The Sound: Jagjit and Chitra Singh


Chitra and Jagjit Singh

Some artists sing songs that become classics  and live on for eternity. Others are loved for the special charisma they bring to their live performances. Some artists sell millions of records (or CDs or downloads) and grow rich. But few truly change the course of popular music or establish a sound that is instantly identifiable with them.

Jagjit Singh and his wife and singing partner Chitraare in that rarest of rare categories that can claim to have accomplished all of the above.

It is Sunday morning here in Melbourne, the first day of spring. The skies are overcast and a brisk breeze is gusting off Port Philip Bay. As I start the day I’m overcome with a strong desire to hear some ghazals by this wonderful duo, and so I turn to Black Magic an album that seems to date from the mid-late 1980s.

At once I am touched.  The warmth of Jagjit’s unhurried and honeyed voice calms the many mini storms inside of me. I’m drawn completely into a world of spiritual doubt and unrequited love the territory Jagjit and Chitra have claimed as their own since they burst onto the scene nearly 40 years ago.  Jagjit’s voice is iconic in the same way as Johnny Cash‘s: strong, manly, deep and assured.  A creative energy that is able to make you stop, sit up and pay attention.  But where Cash made you tremble, Jagjit makes you glow.

For her part Chitra embodies the reticient but passionate beloved. Her voice is delicate, nearly brittle at times but always full of melody and spirit. Like Jagjit her style is deliberate and precise like she is telling a story to a dear friend.

Black Magic is a wonderful example of the Jagjit and Chitra sound. Essentially acoustic, it relied on simple combination of flute, guitar, tabla (always in the background, never driving), santoor and violin. They rarely sang anything other ballads and this aural environment is distinctively theirs. You hear an intro and you know whose voices will soon come in.

This could become boring and tiresome but it doesn’t. At least not for me, yet. And I’ve been listening for 35 years. You don’t look to Jagjit and Chitra for experimentation. You go to them because you can rest assured you’ll always be welcomed into their gentle and elegant embrace


Track List:

01 Patthar Ke Khuda Patthar Ke Sanam

02 Jab Bhi Tanhai Se Ghabra Ke

03 Jawani Ke Heelay Haya Ke Bahne

04 Yeh Kaya Jane Mein Jana Hai

05 Mai Pilkar Aap Ka Kaya Jayega

06 Hai Ikhtiar Mein Tere

07 Yeh Bhi Kya Ehsaan Kum Hai

08 Agar Hum Kahen Aur Woh Muskraden

Black Magic


A Rare Pairing: Jnan Prakash Ghosh and V.G. Jog


The obiquitous harmonium or, hand pump organ, has a rather chequered reputation. Introduced via Europeans (missionaries, no less!) it has struggled to gain legitimacy in the ears and hands of purist classical musicians. But over the decades it has become an indispensable tool for Indian musicians, especially singers.

Whereas about 150 years ago, before the current version of the harmonium was reinvented for Indian conditions by Dwarkanath Ghose, it was the sarangi that vocalists chose to accompany them.  But over the years as musical tastes, technologies and consumption patterns changed the harmonium has succeeded in almost totally pushing the sarangi to one side.

Now every singer of ghazals, geets, bhajans, qawwali, nat and kirtans either plays the harmonium her/himself as she/he sings or has someone sitting close to her/him who keys out the melody line.  Though purists continue to look down their noses at the instrument–its foreign, its ugly, its cheap–and for nearly 25 years it was forbidden (!) to be played on All India Radio, its place in the concert hall is as secure as that of the tabla or sitar.

Though it is often a scorned instrument, there are many absolutely fantastic, nay, virtuoistic harmonium players from all rungs of professional and informal music worlds.  In the villages it is played with a rough raw abandon that is a wonder to behold. On classical and semi classical stages it is more demure–often simply peppering the vocal lines by way of emphasis.  The number of qawwalis that open with extended harmonium solos are far too many to count.   But despite its amazing versatility across genres and styles the harmonium has rarely ever been given center stage. As an instrument worthy in its own right  to be heard, to sing, to fly as a voice as serious as Ravi Shankar’s sitar or Ali Akbar Khan’s sarod.

But all that is about to change today!

While digging around in my collection I came upon this fantastic and rare (in concept, if not in availability) recording.  A jugalbandi (musical conversation) between the violin, played by the legendary Prof. V.G. Jog and the harmonium played by percussionist and all round musican Jnan Prakash Ghosh.

I’ve been listening to this over and over, thrilling to the idea and sound of one of my favorite instruments, finally getting the recognition it deserves.  To make its case and assert that it is not content to just sit on the sidelines ‘servicing’ the stars of the show but that it too is worthy of being fully in the limelight.

This particular record was issued in 1985 but there is an earlier recording of the two gentlemen made in 1967.  I’m not sure whether they are one and same and this one is a reiusse of the original or if there are multiple such jugalbandis out there. But I’m on the case, and I’ll be sure to let you know what I find out.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy this tremendous and unusual recital.



Track Listing:

  1. Shyam Kalyan
  2. Jhinjhoti and Misra Kalengra with Dhun Kaharwa

Jugalbandi Ho!

Early Sound: Shiv Kumar Sharma

shivkumar sharma

The Kashmiri Samrat of the santoor, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, has been playing his magical instrument for nigh on to 65 years now. And it never fails to thrill me to hear the mezrab (mallets) gently knock against one of the one hundred strings of the instrument.


The flute, the jaltarang, the tabla and of course, the sitar, all evoke India from the very first notes they sound. And so too, does the santoor, possibly the most electric of all of India’s musical instruments.


And sadly for all other players of the instrument, they are destined to live and work in the deep shadows of Pandit Shiv Kumar ji who has so dominated the santoor that he has become synonymous with the instrument.


Here is an early (the earliest, some say) recording of the master. Recorded either in 1960 or 1967 and available with a couple different covers (both of which I share) this album pulses with the tingling sounds of the santoor.  Panditji was to develop a more complex, fuller sound in the years to come and as such this recording is certainly not his best. But it is still excellent and I’m pleased to share it with you today.

Track Listing:

  1. Raga Lalit (Gat in Jhaptal &Teental)
  2. Dhun in Bhairavi (Keherwa)
  3. Raga Kalawati (Gat in Teental)
  4. Dhun in Pahadi


A Jazz Voice: Sachal Vasandani


Sachal Vasandani

There is something about south Asians and jazz. The open horizon of possibilities perhaps. The discipline of discipline.  The conjurers trick of masking precision in seeming effortlessness and spontaneity.

Of course the theoretical synergies between raga-based music and jazz, especially the reliance of both on the imagination and improvisation of the players is well documented.  But still, the number of contemporary jazz artists (pianists, saxophonists, singers, drummers, guitarists) who are from Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi (and even Nepali) backgrounds is remarkable.   The subject of a future book perhaps.

And here is one more. Sachal Vasandani, the son of Sindhi immigrants to Chicago, has over the past decade or so released a number of albums that have placed him in the higher ranks of American jazz singers.

A native of Chicago, Vasandani attracted attention in 1999 when he was named Down Beat magazine’s Collegiate Jazz Vocalist of the Year. He has worked with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. His debut album was Eyes Wide Open. He has performed consistently worldwide since his first release on Mack Avenue Records in 2007. His second album, We Move (2009), was a New York Times Critics’ Pick. He has collaborated with many of the prominent jazz artists of his generation and those of earlier generations, including: Jon Hendricks, Wynton Marsalis, Bill Charlap, Bobby McFerrin, John Clayton, Stefon Harris, Gerald Clayton, Taylor Eigsti, Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens, Camila Meza, and others.

He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where he studied jazz and classical music. [Wikipedia]

We Move (2009) is his second album.  A good, if not entirely brilliant album, its hard to deny that Vasandani doesn’t have a feel for his chosen genre. And his voice is a pleasure to listen to.

Here is what All Music has to say about today’s selection:

Sachal Vasandani‘s second CD shows he is maturing as a jazz singer and composer, continuing to refine his approach while landing safely in flat fields of open expanse. His voice rarely wavers or explores upper or lower registers; rather, it stays within a comfort zone that avoids much of a challenge. This consistency serves his songs and his audience well, working within a current trend of singers who stay within specific rhythmic boundaries and don’t really push the envelope. Vasandani is helped by pianist Jeb Patton and a backing trio that has been with the vocalist for almost a decade, while co-producers John Clayton and guitarist Doug Wamble give him a bit of a push here and there, mixing up standards with subtle originals. The title track shows the most originality in a steady, repeating, and wistful mode; “Ring Road” (contributed by drummer Quincy Davis) has Vasandani in a playful, ever cool mood; and “Don’t Worry About Me” has that contemporary hip-hop rhythm originated by Ahmad Jamal under the singer’s slick, level-headed style. The old Joe Williams number “By the River St. Marie” is bopped hard within the controlled dynamics of Vasandani‘s voice, and he goes for some scat on the intro of the combo tune “Once in a While” and Patton‘s “Horizons.” The group covers the chestnuts “No More” and Thelonious Monk‘s “Monk’s Dream,” both with lyrics penned by Jon Hendricks, but the results are not optimal or perfect. Where the singer is most convincing crops up in an elegant, confident manner on “Escape/There’s a Small Hotel,” but especially during “There Are Such Things,” a serene interpretation that comes straight from the heart. The most unusual arrangement is more in a baroque or chamber style on the low-key “Royal Eyes,” which merges effectively into a small samba. After two recordings, Sachal Vasandani has found somewhat of a niche, but needs to ramp it up creatively and take more chances in order to stand out from the small group of contemporary male jazz vocalists.

You may have your own opinions.  But in any case, Vasandani is another chapter in the fascinating history of contemporary jazz and it’s cohort of ‘desi’ practitioners.


Track Listing:

01 Escape – There’s a small hotel

02 No more

03 Don’t worry about me

04 Every ocean, every star

05 We move

06 Once in a while – Horizons

07 There are such things

08 By the river St. Marie

09 Ring road (back to you)

10 Royal eyes

11 Monk’s dream

12 I’d let you know

13 Heartbeat

14 Travelin’ light



Snake Charmer’s Orchestra: Iqbal Jogi and Party


A rather interesting album made originally in the 1950s during the ethno-music craze that brought non-Western/exotic music into suburban homes in the West.

The instrument featured here is called by several different names across South Asia: murli, been or punji.  The Murli or Punji is a wind instrument which consists of two parts; the upper part is made of a dried and hollowed gourd which acts as the main sound chamber. The lower part is constructed from two reed pipes which are joined together into a double barrel form and positioned below the sound chamber. On most of these instruments the reed section has eight holes, which are used to play tones for music. However, in some parts of Sindh there is an additional hole in the lower back end of the right pipe. This instrument is known as a Murli in Sindh, and a Punji in other parts of Pakistan. It is most commonly recognized for its popular use by snake charmers throughout South Asia . 

Iqbal Jogi is a name known only to others than his family and friends as the key been player on this record. A Sindhi, in all likelihood,

The Jogi (also spelled Yogi; meaning “sage” or “saint”) are a Hindu sect (nath sampraday), found in North India and Sindh, with smaller numbers in the southern Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Jogi is a colloquial term for the “yogi”, which refers to the people who practiced yoga as part of their daily rituals. Over the time, this led to the formation of a community, and subsequently was formed into a caste. (Wikipedia)

Jogis are mendicants, who perambulate from holy site to holy site, and who often stop by your door, with begging bowl, simple musical instruments and colourful turbans or skull caps.  Though the name derives from yogi, a Sanskrit term, in the middle ages, especially in Sindh and Punjab, the jogis were associated with a math (spiritual refuge) in northern Punjab called Tilla Jogian (jogis hill). Adherents to the sect while nominally ‘Hindu’ came from all faiths and segments of society and were called Gorakpanthi after Gorakhnath the sect’s founder.

Iqbal Jogi is of this group of spiritual musicians.

When you think about this recording it has Monty Python-esque possibilities.  A bunch of bearded , turbaned men dancing about blowing into snake-charmers gourds!  But don’t allow your mind to go there. As this more recent release of the album is subtitled, there is a lot of passion in this group.  They blow intensely and seriously, bringing new life to some Sindh’s oldest and most beloved folk songs and melodies.

So settle back and prepare yourself for some very special sounds…a snake charmers orchestra!

The Passion of Pakistan

Track Listing:

01 Lorau (A Folk Tune Popular in the Desert Region of Sind.)

02 Momil Rano (A Folk Romance)

03 Kohiari (From the Sind Region of Pakistan.)

04 Lal Mori Pat (Traditional Folk Song)

05 Bhairveen (Raag of the Morning.)

06 Sorath (Folk Tune in Sindhi Ragni.)

07 Pahari (Tune of Sindhi Folk Song & Dance.)

08 Pahari (Folk Tune in Raga.)

Iqbal Jogi