Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Songs of the Nautch Girls

The first ever Indian voice was recorded by Fred Gaisberg in London in February 1899. These were 7 inch records with recording on one side only. Some 44 recordings, were made in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Punjabi. None of these records have been found by the collectors. In 1900 the population of India was approximately 234 million. The inhabitants spoke more than twenty different languages and hundreds of dialects, and had a musical culture reaching back several thousand years. This potential market led to three major recording tours by Gramophone Company experts between 1902 and 1908, led by Fred Gaisberg, William Sinkler Darby, and Will Gaisberg.

Gauhar Jan of Calcutta :

On November 14, 1902, the first recording of Hindustani classical music was engraved in the grooves of a gramophone record. A very rudimentary and makeshift recording studio had been set up in two large rooms of a hotel in Calcutta by the Gramophone Company. Gaisberg visited several theaters, attended mehfils at wealthy Jamindars' palaces, and thus found at least one promising artist to begin with. The artist was a very famous dancing girl, although her voice was not so sweet for European ears. She agreed to a recording session for the handsome fee of Rs. 3,000. Her name was Gauhar Jan.

Gauhar Jan of Calcutta - Bhairavi Thumri (1902) :  (Download)

Zohra Bai of Agra - Matki Mori (1905) :  (Download)

Zohra Bai of Agra - Paraj Tarana (1905) :  (Download)

In the beginning around 1902, many artists recorded songs in Calcutta. The artists were either 'Nautch Girls' (dancing girls) or women under the patronage of kings and wealthy landlords. They belonged to Agra, Lucknow, Allahabad, Benares, Calcutta, and Delhi. Later on celebrity dancing girls like Janki Bai of Allahabad, Zohra Bai of Agra, Malka Jan of Agra recorded prolifically for the company. During 1902-1908, recordings of over 8-10 very famous artists helped in establishing the business in India. However, these are almost forgotten now. Here is an attempt to acknowledge these noted female singers of that period. The songs may not be good examples of the art of classical singing, but are of historic importance.

Janki Bai of Allahabad :

Malka Jan of Agra - Maro Pichkari (1906) :  (Download)

Janki Bai of Allahabad - Fana Kaisi Bana (1908) :  (Download)

Janki Bai of Allahabad - Medicine Men (1908) :  (Download)

In order to have recorded documentation for making paper labels, the artists were asked to announce their names in English at the end of singing. This helped the technicians in Germany in making the final records ready for sale. All the songs posted above have the announcement at the end. This continued for two more recording expeditions and about 3000 wax records were made, pressed in Germany and brought back to India for marketing.

Comments are welcome.


Anonymous said...

Dear Guptaji,
one more khajana opened for us! Just don't know how to thank you! You have made all of us very rich by the gift of these antiques.....
-Pramod Kale.

Deevaan said...

the gramophone Urdu caption says "Chalee gulzar-e-aalam main hava-e-fazl-e-rehmani" which roughly translates to "in the garden (of the world) blows the breeze, of the blessing of the Compassionate (God)"

Love your blogs so thank you once again for this treasure trove

Naveed, Karachi.

Bukhari said...

wow.. I never thought I could be able to listen to very first records in history of indian classical music.
Thanks a million to you.. Its a treasure
Bukhari, Karachi.

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Bunty said...

Sir simply marvellous. Thanks

Din said...

It is great great & great Collection Thank you so much Sir I want to give you a salute when i will see you,It was my dream from long time today in my life successful God bless you
with Thanks
Din Mohammad Ansary

Anonymous said...

priceless music, thank you for posting and sharing them, real Indian heritage, must be preserved and cherished...

Laxmi N. Gupta said...

पोस्ट करने के लिए बहुत धन्यवाद।

sachin sharma said...

i really appreciate the work you are doing to preserve and share our heritage

vinod said...

Thanks for sharing the nice article...

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manjunath said...

Represents the united India so very well. Gems from the times when nobody even thought of two nations India and Pakistan. These singers are Indians as much as they are Pakistanis. Can we regain the old glory and work towards creating a tension free, enmity free, war-free, peace loving Indian Subcontinent once again?

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