IN September 2012, I had begun a monthly series on Indian musical instruments. The aim was two-fold: one, to make Indian readers aware of certain artistes they might not have heard before, and secondly, to expose relatively new audiences, mainly from the West, to the melodic or rhythmic beauty that various Indian instruments offer.
In this series, I have not gone into too many technicalities and playing styles. I have focused on how the instrument is used in different genres, and mentioned the leading performers in each style. So far, I have focused on melody instruments, and shall begin another series on Indian percussion instruments next month, with the tabla.
The earlier parts of the series talked about the violin, sitar, bansuri, sarangi, different types of veena, sarod, santoor, shehnai/ nadaswaram, harmonium, Indian adaptations of the guitar, Indian adaptations of other western instruments, other instruments used in Indian classical music, and instruments used in folk and devotional music.
In the concluding part of this series, I shall talk of combinations of melody instruments in classical and fusion music.
BY and large, Indian classical music is a solo art, where one vocalist or instrumentalist unfolds a raga or a light composition. However, there have been several times when two, and sometimes three, instruments have been played together in a concert or recording.
The simultaneous use of two instruments is known as a ‘jugalbandi’. Such a combination also exists in vocal music, popular artistes being Ustads Nazakat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan, and Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra in the khayal form of music, and the Dagar brothers and Gundecha brothers in the older dhrupad.
In instrumental music, sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and sarod genius Ustad Ali Akbar Khan came together in the 1960s and did a few such concerts. One of the most successful early collaborations was between santoor master Shivkumar Sharma, flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia and Indian-style guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra, who recorded the album ‘Call of the Valley’ in 1967.
While jugalbandis were initially done between Hindustani classical musicians, they were later used in Carnatic music too. Over the years, there were also instances when Hindustani and Carnatic musicians played together.
There have also been instances when two or more musicians, mostly from the same family, played the same instrument in a concert ― like Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka on sitar, Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Amaan and Ayaan on sarod, and Shivkumar Sharma and his son Rahul on santoor. In Carnatic music, brothers Ganesh and Kumaresh have excelled as a violin duo, and these days violinist L Subramaniam is often accompanied by his son Ambi.
Though such jugalbandis have been popular among the masses, they have been criticised by purists, who believe Indian classical music is a solo art. Thus, people conducting such a practice have been accused of selling out or gimmickry.
However, what needs to be noted is that all musicians who have done jugalbandis have essentially concentrated on solo performances, and (barring probably Ganesh and Kumaresh) worked as a duo only occasionally, often on public demand. Some of these recordings have been pathbreaking. But in comparison to the overall number of solo recordings and concerts, the number of jugalbandis has been only a small fraction.
Here, we shall look at some of the combinations of instruments that have been successful.
Sitar and sarod: The best-known examples are Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, on their recording of ragas Sindhu Bhairavi, Manj Khamaj and Hem Bihag in the double live album ‘In Concert 1972’. With accompaniment from tabla legend Allarakha, the concert was recorded at the Philharmonic Hall, New York, as a dedication to Baba Allauddin Khan, Ali Akbar Khan’s father and guru, and Ravi Shankar’s guru.
The duo has also recorded ragas Khamaj, Durga and Bilaskhani Todi.
Sitar and shehnai: Sitar maestro Vilayat Khan and shehnai legend Bismillah Khan got together in many recordings and concerts. Their famous album ‘A Rare Jugalbandi’ features ragas Yaman and Nand Kalyan, and a mishra dhun (light piece in a mixed raga). Their recordings of ragini Yamani and a light-classical thumri in Bhairavi are also outstanding.
Santoor and bansuri: As mentioned earlier, Shivkumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia got together with guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra in 1967 on the album ‘Call of the Valley’, where they recorded Ahir Bhairav, Nat Bhairav, Piloo, Des and Pahadi, besides some light compositions. Later, Sharma and Chaurasia also recorded two volumes of ‘The Valley Recalls’, including an elaborate rendition of Bhoopali. They have done numerous concerts as a duo.
In the late 1990s, flautist Ronu Majumdar and santoor player Satish Vyas also did a few concerts together.
Shehnai and violin: Bismillah Khan and violinist VG Jog used this combination successfully, recording ragas Todi and Durga. Bismilllah Khan also combined with Carnatic violinist L Subramaniam on the album ‘Live in Geneva’, featuring raga Yaman.
Carnatic saxophone and bansuri: Veteran saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath has done jugalbandis with flautists Ronu Majumdar and Pravin Godkhindi. Their combination has had an overwhelming response.
Fusion collaborations: Though they aren’t jugalbandis in the real sense, Indian melody instruments have often been combined with western ones in experimental music and Indo-jazz fusion.
In the 1960s, Ravi Shankar’s sitar joined Yehudi Menuhin’s violin. In the following decade, violinist L Shamkar and guitarist John McLaughlin were together in the band Shakti, and these days, McLaughlin is accompanied by mandolin wiz U Shrinivas in Remember Shakti. The ace guitarist has played only one piece with santoor maestro Shivkumar Sharma ― ‘Shringar’, based on raga Kirwani, which was like an actual jugalbandi.
Saxophonist Jan Garbarek has played with violinist L Shankar and flautist Chaurasia, and saxophonist George Brooks has teamed up with Chaurasia and harp player Gwyneth Wentink. Jazz guitarist Larry Coryell was joined by flautist Ronu Majumdar on the album ‘Moonlight Whispers’.
Among same or similar instruments, violinist L Subramaniam released the classic album ‘Conversations’ with violinist Stephane Grappelli, and has also played with Menuhin. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, who plays the modified guitar Mohan veena, released the Grammy-winning album ‘A Meeting By The River’ with American guitarist Ry Cooder.
The examples in fusion abound, and are much larger in number as compared to classical jugalbandis. In both cases, they have been successful, despite opposition from the purists. In many ways, they have helped in attracting newer and younger audiences. For that singular reason, they have played a role in spreading the reach of Indian classical music.