music of that kind. Melody is something that seems of little importance nowadays, as is evident from the kind of popularity a monkey like Himesh Reshmiyaa enjoys; and I guess this post does not make sense in these troubled times.
The only thing that does make sense is that, at some level we all want our music to be affectionate, understanding, and most of all, we want it to make us smile. Salil Chowdhury’s music has done that and much more for me over the past few days. I hope to keep rediscovering new joys in his compositions. The site is vast, and I have just about managed to go through half of it. Later posts will deal with individual musical compositions, and their innate beauty…
Thursday, April 06, 2006
I have seen cats respond to Hindustani classical music in real life. In the words of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, with Bhimpalasri (or Bhimpalasi), "you can make the animals cry with this rag." It is set for the late afternoon, and evokes "devotion, pathos, joy." What could best describe the effect of sound on the soul of a living being? With the true universal nature of music, does it make sense to claim some form as mine and not yours.
PS: This post was inspired by this site that I happened to come across recently. Kindly note the play of words in the definitions.
Padmavati Shaligram, 87-year-young doyenne of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, performed at the ITC-SRA Sangeet Sammelan last November. I know certain readers have reservations about this institution, but there's no disputing the fact that they have excellent concerts and put some very fine stuff online. So do check out the videos of this still amazing singer -- Nand (the traditional favourite "E bari sainyan sakala bana bana ke"), Jaijayanti ("Kahiye sakhi shyam sundar so"), Pilu and Pahadi. Listen to those pinpoint, soaring aakar taans and remind yourself (possibly with some difficulty) that this lady has spent seventy-five years on the stage.
In my last years of school, our house got an extension and I got the resulting room on the roof. I had scrounged up enough cash from birthday money et al to buy a cheapo double-deck music system, and that sustained me for many many solitary hours. There used to be this radio programme on Monday mornings which played classical songs and popular numbers based on them -- and it had this incredibly irritating host whose voice I couldn't stand. So after recording everything I used to painstakingly clip out just the track announcements and join them with the songs themselves. If you've never done deck-to-deck editing of raw radio recordings (or physically transferred entire reels from one cassette shell to another) you haven't lived :). There were also a couple of boxes of gramophone records and a cranky player with speakers which frequently had to be banged hard to stop a strange humming noise whose provenance I have yet to discover.
After long evenings usefully spent examining the ceiling of that room, Padmavati's Nand was pretty much my standard bedtime music. Switch off the lights, turn it on, wait for oblivion. The voice has lost a little of its mellifluity now, but who's complaining?
Abhishek Singh of UIUC recently sent me a recording of Ulhas Kashalkar singing Nat Kamod at a SPIC-MACAY concert at Urbana-Champaign in 2004. Ulhas also sang Kaushi Kanada, Shankara, Kafi, Desh and Bhairavi that night, but the Nat Kamod is the piece de resistance, and brought back so many memories. The classic bandish "Nevar baju re" with its dramatic octave-spanning gamak leading up to the sam has seen many great renditions in the past. Laxmibai Jadhav's drut version is busy, sparky, with little pause for thought. Mallikarjun Mansur takes a more relaxed approach, his trademark gamak-laced bol-taans highlighting the region around the sam. Kesarbai Kerkar produces probably the classic rendition, a masterpiece of warm, fluid waves of sound washing over one another with the nyas on individual notes and the prolonged aakaar taans going just that little bit further than seems humanly possible. Ulhas' version follows the Kesarbai mould, not quite in the same class but seeking the same sense of delayed climax and drawn-out, modulated sentiment (he also has a very pretty drut, "Sachi kaho tum", but let that pass).
But the rendition that sticks in my mind most is from the Agra fold, by Sharafat Hussain Khan. I first heard it on a tape of the AIR National Programme broadcast a week after Sharafat's death in 1985, sandwiched between, I think, a Kafi Kanada and a Khamaj thumri (the classic "Na manoongi"). I have never heard anything to equal his attack on the sam in this bandish: the andolan on the word "nevar" has to be heard to be believed. And really, other than maybe Faiyyaz Khan himself, only Sharafat could have pulled it off without reducing it to machine-gun chatter. It's been a long time since I heard that version, locked away on a cassette at home, and my current three minute mp3 is probably a different recording.
Here's a link to the Kesarbai version, if anyone's interested.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
On January 27, 1986, the world lost one of its finest musicians at the young age of 54. Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, the quiet, unassuming sitar virtuoso, passed away two days after he had played Darbari Kanada and Hemant at the Dover Lane Music Conference in Calcutta despite severe illness. It was his younger daughter Debdatta's birthday -- a relative had arrived with a cake for the little girl. Panditji got up to greet the guest and collapsed immediately. The fingers that he had punished into unreal command over his instrument would glide over it no more.
"Mr. Banerjee", as he liked to be called, was a musician's musician. Uncompromising in his performances, he brought to the stage an unparalleled level of commitment, focus and tayyari (preparation). His leisurely alaaps, elaborate gatkari and blinding taans have rarely been equalled. But he also maintained a strongly individual presence, distinct from his illustrious contemporaries Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Vilayat Khan. In the words of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan:
"The style of alaap of our gharana -- unhurried, steady -- has always been present in his alaaps. But the truly personal element of his playing was his "feeling". Music is essentially sa-re-ga-ma, there is nothing beyond it. But that "feeling" is a truly individual achievement. And Nikhil had just that. You could call it his personal "touch" or "behaviour" in his playing. Of course, the road has to be shown by the guru. So one can say that by travelling on the road shown by Baba [Ustad Allauddin Khan] Nikhil has found his own road."
"In India, [music] was practised to know the Supreme Truth. It is not only for the entertainment of the people, no. When we play for the people -- perhaps I cannot play that beautiful music, but I try -- but idea is to lift up the mind of the listeners, and place them in front of the space, or you know, you can say God, you can say power, you can say energy... You have seen perhaps, specially in Western music, Western musicians in their old age, they take their instruments and go to church and play. It is not the church or the building. He is playing not for the public, but for something else. Because through music you can earn lot of money, fame, but that cannot give you satisfaction of mind. Your mind can only be satisfied when you play for the something else and tell that, you know, this is what I want to express through my music. So it is said in India that my music cannot see Him or touch Him, but my music touches His feet."
Mr Banerjee, it is twenty years since you left us to play closer to the feet of the Something Else. Thank you for the notes you left behind.
At this point, let me put in as strong a plug as I possibly can for Steven Baigel of Berkeley, California, who is making a documentary on Nikhil Banerjee. Steven is a wonderful and committed guy who has undertaken this labour of love with virtually no funding and very little material to work with. He has personally recorded a huge number of precious interviews with people who knew and worked with Nikhil Banerjee, including Ali Akbar Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri, and collected the few concert videos that exist, and has put together a 12 minute sample, available at his website. Trust me, the finished film will blow the sample to bits, good as it is. BUT, and this is the big but, he needs your support. If you know of any material (preferably visual) that you can lay your hands on, please do contact him. If you know of anybody willing to contribute financially to the project (broadcasting rights for concert footage cost big bucks), again, please do contact him. Heck, contact him anyway and let him know you're with him :).
Throughout the weekend, Nikhil Banerjee will play on Besur Betal Betar.
For more on Mr. Banerjee, the following websites may be useful:
- John Wilton's Raga Records, with a long interview by Ira Landgarten.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
It is the responsibility of the contributors for the authenticity of the articles. Appropriate references can be quoted. and links to books, sites, music pieces, etc. are most welcome.
The blog aims to generate an awareness among the reader about the various beautiful things that thankfully continue to exist today. It will mostly touch upon the aesthetic and emotive aspects of music, rather than the technical aspects itself. All kinds of music will be given a fair treatment out here. Be it the two forms of Indian Classical Music - Hindustani and Carnatic; Indian Folk music, Western Classical Music - renaissance, baroque, romantic, impressionist, etc., Jazz - smooth jazz, those early days, bebop era, cold era, etc., Rock and Roll, Contemporary Music, Film soundtracks, Celtic music, Arabic music, Latin music, African music, Oriental music, etc.
Anahata - literally means unstruck sound. Life, the whole of existence, is made of subtle vibrations of sound. There is only music - that music is Anahata, and to experience it is to know what bliss is.The highest form of spiritual salvation through music is by Anahata. It is a mere illusory concept for the layman.
This community blog aims to bring out the unstruck sound in each one of us. The most natural thing for a person is to sing and dance. However, societal pressures, peer pressures, self-criticisms on one's own faculty, lack of musical learning, etc. see a person unable to strike the right note or sound. This blog is meant to be a journey - a musical pilgrimage wherein we all move from varying shades of ignorance to lesser shades. Knowledge of music is a vast grey area; and perfection will be a mere myth and illusion.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Of all the emotions which human beings feel, elation and the feeling of flying high in the clouds is one which is very strong. Have you ever felt truly happy and free when you do something? I have...for me its listening to the masters of the strings weave their magic into wonderfully heavenly pieces of a phenomenon that we call music.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
At present, there are many non-Indian sarodiyas, some of whom have been learning to play sarod and Hindustani Music for almost 30 years. This is remarkable for most have converted by their own volition to this style of music. Having been brought up on a traditional diet of western classical music, jazz, etc., their changeover speaks volumes of the influence and openness of KhanSahib.
KhanSahib, a scion of the Maihar Senia Gharana, spearheaded by Baba Allauddin Khan, the mystical saint and KhanSahib's father; believed in his father's philosophy of spreading music. Traditionally, imparting musical knowledge in the guru-shishya parampara was limited to a select student base. Most times, non-family members were deprived of the gharana secrets.
Notable among these non-Indian sarodiyas are George Ruckert, David Trasoff, Ken Zuckermann, Bruce Hamm and Richard Harrington. It merits mention that George Ruckert has done active research on KhanSahib's style of music leading to a PhD thesis at Berkeley and a book on North Indian Classical Music. Are they being recognized in the Indian music arena in India.
However, I really admire them for taking the decision, and sticking to it. More than the fact that they embraced Indian Classical Music, I respect them for going after what their hearts wanted. In doing so, they had to experience the culture, languages and music of India their own way. Most have started as adults albeit with a knowledge of music.
Is the Indianization of America happening at the cost of Westernization of India. The sarod scene in India is a bewilderment to me. What is happening in India when it comes to the sarod? Is the normal complaint of the esoteric nature of Indian Classical Music justified now.
Today when I try to bring back those distant memories, I am confident about one evening that stands out clearly as one of those few incidents that laid bare the sheer beauty Indian Music possesses. It was a recital of Raga Sindhura by Ranadhir Ray, a musical genius forgotten not only by the multitude but also by the music community.
Pt. Ray used to play a near extinct instrument called Esraj, whose origin can be traced back to more than two centuries. In the north of India, this instrument is popular as the Dilruba, Esraj being a more accepted name in the east. Esraj had its high time when Rabindranath Tagore chose it as accompaniment for his songs. This situation arose out of the India liberation movement when it became very unpopular to use anything that was of Western influence. Santiniketan, his highly evolved artist community, could still be called the home of the Esraj.Ashesh Bandhopadhyay, an Esraj player from Vishnupur, was invited by Tagore to live and teach in Santiniketan. Ranadhir Ray was a disciple of Pt. Bandopadhyay and started experimenting with the instrument by building a bigger body, adding another bridge and succeeding in adding volume and a stronger presence. Thus, an intrument solely used for accompaniment was transformed into a solo one.
Personally, I feel that this instrument has more appeal than Sarangi, whose sound is closest to the Esraj. Esraj's sound makes me more desolate, shades of similar emotions seem to be expressed more than any other medium. The very very few Ragas that I have heard on this instrument have been their best portrayals. Ragas Miyan Ki Todi, Tilak Kalyan, Sindhura, Sindhu Gandhar, Jaijaiwanti, Bihag and Jaunpuri. I have been fortunate enough to listen to the Jaunpuri by Pt Ashesh Bandopadhyay himself, who's recorded only a couple of discs.
The Jaijaiwanti haunts me quite often. I haven't heard explorations of the Raga the way Ray has portrayed it. It was recorded in 1988 just before he passed away from a heart attack at the age of 45. Other than my not being able to listen to Pt. Mansur live, not receiving an opportunity of being a part of his audience is perhaps an equivalent loss.
Monday, January 02, 2006
Scott Chopin began to realise this.. he started out "ragtime" and began playin in a style similar to the black music.
King Oliver had his band and Louis Armstrong was a trumpet player in that band.. more than the band, the crowd used to go gaga over Armstrong.. they loved his on the spot improvisations and Armstrong became a craze. Armstrong in the 1930's loved to sing too.. and believed that u can improvise with ur voice.. came the concept of Scats.. that seems to lack any lyric... and now a part of melody in jazz... how the voice is used to improvise the song.. believed to be the Father of jazz.. for what it is supposed to be.. improvisation.
the Swing Era
this was the era when jazz was the mainstream form of music.. . whites began to recognise the beauty.. used for dancing.. in brothels, bars, pubs, lead to various styles in dance.. merged with latin forms.. jazz at its peak.. Duke Ellington's orchestra band.. vocals was emphasised.. Billie Holiday used to move the audience with her soul-stirring depressing lyrics.. she was a drug addict.. too much emphasis on jazz for dance..
the beBop era
the cold jazz era
Miles Davis and John Coltrane.. they were against the concept of bebop.. they felt that the chords should be played for a long time.. even 5 min.. so that the improviser can freely improvise.. very very difficult. usually chord changes lead to improvisations.. and harmony.. but here.. too much demand on the improviser.. became highly highly complicated.. people began to move farther from jazz.. believed in the mode/moods concept.. complex ways to harmonize.. John Coltrane was cacophonous at times.. with the influence of drugs, his music was crazy for the common people like me.. only purists love Coltrane for his technical contributions to music.. very very difficult to understand..
the hardbop era
was a swing to the bebop times.. people felt enough was enough.. cold jazz wasnt working.. Wes Montgomery -- a poor boy without any technical knowledge began to play the guitar, in a real terrible fashion for the purists.. since he had no formal training, he was clearly out of the bounds...never played with the fingers.. just the thumb... . lead to a new style called the octaves.. towards the end of his career, his pieces became boring.. and mostly octaves.. his influence was profound on guitarists to come..
George Benson could be considered the father of this era.. he was responsible for the transition from hardbop to smooth jazz... he made it lighter, softer, more pleasant, romantic,, more commercial.,.. trying to make it mainstream.. his earliest compositions were of bop influence.. bop - difficult to play.. fast chord changes
the smooth jazz
the focus was on jazz as a relaxant.. confluence of R&B, soul and jazz.. appealed to the masses.. Bob James (Piano), George Benson (guitar, vocals), Earl Klugh (acoustic guitar), Dave Sanders (sax), Chick Corea, Norman Brown, Dave Koz, Brian Culbertson, Rick Braun, Fourplay, etc.. still had improvisations.. but less aggressive and daring.. not many risks.. still retained the form of jazz.. purists however look at it in a denigrating way.. but, smooth jazz has its own dedicated crazy cult following.. the beginning of a new era in jazz...
[Personal Communication, David Hernandez, an aspiring and talented Guitarist passionate about Jazz, Texas A& M University, College Station]
Living legends, established contemporaries, budding talent; basically musicians of all kinds - perform, enthrall and inspire an audience on a purely intellectual and musical basis. The rapport that the musicians share with the rasikas is inexplicable. It needs to be that way. The rasika needs to be musically tuned and technically sound to appreciate the concerts better. This might very well drive away the ignorant many from such concerts.
The author finds this beautiful city and musical heritage grappling to come in terms with the harsh reality. It should not lose out on this tradition because of lack of patronage from the rasikas. It is an altogether different issue that the Carnatic form with its strong foothold on the devotional and spiritual aspects of Hinduism, is in a better state; than its counterpart from the north - the Hindustani form.
This question also brings a smile to the author's face. How would this Carnatic fortress respond to Hindustani concerts during its prime season? As usual, I have digressed from the topic of discussion. So, what is the reality?
- Most concerts have limited audience. A rasika is becoming more of a rarity. Such atmospheres are depressing for the musician, the sabha as well as the rasika.
- An increasing divide between the musician and the appreciative audience. Classical music is becoming more and more esoteric day by day. It is indeed ironical that a light music function or a rock/pop concert by a world-famous band draws a huge audience willing to pay as well as "appreciate" them.
- The Americanization - has its own share of merits and demerits. What can the musicians do if their music finds a greater and much more appreciative audience in the US? The honorariums will be higher (thanks to the supremacy of the USD) and their preference is perfectly justified for music is also their prime vocation.
But then imagine this purely fictional anecdote. A typical scene in a contemporary(?) South Indian household during the December season.
The fledglings have grown wings and flown. The elderly couple continue to live in Madras for sentimental reasons. This is the much awaited Marghazhi season. The couple is highly enthusiastic and is brimming with eager expectations. Let me call them Shri and Shrimathi.
Shri and Shrimathi wake up early every day (say, 4:30 AM). Marghazhi tunes(Tiruppavai's) are playing in the background. The servant maid comes at 5:00 AM and has made the kolam for the day. The milk-man has come and has delivered the day's quota of two aavin milk packets. After having the required dose of pure filter coffee, the couple go out for their daily walk (as recommended by the doctor and their children; few know that the walk is the most anticipated activity of the day for the couple).
The HINDU has arrived by the time they are back. Shri goes through the concerts for the day. Shri jots down a few concerts he is interested in. Shrimathi is not happy that her opinion was not considered. They have a friendly quarrel arguing as to which concert for that day will be the best and worth attending. After having chosen the concert, sabha and the musician who will grace their evening, they spend the rest of the day with coffee, prayers, lunch, siesta, coffee, etc. The unavoidable discussion on the current dismal state of musical affairs comes up.
5:00 PM. Shrimathi dressed in a Kancheevaram pattu saree with appropriate jewellery and a string of jasmine flowers on her hair is ready for the evening. Shri, has one look at her, and blushes and feels all young once again. Both are fortunate to have one another, especially more so when the fledglings are in the US! The couple go on a romantic date to the kacheri. 3-4 hours of bliss. The musician enthralls them with a virtuous display of Ragas, Krithis, Ragam Tanam Pallavi's, thillanas, etc. and the couple is so happy to be musically alive.
A day well spent. Who really cares as to what the world thinks? Retired life, a prime time of their lives, to make up for all those years of hurried life - corporate success, children, financial worries, etc.
Hindustani Classical Music, with its highly romantic concepts of Ragas for the moods and the time of the day, does touch the heart of a person. This post is not meant to denigrate other forms that exist in the world. The emphasis is on the Hindustani form alone. All other forms converge to the road to salvation.
What was special about the two concerts was the universal nature of the recitals. Instrumental Khayals, could be appreciated by a western audience too. Languages often prove to be a barrier for the proper appreciation of music.
Concert #1 A Sitar Recital
A contemporary sitarist, of the Maihar Gharana, Sri. Partha Bose enthralled an audience of around 150 people, with his virtuousity on the sitar. Sri. Gourisankar accompanied him on the tabla. He started off with an elaborate essay of Raga Patadip, an afternoon raga. He ended with a light classical composition on Raga Khammaj.
An interview with Sri. Partha Bose can be found here.
Concert #2 Sarode, Sitar and Jugalbandhi Recitals
Dr. Shankar Bhattacharyya, a disciple of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Sahib since 1982, treated us to Raga Zila Kafi, a late afternoon raga, a mixture of Raga Kafi and Raga Zila. He followed with a short composition of Raga Tilak Kamod.
Sri. Indrajit Banerjee, a senior disciple of Kartick Kumar, a senior disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar, played three different Ragas - Desh, Charukeshi, and Piloo.
We were fortunate to witness a Jugalbandhi of Raga Manj Khammaj by these two musicians, that definitely reminded me of the great Jugalbandhi duo Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee.
One word that would best describe the performances - sparkling.
The genius of man.
It is with a feeling of deep gratitude, reverence and love(yes!) for those evolved souls that I am penning this article down. I bow to them all. They who played with the instruments in their quest to bring out the unstruck sound - Anahata - within themselves to an enjoyable and blissful form. They who constructed the instruments on the basis of instinct, intuition and science. Most things in life do have a scientific basis. But then, has everything been done keeping that basis in mind for the first time?
This is not a comprehensive list. From whatever instruments the author has come across or rather heard, a mention of some with reference to certain genres so as to further hightlight the genius of man. I always have the licence of being a non-musician.
- Carnatic - Voice, Violin, Veena, Flute, Jalatarangam, Saxophone, Guitar, Mandolin, Mridangam, Ghatam, Tanbura, Nadhaswaram, Tavil, etc.
- Hindustani - Santoor, Sarode, Sitar, Voice, Flute, Tabla, Guitar, Veena, Violin, Sarangi, Shehnai, Pakhawaj, etc.
- Jazz - Piano, Voice, Guitar, Saxophone, Trumpet, Cymbals, etc.
- Western Classical - Piano, Stringed (Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass), Lute, Harpsichord, Percussion Drums, Flute, Oboe, etc.
- Others - Saz, Balama, Ukulele, Banjo, etc.
PS: Well, being deprived of the faculty of hearing would make life an unstruck sound. At times when I think of such things, I feel totally helpless. It is beyond my circle of influence and control. All that I can do, is to pray and sincerely hope that He/She gives them the much needed confidence, fortitude, determination, courage, etc. to carry on with their lives.
Carnatic music - with its strong emphasis on rhythm, melody and feelings - provides the fundamental, essential and harmonic basis for India's rich cultural heritage. Hindustani music, its sister, on the other hand has nevertheless been influenced by West Asia. Essentially South Indian, with compositions predominantly in Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Sanskrit; this form of music has withstood the test of times and invasions. Despite the absence of unity among the people, this art was nevertheless heavily protected. The Guru-shishya parampara school of thought helped in more ways than one. It is a closed form in the sense that it would be very very difficult for an outsider to truly appreciate it; and most of the technicalities would be considered esoteric. Most compositions were part of the Bhakti movement - which believed in attaining salvation through the path of Bhakti yoga. Hence, they were related to the divine masculine and feminine faces of the Trinity.
Purandaradasa, the Father of Carnatic Music laid the foundation for a systematic approach to the impartment of this musical form. The Trinity of Music developed it based on the Melakartha system with divine mellifluous compositions. It provides no scope for improvisation (barring the alaapanas); infact the musicians do not want to improvise; and the rasikas do not want them to. It would be indeed blasphemous and amount to showing dis-respect to the composer. Each krithi is rendered only in that raaga, so desired by its composer. So many luminaries have helped sustain this form of music. The festive kacheri season sees many concerts during this time by musicians, both young and old; rising and established.
So, is this form limited to the few (sadly, yes) people who know it or appreciate it? I don't know why, but somehow it is the common opinion that this form is limited to Brahmans alone. I am not really sure about the element of truth in this opinion. Would it be difficult for non-Brahmans to appreciate it if they want to? Would it be difficult for people of other religions to appreciate it if they want to? And, do these "differences" exist in this era of nationalization and globalization?
It is our's, India's jewel on her crown. We are responsible for its sustenance and fortunately, we can do so in more ways than one (however small and insignificant).
1. Attending the kacheris. Nothing comes for free. A Rock/Pop concert by a famous star/group attracts people, who have no qualms whatsover in paying hefty amounts as entrance fees. The music is heavily commercialized and contemporary with its own appeal. Do we really understand the elements of music during these concerts? It is most often a time to be among the hep crowd. So, what's wrong in attending a carnatic music kacheri even if one doesn't truly understand its elements? In what way is it less fashionable?
2. The young, new, and rising musicans hold the key for the sustenance of this art form. Support them in every possible way. They need us and our encouragement. Remember that most of them, would have chosen this as a vocation. They are dependent on this for their living. Money shouldn't be a limiting factor for them which could possibly force them to seek alternative vistas. The music form needs them more than the musicians need it.
3. Purchase original CD's/cassettes. That is the least we can do. Say a complete NO to piracy.
4. Our not knowing the languages - Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Sanskrit, shouldn't deter us from trying out carnatic music with an open mind. When people consider it fashionable to learn French/German/Spanish, what stops them from learning a new language?
5. It is an Indian art form that has amazingly been protected. It is pure, virginal and blissful. We, as the responsible citizens of India, should do our best in ensuring that it remains that way.
Just like a flower has no religion, Music also has no religion. - Amjad Ali Khan
There can be no bigger folly than failing to appreciate what is ours.
6. Encourage children who are learning some form of Carnatic Music. They should know about the glory of this form. They should know that they are among the (fortunate few!) potential stones being polished to become diamonds. I do not imply vulgar glorification. In the present times, young children are more attracted to filmi/contemporary western music. They consider it hep to be among the crowd. I am not saying that they shouldn't be exposed to other forms of music. Too much of anything is madness. What I am really against is their lacking respect for any form.
7. Encourage organizations like SPIC-MACAY and others that help in promoting musical awareness among youth. The youth and children hold the key! They are the ones that need attention, encouragement and guidance.
.... and so on.
(a) Few view the pursuit of arts as a vocation. In this rat-race, where money seems to be the ultimate objective, arts is somehow treated as a not-so-lucrative opportunity. Arts - the expression of the soul, the process of self-discovery and re-discovery is not given its right place in the society. And whoever does pursue it as a vocation and becomes an icon/stalwart in his/her area of concern and influence, is considered a born genius or virtuoso. His/her toil, suffering, sweat, hardwork, perseverance, sacrifices, determination, etc. are simply forgotten.
Fortunate set of people who would be following their dreams. I bow down in reverence to these noble souls.
(b) Now comes the interesting part. The others: the majority of the people.
Some believe that they are interested in some other field (say Engineering, Medicine, etc) and consider arts as a hobby. They indulge in their passion, sometimes surrendering to them. Their hobby happens to be a way of life for them, at the microscopic level. They utilize whatever art form has been taught to them during their childhood and express their feelings through the right medium - Arts. Fortunate set of people, who seem to know what they want. Period.
Another segment of populace in this category, does not do anything at all. Whether it is a case of keeping passion at bay or lack of interest or lack of sensibility, it is clearly not evident. They however, are interested in something, that often seems to be vulgar or insensuous. Again, fortunate set of people who seem to be happy with their "non-art" way of life.
The "unfortunate" set of people fall into this subtle category - that is completely different from the ones mentioned before. They are grappling and coming to terms with life. They are caught in this whirlpool of life. They are the inbetween. They are crazy of arts but havent done "much" when it comes to the true pursuit. The world treats them to be eccentric characters - professing love and passion for something at the wrong time. Would it be possible for someone to learn bharatanatyam at the age of 50??? I know of an individual, who started learning it at the age of 45. I admire him for that. They have no reason to feel superior or inferior. It is just that they are slightly late by certain number of years.. but then, once they have realised their passion, I guess no one can stop them! So, these unfortunate set of people are in fact the most fortunate, provided their dreams come true, and importantly, they have the courage to follow their dreams.
The lesser unfortunate ones are those who have sacrificed the pursuit of arts, for reasons unfathomable. And usually, the sacrifice would have demanded this pound of flesh. May God give them the fortitude to carry on in whatever pursuit they have been forcefully made to choose.
The most unfortunate ones are those who have learnt an art during their formative years for the sake of learning them. They happen to be good at it.. but fail to realise the true beauty. For example, someone who plays amazing piano and fails to appreciate one of the piano sonatas of Beethoven (despite playing it well). For them the composition is nothing more than a chore, something that is only meant to be played because they unfortunately know how to do so. Well, this is the bitterest form of irony in life.
When it comes to others, people indeed do have the sensibility to appreciate something from the bounties that the world has to offer. No one can be that insane or heartless. There is definitely a passion for something in everyone. It so happens that some people keep those passions at bay rather than surrendering to them. (Eleven Minutes, Paulo Coelho).
Coming back to the original thread of sensibilities, why do not people react to those things that are obviously beautiful and wonderful? I categorise people into two broad categories.
(a) the intolerant - they do not try it out. They are happy with what they like, or rather they like what they know. It is not prudent to work with such kind of people. We need to be tolerant towards such intolerant people. Period.
(b) the tolerant - well, these are the people who are willing to try it out, but are "unable" to appreciate them. For e.g. it would be illogical to expect a person "inclined" towards western classical to appreciate one of the symphonies of Beethoven in its truest sense or appreciate counterpoint in one of the concertos of Bach almost immediately. Sensibilities need to be cultured and developed the hard way. It is a long long process that can prove to be demotivating many a time. This author is more concerned with such people, for he thinks he is also one of them. These people need to be encouraged and helped in their journey.
The most important realization is that every body has that innate sense for sensibility to something wonderful. It is just that everyone is uniquely different and naturally their sensibilities different. It is simply not justifiable to have that air of superiority or inferiority.
I couldn't help making these observations.
-- Most Latin Dance forms are a pot-pourri of the African influence of rhythm and the inevitable lyricization in the European language (Spanish/Portuguese) with the indigenous Indian melody . The universality of this is there.. but nevertheless the influence of the African slaves and the European imperialists is clearly clearly there. So, the originality has been lost in the process, leading to something new.
-- Turkey, a country that has a diverse population and is a melting pot of cultures - is in a dichotomic state of belief. While one half believes it is a part of Europe, the other half believes it is a part of Asia. The influence of Europe is evident.
So, is it wrong to be influenced by other forms? Well, coercion is never justifiable. The influence should come from the personal embrace of a form that interests us.
-- Well, Africa, the dark continent seemed to have been of a great influence to many other dance forms and music styles. The contemporary jazz in the US, considered to be one of the originals of America, has its roots in Africa. African slaves came up with jazz, in their effort to duplicate or replicate Western Classical Music by hearing. Mistakes and re-inventing the wheel has lead to this creation of a totally, new yet wonderful art form.
-- India.. what can I say about thou? It was a great comfort that Indians resisted the influence of the British when it came to their art forms. Agreed that Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati are a few of those Indo-European languages, nevertheless, they managed to clearly evade the European influence post 15th century. Carnatic Music is as pure as it can be - a tradition that has been preserved and passed on from generation to generation, thanks to the guru-shishya school of thought. Hindustani Music, has Persian and Arabic influences, but is also as Indian as it can be. The Indian art styles, dress forms, traditions, way of life, etc. have stood the test of their times, even when most of the country was in a state of complete turmoil with internal bickerings and absence of unity.
When things are clearly indicative of the greatness of the Indian schools of Art (not that the other forms are not great) , why is it that these so-called modern Indians take great pleasure in denigrating these jewels, that are very well their own. They have every reason to be passionate about them. This is not to mean that we need to be narrow-minded appreciating only what we claim is ours and be blinded to the other wonderful forms. Reaching out to the others does wonders to your outlook and way of life, but that shouldnt be at the cost of what is clearly ours.
From personal experience, Bengalis are really really passionate about their culture, art and heritage. But, their overwhelming zeal, sometimes, translates to narrow-mindedness and love for only the Bengali side. With regards to carnatic music, sadly, there are a few people who tend to view the songs on a regional basis. Well, most of the songs are in Telugu and Kannada. Some people find it difficult to digest this truth. How many of us Indians, are truly passionate of Indian music? Present day generation has no qualms paying fortunes for a Rock/Pop concert but when it comes to traditional Indian concerts, they start cribbing. And the copyright laws is also an area of concern where hypocrisy happens to be a way of life. People are really careful of the copyright laws when it comes to anything Western, but when it comes to anything Indian, no one bothers!
Well, be passionate of what is in your house, be appreciative of what is in your neighbour's house, be truly open-minded and see the beauty in almost everything. We have nothing to lose.
1.Well, maligning any particular community or country or race was never the intention. I look at it from an art lover's point of view. Expressions of frustrations and helplessness have nevertheless seeped in. I do apologise if I have hurt the feelings of any reader (who has taken the time out to read this simple guy's jottings).
2. I am NOT an authority on the issues discussed. Mistakes are bound to be there, be it factual (when it comes to my opinions on the historical side) or elementary (on the variety of art forms discussed). I do accept them and would really appreciate the feedback and corrections, where necessary.