Sunday, December 14, 2008

Vilayat Khan & Bismillah Khan : Ecstasic Jugalbandi

The idea of Jugalbandi (duet) perhaps was born out of the curiosity of both the artist and listeners to see how a certain star or style fares in relation to another. The modern day jugalbandi is a 'duel with a difference' in that it is a highly positive and creative exercise, born of the great degree of mutual respect between the players. The object is primarily to create synergy of sound in a celebration of the solidity of structure in Indian classical music which enables two perfect strangers to come together before an audience and make music together on the spot. For the listener however, it cannot be denied that the spirit of competition between titans is of great attraction. Perhaps, it is this which makes jugalbandi the most popular concert format in comtemporary times.


Sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan had a minor, but distinguished, presence as a jugalbandi artist. During the 1950's he did several memorable concerts with the sarod maestro, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, whom he admired immensely. During the 1960s, he released two LPs of duets with his brother, Ustad Imrat Khan, on the surbahar. Thereafter, the sitar-surbahar duet of the brothers was also featured sporadically on the concert circuit. Starting from the 1980s, Vilayat Khan occasionally performed duets with his son, Shujaat Khan, on the surbahar.

Raga Khamaj - Alap :  (Download)

By far the most durable, and also successful, partnership Ustad Vilayat Khan enjoyed was with the Shehnai maestro, Ustad Bismillah Khan. It was a reflection of their mutual affection and respect, as much as their parity in stature and compatibility as musicians. Their concerts were always sold out, and their recordings are prized collector's items.

Raga Khamaj - Gat in Keharva Tal Part 1 :  (Download)

Raga Khamaj - Gat in Keharva Tal Part 2 :  (Download)

Raga Khamaj - Gat in Keharva Tal Part 3 :  (Download)

Notice the excellent rapport between the two maestros, and the ecstasic and electrifying built-up towards the end. Ustad Vilayat Khan also sings in the above compositions. Accompanying them on the tabla is Sabir Khan.

Enjoy !!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Voices along the Ganges : Ragas & Sagas

We resume our journey along the Ganges. Those who have not read the previous parts of the Voices along the Ganges series, please read my earlier posts Voices along the Ganges : Saints & Beggars, Voices along the Ganges : Chants & Folklores and Voices along the Ganges : Weddings & Funerals.

The river Ganges which originates in the Gangotri glacier in the snow clad Himalayas, descends down the mountains, reaches the plains at Haridwar, flows through ancient pilgrimage sites such as Prayag (Allahabad), Benares and Patna, and drains into the Bay of Bengal. Sagar Island, at the mouth of the river Hooghly in Bengal, where the Ganga breaks up into hundreds of streams, and drains into the sea, is honored as a pilgrimage site, signifying the spot where the ashes of the ancestors of Bhagiratha were purified by the waters of the Ganga.

Bihar-Bengal border - Lori (Lullaby) :  (Download)

Bihar-Bengal border - Hori Jogira :  (Download)

An important festival of Bengal is Kali Puja, a festival in which people worship Goddess Kali, the goddess of destruction, the saviour of mankind from evil demons. During this Puja, clay images of demons are sold to be placed alongside images of Kali herself. At the end of festivals, thousands of devotees converge on the Ghats of Kolkata to immerse clay images of Durga, Kali, Lakshmi and Saraswati into the river. Every year, in mid-January, a religious festival, Gangasagar Mela is celebrated at Sagardwip, the last island before the ocean, where the Ganga meets the sea.

Bengal - O Doyal :  (Download)

Bengal - Baul Song :  (Download)

Bengal - Kali Kirtan :  (Download)

A dip in the ocean, where the Ganges drains into the sea is considered to be of great religious significance particularly on the Makar Sankranti day (mid-January) when the sun makes a transition to Capricorn from Saggitarius and this town becomes home to vast fairs, drawing visitors and recluses (sanyasis) from all over India.

The end.

.. more Voices along the Ganges »

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Rashid Khan : Four Ragas

Four ragas by the maestro of the Rampur Sahaswan gharana, Ustad Rashid Khan :

Raga Yaman Kalyan :  (Download)

Raga Bihag :  (Download)

Raga Desh :  (Download)

Raga Miya Ki Todi :  (Download)

Comments welcome.

Enjoy !!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rajasthan : à la Café La Semeuse

I confess I am fascinated by Rajasthani folk music. Although I am not a native of Rajasthan and have not visited this majestic state more than a couple of times, I do not miss a chance to listen to it's folk music whenever I get an opportunity. Like me, I am sure there are millions out there, who have similar inclination towards this amazing music.

A little deviation from the main theme of this blog i.e hindustani classical music. It is a matter of pride to us, that not only common listeners like you and me, but famed international eateries like the Buddha Bar and the likes have included the exotic and ethnic sounds of Rajasthani folk in their playlists. Hindustani classical music artists like Ustad Sultan Khan, Zakir Hussain, Shubha Mudgal, Anoushka Shankar, besides many tribal artists feature prominently in the music there.

The Buddha Bar is an exclusive Buddha-themed bar and restaurant in Paris, France, serving Asian cuisine. The super-luxe Buddha Bar in Paris is a byword for high-end lounge bars. The Buddha Bar originally became popular because of the DJs choice of avant-garde 'Lounge' and 'Chill Out' genres of music. The Buddha Bar series was started by Claude Challe who compiled and produced the first two albums. The series continues with different producers like DJ Ravin, Sam Popat, Jean-Pierre Danel and David Visan. CDs have also been released using the music of the series. Compilation CDs of similar music are released under the Buddha Bar series by George V Records.

The Buddha Bar was started by Raymond Visan, who before he became a restaurateur was a parfumeur. The two-story dining area is dominated by a large statue of Buddha and the bar upstairs has a statue of large ornate dragon. His first giant Buddha made its appearance in 1996. Buddha Bar has also opened venues in London, Dubai, Beirut, New York and Cairo. Smaller versions named Little Buddha Bar are located in Las Vegas, Vienna, Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh.

Smooth transition of captivating World-Beats and mystic sound of Asian musical instruments, music plays an important role in a life of the Buddha Bar. While relaxing in the luxury of your guest room or dining in Buddha Bar Café, music will always be available and customizable to your moods. The DJs will distill musical selections to infuse your evenings with sensuality, reflecting the musical experience of millions of Buddha Bar CDs sold worldwide to demanding customers.

Treading the path shown by Buddha Bar, Café La Semeuse (20 years of never bitter coffee, is their slogan), a coffee production house has followed suit. For the true connoisseurs of the coffee, the Café La Semeuse company produces music CDs. In these CDs, the ethnic music of those countries, from where the company buys coffee beans, is presented. According to their belief, listening to the music of the country in which the coffee beans are grown, adds to the completeness of drinking sensation. Presented here are a few exclusive recordings of Rajasthani folk music by Café La Semeuse.

Churi Gajaro (Vocal) :  (Download)

Mast Kalandar (Vocal) :  (Download)

Kesariya (Vocal) :  (Download)

Lahariya (Vocal) :  (Download)

Chirmi (Vocal) :  (Download)

Nimbudo (Vocal) :  (Download)

Café La Semeuse began 100 years ago in Switzerland, but it was in 1975, while on vacation, that Marc Greenberg, President of Café La Semeuse had the great good fortune of meeting the third-generation roaster of coffee, Marc Bloch, an encounter that would change his life.

For years Bloch sent La Semeuse coffee for Greenberg to enjoy. He knew from the very first sip that this was noticeably better than any other coffee he had ever encountered. Friends and family who tried it shared his excitement. He would later learn that it was in fact La Semeuse 'High Roasting' that made this coffee truly exceptional and delicious. His belief in the distinctiveness of this coffee was so strong that when Bloch dared him to introduce Café La Semeuse to his country - he took the dare...and never looked back.

Theme Classic (Bansuri) :  (Download)

Folklore (Satara) :  (Download)

Lahariyo (Harmonium) :  (Download)

Folklore 2 (Satara) :  (Download)

Folklore (Morchang) :  (Download)

So set out your coffee percolator, prepare a mug of La Semeuse coffee, relax on a couch and just chill out.

The above songs are exclusive field recordings of Café La Semeuse. As the names of the artists are not known, visitors are welcome to identify them on this blog.

Comments are welcome too.

Today's Tip : You may download a full album of Buddha Bar music by visiting it's website (click here). The playlist will autoplay after the page loads up, let it play for an hour or so and retrieve the songs from the Internet Explorer cache (read how-to in the post). The songs are of CD quality (128 kbps) and worth the effort. Moreover they are in mp3 format.

Enjoy !!

Songs courtesy : Café La Semeuse

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ustad Sarahang : Nuggets of Gold !

Ustad Sarahang (1924-1983) is perhaps the best known exponent of hindustani classical music from Kabul (Afghanistan).

When he was still a teenager, his father sent him to Patiala School of Music in India to be student of Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan 'The Light of Punjab'. Mohammad Hussain Sarahang, after 16 years of service and learning, returned to Kabul.

His style of singing khayals, in Pashto and Hindustani intermittently, was perhaps inspired by Amir Khusrau, who similarly experimented with Farsi (Persian) and Hindustani in his poetry (e.g. Zeehaal-e-Miskeen). His strong Pashto accent and unique style, gives the listener a totally different experience.

Hume Saiyyan & Jawani Luta Di :  (Download)

Yaad Piya Ki :  (Download)

Najariya Lag Rahi :  (Download)

Yar-e-Man Biya Biya :  (Download)

Jao Jao Saiyyan Nahi Bolun Tose :  (Download)

Sanchi Kaho Mose Batiyan :  (Download)

In some of the above songs Ustad Sarahang has experimented with Afghani instruments, while in some he has used conventional hindustani classical instruments. 'Hume Saiyyan & Jawani Luta Di' is simply superb.

Comments welcome.

Enjoy !!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Voices along the Ganges : Weddings & Funerals

As I write this post, news has already poured in : River Ganges has been declared the National River of India. Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh later announced : 'the emotional link between Ganga and Indians needs to be recognised'.

In my earlier posts Voices along the Ganges : Saints & Beggars and Voices along the Ganges : Chants & Folklores, I let you experience some great exotic sounds right from the source of the Ganges, Gomukh to Benares (Varanasi) and then Patna in Bihar.

Bihar has immensely contributed to the hindustani classical music and has produced musicians like Bharat Ratna Bismillah Khan and dhrupad singers like the Malliks (Darbhanga Gharana) (see previous post on the Malliks) and the Mishras (Bettiah Gharana). Bihar has a very old tradition of beautiful folk songs, sung during important family occasions, such as marriage, birth ceremonies, festivals, etc. They are sung mainly in group settings with the help of many musical instruments like Dholak, Bansuri and occasionally Tabla and Harmonium are used. Bihar also has a tradition of lively Holi songs known as 'Phagua', filled with fun rhythms.

Patna - Sohar :  (Download)

Patna - Marriage Song :  (Download)

During the 19th century, when the condition of Bihar worsened under the British misrule, many Biharis had to migrate as indentured laborers to West Indian islands, Fiji, and Mauritius. During this time many sad plays and songs called biraha became very popular, in the Bhojpur area. Dramas on that theme continue to be popular in the theaters of Patna.

Continuing our journey southwards along the bank of the Ganges we come across Mithila, a land shaded by old mango groves and watered by melt water rivers of Nepal and the Himalayas.

Mithila - Ropni Geet (sowing of paddy) :  (Download)

Mithila - Kohbar :  (Download)

Malda - Domni Chant :  (Download)

The men of Mithila have been famous as priests and scholars. The women largely illiterate, find cultural expression through exquisite paintings created for ritual occasions. They cover their courtyard walls in abstract images in brilliant colour.

In the 1960s some local officials realised that if the women would only put some of their paintings on paper there might be a worldwide market for their creations. They proved to be correct and it is a mild irony in Mithila that the fame of the women has surpassed that of the men, because Mithila Art, otherwise known as Madhubani Paintings also, is now recognised throughout the world.

.. more Voices along the Ganges »

The journey along the river Ganges will continue...

Enjoy !!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bhimsen Joshi : Bharat Ratna

Amidst all the depressing events that we watch these days on TV news channels and which have almost become an integral part of our day to day life, here comes a heart warming news at last. This year, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, the doyen of hindustani classical music has been chosen for the much coveted 'Bharat Ratna' award, the nation's highest civilian honour.

Although his singing career of more than seven decades has landed him several distinguished awards, including the prized Padma Shri (1972), Padma Bhushan (1985) and Padma Vibhushan (1999). But Bhimsen Joshi, is just the fourth 'classical musician' after M S Subbulakshmi (see earlier post), Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan to be awarded the 'Bharat Ratna'.

Celebrating this occasion I am tempted to post a few musical gems rendered by him.

Bhairav - Sada Rangeele Balamwa :  (Download)

Shankara - So Janu Re & Kal Na Pare :  (Download)

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who was born on February 4, 1922, in Gadag, Karnataka, ran away from home at the age of 11 in search of a good music teacher. He finally enrolled as a disciple of Sawai Gandharva, the foremost disciple of Abdul Karim Khan, whom Joshiji admired. In accordance with the 'guru shishya' tradition, Joshiji started living with his guru.

Joshiji's meeting with Begum Akhtar got him a job as a staff artist at Lucknow radio station where he befriended noted shehnai player Ustad Bismillah Khan. In 1943, Joshi shifted to Bombay (sorry, Mumbai), but his real break came in 1946 at a concert to mark the 60th birthday of Sawai Gandharva. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is a big draw at the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival held in Pune every year.

Maru Bihag - Rasiya Ho Na & Tadpat Raina Dina :  (Download)

Puriya Kalyan - Aj So Bana & Bahut Din Beete :  (Download)

May Panditji live for a hundred more years and enthrall his audience for a long time to come.

P.S : My earlier posts on a series on the 'Voices along the Ganges' have received a boost too : River Ganges has been declared the National River of India (wasn't it so, even before the declaration, or at least in the hearts of all Indians ??).

Enjoy !!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Forgotten Movies : Unforgettable Songs

Very few international movies have made use of, and done full justice to the music of our sub-continent (both folk and classical). Most make do with the string sounds of the sitar here and there, symbolic to the music of India. Few have used the heady concoction of vocals and instruments and made the appropriate impact on the viewer.

Heat and Dust by Merchant Ivory
(story of two English women living in India...)

Heat and Dust - Kahe Ko Tum Naheen Aye (Pilu) :  (Download)

Heat and Dust - Sarangi Recital :  (Download)

Jalsaghar (Le Salon de Musique) by Satyajit Ray
(depicts the age-old conflict between the landed nobility and the un-pedigreed rich of the Raj era...)

Jalsaghar - Megh Malhar (Salamat Ali Khan) :  (Download)

Jalsaghar - Bhar Bhar Ayeen (Begum Akhtar) :  (Download)

Dead Man Walking by Tim Robbins
(starring Susan Sarandon & Sean Penn - the story of a nun, comforting a convicted killer on death row...)

Dead Man Walking - Face of Love (Nusrat Fateh Ali...) :  (Download)

Dead Man Walking - Shadow (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) :  (Download)

Latcho Drom by Tony Gatlif
(the journey of the Romany people (gypsies) told through musicians and dancers of India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary...)

Latcho Drom - O Kesario Hazari Gul Ro Phool :  (Download)

Latcho Drom - Saat Bhayan ki Ek Behanadli :  (Download)

The movies have been forgotten but the music still plays on...

Enjoy !!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Voices along the Ganges : Chants & Folklores

Before commencing any further, a small 'statutory' warning. Please do not blame me if you find the links to the mp3 files in my posts to be dead, sooner or later. I do not know of a site that has hosted it's music files for more than a few years. The web is abundant with dead mp3 links. Already many of the songs that I had put in my previous posts have been removed by their host servers, and visitors on my blog have been sending me frantic complaints.

Amusingly mp3 files are like orphan kids, living on the streets, forever yearning for a permanent abode. They are more often than not, shunned after a few days of shelter offered by a kind soul. Ironically mp3 files are the most sought after but also the most hounded after files, always being chased by copyright laws. At first loved, then hated and feared by the webmasters, mp3 files are almost treated like live bombs amidst peace loving net-citizens. So don't be surprised, if you wake up one fine morning and find the links not working anymore and the files gone forever.

Continuing our journey along the holy river of Ganges, we arrive at Benares (Varanasi), the holiest city of the Hindus. The significance of Benares lies not only in the fact that it is considered so holy, but in the fact that it embodies the Hindu philosophy of death. Death for the Hindus is just one step forward in the endless cycle of birth and rebirth. And believers come to Benares to die or to cremate their departed relatives, believing that Lord Shiva himself whispers words of salvation into the ears of the dead here.

Benares - Nirgun Pad : (Download)

Benares - Hori in Raga Mishra Kafi : (Download)

Benares - Birha : (Download)

These words of salvation, Hindus believe, free their souls from the cycle of birth and rebirth, granting them moksha. Nowhere else do death and life coexist so closely as they do in Benares. Boatmen row, beggars beg, bathers bathe, and pilgrims pray.

The largest tributary to the Ganges is the Ghaghara, which meets it before Patna, in Bihar, bearing much of the Himalayan glacier melt from Northern Nepal. The Gandak, which comes from near Kathmandu, is another big Himalayan tributary. Other important rivers that merge with the Ganges are the Son, the Gomti which flows past Lucknow, and the Chambal made notorious by the ravines in its valley which are noted for lawlessness and banditry (including the infamous Phoolan Devi).

Patna - Pachra Chant : (Download)

Patna - Kilona (Chant to a Child) : (Download)

The journey along the river Ganges will continue...

.. more Voices along the Ganges »

Enjoy !!

Monday, October 20, 2008

M S Subbulakshmi : the Jewel of India

Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi (1916-2004) has been the queen of Indian classical music in the South Indian Classical style (Carnatic) in the modern times. From Mahatma Gandhi to the most common of the people have admired her voice, conditioned perfectly to render some of the great Indian works of devotional literature. Her 'Suprabhatam' is like staple music in temples all over south India.

With her rock-solid technique, sure tone, deep spirituality and splendid emotional expression, M S Subbulakshmi was rightfully considered an Indian national treasure during her lifetime. Thanks to a legion of great recordings, her place among the great vocalists of the 20th century is assured.

She was born in 1916 in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, to a family of famous instrumentalists. While still quite young, she began Carnatic musical training with Madurai Srinivasa Iyer and briefly studied Hindustani music from Pandit Naryan Rao Vyas.

Surdas Bhajan - Maiya Mori Main Nahin Makhan :  (Download)

Kabir Bhajan - Bhajo Re Bhaiya :  (Download)

Surdas Bhajan - Bujhat Shyam Kaun Tu Gori :  (Download)

She debuted as a soloist at 17, and with the full support of her husband Thiagarajan Sadavisam (whom she married in 1940), she began acting and performing in films. Her most famous film was 1945's Meera, in which she portrayed the revered medieval poet-saint Meerabai and sang several popular Meera bhajans (Hindu devotional songs attributed to Meerabai). After the huge success of Meera, however, Subbulakshmi turned her career entirely away from films.

While she was an extremely popular performer throughout India, she did not appear abroad as often as other Indian artists of similar renown. However, she did appear at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1977 and at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1982, among other high profile venues.

Surdas Bhajan - He Govind He Gopal :  (Download)

Bhajan - Yaad Avey Brindavan Ki :  (Download)

An intensely devout person, Subbulakshmi specialized in singing kritis (religious songs) and such religious hymns as the Bhajagovindam, a series of praises for the lord Krishna written by the Sankaracharya, and the Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam (a recitation of the 1000 names of the lord Vishnu).

Among her many awards were the Padma Bhushan in 1954 and the Sangeetha Kalanidhi in 1968, she was the first female artist to be awarded the latter title. Subbulakshmi was also named the Bharat Ratna ('Jewel of India', India's highest civilian award) in 1998 by the president of India. After her husband's death in 1997, Subbulakshmi withdrew from performing, and passed away in 2004.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Voices along the Ganges : Saints & Beggars

'The Ganges, above all is the river of India, which has held India's heart captive and drawn uncounted millions to her banks since the dawn of history. The story of the Ganges, from her source to the sea, from old times to new, is the story of India's civilization and culture, of the rise and fall of empires, of great and proud cities, of adventures of man...'
- Jawaharlal Nehru in Discovery of India

Twenty centuries ago, the essential role of music of India was deemed to be purely ritualistic. Much part of Indian music is folk music. Indian classical music is said to have evolved out of the fusion of these. It is presumed that folk music existed long before the Aryans in India. Indian classical music has become unique in the world.

Hindustani music is an enveloping influence in Indian life. It pervades the big and small events of Indian life, from the birth of the child to it's death, religious rites and seasonal festivals. Originally, not all developments of music were transformed to writing. To keep their traditional integrity, they were imparted orally from master to pupil : the Guru Shishya tradition in gurukul.

Winding 2,510 km across northern India, from the Himalaya Mountains to the Indian Ocean, the Ganges river is NOT just a flowing body of H2O (water), but a whole culture and way of life to India. Innumerable stories, plays, songs, movies, history is woven along the wild journey of this mighty river. From the small but wild Himalayan birth to the mighty, fast paced or silent journey into the fertile Indo Gangetic Plain, and cities of Allahabad, Benaras, Patna and Kolkata, the Ganga is a major contributor to the political history and spiritual culture of this subcontinent.

Gangotri - Ganga Stuti :  (Download)

Kanpur - Nautanki :  (Download)

Mirzapur - Badhaiyya :  (Download)

'Voices along the Ganges' is an effort to take the listener on an odyssey down the river Ganges, from Gangotri to Kolkata. The rich music, a fusion of various instruments, permeates the senses infiltrating them with a soulful confluence. The compositions have been beautifully woven around a meditative pattern ranging from soft to rhythmic and highly energetic.

Mirzapur - Gauna :  (Download)

Mirzapur - Kajri :  (Download)

We will travel further south and savour more of the Ganges 'flavour' in my future posts.

Enjoy !!