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.
A shishya (pupil) of the mighty Pandit Jasraj, Mukherjeeis a flag bearer of the Mewati gharanawhich 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 Pandityain 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 Appreciation – the 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.
Bustan Abrahamwas an Israeli music collective that made several albums of what can only be called ‘light fusion jazz cum world sounds’. As ugly as most labels go, this one is one of the most ugly. But the music, for which I am a big time sucker, is brilliant. And of course beyond classification or silly labels.
Fanar is a 1997 release featuring the Indian giants Zakir Hussain (tabla) and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia (bansuri/bamboo flute). Fanar means ‘lantern’ in Arabic and it is appropriate because this is as I said brilliant. The music sparkles even on the slower more moody numbers. The playing is virtuoistic and crisp. These gentlemen are really enjoying playing with each other.
Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia
The highlight for me and the inspiration for the title of this post is the playing of Chaurasia. The young wrestler turned revolutionary classical musician is no doubt one of the finest Indian artists ever. Many non-Indian acts have drawn on him over the years to jam with or to add a certain exotic Indian spice to their work. But this album is the first time I have ever heard Chaurasia sound as if he is a true jazz flautist. In the opening track especially, but throughout the album, he blows his instrument with the same intensity as Coltrane. And in so doing, invokes the sounds of Hubert Laws or even Ian Anderson. If you had no idea who was playing I think very few would identify the Allahabadi Chaurasia.
Just as when the first time I really heard Coltrane and had to stop doing whatever I was doing to just listen, so to with Fanar.
Though the centerpiece of this wonderful recording is best suited for later in the day then mid-sunny-afternoon I can’t get enough of it. I’ve been listening to Joshi’s rendering of Raga Puriya Dhanshree on heavy rotation for the past several weeks.
I am NO expert in dissecting the intricate workings of various ragas. I tend to go for voices and let their owner’s work their magic. I understand that Puriya Dhanshreeis a complex raga with much scope for expression as well as emotional layering. From dark and wrathful to compassionate and more.
I have found this raga and Joshi’ssinging of it to be reassuring and all encompassing. As if it were a dark but not necesarily threatening but deep cave. You don’t conquer such a place but rather let it reveal itself, its inner passages and concealed redoubts. Its a slow but intoxicating process.
Some years ago I posted a recording of some dhrupad singing from one of my favorite gharanas, the Talwandi. You can read about the history of that gharana and its connections with Pakistan (as well as download the recording) here.
While some have pronounced the Talwandi gharana extinct it does still live and the last surviving keepers of this dhrupad tradition are the brothers Mohammad Afzal Khan Talwandiwale and Hafiz Khan Talwandiwale. To read a bit more bout this dhrupad tradition from Western Punjab check out this article by Khalid Basra and Richard Widdess.
Today’s music is from a live concert at Lahore’s Chitrakar Studio in which Hafiz Khan takes pains to explain various aspects of the ragas he performs.
Hafiz Khan presents a distinctive ideology of dhrupad, in which Islam entirely replaces the Hindu frame of reference adopted by most dhrupad musicians (both Hindus and Muslims) in India. Nayak Khanderi and the Nayaks who succeeded him were all Muslims, according to Hafiz Khan, and they received their inspiration directly from God; there is thus for him no element of folk or temple music in the historical background to dhrupad. The distinguishing characteristic of alap and dhrupad is their spirituality (ruhaniyat), and the objective in singing them is zikr-e-ilahi, “Praising the name of God”. Thus in place of the mantra “om ananta narayana hari om” used by Indian dhrupad singers in alap, Hafiz Khan sings “nita tarana tarana Allah tero nam”; even the word alap derives, in Hafiz Khan’s opinion, from “Allah ap”. Training in alap is divided into four stages called sari’at, tariqat, haqiqat and ma’rifat : these are named after four stages of successively deeper mystical experience and understanding — respectively, “Islamic law”, “way, path (to enlightenment)”, “truth”, and “knowledge”. (Basra and Widdess)
Dr. L. Subramaniam and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan maestros of their respective instruments–violin and sarod–have made huge contributions to the two main branches of Indian classical music: Carnatic and Hindustani. At the same time both have adventured far beyond their own gardens, coupling, tripling and even quadrupling up with a whole assortment of jazz, rock and Western classical musicians. Along with Ravi Shankar, Dr sahib and Ustadji are rightly recognised as some of the best known Indian classical musicians in the West. Any number of albums could be suggested to you but among my favorite is Karuna Supremean early and outstanding example of Hindustani music blended with American jazz (Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and John Handy) and Conversations (L. Subramaniam and Stephane Grappelli).
It should come as no surprise then that these two great men came together to do an ‘Inter-India’ fusion album. While sharing several commonalities like the raga (the essential musical frame for all compositions) and a similar scale (though with more semitones available to the Carnatic musician) the music of North India is very different from that of the South. So this album, originally available on cassette, is a fusion of two branches of one of the world’s oldest musical systems.
Raga Jog is sometimes known as Ragam Naatin Carnatic music. Several North Indian ragas have what you could call counterparts in the South, though to be historically accurate and to acknowledge that Carnatic music is considered to the ‘original’ Indian music, I should probably turn that sentence around. Many Carnatic ragams have Northern ragacounterparts.
Raga Jog, some say can be traced back to the time of the court of Akbar the Great (15th C.). True or not, I don’t know but this raga is certainly melodious and both maestros give powerful, sympathetic performances.