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.
When I came to Amanat Ali Khan‘s music–in a time long long ago and land far far away-the first song that caught my attention was Inshaji Utho. I was completely overwhelmed with what I heard. The song seemed to have just dropped out of the sky complete and perfectly formed. It was held together and driven by a subtle synergy between rhythm, lyric and spirit. There is a world-weariness about the song. A man at the end of his journey giving in to the eternal and inevitable.
The song, I was told by everyone, had been sung in a concert just before ustadji passed away in 1974. This information heightened the drama of the song and it has been one of my favourite ghazals ever since.
Recently I came across a recording that purported to be Amanat Ali Khan‘s final concert. I quickly looked to see if Inshaji Utho was on it. Alas, it was not. But I picked up the album anyway and I share it here today. It is an excellent recording of a master singer at the top of his game. While Inshaji is missing, there are renditions of many other wonderful ghazals such as Yeh Arzoo Thi,Mausam Badla and an epic interpretation of the thumri, Piya Tore.
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.