Dikkat mein Aaram: Music in a time of Coronarvirus

Microscopic view of Coronavirus, a pathogen that attacks the respiratory tract. Analysis and test, experimentation. Sars

Such beautiful specimens. Such disruptive little buggers. Here we go folks, Australia is heading toward lockdown and who knows when I’ll return to the office. Or the kids to their classrooms. Our holidays are cancelled. The local shop’s shelves are empty of the essentials (apparently even Oreos and Spicy Japanese Mayo are essential to human survial). And I’m getting ready for a long bout of cabin fever.

Perhaps you too will be feeling the pain of isolation. Loss of social life. Uncertainty about the health and wellbeing of your loved ones. Maybe you’re already there (in Europe, or China or South Korea) and are ready to punch someone in the face.

In such situations the only solution is not to stay calm and listen to Trump and Macron and Boris and Modi and Imran. They’re as nervous and uncertain as you. Except more. They have whole nations to hold up and hold together.

No, the solution, as is almost always the case, music.

And so dear friends, as you head off into the uncertain future of the next few months (and I pray you and I all come out of it in one piece at the other end) here is a swag of records to keep you compnay. A bit of Pakistani, India, Bangladeshi and diaspora sounds you can use to inspire you when you’re sitting all alone and blue and nervous. And Fed up.

Number 1: Magic Carpet (Magic Carpet)

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Magic Carpet was a pioneering British psychedelic folk band of musicians that first appeared in the early 1970s.

The band members were Clem Alford, sitar; Alisha Sufit, voice and guitar; Jim Moyes, guitar; and Keshav Sathe, Indian tabla percussion. In 1972 the band released an eponymous album, Magic Carpet, on the Mushroom (UK) label that has since become a sought-after item in the international collectors’ vinyl market.

The Magic Carpet album has been described as ‘a jewelled crown in the treasure trove of psyche-tinged folk music’ Magic Carpet being one of the very first bands to truly combine Indian and western instrumentation. After a launch at the 100 Club, London, UK, the Magic Carpet band performed at Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth’s Wavendon, enjoyed airplay on Pete Drummond’s Sounds of the Seventies on BBC Radio, plus made several club and festival appearances. However, this novel collective split up shortly after the first album was released. It was only after a lapse of some fifteen years that recognition followed.

Widely and more positively reviewed, the original Magic Carpet album was reissued on CD and vinyl by the UK Magic Carpet Records label.

Seven of the vocal tracks written by Sufit employ modal tunings in the guitar accompaniment. These ‘open’ guitar tunings, first introduced and popularized by musicians such as Davey Graham and Joni Mitchell, are supremely compatible with the modal tuning of the sitar, allowing a true integration of sounds. Sufit’s vocals feature on nine of the twelve tracks, the remaining three being purely instrumental.

Track Listing:

01 The Magic Carpet

02 The Phoenix

03 Black Cat

04 Alan’s Christmas Card

05 Harvest Song

06 Do You Hear The Worlds

07 Father Time

08 La La

09 Peace Song

10 Take Away Kesh

11 High Street

12 The Dream

13 Raga (Bonus)

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Number 2: Live in Concert: The Famous Qawwal of Lucknow Afsar Hussein Khan (Afsar Hussein Khan)

Some fine Lucknavi qawwali from Afsar sahib. In a space that lies between commercial and art, the work of Afsar Hussein Khan is weightless but not light weight and spiritual but not over spiritual.  Perfect when you feel the only solution to your boredom (asoodgi) and viral news is divine intervention.

download Afsar Husain Khan & Party - back

Ttack Listing:

01. Aaj Racho Hai Basant

02. Bekhud Kiye Dete Hain Andaz-e-Hijabana

03.Ye Hai Maikada Yahan Rind Hain

04. Sukoon-e-Dil Ke Liye Kuchh To Ehtaman Karoon

05.Asoodgi Se Ishq-e-Jawan Ko Bachaiye

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Number 3: Mirza Ghalib: A Portrait of a Genius (Various Artists)

A really fine collection of poems by the one and only Mirza Ghalib of Delhi. Short snippets (way to short by my reckoning) read by the sonorous Gulzar followed by elegant renditions by Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Begum Akhtar, Mahendra Kapoor, C.H. Atma and hubby and wife Jagjit and Chitra Singh (separately, not together).  Thanks to long time reader of this blog Swarint for this collection!

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Track Listing:

01 Zikr Us Parivash Ka (Mohammad Rafi)

02 Ye Na Thi Hamari Qismat (Begum Akhtar)

03 Muddat Hui Hui (Mohammad Rafi)

04 Ae Taaza Vaaridan-E-Bisat-E-Huwa-E-Dil (Mohammad Rafi)

05 Qad-O-Gaysoo (Mohammad Rafi)

06 Sab Kahan (Begum Akhtar)

07 Bus Ke Dushwar Hai (Mohammad Rafi)

08 Nukta Chin Hai (Mohammad Rafi)

09 Bazeecha-E-Atfaal Hai (Mohammad Rafi)

10 Hazaron Khwahishen Aesi Ke Har Par Dam Nikle (Lata Mangeshkar)

11 Na Hui Gar Mere Marne Se Tasalli Na Suhi (Mukesh)

12 Kabhi Neke Bhi Uske Jee Mein Gar Aaj Aye Hai Mujse (Asha Bhosle)

13 Hairan Hoon Dil Ko Roun Ke Peeton Jigar Ko Main (C.H. Atma)

14 Main Hoon Mushtaq-E-Jafa Mujh Pe Jafa Aur Sahi (Mahendra Kapoor)

15 Kab Se Hoon Kya Bataoon Jahan-E-Kharab Mein (Chitra Singh)

16 Phir Kuchh Is Dil Ko Beqarri Hai (Jagjit Singh)

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Number 4: Bright Moments (Mehnaz)

Mehnaz. Carving a career \out in the shadow of an international icon is never an enviable task. But this chubby cheeked Karachi girl was not only up the task but in the reckoning of many of her peers, she succeeded so eminently and hers  is a talent second only to the majestic Noor Jehan. Or indeed, her own mother

Mehnaz was the daughter of a superstar, Kajjan Begum a ghazal singer and early pioneer of film music who in her lifetime was beloved all across the Indian sub-continent.  It was inevitable that she would follow in her mother’s footsteps and take up a career as a singer. But that she was able to make her own independent, revered and respected mark as an artist and overcome the comparisons and legacy of two of the greatest singers in Indo-Pak culture is something to pause and reflect upon.

In a time before Spotify, when artists like Mehnaz actually recorded albums, Mehnaz lent her name to a collection of her filmi hits entitled Bright Moments. In South Asian music this sort of record, one that was not tied to a specific film soundtrack, was called a ‘private’ record.  Bright Moments seems to be a semi-private album. Made up of film songs but marketed to a non-filmi audience who simply wanted to listen to Mehnaz’s lovely voice.  The title even suggests it was targetted at an English speaking middle class category of consumer.

Anyway, strip away the packaging, and what awaits you are several solid popular film songs by one of Pakistan’s most beloved voices.

Mehnaz Bright Moments

Track Listing:

01 Ik Gunah Aur Sahi

02 La De Re La De Re

03 Payalya Nighori Sataye

04 Pyar Karen Ge Pal Pal

05 Renan Jagaye

06 Sonay Do Raat Ke Ho Gaye Ponay Do

07 Wadah Hai Dil Tujh Ko Doon Gi

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Number 5.  Bangladesh – Chants de Lalon Shah (Farida Parveen)

Mrs. Farida Parveen, one of the top singers in Bangladesh, has given new life to traditional Bengali religious music, ‘Baul songs’. She has performed on numerous occasions on TV and in films, and has been very active on the international stage.

Mrs. Farida was born in Natore in the western part of present Bangladesh in 1954, and was brought up in Kushtia. She learned the Sargam (Indian musical scale) in her early childhood. At the age of 6, she became a pupil of a famous music master, the great Ustad Ibrahim, to learn classical music. When she became 13, she started to sing for Rajshahi radio station. In the Bengal region, mystic teachings about union between humanity and divinity have had a powerful influence on local daily life for centuries, and ‘Bauls’ ? mystic devotees who present these teachings in song as wandering minstrels – have played an important role. Among them, Fakir Lalon Shah was regarded as the most outstanding baul of the 18th and 19th centuries, and Rabindranath Tagore was strongly influenced by him. In Kushtia, where Lalon was mainly based, a festival dedicated to him has been held annually. Mrs. Farida’s encounter with Lalon’s songs there led her to collect and classify a great many songs of his at the same time she started her singing career.

When she was at Rajshahi University reading Bangla literature, she established the foundation of her career by becoming a nationally popular singer with patriotic songs and songs of the Liberation War as well as Lalon’s songs. She produced LP records, and sang for TV programs and films. In 1987, she received the Ekushey Padak (one of the highest civilian awards in Bangladesh), and in 1993, was given the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer. The high reputation that she has won has established her as one of the most prestigious singers in Bangladesh. She has performed in many different countries, including France, the U.S., and Japan (2002), to introduce Baul songs to the world.

With a solid foundation in Indian classical music, Mrs. Farida has rendered remarkable services to raise the artistic standing of traditional Bangladeshi religious music, Baul song, and to have this listed as one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Her contribution to raising the status of Baul song and to its international promotion has been immense, and therefore, she is truly worthy of the Arts and Culture Prize of the Fukuoka Prize

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Track Listing:

01 Pare loye jao amay

02 Khanchar bhitor ochin pakhi

03 Teen pagole holo mela

04 Rup kather ei nauka khani

05 Barir kache arshi-nagar

06 Lalon koy jaatir kee roop

07 Ekta bod hawa

08 O shey bajay bansi

09 Milon hobe koto dine

10 Shomoy gele shadhon hobe na

17032020FParveen

Yad: A South Asian Folk Mixtape

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I am in the United States for a few days to tend to final arrangements around my father who passed away in early August.   As I spend time with my family and reflect on his life and impact I am naturally overcome with memories.

Yad, is the Hindi/Urdu word for memory or remembrance. And as I was preparing some material for the service later this week I searched my system for some appropriate music to listen to.  Almost as if by design, I came across this mixtape I made a long time ago, which I had given the name Yad.

It is a good one. Beyond a diverse survey of ghazal, qawwali, bhajan, and geet I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this collection includes a number of poignant selections, not just the lovely title track by Rajasthani group, Musafir.

Track 5, Kiski Avaz Hai Ye Kaun Hai, Track 3, Ab Dekh Ke Ji Ghabrata, and Track 22, Koi Sunta Hai Gurgyani have got me feeling the significance of this moment.

But that’s just me. Those particular tracks, like all twenty-two, (more than 2 hours of wonderful music!) are not morbid or mournful songs. Rather they are expressions of the lively vibrancy of life as well as the the joy and zest of being alive that South Asian music encapsulates so dramatically.

Selected artists are both widely known as well as rather obscure. They hail from Afghanistan, India, Bengal and Nepal and as I mentioned above, cover the bases from the spiritual to secular (even military) sides of life!

Enjoy. I know I am!

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Track Listing:

01 Yad [Musafir]

02 Heer Te Ranjhe Di Mulaqaat [Alam Lohar]

03 Ab Dekh Ke Ji Ghabrata [Attaullah Khan Niazi]

04 Dard dil [Jaipur Kawa Brass Band]

05 Kiski Avaz Hai Ye Kaun Hai [Jafar Hussain Khan Badayuni Qawwal]

06 Chor poreche babur bagane [Purna Chandra Das Baul & Ensemble]

07 Mahi Fouji [Mundri Lal]

08 Agaya Tu Phool Banke [Swarn Yamla Jatt]

09 Kya Haal Suranwan [Suraiya Multanikar]

10 Govinda Bhajan [J Mevandy]

11 Choon Nay Ba Nawa Amad [Nashenas]

12 Bhapang [Sama Khan, Natih Ram and Group]

13 Kis Cheez Ki Kami Hai Maula Teri Gali Mein [Sodhal Faqir Laghari]

14 Shaikh Ayaz Kalam [Jiji Zarina Baloch]

15 Mustang [Sur Sudha]

16 Jagga Jameya Thay Milan Vadhaiyan [Master Dilbahar]

17 Punal Paindi Thee Wal (Baba Ghulam Farid) [Zahida Parveen]

18 Zolrawar Bagh [Hakkam Khan]

19 Jugni [Swarn Noora]

21 Hum Jo Tareek Rahon Mein [Zia Mohyeddin]

22 Koi Sunta Hai Gurgyani [Prahlad Singh Tipanya]

YAD

 

Hidden Jewel: Rupa Biswas

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There is probably no more ridiculous development in the history of and writing about music than the notion of ‘labels’. Taking a piece of music and categorising it into a single ‘genre’ or ‘style’ is an exercise in futility.  Oft quoted but eternally ignored, Duke Ellington’s saw that there is only ‘good music and the other kind’ remains all there needs to be said about the problem.

 

Yet, for those of us who think possessing massive music libraries is an important thing, the issue is a practical one. Whether you have walls and walls of LPs, racks of CDs or hard discs full of digital files, having everything labelled simply ‘good’ or ‘other’ is not particularly helpful.  And unless you know every album or track in your collection intimately and can find it easily, most of the time you’re going to find labels and tags and categories a necessary, if silly, evil.

 

In recent years these labels and genres have proliferated like so many psychedelic rabbits. I’m forever amused by the new labels people come up with for their music: shoegazer, bedwetter, garage punk, bubbletrance, aggrotech, crustpunk, deep psychobilly, fidget house etc. etc.   What the delicate idiosyncrasies of each category are, are beyond me and probably to those who listen to them as well, but it is fun that’s for sure.  My own practice is to keep it simple. Pop, World, Jazz, Reggae, Country, Blues, R&B, Classical and a few other old fashioned labels I picked up from the record stores I used to haunt suit me just fine.

 

But the challenges keep popping up.

 

Take today’s share for example.  The album is called Disco Jazz, which sounds like the producers couldn’t be bothered to think of anything interesting. Slap a couple labels on it and see if it sells. The Indian Canadian production from the early 80s certainly (in some parts) qualifies as disco-esque. But definitely not jazz. Unless by jazz you mean slang for ‘stuff’.  On the internet the album is labelled, ‘funk, soul, disco’ and even ‘Bollywood funk’.  Not so much misleading as plain irrelevant. There is nothing funky here that James Brown or the boys from Cymande would recognise and, as for soul, well, that’s just another planet.  So, how does one label this music?

 

For my money this is non-film Indian pop music sung in Bengali.  The singer is a mysterious sukhi roti– looking college girl named Rupa Biswas. Not a spectacular voice by Indian standards but given its focus on getting people on the dance floor, adequate to the task.  What is really interesting about this record is the music.

 

India was introduced to the concept of disco music in the early 80s through (what else) the movies. Though it wasn’t the first, Firoz Khan’s 1980 blockbuster Qurbani (Sacrifice) used the sound of upbeat, semi-electronic synth and bass, disco lights and scantily clad women instrumentalists (prefiguring Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love by half a decade)  to mesmerise a nation.

Aap Jaisa Koi  was India’s first massive disco hit and led to the creation of a new sound that infiltrated the movies for the next ten years. The most famous names in Indian disco were larger-than-life musical director Bappi Lahiri and composer/arranger/performer Babla. Though both men produced some interesting work that has found new audiences in recent years, they never ventured too far from the Qurbani sound.

Disco Jazz on the other hand is in an entirely different realm. Biswas is backed by a crack group of Indian and Canadian musicians led by none other than Ustad Aashish Khan, one of India’s outstanding living musicians on sarodKhan has long collaborated with Western pop and jazz musicians, led so called ‘fusion’ groups [Shringar, Wonderwall, Shanti] promoted Indian classical music through his educational efforts and scored or participated in the soundtracks for films such The Man Who Would Be King, Gandhi and a number of Satyajit Ray’s films.

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Ustad Aashish Khan

He’s supported by the amazing guitarist Don Pope, who with Khansahib creates the energy and drive and excitement of this record.

Popeand Khan trade solos and jugalbandi back and forth throughout this set daring the rest of the band that includes renown jazz drummer Robin Tufts, bassist John Johnston, tablasaaz and accompanist of Ali Akbar Khan and others, Pranesh Khan, keyboardist Geoff Ball, synthesizer Rhonda Padmos, and percussionist Frank Lockwood to keep pace. Pope’s guitar playing is fluid, gliding effortlessly between jazzy textures and hot dancefloor strumming.  As for the sarod, Aashish Khan makes it sound as if he’s playing a mandolin or bazouki in a back street rembetika outfit.

This disco is about as far away from Bappi Lahiriand Qurbani as you can get.  It is tough, serious, masterful but still immense fun.

Whatever became of Rupa Biswas?  Of all the principals, she is the hardest to track down.  One of the tracks from Disco Jazz, Moja Bhari Moja,was included in the 2012 ‘art’ film Miss Lovely but the only other reference I’ve been able to track down to a Rupa Biswas is of a Bengali woman purported to be Rupa, lip syncing and dancing.  Not sure if this is THE Rupa or if it is a completely different Ms. Biswas altogether.  But it sounds a bit disco-y so my bet is Rupa is still out there somewhere.

 

Disco Jazz is a rare jewel. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

Track Listing:

  1. Moja Bhari Moja
  2. East West Shuffle
  3. Aaj Shanibar
  4. Aaye Morshume Be-Reham Duniya

DISCO

Born to Sing: Panditya Tripti Mukherjee

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Tripti Mukherjee

I don’t think I will get much push back when I say, one of greatest pleasures of life is the discovery of new music and new artists.   My latest discovery (stumble upon, really) is the stunning Bengali classical singer Tripti Mukherjee.

shishya (pupil) of the mighty Pandit JasrajMukherjee is a flag bearer of the Mewati gharana which rose to prominence in the second half of the last century, primarily through the singing of Pandit Jasraj.

In addition to managing a full schedule of singing and recording Mukherjee spent the first part of her career establishing a number of Indian classical music academies across the United States.  Here is a lovely interview (in English) with Panditya in which she discusses her early life, her relationship with her guru, her role in setting up the academies and of course, her music.

Pandita Tripti Mukherjee, Hindustani classical vocalist and illustrious disciple of Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj, stands bright among the generation of musicians carrying forth the music from great masters of Panditji’s generation. Triptiji is blessed with a mellifluous, divine voice, and with her tremendous passion and dedication, has honed musical skills, which are a seamless blend of somber and rich elements. Triptiji’s vocal renditions are characterized by delicate, refined and intricate qualities, with a tremendous depth in the power and conviction of her delivery. This balance is Triptiji’s unique forte.
Perhaps more unique to Triptiji is her monumental commitment over the past 14 years to spreading India’s rich culture and heritage in their purest forms throughout America. Although Indian classical arts had found recognition in the U.S. in the form of dance or instrumental music, the pure tradition of vocal classical music was not prevalent in America over a decade ago. Realizing this disparity, Triptiji ventured to establish the first institute for vocal Indian classical music in the U.S., in the name of her guru, the Pandit Jasraj Institute for Music Research, Artistry and Appreciationthe Mewati Gurukul. Today the Institute has branches in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In addition, the Institute reaches the community at large through a magazine called JasRangi, which publishes comprehensive articles written by students of PJIM, on history and theory of Indian classical music in a current cultural context. Through her tireless efforts, Triptiji continues to pioneer ways of establishing Indian classical arts in America, providing an invaluable service to the Indian community.
Triptiji has never left behind her primary identity as a performing artiste, carrying forward a musical tradition sculpted by her several gurus: Mrs. Bharatikar Choudhary, Mr. Sunil Das, Mr. Prasun Banerjee, Mrs. Sipra Bose, and of course Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj. Triptiji has been a Grade-A artiste on the All India Radio and National Television, having performed on the national programme. In addition, Triptiji has received great recognition for her stellar performances at the annual Pandit Motiram Pandit Maniram Sangeet Samaroh in Hyderabad, the Hari Vallabh Sangeet Samaroh in Jalandhar, the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival in Pune and the Dover Lane Music Festival in Kolkata – India’s prime music festivals. Besides her many performances in numerous cities in India and the U.S., her concert sites have included Carnegie Hall (New York), Tagore center (Berlin), Nairobi (Kenya), Bahrain Arts Performing Center, and Queen Elizabeth Hall (London).
Triptiji’s major awards include the Amir Khan Memorial Award, the Pandit Jasraj Gaurav Puraskar, the ‘Pandita’ award from a University of Karnataka and the ‘Acharya Shiromani ‘ award from the music students in USA. Most recently, Triptiji was invited to perform at the 2007 Diwali Festival held at the White House in Washington D.C., making her the first Indian musician to ever perform there.
Pandit Jasraj has said of her:
Tripti’s dedication to her art and her gurubhakti is unparalleled. I feel extremely fortunate to have her as my disciple. Her monumental efforts in setting up the Pandit Jasraj Institute for Music Research, Artistry and Appreciation – the Mewati Gurukul in USA and her ongoing contributions to it are a testimony to her devotion and commitment. She has further ennobled the name of the Mewati Gharana … Her voice is soothing yet powerful and so laden with emotion, that it moves even the greatest of kalakars to tears…Most of all, she is a wonderful human being – an epitome of grace and modesty .

I have not much more to say about this wonderful singer.  I’m just excited about her coming into my consciousness and want to share this collection of Bengali semi-classical songs.

Light Classical Bengali Songs

Track Listing:

  1. Rajoneer Shesh Batiyar, Addha
  2. Jago Jago Lalit,
  3. Baisakh Holo Virndabani Sarang
  4. Ami Eke Bageshree, Dadra
  5. Aa Ji Kushmita Basani, Addha
  6. Koyelia Dake Bhirha Shadaj, Dadra
  7. Nishuti Rate Shivranjani, Addha
  8. Klanto Ganer Bhairavi, Kaharba

Mewati Gharana

Hymn for Bangladesh: Ali Akbar Khan

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A short and very sweet recording issued originally in 1972 in the wake of the Bangladesh freedom movement.

Assigning countries and labels to musicians is a waste of time in South Asia.  The land that stretches from Peshawar in the western part of Pakistan to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh was for many centuries part of an imagined cultural space which was once called Hindustan.  Yes, Pathans were different from Punjabis who were different from Biharis and Bengalis but uniting these many language groups was an ethos and a sophisticated cultural mode of expression.

It could be detected in certain rules of living and ruling. As well as in a language that if not spoken fluently or even frequently was familiar to people all across this region. And though there existed (and still do) countless styles of folk music in northern India the classical tradition was at home as much in muggy Dhaka as it was in arid Peshawar.

So to call Ali Akbar Khan an Indian musician is really just silly.  He was born into one of the most illustrious classical music households in Hindustan but in what is now called Bangladesh.  He lived and taught in the US for decades and has been awarded high honors by the Indian government.  His followers and fans are legion in Pakistan and he has made some of the most enduring ‘jazz/fusion’ recordings.

Ali Akbar Khan is a great maestro of the sarod, a son of Hindustan and a citizen of the world.

But in 1971 things were hot on the subcontinent. Bazaar garam tha, as they say. And it is not surprising that in times of intense conflict and suffering people remember their roots and pray for loved ones.  This album is Khan sahib’s prayer.

The first raga, Bhimpalasi, is an afternoon raga and is full of the artist’s longing for home. Bhimpalasi expresses the ‘Suppressed longing of a lover, but [is] serene, with dignity, and yet throbbing with deep emotion. Sung or played from late afternoon to sunset, Bhimpalasi is poignant and passionate, filled with yearning.’

The second selection is raga Sivaranjani a piece that glimmers with sadness.  In the words of one commentator “Sivaranjini is a hauntingly melancholic raga usually sung from late evening to midnight (9 PM to 12 AM). The meaning of the raga name is interpreted as Shiva-the Lord + Ranjini-to please. [Thus, this is] the raga sung to please the fearsome Lord Shiva.

Longing and melancholy in a hymn to a shattered homeland.

[CS 2042] front Track Listing:

  1. Bhimpalasi
  2. Sivaranjani

Ali Akbar Khan