Instrumental gold

Indian classical instrumental is a much sought after genre of music all over the world today. Gone are the days when listeners from Western countries could not make out if the instrument that was being played was sarod or sitar. The only sound that convinced Westerners that the music is really Indian was the constant drone of the tanpura. But thereafter, of course, the sounds of the sitar strings became recognizable everywhere and even got featured in a few Hollywood movies of the 1950s and 1960s. The sound was also noticed by many Rock bands of the West and some experimented with it in their music.

Bismillah Khan – Malkauns (Shehnai) :  Download

Hariprasad Chaurasia – Pilu (Bansuri) :  Download

Ali Akbar Khan – Gour Sarang (Sarod) Vocals: Asha Bhonsle :  Download

Anoushka Shankar – Shuddha Sarang (Sitar) :  Download

Note: Please inter-change the names of the last two songs after you download them. They were wrongly named while uploading.

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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


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.

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Annapurna Devi : the genius who chose to be left alone

Some have heard of her. Few have met her. None truly know her. Sarod wizard Ustad Ali Akbar Khan said of her, she is ‘simply great’. Pandit Ravi Shankar acknowledges her genius. Yet, none have heard her play. Mysterious, intriguing, she is like our own Greta Garbo, living in her own shadows, shutting herself out from the world in the cloistered confines of a city flat, seeking peace in an instrument her father taught her. She wants nothing from the world, from society. But if she decided to give of herself, the world would be a richer place.

Six floors up the elevator in a high-rise building, in one of the posh residential localities of Mumbai, lives this woman. No one sees her, not even her immediate neighbours. The board at the entrance of the building simply spells: Annapurna Devi. Another square board is nailed next to her doorbell. It reads :

1. The door will not be opened on Mondays and Fridays.
2. Please ring the bell only thrice.
3. If no one opens the door please leave your name and address.
~ Thank you very much. Inconvenience is regretted.

Annapurna Devi, who was born as Roshanara Khan in 1926 at Maihar in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India, is a maestro of Surbahar or the bass Sitar. Her father Ustad Allauddin Khan, who also happened to be her guru, was the founder of the famous Maihar Gharana or the Senia Maihar School and was regarded as one of the greatest instrumentalists of the 20th century. Sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan was her brother and she married Pandit Ravi Shankar, also a pupil of Allauddin Khan, at a very early age. Annapurna Devi emerged as a proficient Surbahar maestro of the Maihar Gharana just within few years of taking music lessons.

Soon after she even started giving music lessons to some of the students of her father like Pandit Nikhil Banerjee and Ustad Bahadur Khan. Baba, as Allauddin Khan was called by his disciples, was a very strict man and his temper was well known. There were times when the boys were so petrified that they dared not approach Baba and the only person who had access to him was Annapurna. He taught her, and she in turn often taught the boys. The trio of Annapurna Devi, Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, began a long and arduous journey, trying to plumb the depths of a 5000 year old tradition of Hindustani music.

Raga Kaushiki :  Download

Raga Manj Khamaj :  Download

Annapurna Devi‘s marriage to Ravi Shankar was arranged with the suggestion of Uday Shankar, his celebrated elder brother. Annapurna Devi, who was only 14, wedded Ravi Shankar when he was 21 years old. Though a tumultuous one, the marriage lasted for some 20 years during which the couple gave birth to a son, Shubhendra Shankar. It could have been a fairy tale or an eternal duet between two maestros, but somewhere at the height of the glory something happened and the relationship snapped like a thin thread.

There were whispers, as they were bound to be, given the fame of the two musicians and given the fact that they were husband and wife. Many say, Ravi Shankar fell in love with somebody else, a woman known as Kamala. Perhaps the affair became too big and Annapurna was definitely hurt by the entire thing. This and her father’s subsequent death dealt a severe blow to her, something that she could never recover from. She became a recluse thereafter, totally cut off from the rest of the world.

During better times with Ravi Shankar :

Raga Yaman Kalyan (with Ravi Shankar on the Sitar) :  Download

By all accounts, Annapurna Devi‘s only public concert was staged in the early 1950s, and no one has ever heard her play the Surbahar or Sitar in public or private ever since. Few have seen her, fewer still have heard her play. She has performed a total of 11 times in her life. Finding a recording of hers is like locating a needle in a haystack. Her students say that she imparts instructions through singing and not through playing her instrument, and she conducts her lessons only in the late hours of the night, more often after midnight. What is more, she has remained inaccessible and unapproachable even to her own students without prior consent and appointment. Neither does she make herself available on telephone, nor entertain any visitors. She is allergic to press reporters, critics and lensmen.

As a teacher, she has had many noteworthy students like Ustad Aashish Khan, renowned flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia and others. She has not recorded any music albums. But some of her performances, notably Raga Kausi Kanara, Raga Manj Khamaj and Raga Yaman with Ravi Shankar have been secretly taped from her earlier concerts, and are available but not commercially. In spite of her avoidance of media limelight, she continues to be thought of as a classical instrumentalist of the highest calibre in India. All the awards she has received, including the Padma Bhushan in 1977, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1991 and the Desikottama Award (highest honour conferred by the Vishwa Bharati University, Shantiniketan) in 1999, have been accepted in absentia.


Sitar, Sarod and all that jazz

In the last 50-60 years, there has been an explosive influence of Indian music, specially instrumental, in the West. Most known, the wonders of the Indian music were spread by famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin in the 1950s and George Harrison of the Beatles in 1960s. The year 1967 saw the growing influence of Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and Sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Four years later, in 1971, George Harrison organized the ground breaking Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the first charity event of Rock, where an audience of 40,000 Westerners, new to the sounds they heard, applauded after the musicians had finished tuning their instruments. Ravi Shankar had then famously remarked, “Thank you, if you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.” Ravi Shankar had already wowed audiences at the Monterey Pop Festival, and he achieved stardom at the Madison Square Garden event.

Ravi Shankar & Ali Akbar Khan – Concert for Bangladesh :  (Download)

Vilayat Khan – Raga Jhinjhoti (Sings as he plays the Sitar) :  (Download)

Later in life, Ravi Shankar was named the ‘Godfather of World Music‘ by George Harrison. In an interview Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan said of Pandit Ravi Shankar, “My greatest admiration for him stems from the fact that, here is a man who had no gharana to talk about. His father was not a musician, his guru’s father was not a musician. On top of that his guru was a sarod player. Look at the odds he beat to become the extraordinary musician he became.” While Pandit Ravi Shankar was winning the hearts of the western audiences, Sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan with his Gayaki-Ang style of Sitar playing, remained the darling of the home crowds.

Shivkumar Sharma & Zakir Hussain – Rageshwari :  (Download)

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt – Maand – Kesariya Balam :  (Download)

This era also witnessed the emergence of Santoor as a mainstream classical instrument, thanks to Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, the slide Guitar taking form of Mohan Veena due to the efforts of Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, and the Tabla finally being accepted as a solo instrument due to the genius of Ustad Zakir Hussain. Indian classical instrumental music had finally arrived on the global stage. Globally, Instrumental Hindustani classical music was being accepted more than the Vocal music. The reason attributed for this is that the lyrics of vocal music are incomprehensible to people other than the Indians, hence cannot be appreciated in the true manner.

Teed Rockwell – Bhimpalasi :  (Download)

Ali Akbar Khan & John Handy – Karuna Supreme :  (Download)

A lot of experimentation is being done in instrumental music these days. The latest instrument to enter the world of hindustani classical music is the Touchstyle Fretboard (otherwise called the Chapman Stick), a sort of a slide Guitar, where strings are tapped instead of being plucked. The artist is Teed Rockwell and his new album is Hindustani Ragas. Jazz Saxophonist, John Handy is another instrumentalist who has played a lot with his Indian counterparts.


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