Ustad Bismillah Khan
Ustad Bismillah Khan though no longer among us , continues to hold a position of rare stature and respect among music lovers in South Asia and across the world. The honors bestowed upon him are also rare. One of only three musicians to be awarded the highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna, by the government of India (the other two: Ravi Shankar and M.S. Subbalakhsmi). When he and the country were very young, he was invited to play his shehnai, at the Red Fort to mark the occasion of Independence from Britain. He maintained this honour for decades, delighting fans each August 15 with a live concert, broadcast throughout the country.
Born into a family of court musicians in Bihar Bismillah Khan nearly single handedly transformed the Indian oboe, shehnai, from a folk and ceremonial instrument into a full fledged member of the Hindustani classical orchestra. During his career he travelled far and wide promoting not just the shehnai, or Indian classical music, but inter-communal harmony and the transcendency of music generally. In 1986 I had the pleasure to hear him in a concert in Lahore’s Alhamra Art Center, a concert I will never forge
The wonderful album we share today is from a performance in the UK. It is simply intoxicating in its beauty and completeness and balance between shehnai and accompanists.
01 Raga Shuddh Kalyan [Alap]
02 Raga Shuddh Kalyan [Gat in Vilambit Ektaal]
03 Raga Shuddh Kalyan [Drut Teental]
04 Raga Shankara [Alap]
05 Raga Shankara [Gat in Ektal]
U B K
Dear readers and friends,
I find myself in Suva the capital of the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific. Business has been the reason but the weather has been absolutely stunning. Clear blue skies, sparkling and bobbing bougainvillea of all hues, glimmering seas lapping against green mountains and temperatures that never dare reach above 24C.
While I am heading home to my family tomorrow morning early, I find I do not want to leave, for this is truly a little bit of Paradise. Alas…
The only singer who can match the beauty of this place at this moment in time is the wondrous Kishori Amonkar. I’ve raved about her voice (as have many many others) in other places and so will not repeat those things. And indeed, a voice and vision such as this is not enhanced by flowery words. Rather one needs but silence and letting go to feel the full force of her genius.
01 Raga Bhoop – Khayal Vilambit Teentaal – Prathama Sur Saadhe
02 Raga Bhoop – Khayal Drut Teentaal – Jabse Tumeesana Laagalee
03 Raga Binna ShadJa – Khayal Vilambit Teentaal – Odd Jaa Re Kaagaa & Drut Teentaal – Anganaa More Aajaa
Pandit Ravi Shankar
I’m off again on an overseas jaunt and not sure what I’ll find in terms of time and internet connectivity, so before I board those silver wings, I’ll share a thirty year old record.
Ravi Shankar, who passed less than a year ago, was not just an Ambassador of Indian music to the rest of the world, he was an artist of never-ending creative curiosity. He collaborated with jazz and rock musicians as well as a number of western classical icons.
Zubin Mehta, the Indian born conductor extraordinaire, grew up in a musical environment that included his father Mehli, sitting in with many Indian and international jazz musicians in Bombay, when that sit on the Arabian Sea was a global haven for hot jazz. His father also doubled as the conductor of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra and it was in that atmosphere that Zubin fell in love with western classical music. Currently, he heads the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra as well as serving as musical director of a number of Music Festivals in Europe.
This 1981 collaboration saw Shankar compose a Concerto in four parts, each of which was based upon the structure of a particular raga. The result is quite different from his other famous collaboration with violinist Yehudi Menuhin which in essence had the two classical traditions playing side by side, but not as one. Here, Shankar’s guitar is the soloing instrument within the context of the New York Philharmonic and as such it is a much more integrated piece of music.
- Lalit (Presto)
- Bairaji (Moderato)
- Yaman Kalyan (Largo Moderato)
- Mian ka Malhar (Allegro)
Ustad Vilayat Khan was not a man to randomly or on a whim create new ragas. The thing (and the word classical musicians use to refer to the raga is the Hindi word for ‘thing’, cheez) was to be given the deepest respect. Interpretation could only come from understanding, and understanding came hard and slow. There are ragas that it takes half a lifetime to master. Or, put it another way, one could spend half a lifetime interpreting just a handful of the great ragas.
This was Khan sahib’s preference. Better to make a smaller number of cheez sing beautifully then try to hastily introduce more ragas into the world. So I was surprised to discover that there are a number of ragas in fact, that Ustadji did create. And tonight we focus on one of these, the beautifully named Saanjh Saravali (Evening Melody).
The story of how this raga came to be is told by Deepak Raja, convenor of a very informative blog on north Indian classical music.
I hope you enjoy this sparkling unique gem.
Raga Saanjh Saravali
Raga Nand Kalyan
Another week comes to an end. What better way than to bid farewell then to listen to two great interpreters of dhrupad. Pandit Ram Chatur Mallick, and the Talwandi Brothers have appeared on the Washerman’s Dog before. One came from India and the others still perform in Pakistan.
Pandit Ram Chatur Mallic
I hope you enjoy this.
01. Raga Bhupali (Pandit Ram Chatur Mallick)
02. Raga Chandni Kedara (Talwandi Brothers)