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) :
Hariprasad Chaurasia – Pilu (Bansuri) :
Ali Akbar Khan – Gour Sarang (Sarod) Vocals: Asha Bhonsle :
Anoushka Shankar – Shuddha Sarang (Sitar) :
Note: Please inter-change the names of the last two songs after you download them. They were wrongly named while uploading.
Indian classical musicians worship their instruments as if the Goddess of knowledge, music and art, Saraswati, bestowed them to them herself. During the Monterey International Pop Festival of 1967, legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix smashed his guitar all over the stage and later burned it into flames at the finale of his performance. Another guitarist, Pete Townshend, followed suit by breaking his guitar into bits and pieces. In sheer contrast, Pandit Ravi Shankar, who also participated, lifted the sitar to his forehead as a mark of respect for the art and the instrument. Recently, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan was seen weeping when his sarod was damaged during a flight. Herein lies the divinity of Indian classical music.
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 :
Krishnamurthi Sridhar – Raga Kaushik Kanada :
Amjad Ali Khan – Raga Bhairav :
Amjad Ali Khan – Raga Pilu :
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.
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the sarod maestro who took Indian classical music to the West along with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, died in San Francisco on Friday, 19th June 2009. Once described by the famous violinist, Yehudi Menuhin as the greatest instrumentalist in the world, the 88 year old ustad had many firsts to his credit. The list includes introducing classical music in film scores. He also taught thousands of students from the West and set up his first institute in Kolkata in the late 1950s.
Born on April 14, 1922 at Shivpur in the then undivided Bengal, Ali Akbar Khan was the only son of Ustad Alauddin Khan, one of India’s greatest musicians. He grew up in the princely state of Maihar under the watchful eyes of his father, a strict disciplinarian. He had to start riyaaz at dawn and practise for several hours till he was allowed to eat.
In 1955, on the request of violin master Yehudi Menuhin, Ali Akbar Khan first visited the US and performed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. By the sixties, the West was clamouring for more and he pushed India on the world music map, with a little help from his friend Pandit Ravi Shankar (who was earlier married to Ali Akbar Khan’s sister, Annapurna Devi).
Responding to a wave of interest in the West, he began teaching and living in the US and, in 1967, founded the Ali Akbar College of Music in California, where he had been teaching since, along with tabla stalwart Ustad Zakir Hussain. Khan Sahib also opened a branch of his college in Basel, Switzerland, run by his disciple Ken Zuckerman, where he taught when on his world tours. Speaking from London, Ustad Zakir Hussain said, “He was one of the greatest musicians ever, a musician’s musician.”
P.S : One of my many wise visitors has very rightly pointed out, my not mentioning the name of tabla maestro, Pandit Swapan Chowdhury in this post. Yes indeed, Pandit Swapan Chowdhury is one tabla player, who had one of the longest association with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, not only as an accompanyist, but also as a principal teacher at the A A K College of Music.
When you think of instrumental side of hindustani classical music, names of certain icons representing it, crop up in your mind at once. Tell a person to name the artists associated with the sitar, sarod, sarangi, bansuri (flute), santoor, shehnai or even tabla and invariably he or she will relate these instruments with established artists like Ravi Shankar, Amjad Ali Khan, Sultan Khan, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Shivkumar Sharma, Bismillah Khan and Zakir Hussain respectively. Recalling a second name associated with these instruments can be an arduous task for the uninitiated. I am not speaking of the ‘know-alls‘ of hindustani classical music but the person on the street.
Unlike vocal music which has a Rashid Khan to every Bhimsen Joshi, an Ajoy Chakrabarty to every Pandit Jasraj, a Kaushiki Chakrabarty to every Kishori Amonkar and so on, young instrumental artists struggle to get recognition. With due respect to the icons of instrumental music who without doubt are the best performers of their respective instruments there are many others who have excelled but are yet to get noticed. Incidentally instrumental music is also the more glamourous side of hindustani classical music.
A few days back I received an email from an young sarod player from Kolkata, Abhisek Lahiri who is a regular on this blog asking me to review his performance. He sent me a composition in Raga Shree both in Vilambit and Drut. Moron as I still am, as far as the finer nuances of classical music are concerned, I religiously loaded these mp3 files onto my iPod and found them to be quite engaging. I have uploaded these songs on my Indian.Raga.Instrumental folder at eSnips and would love to have a feedback on this young and talented artist.
Abhisek, just 24 years of age is the only son of eminent sarod artist Pandit Alok Lahiri. He has trained under his father and is an ‘A’ Grade artist on All India Radio and Doordarshan. He has performed extensively worldwide including the US, Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Italy and Spain. Abhisek is the first Indian Sarod artist to perform solo and also along with his father in European Parliament, Strasbourg, France in 2002. He has also won a President’s Award in Sarod through All India Radio music competition and Rashtriya Gaurav Award.
I see a great future for this young boy and would like all you connoisseurs of hindustani classical music to hear his music and give your opinion on this blog.