It has been an ecstatic experience to hear fifty hours of sheer magic all over again. For us, this book has been a journey back in time as this is what we have grown up on and grown up with. The list of artistes in this book is in no way an evaluation or rating of` their work or of them as artistes but it is a list that has without doubt influenced Indian classical music as it stands today.
We have tried our very best to address each artiste in all humility, however, we have not repeatedly used decorations like Ustad, Pandit, Sahib and ji too often. This is simply for the reader’s convenience and in no way marks any disrespect to these artistes from our end.
This book is our salutation to these fifty icons of music. Thank you for what you have done for music and for music lovers.
When we were born, two years apart from each other, our father sang in our ears from the moment we were placed in his lap. Perhaps our musical training began that day itself. When you are born into a home where the language spoken is music, where every brick of the house is soaked in music, it is only natural to get involved, drenched and completely absorbed into the fascinating world of twelve notes.
When we were growing up, our father would always be very happy to see us listen to music, not just practise it. Not just his own music, but the music of an entire range of artistes from the era of our grandfather to the contemporaries of our father. We were never asked to listen to a particular artiste, or not to listen to another; to listen only to classical music and not listen to the music of the West or Bollywood. The choice and the freedom was entirely ours. But it is only natural to be influenced by the music that your guru speaks of or refers to when he plays. We thus became engrossed in the world of Indian classical music that our father had grown up with, along with our own contemporary choices.
It isn’t easy to shortlist the works of only fifty artistes in the oceanic journey of Indian classical music. However, there were a few who were the pillars of their time and who have today become responsible for shaping the very existence of Indian classical music. There are numerous musicians who have made a difference but for us, these are the names that stand out. These were names then and are names now that no music label or music festival can do without. These are also the artistes we have grown up listening to and who have shaped us to be the musicians that we are today We were very lucky to have had immediate access to most of our fathers contemporaries right from childhood. We have spent memorable moments with many of them and, in the course of time, many relationships have also changed for the better or for the worse.
The bitter truth is that after these musicians, the golden era of geniuses is over, Every artiste we have heard after this list of artistes is a byproduct of these great masters. The recordings only prove this observation. These selected artistes and recordings are in fact the sources from which the present younger generation of artistes has extracted its favourite things. Today, we clearly lack originality and ideas. Artistes who are barely in their early twenties are in a rush to be called maestros, and artistes who have just started performing with their progenies want to be called living legends. The comical irony is that the real geniuses in the world of classical music make it a point not to use decorations in their names! There is a lack of respect between artistes today and a callous attitude towards senior artistes, which makes us very sad. There is even lack of consistency in relationships, to the extent of artistes addressing each other differently each time they meet. Egos and insecurities have taken over passion and integrity But we continue to hope that our generation is able not just to take forward the message of Indian classical music but also to continue its very essence and existence as a Way of life.
To be a musician is itself a blessing as you are not really answerable to anyone but yourself For those few hours when you are on stage, you are in a creative frenzy, sometimes supernaturally unreal. There are times when you get off stage only to realize that something special happened up there on stage that day It is a blessing to be in a profession where you love doing what you do. It is also a non-debatable factor that music is indeed the best way to connect to that supreme power that we have never seen. Be it any religion, music has always been the pathway to spirituality.
The term ‘young artiste’ often amused us as we had started performing from the age of eight and more professionally from about eleven and thirteen, and artistes who were touching fifty were also called ‘young artistes’ or `the next generation’. We saw many things when we started touring overseas from 1989 in Europe (Logan Hall, London) and l99l in the US (Asia Society) and our first tour had a mixed impact on the two of us at our age We felt very fortunate to be playing in great venues because of our father but we also saw a parallel world of unknown artistes and condescending organizers who would refuse to provide hotel rooms and make the artistes stay at people’s houses, drive on their own and even clean up after a house concert. These were the rules of the tour and every artiste who has gone overseas has had to do this at some point and struggle to make ends meet. It is far from the more glamorous worlds of other forms of art.
Back home, we once refused to perform when we arrived at our concert venue and discovered that there was no platform on the stage. This was for an institution that propagated classical music among students but we felt that the principles were somewhat lost. When we put our foot down the answer was that ‘even Pandit so—and-so sang without any complaints Obviously we didn’t succumb to that but this was the attitude. We eventually went on stage only after the platform was made.
Often one wonders why a talented artiste many a time doesn’t create a buzz and on the other hand, someone with minimal talent sells like hot cakes — well, there is no answer. The answer is written by a greater power. There is no good music or bad music. Everyone gives or at least tries to give his or her best but the magic wand is held by that all time magician, the power, the heavens, the almighty.
An issue that our father has been fighting over for years is about the division of Indian music into Hindustani and Carnatic. Is Carnatic not Hindustani, or rather, a part of Hindustan? We cannot agree with him more. Though we are aware that the systems are different, they are indeed the same twelve notes. Why do we not address them as the classical music of north India and south India? Some great duets have also taken place between artistes from both the systems who have found a common meeting point. However, over time it has become too predictable. There also always seems to be an ugly undercurrent between artistes from both systems even as they collaborate together. However, there are also some grand works between masters from both the systems.
Indian classical music has had a very spiritual and scientific development and growth. This was a phenomenon that existed from the Vedic times. The tradition of classical music dates back to the Sam Veda period. The earliest version of classical music were the Vedic chants. Interestingly the effects of all twelve notes on our body, mind and soul are completely scientific. If we sing out all the twelve notes with concentration, the human body receives positive vibrations. In fact, the positive effect transcends to plants and animals. Various permutations and combinations give the scales the shape of a raga. But a raga is much more and beyond. It’s not just a mere scale. A raga has to be invoked, understood and cared for, like a living entity People might End it amusing but in the old days and even to some extent nova; artistes would say ‘Don’t mess with a raga — it can curse you!
North Indian classical music owes itself to several legends over the period of time. The central figures include Swami Haridas, Mian Tansen, Baiju Bawra, Hazrat Amir Khusru and many others. As north Indian classical music has always been an oral tradition, not much was written or documented. What has been passed down is through voices and instruments, by listening and thus learning. There are many conventions and traditions, but no single set of rules. Presentation is completely personal. Our grandfather, for instance, never played a raga beyond twenty-five minutes as he felt that it was all repetition after that. Then came a time when the longer the concert was, the greater you were considered. The world of rhythm, too, has been highly developed. Today taals vary from 9% beats to 13% beats to 25 beats.
The fascinating history of south Indian classical music can be traced back to Vedic times. The earliest recorded documents of south Indian classical music are said to have existed in Bharata's Nutyashashtra (2 BC—2 AD), Matanga’s Brihaddesi (5th century) and in Saranga Deva’s Sangita Ratnakara (13th century). But the pillars that contributed to and developed this system of music were Purandara Dasa and the musical trinity Thyagaraja Swami, Shyama Shastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar, In Carnatic music there are 72 Melakarta ragas. These are the parent scales that have all seven notes both in the ascent and descent. The first 36 ragas have sudha madhyamam and the remaining 36 have prati madhyamam svara. Each sudha madhyamam raga has a corresponding prati madhyamam raga. There are seven major talas known as the sapta soolaadi talas. These are rendered by finger counts, beats and waves of the palm. Each tala has five varieties, i.e. tisra (3), chatusrasra (4), khanda (5), misra (7) and sankeerna (9).
Carnatic music is primarily based on musical compositions which are devotional in nature. These have different musical structures and are divided into musical forms with three main sections known as the Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanam. The musical forms include Geetam, Svarajati, Varnam, Kriti, Ragan1—Tanam-Pallavi, Padam, javali, Tillana and more. (Geetam, Varnam and Svarajati are made up of compositions which are intended for the practice of music and are termed Abhyaasa Gaana, while Kriti, Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi, Padam, javali, Tillana, etc. are best suited for concerts and figure under Sabha Gaana. Varnam and some Svarajatis are more serious compositions which are also rendered in concerts.
Varnas and kritis are pre—composed and highly evolved compositions which give a complete Raga Svaroopa. These compositions are replete with the essence of the raga and bring out every nuance of the raga and its inherent beauty. Hence, in order to fully understand a raga, it is essential to learn the maximum number of compositions, especially the kritis composed by the trinity The extempore music or the Manodharma Sangeeta includes Raga Alapana (elaboration of melody without words), Taanam (developing a raga with syllables like nom, tom, anamta, etc.), Niraval (musical elaboration of an appropriate theme) and Kalpana Svaras (svara improvisation). Kritis and ragam-tanam-pallavi are most suited for extempore music and the creative genius of a musician lies in his mastery over this music.
Although Carnatic instrumental music is a unique tradition in itself with the use of instruments like the veena, violin, flute, nadaswaram, gottuvadyam, etc., they revolve around the instrumental interpretations of vocal forms. The concert tradition of playing varnam, kritis with alapana, niraval and kalapana svaras, ragam—tanam—pallavi and tillana are elements common to both vocal and instrumental music in southern India.
In this book, we have tried our best not to be too technical as we feel that good music can only be felt. You do not need to understand it theoretically, just as you don’t need to be an art student to appreciate the Mona Lisa. One must also know that no artiste who has made it big today is the product of a musical institution. All the stalwarts today have learnt after surrendering, believing and having faith in their guru. Many in life question a guru, many go to many gurus but then the result becomes evident. You are an item that belongs to no one.
It is indeed an honour and a pleasure for us to list a selection of works from the very jewels of our country and we hope that this music that we grew up listening to makes a difference to all your lives as artistes, as music enthusiasts and also as connoisseurs of excellence. However, they were great masters in their own right. Needless to say, these works are what we as artistes felt were their very best. We are sure that each of these artistes has many other priceless jewels in their treasury.
Back of the Book
Young sarod players Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan have grown up surrounded by music and musicians. In this tribute to the masters of Indian classical music, they take us through their encounters with fifty of the greatest musicians of the past hundred years-from Begum Akhtar to Bhimsen Joshi, Enayat Khan to Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan to Shiv Kumar Sharma, Semmangudi Iyer to M.S. Subbulakshmi. Ranging from the traditional gharanas to more recent blends and fusions, instrumental and vocal, they explore the world of both northern and southern Indian music, along with a unique listing of each artiste’s most influential recording.
Enriched with personal anecdotes and interspersed with rare photographs from the author’s private collection, 50 Maestros, 50 Recordings is an invaluable guide to the best of Indian classical music-a keepsake for the connoisseur and a comprehensive introduction for the beginner.
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