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.
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.
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, InstrumentalHindustani 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.
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. JazzSaxophonist, John Handy is another instrumentalist who has played a lot with his Indian counterparts.
Raga Darbari Kanada has very often been described as the King of all Ragas and also, the Raga of the Kings. Here listen to a very famous Khayal ‘Anokha Ladla‘ sung by various artists at different times and also in different styles. Some say it is a song on Lord Ram‘s childhood, ‘anokha ladla khelan ko mange chanda’ as in the Ramayana. The song was immortalised when Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan presented it in his own inimitable style. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was the renaissance man of hindustani classical music. He was one of the few artists who among themselves saw the transition of classical music from the courts of the kings to the common man.
The idea of Jugalbandi (duet) perhaps was born out of the curiosity of both the artist and listeners to see how a certain star or style fares in relation to another. The modern day jugalbandi is a ‘duel with a difference‘ in that it is a highly positive and creative exercise, born of the great degree of mutual respect between the players. The object is primarily to create synergy of sound in a celebration of the solidity of structure in Indian classical music which enables two perfect strangers to come together before an audience and make music together on the spot. For the listener however, it cannot be denied that the spirit of competition between titans is of great attraction. Perhaps, it is this which makes jugalbandi the most popular concert format in comtemporary times.
Sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan had a minor, but distinguished, presence as a jugalbandi artist. During the 1950’s he did several memorable concerts with the sarod maestro, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, whom he admired immensely. During the 1960s, he released two LPs of duets with his brother, Ustad Imrat Khan, on the surbahar. Thereafter, the sitar-surbahar duet of the brothers was also featured sporadically on the concert circuit. Starting from the 1980s, Vilayat Khan occasionally performed duets with his son, Shujaat Khan, on the surbahar.
By far the most durable, and also successful, partnership Ustad Vilayat Khan enjoyed was with the Shehnai maestro, Ustad Bismillah Khan. It was a reflection of their mutual affection and respect, as much as their parity in stature and compatibility as musicians. Their concerts were always sold out, and their recordings are prized collector’s items.
Raga Khamaj – Gat in Keharva Tal Part 1 : (Download)
Raga Khamaj – Gat in Keharva Tal Part 2 : (Download)
Raga Khamaj – Gat in Keharva Tal Part 3 : (Download)
Notice the excellent rapport between the two maestros, and the ecstasic and electrifying built-up towards the end. Ustad Vilayat Khan also sings in the above compositions. Accompanying them on the tabla is Sabir Khan.