Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Indianization of America...

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, gave his first performance in the United States in 1955 with Yehudi Menuhin giving the introduction of the artist to a to-be spell-bound New York audience. His rendition of Raga Sindhu Bhairavi and Raga Pilu Baroowa captivated the audience and the concert definitely marked a new beginning. Subsequently, he set up the Ali Akbar College of Music at Marin County, CA in 1967.

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.

6 comments:

expiring_frog said...

In addition to the performers, there are some very knowledgable Western musicologists (who are perhaps not as well known performers as Ruckert) who have made it their lives' work to study Indian music. For instance, I can recall Robert Gottlieb and Jim Kippen's books on tabla traditions.

The sarod scene in India (including the expatriats) is not entirely on its last legs. There are still very good, solid, purist players. In Maihar, Aashish Khansaheb, AAK's eldest son, is still not quite ancient :), though he does spend much of his time abroad. Ashok Roy is a senior student of AAK who lives in Australia now, I believe. Tejendra Narayan Majumdar is a brilliant young (in classical music terms :)) player who learnt from AAK and Bahadur Khan. Anindya Banerjee is another very good player who has studied under AAK. I have heard Brij Narayan once, but he seemed a little off-colour on that occasion. Alam Khan, AAK's young son, is a very good prospect who is still maturing (and is being handled much better than Anoushka Shankar). I have not heard Partho Sarathy and others, but they are supposed to be very good.

From other gharanas, Buddhadev Dasgupta and Amjad Ali Khan are still active in India and teach extensively. Biswajit Roy Chowdhury is a very unique player of this gharana who spent a lot of time with the late Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur and plays many rare bandishes of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana on the sarod.

There are plenty of up and coming young (and very young :)) players who, while they may not reach dizzy heights, will definitely be regarded as extremely competent and knowledgable.

So the sarod scene is certainly very much alive. However, it's much messier than it used to be, there are many more players, and as a natural consequence many more mediocre players (some of whom get rather excessive media attention). This is mostly a result of the decay of the "select student" system that you mention. More and more people want to learn, and are in the interests of popularity (that wretched word!) are freely given the knowledge. These casual dabblers abound ("kyonki beta ko gaana-bajaana seekhna hai na") -- ask me, I was one of them :). This has contributed to the sarod's appeal but diluted the strong pedagogical ethos. Further, the modern mantra appears to be, "I want to be a rock star" -- hence the relentless urge to do fusion and appear in pop albums. God knows how many players still spurn the urge to be "cool" and stick firmly to the straight and narrow.

There is only one person I can think of who still lives the life of the ascetic teacher that Allauddin Khan did -- his daughter Annapurna Devi, who is a story unto herself.

Rangakrishnan Srinivasan said...

Expiring_Frog: I guess you must also include Bonnie C Wade under the list of Western "Indian" ethnomusicologists.

Thanks for the enlightenment on the sarod scene in India. Btw, Rajeev Taranath, a senior disciple of KhanSahib, who was a faculty in CalArts, is now returning to Karnataka.

About mediocre players and the casual dabblers, I understand. Guess, both of us are united in this front.

DD said...

I have heard Partho Sarathy twice at the SRA and he is impressive. Until recently, I used like the sound of the sitar more and on that front too there are lots of artists in India.

Shahid Pervez is an example. If one treats Rashid Khan as the hope of vocal Hindustani Music, I feel he's the one to expect a lot from on the Sitar front.

expiring_frog said...

@dd: Re sitar, as you know, the guy I would really pay to watch nowadays is Purbayan Chatterjee. He's just 27 or something, his father spent years with Nikhil Banerjee and he's learnt from AAK. I have heard him live once and he was astonishingly good, and yes, plays in the style of NB.

Rangakrishnan Srinivasan said...

DD and expiring_frog: I have heard Indrajit Banerjee, a student of Kartick Kumar, a senior student of Ravi Shankar. He had also learnt from his aunt who was a student of Nikhil Banerjee. He is amazing with the sitar.

expiring_frog said...

Here are some online pieces by the two young sitar players referred to above:

Purbayan Chatterjee: Shyam Kalyan (52 mins), and short clips in Multani, Kamod, Jog, Bahar and Marwa

Indrajit Banerjee: Bairagi Bhairav, Jog alap and drut gat