Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for the ‘Hindustani classical’ Category

Concert review/ Pt Ajoy Chakraborty at Dinanath Hall


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IT’S always been a pleasure to listen to a live recital by Pt Ajoy Chakraborty. A leading representative of Patiala gharana gayaki, he has helped carry forward the tradition set by the great Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. While he has mastered the techniques of the school through his training under the maestro’s son Munawar Ali Khan, he has also adapted nuances from other styles by learning from the renowned musicologist and teacher Pt Gnan Prakash Ghosh, besides being guided by the likes of Hirabai Badodekar, Nivruttibuva Sarnaik, Latafat Ali Khan and M Balamuralikrishna.

Chakraborty performed at the Dinanath Mangeshkar Hall in Vile Parle, Mumbai, on Tuesday in a concert held in memory of the well-known taar-shehnai exponent Pt Vinayakrai Vora. Though the proceedings started almost 50 minutes late, the singer mesmerised the audience from the moment he began. Accompanying him were Soumen Sarkar on tabla and Gaureb Chatterjee on harmonium, with his disciple Kaustubh providing vocal sangat.

Though critics have in the past complained of overuse of ornamentation, the fact is that the Patiala gharana style is very enjoyable to listen to. Special features are the use of intricate taan patterns and sargam passages, which are slowly and meticulously constructed while unfolding the raag. Singers also specialise in the Punjab ang thumri, with Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and his brother Barkat Ali Khan leaving behind a treasure trove of memorable compositions.

Unlike many vocalists who prefer to just come on stage and sing, Chakraborty likes to explain his music to the audience, not only at the beginning but sometimes just before executing a phrase. So when he announced that he was beginning with a rare form of raag Kalyan, he talked of the research he had to conduct before actually becoming preparing to render it live, and also the meaning of the words. A speciality of this piece, he said, was that it used both shuddh and teevra madhyam, with all other notes being in the pure form.

Chakraborty’s Kalyan lasted almost 70 minutes. The vilambit ‘Jag mein kacchu kaam nar naariyan ki bas mein nahin’ was charactertised by a smooth build-up, some soulful phrases in the mandra saptak and later a stunning display of sargams. Being devotional in nature, the drut ‘Darshan devo Shankar Mahadev’ was rhythmically resonant and reached an energetic crescendo. A brilliantly rendered taraana, which boasted of complex permutations and combinations of syllables, ended the raag.

A 20-minute break was followed by a short khayal in raag Kaushik Dhwani, with the words ‘Kavan dhang se tum gaavat ho’, followed by the faster portion ‘Ajahun aaye baalamva’. Also known as Bhinn Shadja, this is a pentatonic night raag which omits rishabh and pancham, using other notes in the shuddh form.

As anticipated by the listeners, Chakaraborty next sang two thumris, with tabalchi Sarkar excelling in the laggi portions toward the end. The first ‘Saajan to humse rooth gaye’ was in Maanj Khamaj, and had a melodic air. The extra-popular Sindh Bhairavi tune ‘Kaa karoon sajni aaye’ received an overwhelming response, with Chakraborty totally putting his heart and soul into its presentation. He even demonstrated how a particular portion would be sung in the jazz form. As an apt conclusion, he rounded off with a shloka in memory of Vora.

Before presenting the thumris, Chakraborty said he was only providing a ‘jhalak’ as he has been scheduled for a full-fledged thumri evening at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in July. That would be an evening worth looking forward to.

Parveen Sultana mesmerises again


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Parveen Sultana

I clearly remember the first time I heard Begum Parveen Sultana on stage. It was at an open-air venue in Mahalakshmi in the early 1970s, and I must have been just eight or nine years old. I didn’t understand the nuances, but I remember the huge applause she got. The next performer, the seasoned Kirana gharana vocalist Hirabai Barodekar, received a standing ovation too.

Parveen was in her early 20s then, and was already a star in the world of Hindustani classical music. Though established vocalists like Barodekar, Gangubai Hangal, Kersarbai Kerkar and Kishori Amonkar ruled the female scenario, the young singer from Assam was considered the next big name. The fact that she represented the Patiala gharana, which over the years was dominated by male singers, added to her exclusivity.

Over four decades later, Parveen continues to get a tumultuous applause every time she sings. I saw her on Saturday, August 23, at the first anniversary concert of InSync channel, and her performance was nothing short of breath-taking. Though she had been allotted limited time, and came after tabla maestro Suresh Talwalkar and his troupe, vocalist Venkatesh Kumar and santoor player Rahul Sharma, she charmed the audience with the sheer beauty of her voice and range of her singing.

Parveen is now 64. And having heard her closely over the years, one must admire how she has maintained the purity of her voice, and her ability to repetitively alternate between the higher and lower registers so effortlessly. Over time, she has also added elements of the Kirana gharana style, after training under Ustad Dilshad Khan, whom she married.

There are only a few concerts which stay with you much after they’ve ended, and this was one of them. Beginning with raag Puriya Dhanashree, Parveen was bang on target from the very first note, with the talented Ojas Adhiya giving tabla sangat. The vilambit part ‘Laagi mori laagan’ was built up beautifully, displaying some perfect taans and sargams, and the drut comprising the popular bandish ‘Paayaliya jhankaar’ had feet tapping.

After the khayal, Parveen asked the crowd what they wanted next. While some requested a thumri, others asked for ‘Bhawaani Dayaani’, her signature piece in Bhairavi. Though she joked that the fusion musicians who were to play after her would not her appreciate her singing Bhairavi at that time, she fulfilled both requests, first singing the thumri ‘Rasiya mohe bulaye’ in Khamaj, and concluding with the bhajan.

Most people in the hall had their gooseflesh moments. This was one recital which was memorable in every respect.

TALKING of the Patiala gharana, one was privileged to attend a private mehfil featuring Lahore-based singer Ustad Hamid Ali Khan on August 7. Coordinated by Rajiv Sethi, it was held at a mini-auditorium in a residential complex in Prabhadevi, Mumbai.

The youngest brother of renowned singers Bade Fateh Ali Khan and Amaanat Ali Khan, Hamid Ali Khan sings a wide cross-section of styles, ranging from khayal, thumri, ghazal and geet. He began with ‘Ghan garajat baadar aaye’, a composition in raag Malhar, after which he rendered the famous Amanat Ali Khan thumri ‘Kab aaoge tum aaoge’ and the light ghazal ‘Mere dil mein samaa gayee thi woh’.

The Mehdi Hasan-popularised ‘Pyaar bhare do sharmiley nain’ and the intricate ghazal ‘Guzar gaya jo zamaana usey bhulaa hi do, jo naqsh nahin ban sakta usey mitaa hi do’ were highlights of the first half. After the break, he rendered the famous folk song ‘Laagi re tosey laagi’, and presented rare compositions of the Patiala gharana. He had announced he would conclude with Khusro’s ‘Chaap tilak’, but it was already past 1 am, and this blogger didn’t stay till the end.

Khan has a mellifluous voice, and remarkable control. However, this being an informal session, he chose to talk a lot in the middle of the songs, and that somehow affected their overall feel, specially when one was just getting into the mood of a composition.

That flaw apart, it was another great evening. One got a true jhalak of Patiala gharana charm from across the border.

The grace of Gwalior


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Laxman Krishnarao Pandit

EVERY Sunday morning, the Karnataka Sangha auditorium in Matunga West, Mumbai, organises a concert. The hall is rarely packed, but those who attend are regulars with an immense knowledge of music.

On August 3, one may have expected a larger crowd, but that was not to be, despite the fact that the very senior vocalist Laxman Krishnarao Pandit was performing. Yet, there were many true rasikas, who had come to listen to some rare gems of the Gwalior gharana.

Grandson of the legendary Shankarrao Pandit and son of Krishnarao Pandit, LK Pandit has been one of the torchbearers of the gharana for years. His talented daughter Meeta Pandit provided vocal accompaniment, and what one heard was nothing short of pure magic. The singer turned 80 in March, and barring a couple of throat-clearing parts in the beginning, there wasn’t a moment when his voice wavered. And he sang for two hours, without showing any sign of fatigue or stress.

With tabla sangat by Omkar Gulvady and sarangi accompaniment by Farukh Latif, Pandit began with raga Lalit, and followed it with raga Alhaiya Bilawal (which featured a tarana in the drut section) and two compositions in Miyan Ki Malhar, specially chosen to celebrate the rains. The final piece was ‘Madhave sakhi Madhave’, a traditional ashtapadi, a hymn with eight lines in the composition.

The Gwalior style of khayal is in fact marked by a systematic eight-fold elaboration of the raga, consisting of the alaap-behlava, bol-alaap, taan, bol-taan, layakari, gamak, meend-soot and murki-khatka-jamjama. While these terms will be better understood by serious followers of Hindustani vocal music, let’s suffice it to say that Pandit’s rendition was a textbook demonstration of each of these facets.

While Pandit shone in the taans, bol-taans and gamaks, the coordination between father and daughter was excellent. Meeta is an accomplished singer in her own right, and it has been heartening to see how she has developed to represent the next generation of the gharana.

THE oldest school in Hindustani vocal music, the Gwalior gharana was said to have been inspired by Raja Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior in the early 16th century. He was a master at the dhrupad form of singing, but along with his court musicians, wrote compositions in Brijbhasha. This style was popular during the reign of Emperor Akbar later in that century. The great Miyan Tansen followed the Gwalior dhrupad style, and today, the Tansen Samaroh is held annually in his memory in that city.

Eventually, dhrupad made way for khayal, and though the latter form had been prevalent for a few years, the Gwalior singers played a major role in popularising it. Though there are different theories on the actual evolution of the gharana, it is generally believed its main innovator was Nathan Pir Baksh, who eventually passed on the art to his maternal grandsons Haddu, Hassan and Nathu Khan. It was during this time that the gharana developed the way we know it today.

Besides khayal, the Gwalior school is well known for styles like tappa, which is a very difficult form of singing, ashtapadi, thumri, tarana and pad. And over the years, it has boasted of a great line-up of vocalists.

From the older generation, the names of Nissar Hussain Khan, Rehmat Ali Khan, Balkrishnabuva Icchalkaranjikar, Shankarrao Pandit, Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Ramkrishnabuva Vaze, Mirashibuwa, Rajbhaiyya Poochwale, Omkarnath Thakur, Krishnarao Pandit, Eknath Pandit, Vinayakrao Patwardhan, Narayanrao Vyas, Sharatchandra Arolkar, Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, Rajarambuva Paradkar, Yeshwantbuwa Joshi, Lakshmanrao Bodas, Abdul Rashid Khan, Shankarrao Bodas, Jal Balaporia and Dattareya Vishnu Paluskar come to mind.

The late Pt CR Vyas blended the Kirana, Gwalior and Agra styles, whereas Narayan Bodas mixed Gwalior with Agra. Though BR Deodhar was a disciple of VD Paluskar of the Gwalior gharana, he was trained in various other styles too.

Among current singers, LK Pandit, Malini Rajurkar, Veena Sahasrabudddhe, Neela Bhagwat, Vidyadhar Vyas and the young Meeta Pandit have carried forward the purer nuances of the gharana. Of late, Amarendra Nandu Dhaneshwar has been giving many concerts in Mumbai.

There are also many singers who have primarily learnt in the Gwalior style, but also added elements of other gharanas like Kirana and Atrauli-Jaipur. They include Padma Talwalkar, Ulhas Kashalkar, Vinayak Torvi and Kedar Bodas, and Kashalkar’s disciple Manjusha Patil-Kulkarni. Trained in other styles as well, Sawani Shende has imbibed elements of the gharana through guidance from Veena Sahasrabuddhe.

Clearly, the Gwalior gharana has had a huge wealth of singers. And what’s really remarkable about this style is its emphasis on swara and on simplicity. The bandish, or composition, comes at the heart of the presentation, and thus, one finds it easy on the ears.

To come back to LK Pandit’s concert, one only wished more people had been there to enjoy its brilliance. This was the Gwalior gharana at its purest, and one really hoped more people had relished the experience.

Once again, the media vanishes


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Pt Raghunath Seth

SAD times we live in. It’s been a week since noted flautist Pt Raghunath Seth passed away, and there’s not been a single word in the media. Even the famed Wikipedia hasn’t updated the information. Only a handful of disciples, musicians and fans have paid tribute over the social media.

Seth had his own significant contribution to the world of bansuri. Besides Hindustani classical music, he composed for films like ‘Damul’ and ‘Ek Baar Phir’, ad jingles and documentaries. A disciple of two great musicians – vocalist-musicologist Pt S N Ratanjankar and flautist Pt Pannalal Ghosh – he also did numerous shows in the West, accompanying Steve Gorn, an American who plays the bansuri.

In the world of bansuri, while Pannalal Ghosh was the pioneering senior, Pts Hariprasad Chaurasia, Vijay Raghav Rao, Raghunath Prasanna and Raghunath Seth comprised the next generation of esteemed practitioners. And some of the albums Seth released with Magnasound were nothing short of magic.

Despite that level of genius and respect, the gentleman went away unreported and silently. And this is not the first time this is happening in Hindustani classical music. The deaths of very senior musicians like flautist Pt Vijay Raghav Rao, sitar maestro Ustad Shamim Ahmed Khan, and vocalists Yeshwantbua Joshi and Lakshmi Shankar were not covered too. But for a touching column in ‘Mint Lounge’ newspaper by Shubha Mudgal, the death of harmonium great Purushottam Walawalkar didn’t get media attention.

Even Ustad Vilayat Khan, one of the greatest sitar players ever, got very sparing mention. In contrast, there have also been musicians who have been given due coverage, moreso because the media was familiar with them.

In such a scenario, it is natural to blame the ignorance or even indifference of today’s media, whether it is print or electronic. That is true, of course. But there are other factors that come into play – namely public relations, the existence of lobbies and camps and the general tendency to cover glamour and celebrity more than the art itself.

Let me cite a personal example, taken from my days at Mid Day. When Vilayat Khan passed away in March 2004, we had originally planned to devote an entire page. Besides the obituary chronicling his life, I had got tributes from other musicians, and a story on who all had come to pay homage during the final journey.

The coup, of course, was that I actually managed to get Pandit Ravi Shankar to pay a very graceful tribute, even though it was a known thing that he and Vilayat Khan had been arch professional rivals. Needless to say, only the Ravi Shankar story managed to make it to print, with Ravi Shankar getting the larger photograph too.

If one looks at today’s media scenario, the truth is that there are very few writers dedicated to the classical music beat. Barring ‘The Hindu’ from Chennai, which naturally gives more prominence to Carnatic music, there is hardly any consistent coverage. One finds one-off articles and columns here and there, but the space is limited and display less prominent than popular film music. Compared to Bollywood stars and item girls, music gets very little attention. Even on television, In Sync is the only channel to focus on classical music – the rest believe in insufficient or no coverage.

Thus, when a senior artiste passes away, the media is either caught unawares, or simply does not give space because there are glamorous and ‘saleable’ things to write about in newspapers or show on television. Here, artistes who have had good public relations skills or who have been close to some of the ‘star’ musicians get more attention.

Undeniably, this is a sad state of affairs. Musicians like Raghunath Seth, Vijay Raghav Rao, Lakshmi Shankar, Yeshwantbua Joshi, Shamim Ahmed Khan and Purushottam Walawalkar have all made huge contributions to classical music. The truth is that they never achieved celebrity status, and never even wanted to, even though they were as brilliant as anybody else. If only the media could be more sensitive and sensible.

Need to promote younger Hindustani classical music talent


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Sawani Shende (left) and Manjusha Kulkarni-Patil

FOR the past couple of weeks, I have been trying to catch the newly-launched InSync music channel early in the morning or late at night. The brainchild of violinist and event organiser Ratish Tagde and his company Perfect Octave, the channel shows what it appropriately calls ‘music to experience’, focusing on Indian classical music, ghazals, Sufiana, folk, fusion and specific film music based on classical ragas.

So far, I have been mainly able to watch the Hindustani classical programmes, besides a few film and devotional songs. And the first reaction is that this is the first television channel which promises to regularly show the best talent the country has to offer. Besides well-known names like vocalists Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Mohan veena exponent Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and flautist Rakesh Chaurasia, what’s really creditable is that it provides a perfect platform to a lot of younger or lesser-known names.

It was a special delight to hear singers Sawani Shende on raga Charukeshi, Vijay Koparkar on Todi, Gayatri Joshi on Bageshri, Ruchira Kedar rendering Kedar and Manjusha Kulkarni-Patil singing a Kabir bhajan, and sitar player Vinayak Chittar play Bhatiyar. All of them are extremely talented, though probably not as well-known as some of their contemporaries. And InSync is an ideal channel to showcase their potential.

The channel obviously maintains the right balance between the known names and the lesser-known ones. Plans are to organise 40 to 50 shows over the next year, and telecast them.

Over the past decade or so, there have been individual programmes, channels like etc and shows like Idea Jalsa which have contributed to showcasing Hindustani classical music. But this is the first time followers will receive a daily dose of their favourite genre. Its focus on young artistes is truly welcome.

FOR some strange reason, there has been a rather erroneous impression that the future of Hindustani classical music is bleak, and there aren’t enough young musicians to carry forward the legacy of the earlier masters.

The truth, however, is that one finds more than adequate talent across the country. Some of them are below 30, and others in their 30s and 40s. They have their own small groups of followers, but are yet not as recognised as some of their contemporaries.

When you talk of musicians below 50, known artistes that many people instantly think of are vocalists Rashid Khan, Jayateerth Mevundi, Sanjeev Abhyankar and Kaushiki Chakraborty, flautists Ronu Majumdar and Rakesh Chaurasia, sitar players Niladri Kumar and Anoushka Shankar, santoor player Rahul Sharma, sarod players Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan, and tabla player Anuradha Pal, besides some other names. All of them are prolific and some of them absolutely brilliant, no doubt.

But then, there are also so many musicians who are just not known among the majority of audiences. They play at smaller venues and less-glamorous festivals, often in the presence of only 50 to 100 people. They don’t get the media footage that the others do, even though they are equally talented.

This trend can clearly be attributed to the way things have been functioning in the Hindustani classical music scene for quite some time. And much of this has to do with the ‘star culture’ that has permeated the system, and the tendency of some musicians to market themselves better.

Whether it’s the organisers, record labels or the media, the overall tendency — barring a few healthy exceptions — has been to highlight only a select few. Let’s specifically take the existing classical festivals as an example.

Every October till the following February, many large music festivals and some big one-off events are held in various parts of India. Most of these concerts are extremely well-attended and offer the highest quality of music. But if one notices the line-up of artistes, one sees more or less the same names repeatedly. In a bid to attract more audiences, organisers ensure that each festival features at least three or four ‘crowd pullers’.

While it’s absolutely fair if they think that way, and while it’s always a pleasure to hear the known names every time, one would be even more delighted if some of the lesser-known and younger musicians are given a chance to perform at these extravaganzas. Instead, they get the smaller festivals or individual concerts which attract limited crowds and lesser publicity.

Talking of publicity, one instantly thinks of the role of the media. Barring a few publications, coverage of most younger artistes is restricted to listings of their concerts, followed perhaps by a short one-paragraph bio-data, Here too, some of the better-known names are given more prominence, as their pictures are larger and they are interviewed too. ‘Star children’, or children of famous musicians, get more mileage.

As far as television is concerned, barring InSync channel and the occasional programme on Doordarshan, and shows like Idea Jalsa, most music television is hell-bent on only showing Bollywood or popular music, or over-dramatised song ‘n’ dance reality shows.

The same goes with radio. There was a time when classical fans looked forward to All India Radio recitals, but now, the time devoted to Hindustani classical has come down, and the lesser-known artistes rarely get a chance. The media thinks in terms of only one genre, which is Bollywood.

To come to recorded music, the industry has been going through a rough patch. Most of the bigger labels, and even some smaller classical-specific companies, have cut down on the number of new Hindustani releases. They are banking on the rich catalogue they have accumulated over the years, specially focusing on the older masters and some of the more recent stars. Their recording of younger artistes has been rather erratic, and even when done, marketing has been low-key.

While this is the general state of affairs, some musicians get more footage because they are public relations champions, or because they dabble in fancy fusion projects to attract attention. One also hears of the existence of lobbies and groupism, in that some musicians try to push only a select few disciples or followers, or are so strong in certain cities that they try to ensure only musicians from that city get opportunities. Those in the thick of things are aware of such incidents, and the ones to suffer most from this is the young, upcoming artiste.

THERE have been some positive signs too, as some concert organisers have made concerted efforts to promote younger musicians. Pancham-Nishad has been organising the Aarohi festival for over a decade, and has featured some really good artistes. This year’s line-up featured vocalists Dhanashree Ghaisas, Aditya Khandwe, Krishna Bongane and Sonal Shivkumar, sitar player Chintan Katti, sarod exponent Pratik Shrivastava and tabla players Ojas Adhiya and Yati Bhagwat. Not one of them is famous, but yet, they are really good.

Similarly, Banyan Tree Events started Swara: The Tree of Life two years ago, with the aim of having one younger musician and one senior artiste each evening, in concerts held in the smaller cities. Some years ago, Durga Jasraj’s Art & Artistes organised a day-long concert in memory of late sarod monarch Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, where the focus was only on young musicians.

Besides these, there are many other organisations and venues which do their bit to promote lesser-known artistes. Understandably, the scale of these events is much smaller in comparison to the big-star festivals, but at least they play their role in giving a chance to people whom one normally doesn’t hear.

A couple of other instances come to mind. To begin with, at the recently announced nominations for the Global Indian Music Academy (GIMA) awards, it was heartening to see some different names like vocalist Sangeeta Bandopadhyay, flautist Paras Nath, sarod player Abhishek Lahiri and tabla player Parthasarathi Mukherjee in the list of Hindustani classical nominees. This was alongside some of the biggest names on the circuit.

Recently, one also came across some publicity material sent by Lucknow-based Sangeet Milon for its ‘Classical Voice of India 2013’ competition, inviting entries in three age groups up to 24 years, to sing either khayal or dhrupad/ dhamaar.

Spic-Macay, one of the main bodies which has been educating youngsters about Indian classical music, has initiated ‘Naad Bhed’, a national reality show on television in association with Doordarshan and All India Radio, inviting entries in both Hindustani and Carnatic music. Efforts like these will surely help discover talent in Hindustani music, just like Indian Idol Junior did for children singing film songs.

What one sees in all this is that while there has been some strong individual effort in this direction by certain organisers and groups of people, in the overall perspective, things have been haphazard or sporadic. On the one hand, it is natural to push the stars and better-known names, and one isn’t complaining against that. But on the other hand, it is important to pay greater attention to the equally talented, yet less fortunate lot of younger talent. InSync channel is a great move in that direction, and one wishes more people follow suit.

The marketing of a music ‘Pandit’


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In north Indian or Hindustani classical music, the titles ‘Pandit’ or ‘Ustad’ are bestowed upon a very senior musician, who is considered a scholar and a genius. The title is often accorded by his guru (teacher) or any other senior artiste. However, of late, it has become a fad for musicians from the younger generation to call themselves ‘Pandits’ or ‘Ustads’, and use that for publicising themselves. This spoof takes a look at one such extreme, imaginary case.

A FEW days ago, I had to cancel an important appointment, when Rajesh of the Musicstar Image public relations agency called me and told me a legendary classical vocalist was in town, and would be free only for the next three hours. I asked him for the singer’s name, and he replied: “That’s a total surprise. You’ll be completely delighted to meet Pandit-ji.”

I rushed to the Taj Lands End hotel, wondering who this musician might be. Totally excited, I reached the room where the interview had been fixed. Rajesh was sitting there with one of his team members Seema, who was assisting him. Besides them was a young gentleman, not more than 22 or 23 years old. He was wearing a saffron kurta, had long hair and wore some six or seven rings with different stones. He looked like one of the legendary singer’s young disciples, the one who probably carried his guru’s water bottle to the stage.

On seeing me, Rajesh immediately walked up and greeted me. “So glad you could make it. I didn’t want you to miss this glorious opportunity,” he said. And before I could ask where Pandit-ji was, he pointed out to the young man in the kurta, and said: “Meet Sangeet Samraat Pandit Swar Gandhaar, the great maestro and founder of the Chunabhatti gharana.”

I almost collapsed. How could someone so young be called a Pandit? And that too, a Sangeet Samraat, the Emperor of Music? And hello, I had heard of the Gwalior, Agra, Kirana, Patiala, Mewati and Rampur gharanas, even the Bhendi Bazaar gharana. They were schools representing a certain style of singing. But for heaven’s sake, what was this Chunabhatti gharana?

Sandwiches, samosas, biscuits and coffee immediately arrived. A huge press folder was given to me, along with some 25 pictures, each showing ‘Pandit-ji’ in a different kurta, with a different expression. I looked at him and said, “Nice meeting you, Swar.” Seema called me aside and told me softly: “Sir, would appreciate if you call him Pandit-ji.”

Trying to look normal, I read the press release. What made me jump up was the first sentence of the third paragraph, which said: “Pandit-ji is now all set to storm the music world by giving his first ever public concert at the Shanmukhananda Hall in August. He is also being considered for next year’s Padma Shri awards.”

Speechless, I asked for regular water. Evian mineral water was served. Rajesh asked me whether I was ready to begin my interview. So I asked my first question.

You have a very musical name. Swar Gandhaar. Do you come from a musical family? Did your parents always want you to become a classical musician?

This is my stage name. My real name is Deepak Kulshreshta, which is on my passport and PAN Card. But please don’t write that down. Deepak Kulshreshta doesn’t sound like a classical music legend. So I changed it to Swar Gandhaar. ‘Swar’ has different musical connotations, one of them being the purity of the musical note. ‘Gandhaar’ is the third musical note, which we sing as ‘Ga’. As for my parents, they both loved music, but neither of them learnt it. They sent me to music class to avoid my tantrums at home.

Don’t mind if I call you Swar, instead of Pandit-ji. Sorry Seema, but whenever I meet Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Ustad Zakir Hussain, I have always called them Shiv-ji and Zakir-bhai. They appreciate it. Anyway, Swar, how old are you?

I am 21. I have been learning music from the age of nine. First from the late Barkatullah Khan (he touches his ears as a mark of respect), and later from Deviprasad Bhole, who still teaches me. Both come from a strong lineage covering eight or nine generations.

Surprising you don’t refer to either of them as ‘Ustad’ or ‘Pandit’. Anyway, did they bestow the title ‘Pandit’ on you, and how long ago?

No way. They don’t call themselves ‘Ustad’ or ‘Pandit’ so where’s the question of calling me one? I began calling myself ‘Pandit’ some three months ago. These days, every classical singer calls himself ‘Pandit’ after giving concerts for two or three years, irrespective of whether he is famous or not. I thought I’d do that earlier. The name will sell. With a name like Pandit Swar Gandhaar and the right media publicity, audiences would flock to my shows.

I don’t completely agree with you. Only the male singers are calling themselves ‘Pandit’ and ‘Ustad’. This isn’t a practice among female singers. Even the most senior female singers like Kishori Amonkar and Parveen Sultana don’t go by ‘Pandita’ or ‘Ustadini’.

Agreed. But who’s stopping them? Seema, why don’t you learn singing for a year and call yourself Pandita Seema Shah? You can be my student.

You also don’t find this practice in Carnatic music.

There, all the young musicians are calling themselves ‘vidwaan’. Pretentious people who claim to know everything. By the way, can you please ask me something about my singing style?

I will surely come to that. But see, in the olden days, the term ‘Pandit’ or ‘Ustad’ was bestowed on the musician by his guru or any senior musician, only when he felt he had reached that stage of mastery. Isn’t it a bit early for you to call yourself ‘Pandit’?

You said it. That was the practice in the olden days. Times have changed. Today, so many young musicians are calling themselves ‘Pandit’ and ‘Ustad’ after performing for just four or five years. And it’s not only happening in Hindustani classical music, but also in ghazals and dance forms like Kathak. If they can do so, so can I.

Great. But you’re already calling yourself ‘Sangeet Samraat’, or Emperor of Music, before even giving your first concert. Isn’t that a bit much?

I’m now getting irritated by your questions. Do you know what Facebook is? Twitter? Seema, I don’t want to give this interview. Rajesh, this is not what you told me! You said this person would ask me some sensible questions. You guys are wasting my time. I’ll have to rework my payment rates.

(Swar, Seema and Rajesh gather in a corner for a short discussion. Swar then returns and apologises for his conduct, requesting me to continue the interview).

Yes, I asked you about the title ‘Sangeet Samrat’. How did you get it?

Oh yes. As you know, it’s important to market yourself on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter these days. You see a lot of singers and musicians there who add things like ‘Pandit-ji’, ‘Super Singer’, ‘Ghazal Maestro’, ‘Classical Prodigy’, ‘Sitar Sensation’ to their names. We did some research and discovered that people who used such titles have five times the number of friends than those who don’t. Since I was using a very musical name like ‘Pandit Swar Gandhaar’, I thought the title ‘Sangeet Samraat’ would be perfect. In fact, one week before my concert, I plan to add ‘Doyen of Hindustani music’ to my name. And two weeks after my concert, I want to add ‘Legendary Luminary’.

I’ve been wanting to ask you this question for quite some time. I’ve heard of various gharanas in vocal music, but for the first time, I am hearing of the Chunabhatti gharana. What exactly is this?

All the gharanas you know of are old-fashioned. Nobody has created a new gharana in years, and I thought I would create one myself. What I have done is essentially mix elements of all the gharanas you know. Not that I know much about any of these gharanas myself. I’m not even sure what gharana I’ve been trained in. But the Chunabhatti gharana is like a very heady cocktail, a wonderfully mixed bhel puri. I was passing by this suburban Mumbai area called Chunabhatti one evening, and stopped by at the bhel puri shop. The bhel puri was really tasty. I liked the way the guy was mixing all ingredients, and I thought maybe I could use the same concept for my music. I worked on it, and from now on, I shall be referred to in music history books as the ‘founder of the Chunabhatti gharana’.

Fantastic. You might just set a trend here. Soon we may have the Koparkhairane gharana, Dariba Kalan gharana, Ballygunge gharana and Kukatpally gharana. Probably inspired by dishes like vada pav, chhole bathure, hilsa fish and Hyderabadi mutton biryani which you’ll definitely find in these areas.

Great idea, man. For once you’re saying something interesting. Rajesh, make a note of all these, and we’ll create a plan on how I should found all these gharanas. Find out about restaurants in these areas which serve these dishes. You got me thinking, dude!

Anyway, you’ve chosen such a huge auditorium for your first concert. Are you sure you’ll get a large enough crowd?

I am confident of my public relations agency. Musicstar Image knows exactly how to create super-stars. We have planned a terrific marketing campaign which will guarantee that some 2,800 people will attend the concert and another 10,000 will curse their luck because they didn’t get tickets.

You’ve never given a concert before. What if you receive negative feedback for the first one? What if people don’t appreciate the salient features of the.. what was it… Chunabhatti gharana?

A majority of people who attend my concert would know nothing about the notes used in raag Yaman, or the vadi and samvadi of raag Malkauns, the notes that define the raag. If I play a morning raag like Miyan ki Todi at 8 pm, they will clap. If I announce I am singing raag Darbari and actually sing the Bhairavi composition ‘Jamuna Ke Teer’, they will accept it and start dancing. Some seven or eight percent of the crowd may spot my mistakes and criticise me, but the minority doesn’t matter. I always look at the bigger picture.

Once your first concert is over, what are your plans?

Why only first concert? Musicstar Image and I have drawn up a career plan for the next 10 years. No other musician in the world would have had such a fabulous career plan. Forget about Indian musicians, not even Michael Jackson.

Very interesting. Can you tell me some of the highlights?

To begin with, we have already planned our international concert schedule. For the next two years, we have almost finalised concerts at the Madison Square Garden in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London and Burgtheater in Vienna. Another highlight is that every three years, we shall create a buzz that I am being considered for some prestigious national or musical award. As we’ve mentioned in the press folder, this year, we are aiming at the Padma Shri. The media will write it much in advance, and the government will actually end up believing them and awarding me with a Padma Shri. We have already created the draft of our press release on ‘Young legend wins Padma Shri’. Similarly, three years later, we’ll target Padma Bhushan. And six years later, we’re thinking of Padma Vibhushan…

My dear friend. Am sorry to say but there are so many senior and great musicians who have been performing for years and are yet to get the Padma Vibhushan. And you want to get the ultimate honour before turning 40.

My mantra has been to dream big. My PR agency will create the right plan, we’ll keep aside an adequate budget and we’ll connect with the right people in the government, preferably those who know nothing about music. You seem to live in an ancient world. Wake up, rock star. Anything can happen in today’s times. Mark my words. I’m only 21, but Sangeet Samraat Pandit Swar Gandhaar the Legendary Luminary has arrived!

(In my mind) Well, you may have arrived, but it’s high time I disappeared…

The amazing grace of Gangubai Hangal


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WHEN I interviewed Gangubai Hangal for Mumbai’s Mid Day newspaper back in 2001, she was 88 years old. She was staying at the Hilltop hotel in Worli, Mumbai, with her daughter Krishna and son Baburao, and had chosen that place as it was close to Nehru Centre, where she was scheduled to attend a function.

Keeping in mind her age and seniority, the staff photographer Suresh KK chose to take pictures of her as she was sitting on the sofa and speaking. She was happy to know I belonged to the Dharwad-Hubli region of north Karnataka, and thus conversed in Kannada, reminiscing about the olden days and how classical music had changed.

The interview over, she asked Suresh whether these were all the photographs he wanted. Before he could reply, Gangubai joked: “Take some nice action photographs. We can go to the terrace and you’ll get some good shots there, and a nice background view. Come, I’ll walk up there. Do you think I am an old lady?”

ON Sunday, May 5, this incident came to mind, as I sat at the Karnataka Sangha auditorium in Matunga, Mumbai. The occasion was an audio-visual presentation cum listening session on the life and music of the great Hubli-based singer, who charmed music lovers for decades with her distinct, somewhat-masculine voice. In attendance were 100-odd diehard classical music fans, many of whom were above 70 years of age.

For a generation which has grown up on Gangubai and her guru-bhai Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who both carried forward the Kirana gharana teachings of their guru Sawai Gandharva, the event was a treat. Presented jointly by Omkar Sur Mandal and Kalabharati, the performing arts circle of the Karnataka Sangha, it was compered by connoisseur and senior critic Prakash G Burde, who provided many interesting glimpses of the doyenne’s life.

Besides snippets of her television interviews given in Marathi, the two-hour session showcased her renditions of ragas like Adana, Todi, Yaman, Kalawati, Jogiya and Bhairavi, and the Carnatic piece Madhyamavati, besides a thumri in Tilang. Most often, she would be accompanied by daughter Krishna, whose mellifluous voice provided a wonderful contrast, but in Chandrakauns, Gangubai was featured alone. Another highlight was a live rendition of raga Prabhat Bhairav, which she sang at least five times at the Sawai Gandharva festival in Pune.

The event was also held as part of Gangubai’s birth centenary celebrations. She was born on March 5, 1913, just 16 days before the great shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan, and just less than two months before Indian cinema was born. And while the media has correctly highlighted the film landmark, it has unfortunately ignored the birth centenaries of two of India’s greatest musicians.

Gangubai’s life had many interesting facets. She was initiated into music at a young age by her mother Ambabai, who was a Carnatic singer. As Hindustani music was growing in popularity in the Hubli-Dharwad region, the young girl was keen to learn that style. In fact, besides Sawai Gandharva, Bhimsen-ji and her, north Karnataka also produced stalwarts like vocalists Mallikarjun Mansur, Kumar Gandharva and Basavraj Rajguru, and sitar maestros Rehmat Khan and Bale Khan.

Gangubai’s family settled down in Hubli so that she could focus on singing, even though people criticised her decision as her mother belonged to a lower caste where music wasn’t considered honourable. Her early gurus included Krishnacharya Hulgur and Dattopant Desai, but it was only through Sawai Gandharva’s guidance that she cultivated her unique style.

Gangubai would travel 14 km every morning from Hubli to Kundgol, and return at night after a hectic day of musical education. But slowly, she imbibed the finer nuances of the Kirana gharana, and was regularly giving concerts when she was 20, sometimes referred to as Gandhari, besides Gangubai. In 1933, she recorded a Marathi song ‘Tu tithe an mi etha ha’ with G N Joshi, and in 1936, appeared and sang in the film ‘Vijayache Lagne’.

Initially, she had a feminine voice, but there was a sudden change after a throat operation when she was in her early 30s. Instead of being disappointed, Gangubai was actually thrilled because it now sounded closer to that of her guru, and she could sing the lower notes more fluently. The rest is history, as it was that voice which made her different from most of the established female singers, including luminaries like Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kurdikar and Hirabai Badodekar, and her contemporaries like Saraswati Rane and Roshanara Begum.

Gangubai passed away on July 21, 2009, at the age of 96. Though she was very active for most of her life, her last few years had a couple of setbacks. She overcame bone marrow cancer in 2003, but was completely shattered when Krishna passed away in 2004 after suffering from cancer. Yet, Gangubai made a comeback in 2006, to give a concert to mark 75 years of her musical career.

Those who’ve seen Gangubai live in concert or even in pictures would have one lasting image of hers. Very often, she would cover her left ear with her palm, and sing in deep concentration. Like her voice, that image will stay forever.

For those fortunate to know or even meet her, memories of her spontaneous sense of humour and zest for life linger on. One just can’t forget the way she climbed the stairs as an 88-year-old, posing for photographs with the enthusiasm of someone 70 years younger.

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