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Youth to the fore

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The Economic Times, December 27, 1987


Bombay, the capital of Maharashtra, has been a leading centre of musical activity for almost a century.

This survey is restricted to concert music which is purveyed to a wide range of connoisseurs at different levels. In the first place, there are music circles, big and small, which cater to the needs of their members by holding programmes at regular intervals practically round the year. These concerts, mostly classical in character are patronised by the middle-class milieu.

In the second category are the concerts of ghazal and devotional music sponsored by either recording companies or affluent industrial concerns or even members of the noveau riche class.

By far the most powerful purveyors of concert music today happen to be those organisations and individuals that are seen to dominate the cultural scene with their mammoth soirees, better known as sangeet sammelans, during the fair season between October and May.

The sammelan season is possibly at its busiest in the months of December, January and February. No matter, if the events sometimes come in rapid succession or even overlap with one another. The reason, simply, is that music has become big business. How else does one account for the billing of the same set of money-spinning artistes at most of these festivals?

It is something to be grateful for the fact that the number of such commercial sammelans has now come down to about five, as against almost twice that number, till five years ago.

No longer do you find those adventurist organisers from outside, seeking to establish themselves in this metropolis. The organisations that remain active in the arena are all Bombay-based ones, and they include the Maharashtra Lalit Kala Midhi, Sajan Milap. The Indian Music Group of St. Xavier’s College, the Sur Singar Samsad and last, but not the least, the Music Colelge of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Only the last-mentioned sponsor has no commercial motive in holding its annual events. What is more, it makes it a point to feature an impressive line-up top talent from the younger generation which seldom finds place in crassly commercial ventures in the field.

As in the past, all these organisations held their sammelans in the familiar pattern in the year that is drawing to a close. Frankly, there was little in them to write home about.

But it was at the level of music circles that onewitnessed a positively encouraging prospect. A growing number of younger stylists found opportunities to present their full-fledged performances under the aegis of institutions like the Suburban music circle of Santa Cruz and the Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre, besides more modest bodies like Sajan Milap, Rageshwari and Swara Maauli.

Come to think of it, this trend first became evident a year before which was, incidentally, observed as the International Year of Youth. But it made a significant advance in 1987. As a result, an impressive array of talented youngsters were seen and heard as independent soloists on the platform of Bombay’s music circles.

Better late than never, it augurs well for the institutions that they had to turn their attention to young stylists of conspicuous caliber, rather than face the challenge from the commercial sector which still revels in featuring high-priced virtuosi on their extravagant platform!

Call it a fall-out or a coincidence. The winds of change began blowing over the recording sector. But it was a few indigenous agencies, not the multi-national companies, which took the lead in featuring representatives of the new, bright generation of vocalists and instrumentalists in their cassettes.

It would appear that the multinationals, who always believed in cashing in on contemporary popular veterans, took the cue from the initiative shown by the smaller fry in a highly competitive field and bestirred themselves into action.

That explains how vocalists like Ashwini Bhide, Arati Ankalikar, Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Shruti Sadolikar and Padma Talwalkar on the vocal side and S. Sangeeta (violin), Brij Narayan (sarod), Ulhas Bapat (santoor) and Omprakash Chourasia (also santoor) could not only find pride of place in the recording market but also enjoy sustained demand from connoisseurs. The list is rather too long to permit individual mention.

Side by side, many of the really top-notch performers, who were rather coldly ignored by multi-nationals, also had their field day. The few names that come to mind are those of Dinkar Kaikini, K. G. Ginde and Lalit Rao, all vocalists and Rajeev Taranath (sarod) and Malhar Kulkarni (flute). Here, again, the list is rather long. The names cited are only by way of examples that signify the rapidly-growing trend.

So much for the progress of concert and recording music in this city. Equally encouraging was the scene on a wider plane, covering the educational or scholastic aspects of classical music and the growing awareness of serious listeners of the need to cultivate a better knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the finer points of classical music as an art-form.

The seminars on the tradition and trends in thumri-singing and the equally changing face of percussion music, as exemplified by the tabla art, were the two major events held at the very beginning of the new year. These were jointly organised by the music department of the Bombay University and the Indian Musicological Society of Baroda.

The year was also marked by the observance of the diamond jubilee of All India Radio and thirty years of Vividh Bharati, which forms an important part of the national broadcasting organisation. Broadcasting, as we know, is a state-owned monopoly and, true to type, concerts of music were held by AIR in the presence of an invited audience on both occasions.

The year also marked the birth centenary of Bal Gandharva, universally acknowlewdged as the king of thespians ever born in Maharashtra. It has been a year-long celebration, scheduled to end in June next. Since an account of the life and career of Bal Gandharva has been published in an eight-part series in this column only recently, there appears no need to write in detail about the great genius so soon. Suffice it to say that he is being fondly remembered not only in Maharashtra but also all over the country.

Ironically, it is in very rare cases that their performances add up to a truly musical tribute to their late master. Among them stand out the young Asha Khadilkar as also the elderly Jayamala Shiledar and Madhuvanti Dandekar. As for the rest, themusic that is heard only tends to evoke mournful reactions in the mind of an old-timer, like this writer, who had the good fortune to listen to the best of the thespian’s music.

A happy feature of musical remembrance in 1987 is the representation received by a good number of Bombay artists under the scheme of Sangeet Natak Akademi awards for Hindustani music. Among these are Devendra Murdeshwar (flute), Shivkumar Sharma (santoor), Imrat Khan and Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan (sitarists), and Firoz Dastur, Manik Verma, Shobha Gurtu, C. R. Vyas and Jasraj, all vocalists. Mention must also be made of the conferment of Padma Bhushan on the celebrated avant garde vocalist, Kishori Amonkar, who is also based in Bombay.

It is not the intention of this writer to end this survey on a gloomy note. The fact is that the year also saw the passing away of great veterans like the versatile violinist, vocalist and teacher, Gajananrao Joshi, Ambalal Sitaria, the celebrated innovator of a wide variety of musical instruments, and Faiyaz Ahmed Khan, a leading exponent of the Kirana gharana.

The first two died because of old age, while cancer claimed the life of the latter prematurely. Each of these artistes, in their own way, contributed to the enrichment and propagation of Hindustani music.

It is only fair and proper to remember them in a survey of major musical events like the present one.


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