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Know your Akademi laureates — I&II

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The Economic Times, December 13, 1987

As briefly mentioned in the previous column, all the recipients of the 1987 Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards for Hindustani vocal and instrumental music are still active on the performing stage. It is therefore about time that a summation of their life and career is briefly made this week.

Speaking, age-wise, about the laureates, C. R. Vyas, 63, should lead the list. It is during the last decade and a half that Vyas came into the limelight as a vocalist, composer and teacher. That is because he did not choose to be a professional performer in the conventional sense–in the sense that he was holding a job in a leading cigarette manufacturing company. He sought premature retirement from service to be able to devote himself completely to his cherished art in various ways.

Vyas had his initial training from Bhatambrekarbuva, an exponent of the Kirana gharana. Later, he sought guidance from Paradkarbuva and Mirashibuva, both veterans of the Gwalior gharana. Still later, Jagannathbuva Purohit, the celebrated performer, composer and teacher from the Agra gharana, gave him further grooming. In between, he was also associated with S. N. Ratanjankar, another scholar – musician, and his leading disciples like Nagarkar, Bhat and Ginde.

As a result, Vyas has imbibed in his singing the distinctive features of many diverse styles, although the influence of the Gwalior gayaki remains dominant.

Vyas has also made his presence felt as innovator of many ragas and compositions, which are known by his pen-name “Gunijan”. A prominent and AIR and TV artiste, he participates in major musical in India. He has also undertaken concert tours abroad.

It is ironical but true with all her conspicuous musical gifts, the name of Shobha Gurtu, who recently turned 60, was not known to the extent it should, till the passing away of stalwarts of light classical music like Rasoolanbai, Siddheshwari Devi and Begum Akhtar. Better late than never, she has now rightly come to be acknowledged as the leading light in the field of thumri, ghazal and bhajan.

The uniqueness of Shobha’s contribution is in the fact she has assimilated the spirit of the difficult musical idiom of the far-away Uttar Pradesh. She comes from Goa and therefore she was totally unfamiliar with the music and song tradition of Purab (Uttar Pradesh) which is known for the variety of its dialects of the Hindi language, their diction and delivery. In time to time, she could not only master them but also lend an element of individuality in shaping them in her own style.

Of course, Shobha has been an artiste with melody and rhythm running through her veins. Her mother, Menakabai Shirodkar, was a well-known singer and dancer. After learning the basics of singing from her mother, she had advanced guidance from Nathan Khan and Gamman Khan who, respectively, trained her in classical singing and light classical and popular vogues. After marriage, she was helped by her father-in-law, Narayan Nath Gurtu who was himself an eminent scholar-musician.

All said and done, however, Shobha’s style and approach easily put her in a class by herself–as a self-taught artiste. Her expression is impassioned and innovative, too, but with its moorings firm in the Purabi tradition. Such is her versatility that she can conjure a tune on the spur of the moment and make her chosen song bloom with a new colour and sparkle.

A lyricist in her own right, she has also her credit a charming line-up thumris, ghazals and geets, which she occasionally presents to her listeners side by side with her traditional repertoire.

Jasraj, at 57, is the youngest of this year’s Akademic winners in Hindustani vocal music. Although he strikes controversial in the content and presentation of his ragas, the fact remains that he is one of the few vocalists to have acquired an audience of his own.

Jasraj is also the youngest of three noted singing brothers–Maniram, Pratap Narayan and himself. All the three are the exponents of what is known as Mewati gayaki, of which Motiram, their father, was acknowledged as a pioneer. He started out as a percussionist and it was the eldest brother, Maniram, who shaped him as a vocalist.

Endowed with a sweet, mellifluous voice, Jasraj, invests his music with a communicative quality. He endears his audiences as much by his soulful alaps and imaginative bol-taans as by his intricate sargams and cascading taans. He is equally at ease in the rendition of devotional music.

Know your Akademi laureates — II

The Economic Times, December 20, 1987

The sitar is by far one of the most celebrated concert instruments of North India – and possibly the most popular one as well.

There is probably in instrument that can hold a candle to it in point of expressiveness. Indeed, its manoeuvrability is so uncanny that in the hands of a skilled player, it can afford anything from a delicate nuance to a vigorous, powerful tone. Predictably, its versatile qualities have unleashed variety of styles and vogues, some of which sound controversial, even gimmicky.

Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan and Imrat Hussain Khan, who have won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for instrumental music, rank among the top-notchers in sitar music and also often strike as controversial virtuosi. Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan, now 58, has inherited his art from his father, Jaffar Khan, who was a noted sitarist and beenkar of his time in Indore.

A brilliant improviser, he has composed many new ragas, besides playing melodies from both the Hindustani and Carnatic paramparas, with equal ease.

It is also his claim to have added a new technique of playing, which he calls “Jaffarkhani baaz”, to the conventional “Razakhani” and “Masikhani” techniques.

He has also conceived and presented novel instrumental combinations, like the “Sitar Quintet” and has cut commercial discs of such innovations. He has a scholarly bent of mind and gives talks and lecture demonstrations on music both at home and abroad. He is a popular performer in the concert hall and on radio and television.

Imrat Hussain Khan is the younger brother of the maestro Vilayat Khan and also his disciple. Scion of an illustrious house of stalwarts, he represents the sixth generation of leading lights, which traces its origin to the grand period of the Moghuls.

Like his illustrious brother, Imrat Khan is also a staunch proponent of what has come to be known as “gayaki ang” in instrumental music. Lyrical beauty and technical perfection are among the shining facets of his playing.

It is Imrat Khan’s distinction that he excels in the playing of the surbahar, a difficult instrument which resembles the sitar but has almost gone out of vogue. To this writer, Imrat Khan makes a deeper impact with his surbahar than with his sitar.

Imrat Khan makes frequent sojourns abroad and, for this reason, the concert appearances of the 57-year-old virtuoso are relatively less frequent in India’s musical citadels.

Finally, call it an after thought – but I find it necessary to make mention of the name of Ram Marathe from Maharashtra, who also figures in the roll of honour of the Akademi laureates for his contribution to Marathi stage music. For two good reasons, Marathe merits mention, first because he is basically a Hindustani classical vocalist, who switched over to stage acting and singing. Secondly, as is now well known, the tradition of Marathi stage music has its unshakeable moorings in Hindustani music.

Sixty-three year-old Ram Marathe, interestingly, started his career as a child actor on the Marathi silver screen and captured the hearts of cine-goers by his varied singing and acting roles. Later, he underwent professional grooming in traditional music from noted masters like Manohar Barve and Krishnarao Phulambrikar, popularly known as Master Krishnarao, who himself earned name and fame later as a versatile composer and music director on the Marathi stage as well as screen.

Marathe’s association with Bal Gandharva and several other leading thespians of our time, mostly in the role of singing hero, brought him tremendous popularity in Maharashtra.

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