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.
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 :
Purna Das Baul – Agun Pani :
Hare Krishna Das – Jaaliey Geley Moner Aagoon :
Shuddhananda Das Baul – Moner Katha Bolibar :
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.
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) :
Ali Akbar Khan – Come Back My Love (Sarod) :
Sultan Khan – So Ja Re (Rajasthani Folk on Sarangi) :
Shujaat Khan – Lajo Lajo (Punjabi Folk on Sitar) :
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 :
Gurdev Singh (?) – Raga Gauri Kalyan :
Ram Narayan – Raga Jaunpuri :
Aruna Narayan – Raga Shuddh Sarang :
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.
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 :
Jogiya – Piya Ke Milan Ki Aas :
Tyagaraja’s Kriti – Rama Nee Samanamevaru :
Bhairavi Thumri – Jamuna Ke Teer Kanha :
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.