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The Sound of Sitar by Subroto Roy Chowdhury

I am not going to review this book but would like to say something about it.  I have just read it although it was published by Thema in 2014.  I am surprised I hadn’t heard about because I found it to be fascinating.  I eagerly lapped up his interesting history and analysis of Kolkatta based classical music of the 20th century.  What makes it so convincing is his obvious knowledge of what he is talking about and the lack of any personal agenda (often lacking in musical discussion).    It is not only about sitar and his insights on vocal music are well presented and although not completely comprehensive cover much ground.  Maybe there is more information in Bengali of the early 20th century but in English I haven’t seen anything and to hear authentic stories of Imdad Khan, Enayat Khan,  Hafiz Ali,  Hirendrakumar,  and scores of others.  Sometimes it is difficult to follow and I would assume some advance knowledge is necessary.  The readership of this book is highly selective but dry and academic it is not.  He makes some very astute observations.  For example how Alauddin Khan,  Hafiz Ali, and Mustaq Hussein, although all students of Wazir Khan  developed such unique styles and their own gharanas.  He observes that the full 4 part dhrupads in the 20th century were only preserved in Rabindranath Tagore’s compositions.  The Bairam Khan connection with Patiala is detailed.  The author alludes to a feud of some sort between Moinuddin Khan Dagar and Mustaq Hussein Khan.  Does anyone know what it was about?   This book is loaded with anecdotes, insights and history.  I only wish he had written more………


Kishori Amonkar

My favorite singer died a couple of months ago. Over the years I probably had attended 30-40 of her concerts in Kolkatta and Mumbai.  It was hit and miss but the hits were spectacular.  It took me some years to really appreciate what she was doing.  It is not music that would naturally appeal to neophytes.  It is too complex.  When she was in full flight the atmosphere was electrifying.  There have been some beautiful obituaries written- was it in or the Hindu,  thus the tetchy diva behavior well documented.  All her fans suffered that.  I also remember at the NCPA yearly seminar (English medium of course) when she adamantly insisted on speaking in Marathi.  Comical, really.  Most participants were non Marathi speakers.  It must have been difficult for her in this sycophantic culture where someone always wants something from you.  Maybe it is why she really liked Francoise, her neighbor in Prabhadevi who delivered a note from her guru,  Hari prasad Chaurasia to Madame and then saw her occasionally back in the 80s.  Francoise was another eccentric who didn’t want anything from her.   Odd it was that another foreigner  Flo, from Switzerland i believe,  by chance became her student.  Flo didn’t have a clue who Kishori Amonkar was.  She took some lessons,  set up some workshops in France and Goa claiming to be KA’s disciple.  The perils of taking on foreign students.                                                                                                                                                  I do not have a memory of Kishoritai’s accompanists in the 1970’s but like Pt. Jasraj  it seems many of them became very good singers including Padma Talwarkar, Manik Bhide and Aarti Ankalikar.  Having good support vocalists seemed important to her and Nandini Bedekar was outstanding the past few years.  When there were two it was even better.  Sometimes with Nandini it was almost a duet.  With Milind Raikar’s violin and always a good harmonium the effect was like a small orchestra. It added to the atmosphere.  Balkrishna Iyer’s tabla accompaniment in the 1980’s was perfect too and his demeanor on stage added to the aura.  Too bad that they had a falling out later.    I believe the late Subroto Roy Chowdhury in his outstanding book “The Sound of Sitar” expressed beautifully Kishoritai’s uniqueness. “Kishori Amonkar not only sang brilliantly like a nightingale but understood the audience.  Her feeling and intelligent editing of talim cast a spell on the audience whenever she was in the mood.  She understood well that this music form in order to remain evergreen had to be presented in a new bottle.  In her days Kesarbai’s presentation was novel and this had overshadowed Kishori’s mother Mogubai, also a disciple of Alla diya Khan.  Kishori was determined not to make the same mistake.”  By the way Subroto Roy Chowdhury, although not a top sitar player of his generation had a complete opposite approach to performance.  He had no idea what he was going to play on stage and wanted that choice to be completely spontaneous.  Kishoritai on the other hand, and as far as I am aware is unique in preparing meticulously the program she is going to perform and practicing the 2 or 3 ragas with her students weeks in advance.


     Back in mumbai I noticed a program at Nehru Centre that looked interesting. Banyan Tree was presenting 3 jugalbandis that included some very good artists. The jazz saxophonist George Brooks who had done a collaboration with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan many years ago was to play with Kadri Gopalnath the sensational saxophonist of carnatic music. The latter was unable to make it for the program and was replaced by U. Rajesh, the late U. Srinivas’s brother. George Brooks is a mature professional and played some nice things but seemed bewildered by a constant note barrage of terrific speed produced by U. Rajesh. pointless. Next came Debashish Bhattacharya (slide guitar) along with R. Ganesh (violin). These two communicated musically and charukeshi was a good choice. Allthough Debashish is a good musician I found the sound of the guitar slight and tinny alongside the sonorous violin. I had not heard of R. Ganesh before. After hearing him I imagine he is one of the top violin players in the South. He was superb.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              These North-South jugalbandis have been going on for years.  I wonder who was the first to do it,  Ramani or Lalgudi with Amjad? or even before that perhaps,  1970’s I think,  well before Balmurli started doing them.  They seem to be popular,  and why not?  Well, several unoriginal reasons.  Usually the musicians stay within their comfortable north-south boxes  and real musical dialogue doesn’t take place.  Have you ever heard a north indian musician really learn a south indian composition before a concert?  They could hardly be bothered.  Let the south indian musician adopt, which they good-naturedly do.  Balmurli is the master of this.    Why are jugalbandis between north indian musicians so rare, except for Gundechas or other “brother” pairings?  Perhaps because it is more difficult in that it requires a more intense communication,  more is on the line, more to be revealed.   I had expected more from the musicians on Saturday.  After hearing Rakesh Chaurasia and Niladri Kumar play their mind-blowing space music at audh I thought that in 2016 these guys too wouldn’t just play safe.  But they did and the cliched setup was a shock too- tabla with the north indian musician and mridangam with the the south indian.  Why this silly formula?                                                                                                                                                                                                  It continued with Ustad Shahid Parvez and Shashank (flute).  I have wanted to hear Shashank after getting some rave reviews about his flute playing.  I was disappointed.  I have heard that he has been playing jugalbandis often with Rakesh Chaurasia and I wonder if it influences the way he plays with a north indian musician and a mostly north indian music oriented audience.  I say it because he had the breathiness that is a hallmark of the Chaurasias and he changes flutes as he is playing.  The larger flute was sometimes grossly out of tune which was particularly noticeable alongside the exquisite tunefulness of Shahid Parvez.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I would only suggest to these wonderful musicians who want to experiment here and there  to have a look at Coke Studio (Pakistani version), and if playing with Western musicians to listen to Louis Armstrong and others and loosen up!

aundh mahotsav

I had heard about the  music festival in Aundh years ago but never attended.  Aundh is in Satara district about a 7 hour drive from Mumbai.  This year was the 75th anniversary and many of my favorite singers were coming so i decided to stop there on my way back to Goa from Mumbai.  It was a chance to reconnect with my guru and inspiration Pt. Babanrao Haldankar as well as Shubada Paradkar and Arun Kashalkar, also among my favorite singers.   I arrived in Aundh at lunch time on Saturday having missed the morning session.  Time on my hands,  I went to the famous Aundh museum.  It is interesting and worth the visit but could have better information and organisation.  Beautifully located on a hill,  it is part of the legacy of the royal family of Aundh that made it a unusually progressive inclusive community.   The music festival also gets community support along with the Shivanand Trust.  I am personally grateful to the people promoting the music of Pt. Gajananbua Joshi.  I have been a great fan of his from long back.  I was particularly enthralled by a recording of his lalita gouri (and his great bandish in gouri “bant chelata hei bihari”)  and his bahar (talim session).  Some time after that I had the chance to hear his great students Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar and Smt. Shubada Paradkar.  Some years later i heard a bilaskhani todi being sung in an extraordinary style on the radio by a singer whose name was announced as Jayshree Patnekar.  The next day I asked Babanji, my guru at the time who she was.  He related the story of her hiatus from singing and I went to hear  her every chance I had.  She is among my current favorite singers. I admire her speed, technique, laykari and fearlessness.

In the afternoon the music began with a blazing tabla solo by Yogesh Samsi.  Although I cannot judge I felt that here is a master at the top of his game.  I have heard Yogesh many times but that day I was reminded of his guru, Ustad Alla Rakha Khan who also had a reserved demeanor.

Next was Smt. Shubha Mudgal.  I have always liked her singing and she didn’t disappoint.  I think this was the best I have ever heard her.  Her Shree was powerful and confident from the beginning.  After Shree she sang a beautiful Desh and a jhoola.

I had never had the opportunity to hear Pt. Venkatesh Kumar and was excited to hear him after hearing much praise from friends.  He is fantastic!  Creativity,  involvement,  technique,  power- everything seemed effortless.  He sang Marubehag and Bageshri. The bhajan at the end rang in my ears all night.

Would you believe the organizers arrange sleeping accomadation for the night?  It was very generous of them and something I am going to suggest that all the music organizers do for their public (the Taj for NCPA programs please).  It wasn’t the Taj,  but comfortable nontheless.  In the morning I was surprised to see some beautiful caravan hounds out exercising with their owners.  When I asked them the name of the breed they said something like “karvan”.  I didn’t immediatedly associate that with “caravan” and I wonder if the name originally was not caravan but became “caravan” from some previous name.  There isn’t an obvious association with caravans as these are rural hunting dogs.  They were telling me that there is an annual fair in Aundh where amongs other activities like kushti there are dog races where hundreds of caravan hounds come to compete for prize money.

In the morning Smt. Pallavi Joshi (Gajananbua’s granddaughter I believe) sang very well, as did Pt. Vikas Kashalkar.  After them Smt. Ashwini Deshpande created a magical atmosphere with goud sarang and hindol panchem.  Nice that she sang a composition of Babanrao Haldankar’s.

Smt. Jayshree Patnekar began the afternoon session with bhimpalas.  After that she really got into her stride with Shree.  Jayshree,  Vasundhara Komkali, Malini Rajurkar,  Vijaya Jadav-Gatlewar-   phenomenal singers who have remained just off the radar.  What is it?  Perhaps some lack of confidence, quirk of fate?  I would have included Smt. Shubada Paradkar, but her performance at the close of the mahotsav on Monday morning was so laykari heavy that perhaps the criticism of her singing I have heard before is true.

Next was Pt. Babanrao Haldankar who despite advancing years sang beautifully.  His goud malhar and jhinjoti were superb and his spot on singing of his own wickedly difficult tarana a wonder.

A kathak dance performance by Sonia Parchure came at the right time to invigorate the audience.  She was excellent.

Apoorva Gokhale sang next.  I believe she is also the granddaughter of Gajananbua.  She sang superbly in the exact style of G’anbua.

Pt. Arun Kashalkar next sang a masterful darbari and one of my all-time favorite bandishes in Agra chandrakauns “tike naina tore bhava hei kaman”.

I was mostly asleep for the sitar performance of Ravi Chary.  He played jogkauns and what i did hear sounded good.

Sanjeev Chimmalgi sang an unusual rag created by his guru,  Pt. C.R. Vyas, swanandini (i believe).  He was very good.  I have known him for years and am glad to see him doing well.

After him came the rockstars from Mumbai who I wrote about in separte posts,  rakesh, niladri and vijay ghate.

I must thank the organizers for the phenomenal job they do.  It  runs so smoothly. Sound system is not a problem.  And remarkably,  it is free!  Food is good and not expensive.  The audience is knowlegeable and appreciative.

If anyone is listening-  I attended a session of the kesarbai memorial concert in Panjim recently and the music was ruined by an excrutiatingly loud sound system at the Kala Academy.



rakesh chaurasia (flute)- Stravinsky moment?

I had wondered why Zakir Hussein had chosen Rakesh Chaurasia to be in his fusion group.  I didn’t think that he had the high level of musicianship that Zakir would have required.  After hearing Rakesh at the Aundh Mahotsav I understood.  He seems to have taken flute to another level.  gushing again…..   I do not know what Rakesh played as his first item.  It was space music.  difficult to hear or know where his sa was.  As one audience member said something quite loud I thought that here we might have a “Stravinsky moment” (the riot that broke out at the premiere of “Rites of Spring” in Paris).  But no,  the audience loved it  (whatever it was!).  So did I!  Far out it may have been, but it was supremely creative.

niladri kumar (sitar)

I hear more criticism of Niladri Kumar than praise among music lovers.  I heard him years ago,  probably at least 15,  and since then have been a fan.   Since then he has become a star, in large part because of his experimental fusion music (if it is still called that!).  That can always attract the approbrium of the traditionalists.  I can still remember some of the idiotic things said about pt. ravi shankar years ago (probably by myself) when he had gone abroad to pursue alternative musical expression.   Last Sunday Niladri Kumar arrived to play at around 4:00 a.m. at the Aundh Mahotsav in Satara district.   I will probably now have difficulty controlling my gushing on his extraordinary performance.  He was fantastic!  charismatic! totally absorbed in the music!  creative,  artistic, etc. etc……  Is it enough?   Not exactly a quality musical critique,  I admit.  Nonetheless an unforgettable performance.

vijay ghate

disclaimer:  i do not personally know vijay ghate nor am a tabla player.                the scene:  aundh mahotsav.  In Satara district an annual classical music festival organised in memory of Pt. Gajananbua Joshi and his family.  This was the 75th anniversary program and some of my favorite singers were participating.  More about that later.  This is about Vijay Ghate (tabla player)  who came on the stage at around 3:00 a,m. along with Rakesh Chaurasia (flute).  In this rural atmosphere with a large contingent of mumbai-pune hardcore music lovers (mostly vocal oriented),  the entrance was dramatic,  filmi even.  Vijay has a big personality and a hirsute appearance- yellow glasses ala Bono, long red scarf as a prop and his long unkempt hair. This could easily fall into comedy or parody except for the sublime artistry of his tabla playing.  Everything overlooked, forgiven when he brings that personality into his unique playing style that is superb accompaniment.               After playing with Rakesh Chaurasia (more about that later),  he was onstage with Niladri Kumar.  And here he did something remarkable that I have never seen or heard before. As Niladri was playing an extraordinary alap (and I do not know what rag it was- perhaps parmeshwari?)  totally engrossed in his music, slowly Vijay Ghate began a soft theka.  there was no indication from Niladri,  no gat, no nod of the head-  it was a spontaneous entrance into the music. And Niladri Kumar accepted it.  It was part of the magic of that performance- for me one of the most unforgettable performances I have ever heard.    Although Vijay Ghate’s style may turn some people off (especially conservative traditionalists)  I think classical music needs personalities who really communicate and bring life to the music.