Gharanon ki Gayaki: Roshan Ara Begum

Roshan Ara Begum

Roshan Ara Begum

The girl who would one day be known as Roshan Ara Begum was born in Calcutta, the great cultural capital of Bengal, in or around 1916. Her real name was Wahid-un-Nissa. Her mother Chanda Begum was in those days a well-known singer, who early on spotted in her daughter the singing talent. Consequently, the young Wahid-un-Nissa was sent to one Mumtaz Hussein and then to one Laddan Khan for vocal training. The child was precocious, but even then it took 10 full years of rigorous practice before she was ready for the stage.

 

In those days Calcutta was the center of artistic life in North India, owing to its status as the first British-colonial city in the land. This is where some of the first Indian films were made; this is also where HMV’s first recordings of Indian vocalists took place. (The first Indian singer ever to be recorded was a famous courtesan by the name of Gauhar Jaan Calcutta-wali.)

 

It was in this busy and bustling Calcutta that the young Roshan Ara Begum made her singing debut. At once she was noticed: her incredible command of raags and the lightning-fast speed with which she rendered them marked her out as a discernibly accomplished singer. And at such a young age! Instantly she began to tour the country, lighting up mehfils in Bihar and Bengal. In those days she was singing everything: raags as well as thumris, ghazals and geets, and was recording at all the big radio stations of India. Her name was announced on the radio as ‘Bombay-wali Roshan Ara Begum’ because she had married a Punjabi police officer who was stationed in those days at Bombay. (It is said that they lived in a large colonial bungalow.)

Abdul Karim Khan

Khansahib Abdul Karim Khan

 

It is around this time, in the early 1930s, that the great Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, a singular and eccentric genius of his generation of singers, heard the young woman’s rendition of Raag Multani and decided to take her under his wing. So, at the peak of her career, Roshan Ara  humbly submitted herself to the ageing Ustad’s mentorship. She learned from him for just a few years, but it was enough to give her the golden polish of the Kirana Gharana’s style of singing, in which sur or ‘truth of intonation’ stands above every other aim.

 

In the 1940s Roshan Ara  was singing for radio as well as film. Just before Partition, she had scored a hit with her song ‘Des ki pur kaif rangin si fizaaein’, which was part of the score for film ‘Jugnu’, in which the young Noor Jehan had acted. (Noor Jehan was insanely jealous of Roshan Ara ’s singing abilities. But her jealousy is said to have vanished on the day she met Roshan Ara, who was unusually sweet and generous in appearance as well as demeanour.)

 

The Partition of the Indian subcontinent flung Roshan Ara far away from her cosmopolitan life. She ended up residing with her husband at Lalamusa, a small, nondescript town in West Punjab. It was here that Roshan Ara spent the rest of her life. A citizen now of Pakistan, she would come down to Lahore to participate in concerts. In Pakistan too she was widely accepted as the best and brightest of singers. Her renditions in particular of the raags Shankara, Shuddh Kalyan, Maru Bihag and Kedara were awe-inspiring. [All are captured in these volumes]

 

nat02In fact, if there was any comparison to be made with a contemporary of hers, it was with Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. I remember one occasion on which the two great singers happened to share a stage. It was one of Radio Lahore’s annual Jashn-e-Baharan festivals of the 1950s, and it spanned over 7 days. On the first day Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan rendered his favourite Raag Malkauns with full vigour and strength, and after him Roshan Ara  sang her own favourite Raag Shankara with zeal and aplomb. The audience was riveted by both performances; there was no agreement about whose song was superior. The next evening Roshan Ara was scheduled to sing first, and she picked Raag Basant. Now it was the month of March, and Lahore was drenched in the smells and colors of spring. Roshan Ara ’s rendition of the taunting-joyous raag seemed to dance with the elements, and was so enchanting that the audience threw flowers on her while she was singing. Next up was Bade Ghulam Ali, and though he tried his very best to continue in that vein of delicacy and enchantment with an accomplished rendition of Raag Kafi Kanra, he could not even enter, let alone break, the spell cast by his magical predecessor. In the end the great Ustad was compelled to praise and bless Roshan Ara Begum before the audience; and she stooped to his knees in a gesture of humility and graciousness.

 

Unlike other famous women singers of the time, Roshan Ara Begum was not physically beautiful. She was short, dark and fat, and had a large nose. But everyone agreed that when she began to sing, her voice, which had in it the essence of womanhood, would issue from her mouth like a sacred light and transform her whole appearance, giving her a luster that can only be described as queenly. That she was eventually bestowed with the title of ‘Malika-e-Mauseeqi’ (Empress of Music) is a testament not only to her singing talent but also to the effect it had on her audiences, who became her subjects of sorts.

 

Towards the end of her life Roshan Ara Begum spent more and more time in Lalamusa. The dark age of General Zia-ul-Haq had begun, and musicians of all kinds were adversely affected by the new religious-minded agenda that was being peddled on radio and television. At home Roshan Ara spent time with birds, cats and all the other animals that she kept as pets. In a TV interview from that time, when asked to comment on the potential of young singers in Pakistan, she replied that the new generation was too impatient and distracted to pursue the musical tradition. And indeed she was right: when she died in 1984, a whole era of superior singing came to an end, not just in Pakistan but in the whole of the Indian subcontinent. [from Friday Times]

 

Kirana Gharana

 

The origin of the Kirana gharana is shrouded in an air of mystery and, to some extent, controversy. It is generally believed that Gopal Nayak, a contemporary of Amir Khusrau, is the fountainhead of the gharana. He lived on the banks of the Jumna River in a town called Dutai. Later, when Dutai was ravaged by floods he moved inland to Kirana, a small town in the Muzaffarnagar district. He is believed to have embraced Islam. Four different offshoots of the Kirana dynasty are claimed to have descended from him. One of the branches boasts of great names like Ustad Azim Baksh, Maula Baksh and Abdul Ghani Khan. The second branch is studded with names like Ustad Bande Ali Khan, Nanne Khan, Kale Khan and the legendary Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. Yet another offshoot includes in its Kirana lineage the names of Gafoor Khan, Abdul Wahid Khan, Shakoor Khan, Mashkoor Ali and Mubarak Ali. Finally, the distinguished family tradition of Mehboob Baksh, Rehman Khan, Abdul Majid Khan, Abdul Hamid Khan, Abdul Bashir Khan, followed by his sons Niaz Ahmed and Fayyaz Ahmed Khan, express their allegiance to the Kirana tradition.

 

G_Hangal_500

Gangubai Hangal

The precise roots of the gharana are lost in antiquity and shrouded with controversy. There are some who believe that Ustad Abdul Karim Khan is the true fountainhead of Sawai Gandharva, Roshanara Begum, Balkhshnabuva Kapileshwari, Behrebuva, Sureshbabu Mane and Hirabai Barodekar. From this mainstream of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, in turn, came Pandit Sawai Gandharva whose centenary was recently celebrated with great fete in Bombay, and the ranks of the gharana have swelled, majestically. The leading lights include Gangubai Hangal, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Feroze Dastoor, Dr Prabha Atre and Pandit Sangame-shwar Gaurav. Among their disciples, Krishna Hangal Shrikant Deshpande, Madhav Gudi, Narayanrao Deshpande, Ramkrishna Patwardhan, Milind Chittal and Alka Joglekar have already made their mark and ensured the continued popularity of the gharana.

 

This phenomenal popularity has been achieved through the characteristic expansive alapchari which unfolds the raga note by note with tantalising languor. The induction of sargams was another alankar which Abdul Karim Khan inducted into Hindustani music with a Carnatic flair. Admittedly, the gharana has undergone a vigorous transformation with the vibrant personality of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who has brought into play his own stylistic nuances. It is obvious that the Kirana gharana is riding the wave of popularity. the gharana and the lineage that emanates from him is the main stream of the gharana, while the rest are tributaries. Be that as it may, it is an incontrovertible fact that the Kirana gharana remains the most popular and prolific in the sheer number of its practitioners on the contemporary scene. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan ushered in a new era of romanticism in the rendition of Hindustani classical music which was captivating because it was at once sweet, soothing, serene and sensuous. Although the Ustad’s own singing seemed to lack fullbodied masculine sonorousness, his romanticism won for the Kirana gharana a strong following which included names that have become legends. (Saxonian Folkways)

ghar 5

Track Listing Vol 5:

01 Bhibhas

02 Jaunpuri

03 Basant

04 Bahar

GkGv5RABegum

ghar 6

Track Listing Vol 6:

01 Lalit

02 Bhatiyar

03 Maru Behag

04 Adana

GkGv6RABegum

ghar 7

Track Listing Vol. 7:

01 Kamod

02 Shudh Kalyan

03 Kalavati

04 Anandi

GkGv7RABegum

ghar 8 

Track Listing Vol 8:

01 Des

02 Shankara

03 Nai Ki Kanra

04 Jhinjhoti

GvGv8RABegum

 

 

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An Old Tradition in the Land of the Pure: Hafeez Khan Talwandiwale

TWB

 

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)

Enjoy this rare and excellent recital.

IMG_2487

Track Listing:

  1. Patdeep
  2. Multani
  3. Kafi Khwaja Ghulam Farid

Talwandiwale

 

Ragamala Vol. 6: Bhimpalasi

F1991.1

Way back in 2013 I began this Ragamala series.  I wanted to collect a variety of tracks from diverse genres that were based upon or direct interpretations of particular ragas.  I have to confess that despite many years of listening to South Asian classical music my ear is still as wooden as when I began to seriously pay attention to khyaldhrupad and other forms of classical music.  I think I can identify Malkauns but that’s about it.

I feel terrible about this. Surely, I should be more competent and clever. But each time I try to read anything about the structure of ragas the better to tune my ear, my eyes glaze over and my mind closes up shop.  There is simply too much new vocabulary to learn and I’m not sure how much such knowledge would increase my listening pleasure.

Of more interest to me is the mood each raga attempts to induce in the listener. I like to see if it works on me, and I’m happy to report that Bhimpalasi does.

Bhimpalasi is an afternoon to early evening raga. A time of day that for most modern families is stressful. Kids back home from school. Commotion all over the place and pots and plates banging in the kitchen.

They say this raga speaks to the melancholy, sad aspects of the human soul. And in so doing, is effective for the release of stress and anxiety. Some recommend Bhimpalasi as part of the treatment for depression.

I began this weekend listening to Ali Akbar Khan‘s interpretation from his Bangla Desh album (1972).  I’ve since listened to it a couple more times and this afternoon let Saskia Rao’s doleful cello sink slowly beneath the skin.   And I am proud (and surprised) to report I feel absolutely peaceful, light and relaxed.

There are some very nice interpretations here.  Lata sings two film songs (one composed by SD Burman, the other by Madan Mohan) including one of my all-time favorites, Khilte Hain Gul Yahan. An enigmatic early fusion/jazz group from the UK give us Bhimpalazi (1969) and Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan contribute two straight-ahead versions on sitar and sarod, respectively. The Dutch cellist Saskia Rao shows how beautifully that instrument fits into the Indian soundscape and finally, Mehdi Hassan gives us a filmi ghazal from Azmat (1973).

PEACE. SUKOON. SHANTI.

Bhimpalasi

Track Listing:

01 Raga Bhimpalasi [Ali Akbar Khan]

02 Nainon Mein Badra Chaaya [Madan Mohan and Lata Mangeshkar]

03 Bhimpalazi (Looking Eastward to the Blues) [Indo-Jazz Ensemble]

04 Raga Bhimpalasi [Ravi Shankar]

05 Khilte Hain Gul Yahan [SD Burman and Lata Mangeshkar]

06 Bhimpalasi Alap Jod Jhala [Saskia Rao]

07 Zindagi Main To Sabhi Pyar Kiya Karte Hai [Mehdi Hassan]

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Jewel of India: Ustad Bismillah Khan

 

Ustad Bismillah Khan

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.

Bismillah Khan Bismillah Khan_0001

Track Listing:

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

Voice in Paradise: Kishori Amonkar

Kishori Amonkar

Kishori Amonkar

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.

Bula!

cover

Track Listing:

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

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