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Entertainment Music 05 Jun 2018 The preservers of th ...

The preservers of the musical past

Published Jun 5, 2018, 2:43 am IST
Updated Jun 5, 2018, 2:43 am IST
Keepers of our musical archives keep the music of past generation alive and allow us to hear the forbears of today’s masters.
Haafiz Ali Khan
 Haafiz Ali Khan

The Sangeet Natak Akademi has recordings of classical music, North and South as well as folk music since the 1950s. Some are live recordings made by the Akademi in its studio/theatre; others are gathered from other sources like the radio, private music festivals etc. One masterpiece is a rare surbahar recording of Ustad Wahid Khan, grandfather of Ustad Shahid Parvez. It is indeed an unmatched collection, carefully preserved from the elements by being kept in an AC vault. The late Khalifa of the Ajrada gharana of tabla, Ustad Hashmat Ali Khan was in despair as he was unable to obtain recordings of maestro Ustad Habibuddin Khan, from his gharana as according to the rules, only the direct descendants of an artist can ask for copies of recordings.   

Bande Ali Khan and Faiyaz Khan.Bande Ali Khan and Faiyaz Khan.


Interviews of bygone masters like Thumri Queen Anjani Bai Malpekar, who is today just a name to many students of music, also exist. Pt Ulhas Kashalkar, today arguably the finest vocalist in India laments that despite the existence of recordings with SNA of his Guru’s Guru Pt Anant Manohar Joshi, these are not available to be heard by him and his disciples. Sadly, the collection is not digitised due to “lack of funds”. This seems strange as the main charter of the institution is to preserve and archive our music traditions.

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts on the other hand is the only institution in the land that has obtained ISO 16363:2012 certification for its digitisation of archives and is in the process of obtaining and digitising music collections, private as well as public where it is allowed. This is available online as well. Irfan Zuberi, Project Manager in charge of the division was excited about the fact that “the project is a first of its kind, wherein both governmental and non governmental repositories have together made non commercial, unpublished audio visual recordings of our cultural heritage available online in the public domain.” Dr Joshi, Member Secretary IGNCA confirmed that they were in the process of obtaining collections from private connoisseurs as well, from Baroda, Banaras and other places; already around 10000 hours of music is available online, including Hindustani and Carnatic classical music, folk and tribal music.

 The other great source of old classical music remains All India Radio, and later Doordarshan; both are not available to the public to access which is a great pity as 50 years or more of recordings represent an entire generation, and are an invaluable source for today’s musicians as well as lovers of music. An attempt is being made to bring in rare archival music from all stations to be digitised in 1 place. Rare recordings of geniuses like Master Krishna Rao, Kesar Bai ji, Mogu Bai ji and others should be available with AIR, said Pt Ulhas Kashalkar; these should be in the public domain. Ustad Nishat Khan recalls what an honour it was for him to play a jugalbandi with late violinist Pt V G Jog, which was recorded by Doordarshan. He wished the recording could be aired as the level of music both artists reached in that concert was stupendous.

Listening to the music in the archives is an eye opener; there are truly several differences in the presentation style of then and now, of Hindustani music. To generalize somewhat, the duration of each piece (as opposed to the whole concert) was shorter, crisper, and more content filled than at present. The “aalap” was shorter, with less repetitive variations on each note.  The mastery the older generation had, enabled them to present the essence of the Raga in a shorter concert, one felt. To repeat the often quoted lament of Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan on Raga Darbari which he used to say, even way back in the 1960s, that “Darbari kee taang tor rahe hain”  (they are ruining Darbari ) referring to how its presentation was prolonged unduly, to the detriment of its purity. The musician of today feels the need to repeat phrases as perhaps the innate knowledge of the Raga, and thus confidence in its presentation, is lacking.  Instrumentalists too had a much more varied style; nowadays one mainly hears only extant versions of 4 types of “baaj” – Maihar, Imdadkhani, Senia Bangash or Shahjahanpur Senia. Recordings of the old Ustads including Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan, Ustad Ilyas Khan, Ustad Yusuf Ali Khan (sitariyas) Ustad Ishtiaq Khan (sarodiya) showed style elements and playing differences which are now rarely heard.

The frequent execution of the “mohra” signaled the conclusion of a musical creation, before venturing into the next musical idea. Today, hearing a “mohra” during the aalap is becoming rare. The emphasis of modern exponents is more on speed, which after a while gets monotonous.  Indeed Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan, amongst others is on record saying that there are rules for speed too, which need to be adhered to. One needs to execute or enunciate the composition clearly with all its “bols”; the speed should not be such that this is impossible.

The older masters had no hesitation in presenting pristine old compositions of their masters; indeed, “lakshan” geets brought out all aspects of the Raga and showed which were the notes to stress, the “rasta” to proceed on. They did not feel the need to constantly present their new creations as is the norm today.

Another difference to be noted is, vocalists and instrumentalists, both had no hesitation in performing traditional so called simple “Ragas” – most recordings I heard were in these, (Bihag, Bhairav, Yaman, Durga etc). Kudos to the keepers of our musical archives for keeping alive the music of another generation, and allowing us to hear the forbears of today’s masters. One urges them to make their collection easily accessible for a new generation of listeners for research as well as pleasure, by digitising and making the music available online.