The Three Friends: Call of the Valley

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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.

Call of valley front

call of valley back

Track Listing

01 Ahir Bhairav

02 Nat Bhairav – Ek Tala

03 Piloo – Teen Tala

04 Bhoop -Jhap Tala

05 Des – Dadra Tala

CoV

 

 

 

Royal Gems: Malika Pukhraj and Tahira Syed

Topaz

Topaz

Malika Pukhraj and Tahira Syed were a mother-daughter singing team from Pakistan.  Together their careers, independently and together, bridge a generation of South Asian musical culture.

 

Malika Pukhraj

Malika Pukhraj

Malika Pukhraj, whose wonderfully evocative name means, Queen Topaz was born at a time when India’s rajas, nawabs and maharanas, the courtly elite of a poor country, reflected in the glory of the artists they patronised and promoted. Malika was admitted into the rich and esteemed circle of the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, with whom she developed a strong intimate (not to say physical) relationship.  Later she moved to Lahore, in the new nation of Pakistan where she was regarded as one of the very greatest artistes of her generation.

 

Tahira Syed

Tahira Syed

Tahira Syed, was taught music by her mother and has developed into a much loved singer of folk, light classical and some film songs.   This collection, with a new cover from the Harmonium pukka music karkhana, is  true treat. Both  sing songs they made famous as well as the iconic title, Abhi to main Jawan hoon (For I am Yet Young), for which Queen Topaz is most famous.

 

Here is a synopsis of her life from The Hindu newspaper in India.

MALIKA PUKHRAJ was the unrivalled queen of verse in the court of Maharaja Hari Singh of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. She sought employment as a court singer at the young age of nine and negotiated court life until its intrigues compelled her to leave her benefactor whom she respected dearly.

Once in Lahore, Malika Pukhraj continued to give private concerts and emerged as one of the top singers of the sub-continent. She adhered to strict norms of no alcohol at her `mehfils’ and was far ahead of her times in her professionalism. She maintained her independence and attended concerts on her own. It is believed that even the Maharaja of Patiala took dictation from her and changed his flamboyant style to accord her the pride of place in his `darbar.’

Malika Pukhraj died at Islamabad on February 4 this year at the age of 90, but her enticing `nazm’ recitations and `ghazal’ renditions in the conventional couplet form that have been recorded live on. She breathed warmth into her lyrics. She was persuasive and articulate in modulating each note and embellished her poetry with great energy. The harmonious existence of poetry and music was in keeping with the sub-continental tradition of Bhakti and Sufi poetry. She started to recite `Nohas’ and `Marsiyas’ at the age of five. Although she belonged to a puritanical family, as a rasika she straddled two different worlds, singing bhajans in the court of Raja Hari Singh, and was also appreciative of good music, poetry, food and dress. She had grown up with Voh kahte hain ranjish ki baatein bhula do (“they say forget the world of pain”). Her recitation transported her listeners to the romantic world of make-believe, the pain of unrequited love and the fragrance of perfumed gardens frequented by the bulbul. She was trained in music by Ustad Ali Baksh, the esteemed father of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and Allah Baksh. She received training in the classical dance form which complemented Thumri, from Ustad Mamman Khan.

Malika Pukhraj left the greatest poetry alone so that her music would not flounder under its heavy weight. She worked upon this idea from Thumri where the poetry of the text is deliberately suggestive and the listener chooses from a multiplicity of meanings. In a similar fashion, great poets like Ghalib Mir and Momin owed nothing to music — the ghazal was itself a self-sufficient literary form, which needed no props from the world of music. The ghazal addressing the beloved was never meant to be sung or even recited in tarannum, lest it should take away from its word structure and disturb the flow of the line.

Her inimitable style brought forth a repertoire where poetry and music blended. Hafeez Jalandhari’s Abhi to main jawan hoon (“I am still youthful”) continues to ring with the youth and vitality of her voice. Besides singing Hafeez Jalandhari’s poems, her rendition included Lo phir basant aay and Quli Qutub’s Piya baaj piyale piya jaye na and Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Mere qatil mere dildar mere paas raho. In her music, she never lost sight of the meaning of poetry and in the flow and ebb of the voice she kept to the dynamics of the couplet. In her gayaki, to the sweetness of Purabi and Avadhi were added the rich nuances of Urdu poetry.

Her music created a yearning for things long ago and echoed the earthly sounds of the folk music as well as the sophistication of the princely courts. In recognition of her contribution to music, she received the Presidential Pride of Performance Award in 1980, and the Legend of Voice Award from the All India Radio.

She is remembered in the valley as an icon and Lahore is still nostalgic with the resonance of her gayaki. Continuing in her style is her daughter, Tahira Sayed.

jawan hoon

Track Listing:

01 Abhi To Main Jawan Hoon

02 Tere Ishq Ki Inteha

03 Wo Batein Teri

04 Yeh Alaam Shauq

05 Ab ke Jadeed Wafa

06 Jag Soz-e-Ishq

07 Har ek Jalwa

08 Lo Phir Basant

09 Kab Yaar Main Tera

10 Badban Khulne Se

11 Kab Tak Dil

12 Jo Guzari

13 Jhanjar Pabhdi na

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