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.

Pt. Buddhadev Dasgupta

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

Salil Da...

The last few days have been spent re-discovering my roots. By roots, I would clarify – my innate Bengali roots. And in the process of doing so, I realized that, all said and done, I owe my musical upbringing to my father, more than anyone else in this whole wide world.

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:, 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

Yours or Mine....

Does it make sense to be strictly partisan about the form of music you have come to embrace. Is it possible to appreciate music of all kinds, when your cruel mind, is telling your willing heart, that, "Come on. You cannot possibly like "this". Compared to "that", "this" is nothing great." So, how can one become truly secular in music appreciation. Unfortunately, music does happen to have religious and geographical dilineations. But, isn't the music truly for everyone and fundamentally based on the seven notes?

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.

From the concert hall

(cross-posted from

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?

Just another song

(cross-posted from

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.