North Indian music thrives on a performer’s ability to improvise in the presence of a live audience. Given the right environment, a great master is able to spontaneously create seemingly endless permutations of melodies derived from the ancient ragas which make up the repertoire of Indian musicians. The yearly Saptak Festival provides a perfect setting for creative music making of the highest level, attracting India’s finest musicians, and an expectant audience well versed in the intricacies of Indian music.
No major music festival in India is complete without the presence of the internationally acclaimed flautist Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia. He is universally regarded as the greatest living master of the Bansuri, the North Indian bamboo flute. Furthermore, he is the most prolific performer of Indian music today, in constant demand from fans and promoters for performances in all corners of the world. Over four decades, he has maintained a hectic international touring schedule which is the envy of the younger generation of musicians.
The fact that Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia does not hail from a family of musicians, makes his achievements the more remarkable. His father was a distinguished wrestler who actively discouraged musical study. Fortunately for the young aspiring musician, the vibrant musical surroundings of his home town Allahabad provided him access to some of India’s most prominent musicians. His early vocal training bears a major influence on his style of playing, which skillfully reflects all the subtle nuances and textures of the voice.
In Indian mythology, the flute is associated with Lord Krishna, whose divine music hypnotized his followers (gopis) into blind devotion. For almost half a century, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia has captured the hearts of his audiences, successfully transforming the flute from a marginalized folk instrument into an established part of the Indian Classical music scene.
For this performance, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia has teamed up with Kumar Bose, one of India’s most respected and skilled tabla players. Kumar Bose is the most established disciple of the legendary maestro, Pandit Kishan Maharaj, belonging to the Benares gharana (school) of tabla playing, and is equally regarded for his tabla solo recitals as well as his accompaniment. (Check out ‘Dynamic’ –tabla solo performed live by Kumar Bose-Sense 002) The first hall of the concert (CD 1) features Raga Kaunshi Kanada, a blend of the popular ragas Malkauns and Kanada, and is traditionally associated with the late night.
The performance begins with the customary alap, a slow meditative elaboration of the main phrases of the raga, outlining an inherent mood of pathos. The alap first centres on the lower notes of the scale working upwards, exploring a myriad of melodic combinations. The alap, jod and jhalla are performed in the ancient vocal form of dhrupad, contemplative in style and characterized by long sustained notes.
The jod section (track 2) denotes the introduction of a steady, medium-tempo rhythmic pulse. Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia’s masterful blowing technique comes to prominence in the lively third movement of the alap, known as jhalla, as the pace increases and the phrases become fiery and technically challenging.
The alap is followed by two gats, or compositions (track 3) with tabla accompaniment set to rhythmic cycles of nine beats (Matta taal), and twelve beats (Ektaal)
the second half of the performance features a musical style commonly known as light or semi-classical in North Indian music, featuring a Dhun based on Misra Khamaj. Dhun is the instrumental equivalent of the romantic vocal form of thumri, and although both require a high level of skill, they are free of the stricter rules that apply in classical music. This dhun uses Raga Khamaj as its ‘base, but the occasional use of notes outside of the raga means that it is more accurately described as Misra (mixed) Khamaj. Towards the end of the piece, the tabla breaks out of the medium tempo sixteen beat rhythms, into an improvised double-tempo sequence, known as laggi, while the flute sustains a recurring melodic phrase, as the piece races to its conclusion.
Raag: Kaunsi Kanada
2. Jod and Jhala
3. Gat in Mattataal
1. Dhun in Mishra Khamaj (Teental)