Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rare picks of 2009

Before entering into the new year it would be a great idea to listen to a few songs sung by some non conventional singers. All the artists featured here are great achievers of their chosen art form. Ustad Bundu Khan, was probably the most outstanding Sarangi player during the first half of the 20th century. After migrating to Pakistan during the partition in 1947, he continued to play the Sarangi till his death in 1955. His son, Umrao Bundu Khan has continued his musical tradition. Ustad Vilayat Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar are considered to be the best Sitar players of all-time. Who was better between the two is a matter of undying debate. Pandit Birju Maharaj is the undisputed emperor of Kathak dance.

Umrao Khan - Gaud Sarang - Sundar Naar Karat Singar :  Download

Birju Maharaj - Pahadi - Chhoro Chhoro Bihari :  Download

Vilayat Khan - Bhairavi Bandish :  Download

Ravi Shankar & Others - Hey Nath :  Download

I wish you all a very happy, prosperous and musical 2010 !!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Bauls : mystical singers of Bengal

Among all folk and street music of India, the music of Rajasthan and the music of the Bauls of Bengal have captured the imagination of music lovers all over the world. Baul is not just one of the many things unique to Bengal. This wandering music cult has a special place in the history of world music. Originally, the Bauls were nonconformists, who rejected the traditional social norms to form a distinct sect that upheld music as their religion. Baul is also the name given to the genre of folk music developed by this creative cult. It's easy to identify a Baul singer from his uncut, often coiled hair, saffron robe, necklace of beads made of basil (Tulsi) stems, and of course the single-stringed instrument, the Ektara. Music is their only source of sustenance. They live on whatever they are offered by villagers in return, and travel from place to place, as if they were on a vehicle of ecstasy.

Bauls croon from their hearts and pour out their feelings and emotions in their songs. But they never bother to write down their songs. Theirs is essentially an oral tradition, and it is said of Lalan Fakir (1774-1890), the greatest of all Bauls, that he continued to compose and sing songs for decades without ever stopping to correct them or put them on paper. It was only after his death that people thought of collecting and compiling his rich repertoire. Even today, most Bauls live in small huts. They live in couples but are not supposed to have children, mostly they adopt abandoned children to whom they teach everything they know. Twice a week, they go to villages to collect food, mostly rice and vegetables. The verses of Baul poetry can come from past or present composers, and they always include sacred teachings related to righteous practice and life style.

Purna Das Baul - Aay Dekhe Ja Tora :  Download

Purna Das Baul - Agun Pani :  Download

Hare Krishna Das - Jaaliey Geley Moner Aagoon :  Download

Shuddhananda Das Baul - Moner Katha Bolibar :  Download

The living space of Bauls is called Akhara. It is similar to an Ashram, with the difference that men and women live together, considering each other as spiritual partners. Each year, Bauls organise a big meeting where they exchange songs, experiences and spiritual teachings. Among the contemporary Baul singers, the names of Purna Das Baul, Jatin Das Baul, Biswanath Das Baul, Paban Das Baul and Bapi Das Baul are prominent. Purna Das Baul is undisputedly the reigning king of the Baul community today.

.. more Street Music of India »

Monday, December 28, 2009

Four enchanting folk tunes

Indian folk music is diverse because of India's vast cultural diversity. Folk music has been influential on classical music, which is viewed as a higher art form. Folk instruments and styles have impacted classical Ragas since ages. It is not uncommon for classical artists, both vocalists and instrumentalists, to perform in semi-classical or Thumri style. Presented here are a few musical pieces performed by some of the most renowned artists, in the light classical mood or folk form.

Bismillah Khan - Banarasi Folk Dhun (Shehnai) :  Download

Ali Akbar Khan - Come Back My Love (Sarod) :  Download

Sultan Khan - So Ja Re (Rajasthani Folk on Sarangi) :  Download

Shujaat Khan - Lajo Lajo (Punjabi Folk on Sitar) :  Download

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sounds of the Strings : Sarangi

Sarangi is the most important bowed stringed instrument of North Indian classical music. Its name literally means sau rang (hundred colours) indicating its adaptability to a wide range of musical styles and its ability to produce a large pallette of tonal colour and emotional nuance. It's twanged metallic sounding tone with a pronounced echo might surprise one who hears its sound for the first time. The Sarangi is far superior for the accentuation of Raga scales to all known Indian instruments like the Sitar, Sarod or Santoor. Sarangi is revered for its uncanny capacity to imitate the timbre and inflections of the human voice as well as for the intensity of emotional expression. In the words of famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin, "The Sarangi remains not only the authentic and original Indian bowed stringed instrument but the one which expresses the very soul of Indian feeling and thought." It is sad that a beautiful instrument like this one is becoming extinct.

Among different myths and theories that surround its origin, one says that the Sarangi originated in ancient times when a weary travelling hakim (doctor) laid down under a tree to rest in a forest. He was startled by a strange sound from above, which he eventually found to be caused by the wind blowing over the dried-up skin of a dead monkey, stretched between some branches. With this event as his inspiration, he went home and constructed the first Sarangi.

Coming from a large family of folk fiddles, the Sarangi entered the world of Hindustani classical music during the 18th and 19th centuries as the preferred melodic accompaniment for dancing girls or courtesans. It appears to have been the most popular North Indian instrument during the 19th century at a time when Sitar and Sarod were struggling to get noticed. So plentiful were Sarangi players that old paintings and photos of singing and dancing girls usually depict a Sarangi player on each side of the singer. Before the latter half of this century, most of the great female singers came from the courtesan tradition, and many of them were taught by Sarangi players.

Sultan Khan - Raga Bageshri :  Download

Gurdev Singh (?) - Raga Gauri Kalyan :  Download

Ram Narayan - Raga Jaunpuri :  Download

Aruna Narayan - Raga Shuddh Sarang :  Download

Although Sarangi players and Tabla players were equally important in the ensembles of singing and dancing girls, the Tabla has, to a great extent, outgrown the stigma of association with them partially because of its enhanced role and more glamorous status in the accompaniment of Sitar and Sarod. In the popular imagination, however, Sarangi still remains linked to the world of courtesans. And that world has ceased to exist. With the end of what was once a lucrative market for Sarangi playing, the prospects for Sarangi players became bleak except for those who were either very talented or lucky enough to be employed by All India Radio.

Sarangi music is almost vocal music. It is quite impossible to find a Sarangi player who does not know how to sing. The songs are usually mentally present during the performance, and the player almost always adheres to the conventions of vocal performance including the organisational structure, the types of elaboration, the tempo, and the presentation of Khayal and Thumri compositions. Most Sarangi players learn to sing before they begin to play. Contrary to common belief, Sarangi is and has historically been a solo, as well as an accompanying instrument. Bundu Khan, Gopal Mishra, Sultan Khan and Ram Narayan were the most successful Sarangi players of the last century.

.. more Sounds of the Strings »

Friday, December 18, 2009

78rpm vintage : Abdul Karim Khan

Music is an art that lives and dies in time, unless preserved by human memory or by technological reproduction. The recorded music of India, especially that recorded in the 78rpm format during the first five decades of the 20th century, presents a fascinating encounter between technology and music. While the records were an enabling medium in which music could be circulated and preserved, the limits of that technology, just over 3 minutes to a side in an ordinary 10-inch 78rpm disc, presented musicians with a challenge that was all the more difficult given the nature of Indian music. The vocalists took on the challenge, a remarkable achievement in view of the conflict between technology and creativity.

We are lucky to have a huge collection of recordings that date back to the beginnings of the 20th century. By mid 1908, it is estimated that there was upwards of 10,000 different recordings of the various styles of Indian music in the market. A large portion of this collection remains unheard by, and inaccessible to, contemporary audiences. Until the advent of vinyl around the 1940s, most gramophone records were pressed from shellac compounds. This use was common until the 1950s, and continued into the 1970s in some non-Western countries. Shellac is a resin scraped from the bark of the trees where the female lac insects deposit it to provide a sticky hold on the trunk. The insects suck the sap of the tree and excrete lac almost constantly. It takes about 100,000 insects to make 500 grams of shellac flakes.

Abdul Karim Khan (1872-1937) is regarded as one of the most important Hindustani classical singers, recorded on 78rpms, during the early 20th century. Abdul Karim Khan was born into a family of musicians in the village of Kirana in Haryana state in north-central India. The Kirana Gharana of singing extends to his ancestors but it is most commonly associated with his style because of his prolific teaching, performing and recording in the first part of the 20th century. Abdul Karim Khan was appointed as a court musician by the Raja of Baroda state in Northwest India. But when Abdul Karim Khan fell in love with one of the prince's daughters, Tarabai Mane, who was his student at the time, the class difference between the royalty and musician-servants forced the two lovers to abscond in order to stay together. They landed further south, in Bombay, where Abdul Karim Khan taught, sang and, in 1905, recorded about thirty performances for the Gramophone Company. That same year, his daughter, the illustrious Hirabai Barodekar, was born.

Sarpada Khayal - Gopala Mori Karuna :  Download

Jogiya - Piya Ke Milan Ki Aas :  Download

Tyagaraja's Kriti - Rama Nee Samanamevaru :  Download

Bhairavi Thumri - Jamuna Ke Teer Kanha :  Download

Abdul Karim Khan felt that a musician should no longer simply inhabit a court as a paid servant, and became an innovator in charging admission fee for classical concerts. Meanwhile, during the period of increasing modernization and the anti-colonial struggle lead by Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Karim Khan refused to record again until the mid-30s, when he accepted offers from the British-owned Gramophone Company's primary competitor, German-based Odeon. From 1934 until 1936, just a year before his death, he recorded several dozen pieces. He died between a tour in 1937, on a railway station, by simply turning to the man next to him and saying "I'm going now", then pulling down his turban and dying on the spot.

"Ustad Abdul Karim Khan's recording of the composition Jamuna Ke Teer Kanha in Raga Bhairavi stands as one of the great masterpieces of music. When I first heard the recordings of Abdul Karim Khan I thought that perhaps it would be best if I gave up singing, get a cabin up in the mountains, stack it with a record player and recordings of Abdul Karim Khan, and just listen for the rest of my life."
~ La Monte Young, American singer, composer and musician.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Four Songs : my Choice 8

Yet one more time, presented here are a few songs that I like. All the four artists are renowned vocalists and need no introduction.

Bhimsen Joshi - Pilu Thumri - Nadiya Kinare Mora Gaon :  Download

Ajoy Chakrabarty - Gori Dhirey Chalo :  Download

Rashid Khan - Pilu Dadra - Ab Maan Jao Saiyan :  Download

Lakshmi Shankar - Sajanwa Jaagi Sari Rain :  Download

.. more Songs of my Choice »

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Four Random Songs 8

Another installment of some brilliant songs, that I found on various sites and forums. Goswami Gokulotsav Maharaj is a big follower of Ustad Amir Khan and his singing style. His enthusiasm is unquestionable, although the effort he puts up in sounding like Ustad Amir Khan, who was known for his effortless and unassuming style, is too evident. Nevertheless, he is a marvellous singer.

Malavika Kanan, as we all know, was the wife of the renowned classical vocalist A Kanan. Her own singing talent is widely known.

Gokulotsav Maharaj - Bageshri - Kaise Kate Rajni Ab Sajani :  Download

Malavika Kanan - Chhayanat - Eri Ab Goonth Lao Malaniya :  Download

Jayanti Sahasrabuddhe is the daughter-in-law of the illustrious vocalist Veena Sahasrabuddhe. As part of her training, she has provided vocal support to her mother-in-law in more than 100 concerts all over India, U S and Canada. She is a recipient of the National Scholarship in Music by the Government of India.

Kalpana Zokarkar is a young vocalist of the Kirana Gharana. She is one of the very few singers who specialize in Tappa singing.

Jayanti Sahasrabuddhe - Bhupali Todi - Tum Bin Kaun Sahai :  Download

Kalpana Zokarkar - Kafi Tappa - O Miyan Jane Wale :  Download

.. more Random Songs »

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ripped from the tube

After the partition of India, the princely states of both India and Pakistan, which until then were the main patrons of classical music, became almost defunct. The former Nawabs and Maharajas of these small and large kingdoms were more worried about their own fate, rather than look after the cause of classical musicians. Fortunately, the state controlled Radio and TV stations of both countries soon took over and became the only mediums where the ancient music tradition continued. Those were really hard times for classical musicians. Many classical vocalists in Pakistan turned into part-time Ghazal singers and some found singing Punjabi folk songs to be more fruitful. Noted Pakistani vocalist Roshanara Begum was so disgusted that she stopped singing altogether.

All India Radio (AIR) and Radio Pakistan must be given due credit for the pains both took in preserving the musical heritage of the subcontinent. Of course later on, Doordarshan, India's sole TV station until the early 1990s and PTV, Pakistan's own national TV, took the baton. Both lacked advanced technology and took refuge in transmitting recordings, sometimes live programmes, of classical music during the leisurely afternoon hours, much to the delight of classical music lovers.

Presented here are a few audio recordings of classical music, relayed on PTV about 10-11 years ago. I had assembled a rudimentary recording device, which I had used to record these songs straight from the TV to the hard disk of my computer. In the first post of this series, I find it appropriate to feature two of the greatest vocalists of Pakistan, the famous brothers, Amanat Ali Khan and Fateh Ali Khan of the Patiala Gharana. These are unpublished songs, perhaps not available anywhere, except maybe in the PTV archives.

Amanat & Fateh Ali Khan - In Mehfil - Kab Aaoge :  Download

Fateh Ali Khan - Raga Jaunpuri :  Download

Fateh Ali Khan - Laage Re Nain Tumse :  Download

Fateh Ali Khan - Raga Darbari - Nain So Nain :  Download

Fateh Ali Khan - Piya Nahi Aaye :  Download

Fateh Ali Khan - Ghazal - Dil Mein Kisi Ki Yaad Chhupaye :  Download

Fateh Ali Khan - Ghazal - Shaam Dhal Na Jaye Kahin :  Download

.. more songs, ripped from the tube, very soon.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sounds of the Strings : Sarod

The present day Sarod, came into vogue through an evolutionary process. Its predecessor, the ancient Rabab, was played in the Mughal court of Emperor Akbar. It is a six stringed instrument with its lower gut string used as a resonator. The founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, favored this instrument. The guru's closet disciple, Bhai Ramdass, usually strummed on it and it is believed that the guru poured out his immortal devotional hymns to the sounds of the melodious Rabab.

The high point of difference between the Rabab and the Sarod is that the Sarod is endowed with an extra dose of melody and this is due to the inclusion of a metal chest plate across the front rod of the instrument. The fingerboard is thus a steely glide. As gut strings would create a dull sound effect on a steel surface, it necessitated the introduction of metal strings of variable thickness.

Ali Akbar Khan - Raga Mian Ki Sarang :  Download

Krishnamurthi Sridhar - Raga Kaushik Kanada :  Download

Amjad Ali Khan - Raga Bhairav :  Download

Amjad Ali Khan - Raga Pilu :  Download

These innovations were the work of Bandegi Khan Bangash, a camel caravan driver of Afghanistan. The ace Sarod genius, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is a direct descendant of this family and like his illustrious family he has included a new aspect of creative element into the still evolving instrument. The musical element of the thumri form of singing has entered his Sarod playing style. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and of course his father and guru, Ustad Allauddin Khan were considered to be the best exponents of Sarod during the last century.

.. more Sounds of the Strings »