Among the handful of Indian records that have found a significant audience in the ‘west’, Call of the Valley is undoubtedly the most loved. Listeners gush when they talk about it, indulging in multiple superlatives and 5 star ratings. It’s no surprise that George Harrison, the quiet and Hindu Beatle, loved the record. But when one considers that grumpy old Bob Dylan has given it a thumbs up as well, one does take notice.
The album, released nearly half a century ago in 1967, does deserve its reputation as a classic. Probably no other album of South Asian music has sold as many copies. The general consensus is if you only have room for a single Hindustani classical record in your collection, Call of the Valley must be it.
My first encounter with the album came in the 70s when a cassette came my way in wintery Minnesota. I missed India intensely and what I heard coming out of my Walkman transported me instantly back home. This was musical magic. The sound was at once reassuringly familiar but entirely fresh. The musicians had managed to create such an evocative world with their instruments, the idea of needing any other record, be it classical or Indian or any other type, seemed redundant.
The musicians who conceived and performed this seminal music are now all highly respected, internationally renown superstars: Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Brijbhushan Kabra. But half a century ago, they were young musicians on the make. But a haughty traditional musical establishment was dead set against them. How dare they think they could bring their unusual instruments into the pure realm of classical music!
Pt. Shivkumar Sharma left home in Kashmir in the mid-1950s to seek his fortune in Bombay. Though his father disagreed with Sharma’s stubborn insistence not to pursue an ‘office job’ he gave his son Rs 500 to get him to the big city. The youngster sought work as an accompanist (he had been trained in tabla) but also never missed a chance to promote the instrument he’d brought with him: the santoor. The instrument may have had deep and ancient antecedents in India but until Sharma came along, it was regarded simply as a folk instrument from a minor region of the country.
By his own confession, Hariprasad Chaurasia, had been bewitched by the sound of the bamboo flute from his earliest years and prayed that one day he would have the chance to learn. But first, he too, had to resist his father’s career advice, which in this case was to take to the wrestling akhara. Though he did wrestle for a few years and got a government job at the age of 18 he never gave up on his dream and began an 8 year apprenticeship with Pt. Bholanath Prasanna.
Eventually, he too made his way to Bombay where he struggled for three years to get Annapurna Devi, daughter of the great Ustad Allaudin Khan, to agree to be his guru. Although Pt. Pannalal Ghosh had managed to break the bansuri into the classical orchestra the flute was still very much dismissed as a folk and peasant instrument.
The final maestro, Brijbhusan Kabra was headed for a sporting career when he discovered the sound of the Hawaiian guitar as a student in Calcutta. He returned to Rajasthan determined to master the instrument but (you guessed it) his father stood in the way. Eventually, the two reached a compromise—the guitar was OK as long as it played only Hindustani classical music. Becoming the shahgird of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Kabra single-handedly adopted the guitar to the demands of raga-based music blazing the trail for such latter day stars as Debashish Bhattacharya, Kabra’s most famous disciple.
By the middle 1960s the three Young Turks found themselves in Bombay. Each had achieved some status but was far from being a major artist. Sharma was approached by a record company to compose an album of ‘thematic’ music. Something in a classical mode but not entirely restricted to dhrupad-based ragas.
Immediately, his mind flew to the valleys of Kashmir and the name of the piece, Call of the Valley, came quickly. With his two friends, also armed with their non-establishment-approved instruments, the three met in a studio and laid down the tracks of what they all considered would be another small notch in their professional belts.
If not exactly an overnight sensation, Call of the Valley quickly caught the imagination of listeners from Bombay to Brooklyn. And the three friends who had endured so much to get their instruments and talents recognised, went on to become senior artistes of the sub continent.
This is an original copy of the first pressing of this illustrious record. Released by HMV/EMI, India in 1968 it’s sleeve notes are well worth reading as you listen to the fabulous intoxicating enriching sounds.
01 Ahir Bhairav
02 Nat Bhairav – Ek Tala
03 Piloo – Teen Tala
04 Bhoop -Jhap Tala
05 Des – Dadra Tala