Tag Archives: Pandit Ravi Shankar

Speaking of Boro Baba (Baba Allauddin Khan)

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The sum and substance of Baba Allauddin Khan’s life was music. He quested true musical knowledge, nurtured it with a devotion and determination so severe that it kept him up at all hours, practicing and perfecting his art in all its detail in ways that could certainly appear harsh to others. But the nature of saadhna – the true nature of saadhna – is quintessential, single minded pursuit of the one thing that matters more than all else.

For Boro Baba was a Saadhak – Music his Saadhana, his way to God. Growing up in Maihar, one heard this constant refrain “Ekai saadhe sab sadhe; Sab saadhe sab jaaye” (Aim for one and you’ll find plenty, Aim for all …come away empty). Boro Baba’s life exemplified his belief in single minded purpose. The unsought bonuses of this pursuit followed, and were welcomed with love and care. His home was constantly filled with students, his lands tilled and yielding rich crops, his grandchildren playing and learning and his sons and his wife and daughter and daughters in law, there to do his bidding, safe in the sanctuary of our beloved Madina Bhavan, Maihar. But the constant thread that held this growing material tapestry was Music and Saadhna!

If one was wise enough or fool enough to choose this way, then this was the only way forward and the price was to forget all else, including self. To be a saadhak of sacred Music was to him, something that demanded sublimation of all else. He did not want anyone to know the hunger, the pain or the humiliation he had, in his pursuit of Music. Every one of his students had a bed, a place to bathe, and meals with a little sweet afterwards. He could be so moved by a beggar’s plight that he would give away the lungi he wore to a point that Boro Ma had to tear up her sarees so that her husband could be clad. The Maihar Band was built of orphans,of the poorest of the poor, children bereft of parents by war, and the handicapped because Boro Baba gave what he had and in doing so, helped build a life.

If Boro Baba had one fault, it was this – he saw himself in his students and treated them with the same self imposed severity. Why? Because, like someone who had discovered that fire can burn one, he chose to be protective, perhaps overly and terrifyingly protective of his charges. But this very same entity that could fly into a rage over work or principle could be a gentle, childlike being at meal times or when he sat in the courtyard on his charpoy being silly with the rest of us, pulling pranks and wooing and teasing Boro Ma (great grandmother) with his violin.

As a child, music played a special but non-integral part in his family of well heeled landowning farmers. It was an inheritance he created for himself through a vigorous and authentic encounter with incessant impediments, dealing with them with the tenacity of an embryo clinging to life in the face of certain death.

He re-emerged as he was meant to be – the ultimate Guru who chose to treat his cup of Gurumukhi Vidya as the sacred chalice from which his students would drink unreservedly. He chose thus to distance himself from the stingy ill will he had himself faced. Never would another musical seeker know what he had.

The Grand Old Man of Indian Music, as Baba Allauddin Khan came to be known, lived to be 110 years old. He was born in 1862 in the village of Shibpur – Tripura, now in Bangladesh. His father Sadhu Khan and older brother Fakir Aftabuddin Khan became the involuntary catalysts of his musical resolution that made him first seek the company of saadhu musicians at the local temple and then escape home, heading towards his destiny at the sparkling age of eight. It took almost 30 odd years of bleak circumstances and a host of celebrated teachers later that Baba Alauddin Khan was made the official disciple of the Senia Gharana under his Guru Wazir Khan, a direct descendant of Mian Tansen. Years later, Maharaja Brijnath Singh of Maihar State took permission from Wazir Khan Sahib and with his blessing appointed Baba Allauddin court musician and made him his Guru in Maihar where he eventually settled to teach. In 1926 he started his music institution by teaching war orphans and destitute children. `Madina Bhavan`, his home, became a Gurukul for music. Baba Allauddin Khan taught music in a bouquet enriched with the vocal style of Dhrupad, Dhamar, Hori, Tappa, Khayal and the stringed techniques of Senia Bin and Rabab in Sarode, Sitar, Surbahar, Violin and other stringed instruments. His mastery of 240 instruments was palpable in his teaching as he worked at creating Masers of Raga and Tala in a burgeoning, norm expanding approach to music.
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Baba Allauddin Khan was Guru to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (son), Smt. Annapurna Devi (daughter) Pandit Timir Baran, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Maharaja of Maihar Brijnath Singh, Pandit Pannalal Ghosh, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Music Directors Sachin Dev Burman and Roshan, Smt. Sharan Rani, Jyotin Bhattacharya, Indranil Bhattacharya, Sisirkana Dhar Chowdhary, Vasant Rai, Ustad Bahadur Khan (nephew), Raj Dulari Khan (second wife of Ali Akbar Khan) and his grand children- Aashish Khan, Shubho Shankar (son of Ravi Shankar and Smt. Annapurna Devi), Dhyanesh Khan, Ameena Perera, Pranesh Khan, Amaresh Khan, and Rajesh Khan .

In 1955, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and later Pandit Ravi Shankar introduced and popularized the Maihar Senia Gharana across the world attracting hordes of students to become part of this grand legacy. Their music flowed across concert halls and movie scores, theatres and institutions. The tradition thus set up is now known as The Baba Allauddin Khan Maihar Senia Gharana and its prowess and influence remains a beacon for all serious students of music.

Boro Baba never sat still for a minute. He would draw and paint and make paper cut outs to decorate his home. His travails had made him a good cook and he would often offer advice to his children on how to make a particular dish and he personally went to the market to buy the right ingredients; (his market visits were a time we welcomed because it spelled not having to tiptoe around the house). He remained a vegetarian all his life and would eat fish but no meat at all. He was an avid gardener and would work in the garden while his students, especially Dadu (Ali Akbar Khan) practiced to keep an eye on them and shout corrections if a note or beat went awry or even a pause ensued. He micro managed his farm and was especially concerned about the well being of calves and their mother cows. I remember huge cauldrons of grain being cooked on our earthen stoves for special meals for the birthing cows.

Boro Baba and his brother Ayet Ali Khan also set up a small business for the repair of music instruments. In fact, this business also had the voluntary services of Dida (Zubeda Khan) who had, under the tutelage of her formidable but equally lovable father in law become an expert at making the plectrums the for Sarod. In the process of repairing instruments, Dadu also created new instruments such as the Chandra Sarang, Sarang, Nal Tarang and Sitar-banjo) and fashioned the Sarod to its present day perfection.

Between all of this activity, Boro Baba would pray five times a day and walk up the hill to the temple of Ma Sharada. And he would pen down his notes and compose … New Ragas like Madan Manjari (named after his wife), Prabhakali, Swarasati, Shobhavati, Madhavasri, Hem Bhairav, Madhavgiri, Bhagvati, Hemant, Hem Behag and Manjh Khamaj. He created the first Indian orchestra, known as a Maihar Band or Maihar Vadya Vrinda and devoted good time to his every activity, always in synch with the melodic rhythm he had carefully nurtured within.

And it is to this spirit of utter and blissful equilibrium that one offers one’s love and pranam on his birth anniversary.

Shiraz Ali Khan

Steadfast in his resolve to follow in the footsteps of his great grandfather Acharya Baba Allauddin Khan, his grandfather Ali Akbar Khan, and father Dhyanesh Khan, Shiraz is determined to break his way through the music circuit as a promising sarode exponent. As a budding talent of the present generation, Shiraz is making a sincere attempt to carry on the lineage of the exalted Maihar Gharana.

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A historic concert: Pandit Ravi Shankar bids ‘Farewell to Bangalore’

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A historic concert was held on February 7th 2012 : the farewell performance to the city of Bangalore by sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka Shankar. The concert ‘Farewell to Bangalore’ was organised by the Premanjali Education Trust as a fundraiser for their various projects.

Its past concerts have featured vocalists Bhimsen Joshi and Balamuralikrishna in a duet. At a book launch earlier in Bangalore, Ravi Shankar said, “Music runs in the veins of every individual, and it is the thread that binds us all together.”

A historic concert: Pandit Ravi Shankar bids 'Farewell to Bangalore'

In the first half of the concert, Anoushka Shankar played a 40-minute set accompanied by Pirashanna Thevarajah (mridangam) and Tanmoy Bose (tabla) on percussion. Dressed in a dazzling white dress, Anoushka began by saying it was wonderful to be back in Bangalore, and to be playing along with her father. “I could have had no greater honour than to have opened for my father in this concert,” she said. She opened the performance with the evening Raga Puriya Dhanashree. The next piece, based on Raga Bhilaval, featured a beautiful solo by Ravichandra Kulur on flute.

She ended the set with a piece based on Raga Vachaspati, called ‘Variant Moods‘. Originally composed as a duet with violin featuring Joshua Bell, the piece had solos from all the four musicians. The acoustics were perfect in the packed indoors hall, with a huge backdrop of garlands creating a triangular shape.

A historic concert: Pandit Ravi Shankar bids 'Farewell to Bangalore'

After a short interval, Pandit Ravi Shankar himself walked on stage. Almost 92 years old, he had the support of a walking stick and was unable to squat in the traditional cross-legged fashion on the floor, choosing to sit at the edge of a platform instead. He also had a full flowing white beard, very different from his usual clean-shaven look, and joked to the audience: “I hope you can recognize me!”

The entire audience of over 3,000 people stood up to welcome him as he greeted them: “Namaskara, Bengaluru!” He also joked that due to his age he would not be able to run as fast as his daughter and the rest of the musicians, but he would try his best. His depth of knowledge and skill later showed in the jor and jhala phases of classical music as well as melodies of folk compositions.

A historic concert: Pandit Ravi Shankar bids 'Farewell to Bangalore'

He began his performance with Raga Yaman Kalyan, which he said was his favourite raga. Starting off soulfully, the piece picked up with a jugalbandi between father and daughter. This was followed by a raga composed by Ravi Shankar himself, Tilak Shyaam. During the announcement he coughed, and apologised: “Sorry to be so unmusical!”

The next piece started off in Raga Khamaaj and then evolved into a medley of other ragas (Kiravani, Bageshri, Hansadhvani, Peelu), kathak and folk songs. Sanjeev Shankar also accompanied on the shehnai, and there was a superb call-and-response session by the tabla and mridangam players who then fused in a perfect crescendo.

A historic concert: Pandit Ravi Shankar bids 'Farewell to Bangalore'

A special treat for music fans was hearing the sitarists play with a small towel on the strings, producing a muted effect; the towels were then removed, revealing the full rich sound of the sitar in all its glory. Ravi Shankar thanked all the musicians, reading out their names from a sheet of paper, explaining that he could not trust his memory! He also introduced the maker of his sitars, Sanjay Sharma.

Though in his nineties, the veteran musician displayed remarkable energy and skill, an inspiration to all in the audience, who thanked him with a standing ovation and roars of approval and gratitude as he waved to them. The musicians on stage all touched his feet, and he departed with Anoushka guiding him by the hand. The audience sensed one chapter of musical history closing, but another chapter opening with the passing of the baton.

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Interview with Karsh Kale

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Karsh Kale is an Indian American producer, composer and musician, known for melding Indian music with the modern electronic club music of his American upbringing. Kale often creates a unique blend of Indian percussion with techno music and drum & bass. WTS got talking to him about his style of music, collaborations and more…

WTS: You grew up in New York but you showed promise as an Indian percussionist from an early age, how did that happen?

Karsh: Well I was first introduced to Indian music by my father who’s a great lover of Indian classical music and of course old film music. That’s the environment I grew up in. So the tabla and mridangam, the sounds of those things were introduced early on, and then I just naturally caught on. My father was very close friends with a film composer from India, they grew up together. We used to visit him when I was a small child. His name was Bal Barwe, he’s a Marathi guy he lived in Bombay, and he generally composed for Marathi films. He and my father had grown up together, so he brought me to him when I was about three years old and that was really the first time that I’d ever kind of played the tabla and from there I was always interested in it.

WTS: Your father played a major role in your musical development. Could you tell us more about that?

Karsh: Besides the fact that he was always playing music, he was the Vice President of an organization called the Indian Academy of Performing Arts, which was an organization in New York which used to bring Indian musicians. This was back in the time before people were playing in places like Carnegie Hall etc. They would organize concerts in high school auditoriums, so when I was growing up I got to see people like Bhimsen Joshi, Shivkumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia. So I really got to be backstage, meet the musicians and spend some time with them and things like that. My father’s also a singer and he plays the harmonium. So I grew up accompanying him and we played a lot of Marathi community events in the States. And then of course at home, at least four times a week he would be sitting with this harmonium and have me come and play with him. So a lot of my development came from that as well.

WTS: Tell us a little about your musical background and how your solo work came about.

Karsh: Ever since I was a teenager, I started composing music, and started playing with different sounds because I was the drummer in most of the bands that I was playing in and of course there were all those instruments in my house, so I started learning with them, and we had 4 track recorders and 8 track recorders, so I started composing early. Once I came to New York as a student at NYU, I really started to see how I could take all of these different musical influences that I had from everything: from orchestra music to rock and roll to jazz, and that time electronica was something I was getting really interested in, and how I could take all of that and bring it together into one sound. And also, at the same time the technology helped too, being able to start making music in your own bedroom using computer software and things – that was coming up as well. So all of this happened at the same time and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, being in New York. Being able to be around a lot of different inspiring artistes, who were doing something similar – taking their culture, and incorporating it into a new idea, that was really what inspired me to start developing a sound. From 1993 to the end of that decade was when I really developed a sound for myself and found the places that I wanted be able to go as a composer and as a musician.

WTS: How would you describe your sound?

Karsh: That’s a tough question to answer. I think I’ve always tried for the past 15 years to try and describe the sound but I’ve never really found the right words. But I would say that the way that I describe my sound is creative. Once people hear what it is that I’m doing and the different places that I’m referencing it becomes clearer. Simply put, it’s a mix of Indian classical music, rock and roll and electronic music.

WTS: Do you plan to drift into other genres as a matter of experimentation?

Karsh: I already have. For me, even trance or psy-trance or techno or tech house all of these different sub genres of electronica, I don’t like how they become controlled by purists where it becomes stagnant. It becomes like still water for me and starts to stink if that makes any sense (laughs). Music has to continuously flow and it has to continuously evolve and as soon as you define it as something it stops developing. For me, that’s why I don’t like those terms like tech-house or something like that because that to me is like still water.

WTS: What kind of material do you like to play for your DJ Sets?

Karsh: I play all kinds of different stuff. We just played a show the other night, myself and The Midival Punditz, where we were DJing all kinds of music – everything from electronic ghazals to Jay-Z remixes and Rage Against The Machine to Underworld – we have really run the gamut of all the different kinds of music that we love. When it’s presented that way, people really understand you as an artiste because they really see the different places that you’re coming from. Those are my favourites of the DJ sets but I play everything from trance, to house to dubstep to drum and bass. But when I come back to creating my own music, I try not to fall into the trappings of creating a particular style and borrow different things from different styles to create something new.

WTS: How has the response been from the traditional folk artists that have heard your material?

Karsh: From the get-go, I have gotten a very positive response. On my very first album, I had got a call from Ustad Sultan Khan who happened to be in New York and he said if you’re working on an album I’d like to come down. Besides that, I have mainly been working with local artistes. Once these artistes started getting involved in what I do it was definitely very encouraging. Since then I think that more than listeners and more than people who keep the construct of the institution alive, the musicians and the artistes themselves – theyabsolutely understand where the music is coming from and more so they see where it can go in the future. That’s why we get so much support from people like Zakir bhai and Pandit Ravi Shankar, they have great respect for what is it that we’re trying to do and where is it that we can try and take it.

WTS: You’ve collaborated with a number of artistes including Anoushka Shankar. How has the experience been and how does it help you musically?

Karsh: For me especially, I don’t have an actual formal Guru who I turn to for musical advice, I’ve always listened to my own voice, my own instincts. So when I get to work with people, it’s a learning experience for me as well, I try and absorb a lot from them. Working with Anoushka for instance, we didn’t just go to the studio for a couple of weeks and write. We spent almost 3 years between the time that we started writing the music and between the time we released and started performing the music. Being around her and learning so much of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s repertoire through that and being in the studio with people like Shankar Mahadevan and Vishwa Mohan Bhat – these are people who you learn from when you’re writing with them , and when you’re recording with them. So I’ve had the opportunity to be around such great artistes. I tend to absorb what’s around me. For me, I’m fortunate that I can really absorb a lot from an artiste if I’ll be able to spend time with them. So, what I learn from collaborating with people like them is that I take a little piece of them with me.

WTS: Tell us a little about your musical background and how your solo work came about.

Karsh: Before I work with different artistes, I tend to assess what it is that they are going to bring to the table. Because for me, I can do a lot of different things – I can sit down a guitar, on a piano, on a computer and start programming and I can sit on tabla, harmonium, and start training Indian minds and things like that so it depends on who I’m working with. When I was working with Anoushka I was mainly playing acoustic guitar while she was on sitar. And we were trying to figure out the different places where we can take these traditional lines and bring them into a western context. When I’m working with The Midival Punditz our frame of reference is different. I might be sitting and programming with them and Gaurav might have composed some keyboard parts, so it really depends on who is bringing what and I try to fill in this gap. What we did with ‘Karthik Calling Karthik‘, I was doing more string arranging while these guys were doing a lot more of the electronic programming sounds which all came together to make the soundtrack. So it really depends on the project and who I’m working with.

WTS: Tell us about your association with The Midival Punditz.

Karsh: Well we’ve done a tremendous amount of stuff together (laughs). We met in 1998 in London, and we had both been playing each other’s music in our DJ sets. At that time it was very exciting to meet artistes who were doing something similar because all of us started with the feeling that we were alone, that we were the only ones trailblazing this sound. So when I met the Punditz, we met on a musical level but firstly we got along on a personal level so well that we’ve become family and over the years our families have become family as well. In that way that’s first and foremost what our association had become. But then more than anything, we recognized that we bring so much to each other, because we come from such different places because they tend to come from a DJ culture even though they grew up listening to rock music and are very well versed in Indian music, from film music to Indian classical music. So we get to meet on a lot of different levels. When I can sit with an artiste and reference Jimi Hendrix, Ravi Shankar and Stravinsky at the same time that’s when the associations, for me, tend to continue and that’s what it’s like for me and the Punditz. We can come together on so many different levels.

WTS: Is the audience an important factor to consider while composing?

Karsh: I think it depends. We need to think differently when we are working on a project like a film because first and foremost you’ve to think in terms of the director’s vision. It’s not just your own artistic vision that you’re adding, you have to be in line with the main theme and the main idea of the story and what the vision of the director is in the direction of the film. When I was working on Cinema, I really kind of went in and every time I’d hit a wall and think this is what’s expected of me, I tended to turn the other way and do something else that I felt going to be more challenging. But that’s what I like to do as an individual artiste but if I’m working with somebody else and they say I want to do something for the radio then I know how to think that way. Personally, I would much rather challenge my audience, make them scratch their head a little bit and then come back and realize and discover something new, as opposed to giving them something that they have already heard before.

WTS: For a performance such as yours, what do you aim for in your music? People don’t seem to realize skill in such music, what do you think of that?

Karsh: I think that just comes from people’s ability to be able to see it in different ways, visually being able to see a concert and see what people are doing because otherwise, we don’t necessarily know what we’re hearing when we listen to a piece of music unless you hear live music and see how they interact with electronic musicians and things like that, because this is a new phenomenon as well. What we’re doing now in a live context is taking the aspect of electronica and DJing and bringing together the aspect of interaction between musicians. I think the audience is growing with more and more that they get to see of what it is that we do.

As far as what we want to accomplish, I think it’s more on a level of making people have an experience, letting them lose themselves. For me that’s what music is. Music is an intoxicant that takes you to another world, takes through your own thoughts and animates your life. That’s what we try and do with our music, we try and let people go into their own space and let this music become the score for their own life. As opposed to drawing their attention to my fingers or to somebody’s skill on the sitar, which is impressive when you see a concert, but it tends to take away from the cerebral experience, what we try and do is focus our music more on the mind experience. For me, there’s a fine line between music and sports (laughs).While growing up as a table player, as a drummer, I grew up in that competitive environment but I realized right away that is not where it ends for me, music is much more than that. It goes beyond than somebody’s doing or their dexterity on the instrument, it goes to what is the story that’s being told and how profoundly can you tell that story.

WTS: Where do you think the future of electronica lies?

Karsh: When people say electronica, it’s almost as if it’s something different or separate from live music. I think it’s just another instrument and another dimension that’s been added to music. So when people see music in the future they are going to see musicians who have incorporated technology in whatever they are doing. Think of the tabla, as a traditional instrument the way it sounds today is not the way it sounded even 50 years ago. There’s a lot of technology involved and there’s a lot of audio analysis that has gone into how to present the music on an international platform. We can’t think of electronica as something brand new and challenge that. It’s just a natural progression of something traditional. Because otherwise there’s no way to fill that space with sound and there’s no way to be able to make those instruments so eloquent. All these great artistes have been part of the development of these instruments. And now I use electric tablas on stage, I have modified my tablas so that i can go through the laptop and modify the sounds, and I can control the instrument, but what you’re hearing is something certainly new.

WTS: Tell us about your connection with Bollywood and about your upcoming projects.

Karsh: Bollywood is something we’ve always talked about, not as a style but as an industry that we’d love to break into, that we’d like to use as a platform to expose what we do as artistes. It was once again a natural progression for us to get to that point where the audience is ready to hear what we’ve been developing all these years. If you look at any scene or any exposure for a particular style of music, you’d think that it became popular when it was discovered. But usually when you look into it there are years or decades of development that went in to that before the major or general audience came to know about it. What I feel what we’re bringing to it now is a natural progression because it takes time to develop something before it is time for it to be exposed.

WTS: You’ve expressed a desire to work for Hollywood projects, has anything come up yet?

Karsh: We’re not doing anything right now but we’ve collaborated with a lot of independent artistes in the States, we have worked with Ajay Naidu, who’s a Hollywood actor and has his own independent film that he’s produced directed and we have done the music for that. It’s called Ashes which is now playing in film festivals across the States and of course we have higher hopes to do more. For us it’s not necessarily about Hollywood/Bollywood as much as it’s about a good film. Rahman for that matter – he’d just done a Hollywood film last year and it wasn’t a very good film, but it was Hollywood. I think the differentiation has to be made about a good film because genres put out all kinds of different products. As an audience we have to differentiate between what’s quality and what’s not.

WTS: You’ve said you enjoyed collaborating with Sting the most. What was so different in this collaboration?

Karsh: Well I think for me it was that I got to write the song as opposed to him coming and writing the song with us. When we worked with Norah Jones on the album, we sat together and had written the song together. He’s another hero of mine, he’s somebody I had been listening to since I was 12 years old, studying his music and style, even when he was with The Police and as a solo artiste. Getting to the point, writing a song for him was like a final exam, it was that moment where you have to prove what you know and I had to prove it with a man who for me is one of the best song writers in the world. To be able to write something like that is like writing a novel for Shakespeare!

Priyanka Shetty

Priyanka Shetty is the founder of What's The Scene? Follow Priyanka on Twitter @priyanka_shetty

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