I received an email today about a new website called, Ragas4u (www.ragas4u.com). At first glance it looks like a fantastic site filled with many resources for both the layman and the advanced. I went to the Raga Bhopali section and decided to give some of the exercises a go–it had me there for almost an hour practicing and listening to all the examples and then exploring other youtube posts on Bhopali. This is led me to the recording of Zohrabai Agrewali on youtube singing Bhopali. I have heard her name before as an important figure in Hindustani classical music, but I never had the chance to hear anything. I also read the small article on Wikipedia and am now really intrigued about her life. She died young at 45 years of age (1868-1913) and was apart of an older generation of court patronage while representing the decreasing lives of courtesan singers in North India. In the 19th century and before, courtesans were one of the main culture bearers of Hindustani music, and to listen to these recordings is like a flash, or a shimmer, of a completely different era of India’s classical music.
I also found a small tribute to her on ITC’s site here: http://www.itcsra.org/tribute.asp?id=3 Here, there are even more clips of her singing.
“Born in 1868, Zohra Bai of the Agra Gharana, or Zohra Bai Agrewali as she came to be known as, was easily the best female singer at the turn of the 19th century. She had her talim from Ustad Sher Khan, nephew of Ghagge Khuda Baksh who imported Khayal from Gwalior. She had her subsequent talim from Ustad Kallan Khan and Mehboob Khan (Daras Piya), the great composer of Khayals and even Thumris, a fact, which is not very well known even to members of Agra Gharana.
Known equally for Khayal as well as lighter varieties of classical music, she learnt Thumri and Ghazals from Ahmad Khan of Dacca. Her many records going back to the first twenty years of the last century have not yet dated, unlike records of some of her contemporaries. It is said that Faiyaz Khan the greatest Ustad of the Agra Gharana, and possibly of this time in India, was also influenced by Zohra Bai`s style of singing. The famed Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan of the Patiala Gharana also held her in very high esteem.
Zohra Bai died in 1913.”