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Sunny music amid murky setting

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The Economic Times, September 4, 1988

The onset of the west season is always seen to generate a palpable lull in the cultural activity of this metropolis. Speaking of Hindustani music, sponsors of concerts generally take a three-month holiday. If and when such programmes came, they are few and far between.

Even so, specific mention needs to be made, one must say of the three-hour presentation staged by the Indian Music Group of St. Xavier’s College on August 28. It came as an experience to cherish for long. The show as styled “Malhar-ke-prakar” and the artiste billed for performance was Gangubai Hangal who, at 75, happens to be the reigning master o fthe Kirana gharana still active on the concert platform.

The billing of a leading light of this particular gharana was predictably apt to arouse curiosity in the minds of her old-time fans. In the first place, exponents of the Kirana gharana are seldom known to handle rare and complicated ragas for concert singing. It is interesting to note that great masters of this tradition (and Gangubai is certainly one of them) have achieved name and fame, by presenting familiar traditional melodies that are easy on the ear – like Bhairav, Lalit, Todi, Brindavani Sarang, Shudh Sarang and Goud Sarang, rendered during day-time; or Marwa, Puriya, Yaman, and Shudh Kalyan, during the evening hours; or Durga, Kedar, Malkauns, Abhogi, Shankara, Miyan-Malhar and Basant, during the later hours of the night.

True, as her ardent fans know, about the only rare melody which is forte with Gangubai has been Nat-Malhar, besides the delightfully familiar Miyan-Malhar. So much so, that when the details of her repertoire at this concert were announced, the curiosity of the large audience present naturally grew keener. And, to the manner born, the septuagenarian veteran reeled off a string of Malhar sub melodies to their complete fulfillment.

Gangubai began with a detailed depiction of Miyan Malhar which is her trump-card. She followed it up with compositions in Nat-Malhar, Megh-Malhar and Jayant-Malhar. The post-intermission fare also include her favourite themes outside the Malhar group, like Shanara and Kedara. And she concluded with a Bhairavi.

No doubt, Gangubai, at her age, was seen in a bit of distress, torn, as it were, between a compelling desire to express the inner most urges of her musical being and the equally compelling limitations wrought by advancing age. But not for long, she overcame her handicaps after her initial flourishes of each number and got going full steam with her exploration of the unsuspected beauties of the respective raga with the confidence and competence of an acknowledge performer.

Each of the presentations was marked by the characteristic massiveness and dignity. Her vilambits had the same leisurely pace an dmeticulous delineation that have characterized her style. The variety of brief, soft swar alaps and meands showed her fine sense of the subtle and the beautiful. As she proceeded to unfold them, it seemed that her loud masculine voice did score over age – with its high level of expressiveness. What, then, finally stood out in each case was a masterpiece in sound portraiture in which all the artistic and aesthetic virtues were perfectly integrated into exquisite designs.

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