Pandit Samta Prasad

A tabla master of the highest order, Pandit Samta Prasad Ji’s music continues to inspire tabla players, hindustani musicians, and music lovers alike to this day.  I often look towards old recordings for inspiration before and after my riyaaz and today I was happy to find this video of Samta Ji’s solo:

I love the power, balance, and clarity in his hand–it feels truly Benarasi to me.  It is said that he was known as the ‘king of Banaras’ during his life, and this video certainly illustrates why!

Born in 1921, he comes from a family and lineage of tabla and pakawaj players.  His father, Pandit Hari Sunder (also known as Bacha Mishra), initiated the young Samta Ji into tabla, but sadly passed away when Samta Ji was seven.  He then became a disciple of Bikku Maharaj, who was himself a disciple of Baldev Sahai (all in the Benaras lineage/gharana of Ram Sahai).

In addition to his prolific classical career Samta Ji was also featured in many films of his day: Meri Surat Teri Ankhen, Sholay, Basant Bahar, and many more.  I found a great excerpt from Meri Surat Teri Ankhen that again shows his strength and grace as a brilliant tabla artist.

Below are some additional links for more information on his life.  We are truly blessed to hear such incredible masters of the past!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samta_Prasad

http://www.varanasi.org.in/pandit-gudai-maharaj

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/in-memoriam/article3218355.ece

 

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Tarana: Amir Khusro and Ustad Amir Khan

I am looking forward to studying vocal music as part of my training in sangat for my upcoming AIIS grant in New Delhi.  In preparation, I have been listening to tons of Hindustani vocalists, though, I keep coming back to Ustad Amir Khan and his performances of the tarana–something I had previously little knowledge of before.

Tarana, literally means ‘song’ in Persian, but was born from the creativity of the legendary poet saint, Amir Khusro (1253-1325 CE) of Delhi.  With the influence of nigrit song forms in sanskrit of the time,  which used nonsense syllables during improvisations, Amir Khusro introduced the use of Persian and Arabic phonemes intertwined with Hindi/Urdu words and phrases to create a new art form called the tarana.  Sometimes the performers actually used sitar or mrindang syllables reciting entire gats, tihais, and chakradhars.

Saldly, the tarana of Amir Khusro’s time quickly become obsolete simply because there were no subsequent performers that could sincerely uphold the tarana’s integrity.  That was until the revival led by Ustad Amir Khan.  His renditions and interpretations of tarana were incredibly moving, and consequently reintroduced the genre back into the canon of Hindustani vocal forms.

Below are three renditions of the tarana form.  The first is of course, Ustad Amir Khan.  The second though, is a Tarana of Kishori Amonkar in Rag Haunsadhwani.  The final example is of an orchestral performance of Ravi Shankar Ji’s at the Kremlin.  Each example displays a distinct characteristic of the Tarana that I hope you will enjoy!

Deepak Raja’s blog

As I have been gearing up mentally for my upcoming year in Delhi, I have been looking for more online writings about Hindustani music and although I have seen his blog before, I never spent much time reading his posts.  But I wish I had!  Deepak Ji maintains a great blog with constant additions and great insights.  I recommend it to anyone interested in Hindustani music.  Enjoy!

http://swaratala.blogspot.com/

Ramji Mishra

I found this recording on youtube through knisar22’s youtube channel (which is amazing and really active with new uploads from unique recordings all the time).  Ramji’s playing is mind blowing!  Even though this an older recording without high quality, the essence of his mastery is so crystal clear.  The clarity, speed, and sheer variety of his bols is breathtaking.  I wish there were more recordings out there of his.

From reading a few articles on the web about Ramji, I learned that he is the son of the famous Benares tabla master Anokelal Ji, and was all set to take the world stage “but that certain other jealous Benares tabla players slipped him some mind-cracking drugs and sent him mad. It is one of the big shames of Benares music-circle politics.” (http://forums.chandrakantha.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=982)  This intrigues me because regardless if it is true or not, this story adds a certain mystique to his life, which, if juxtaposed on the few recordings of his that are available, tell a story untold about a rare genius.  In hindustani music this juxtaposition may not be a necessarily new phenomenon (i.e., of a mysterious life against the work of a genius), but this recording here undoubtedly displays an artistic feat seldom heard.  Supposedly, he still plays concerts occasionally, but because he is quite old now rarely gives long performances.  I would love to learn more about Ramji’s life, and hear more of his recordings, so if anyone knows what direction to point, let me know!

There are 5 clips loaded of Ramji’s tabla, but I just added one here:

Ustad Asad Ali Khan

Ustad Asad Ali Khan was one the great Rudra Veena players of our time, so his recent death is a huge loss to the world of Hindustani Classical music.  While his forefathers were court musicians in Jaipur, Rampur, and other North Indian Courts, he himself was a 7th generation musician.  He was never married, but adopted a son, Zaki Haidar, who was also a disciple of his.  Another disciple of his was Bikramjeet Das of Kolkata.

There are not many Rudra Veena players in India left, at least not as there where in times previous, and as I reflect on Ustad ji’s life and music, I am reminded once again of the depth and scope inherent in Indian Music. And although Rudra Veena’s popularity in general may be declining, to witness the accomplishments of today’s living masters of other instruments (sitar, santoor, tabla, vocals, etc.) is extraordinary.  I say this, because instead of focusing on what is changing in Indian Classical Music (i.e., what is lost), it is sometimes more beneficial to look at what is gained from previous efforts.  And what better way to look at Ustad ji’s life than through the lens of how his accomplishments helped shape the music of today’s performers.

As I head off for a practice session myself on this eve of Guru Purnima, through reflecting on Ustad ji’s life, I give pranaam to all the great musicians who have worked so hard to develop this wonderful and boundless music.

Raga Bhopali and Zohrabai Agrewali

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.”

(from: http://www.itcsra.org/tribute.asp?id=3)