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|OTHERS||Veejay Sai in conversation with Murad Ali Khan||
Veejay Sai is a well-known award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He has written and published extensively on Indian classical music, theatre, food, travel, fashion and performing arts. He loves traveling and researching literary and cultural history. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Sai is Indian classical music/dance critic and
The declining popularity of Sarangi on the Hindustani classical concert stage was a great matter of concern in the last decade. Though a few apprehensive directors did manage to use this sophisticated instrument in their film projects, with many younger generation Hindustani instrumentalists neglecting their musical legacy seduced by the glitzy world of indypop culture, one felt there was soon going to be a serious lack of devoted young classical instrumentalists. Very little is known or written about the few genuine ones who slog day and night to uphold a legacy. One such promising musician who has not only got Sarangi back into active performance spaces but also broken new grounds in technique, style and presentation is the young Murad Ali of the Moradabad gharana. In an exclusive chat with Veejay Sai he shares his undying passion and commitment to keep the tradition of sarangi alive and make it accessible to younger music connoisseurs.
Moradabad, a small town in Uttar Pradesh has been one of the heartlands of Hindustani classical instrumental music. Many senior Ustads have mastered the art of Sarangi, Tabla, Been and even vocal music from this gharana. How can one forget the legendary tabla player Ahmad Jaan Tirakhwa saab and great vocalists Ustad Chhajju Khan saab and Ustad Tajjammul khan saab who belong to this gharana? Murad ali belongs to the sixth generation of musicians from his family which has been serving music for the last 250 years. His grandfather Ustad Saddique Ahmad Khan saab and his father Ustad Ghulam Sabir khan saab need no introduction to the world of Hindustani classical music. One of the biggest assets of Moradabad gharana , unlike many other gharanas, is each and every musician is trained in both vocal and instrumental styles of performing. So a sarangi player also makes for a great vocalist and vice versa.
Moradabad gharana is also famously known as the Bhindi bazaar gharana for various reasons. Moradabad was a place with many families of musicians. Ustad amaan ali khan saabs family was one such family responsible for this name. More than that, it was people who would associate ustad ji with the bhindi bazaar because he lived in Bombay for many years where there were other ustads with a same name. Over a period of time it became very easy to connect and identify to Amaan Ali khan saab of the Bhindi bazaar for all music lovers. He personally would have never said he belonged to Bhindi bazaar gharana. The second most important music family was that of table players Ustad Ahmed Jaan Tirakhwa saab. He belonged to Moradabad, though his style of playing was that of farooqabaad. The third was our family of Sarangi players. My great great grandfather, my grand uncles and many others who patronized this instrument. Many of them left to Pakistan during partition. So the Moradabad gharana has its branches spread far and wide. And now I think its time to give this gharana its due and thats why I have kept it a little aside from Bhindi bazaar and let everyone know the original name says Murad clearing the air off this much confused turf.
Moradabad is the foremost of gharanas that patronized Sarangi along with other gharanas like Panipat, delhi, Jhajhar and Kirana. Sarangi, an instrument whose history has been well-documented has several interesting stories. In the days of yore, in the Middle East one hakeem Boo Ali Ibn Sina, a student of the famed Pythagoras is said to have gone into the forests to collect plants and roots for his herbal medicines when he heard strange music emanating from under a tree. On closer scrutiny he noticed that entrails of a dead monkey whose intestines were being rubbed by a dry twig under the breeze were producing this music. In Abul Fazls famous Ain-e-akbari this story finds itself with a different discoverer. In the current times, the strings of the sarangi are made out of goats intestines. In Rajasthan an earlier version of this instrument called Ravanhattho and Kamayacha with three main strings and about 15 sympathetic strings was in usage for a long time. The Kingri in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, the Kunju in kerala, Pen in Manipur and banam and kenara in Orissa were all various earlier rural avatars of the same Sarangi devoid of all ornamentation. From the point of view of its shape and structure the ancient musical instrument without the frets called Ghosvati or Ghoshak veena was perhaps the closest to the latter day Sarangi. In more modern parlance, the Pinaki veena, a gut-string bow instrument described in Saranga devas Sangeet Ratnakara (13th century A.D) bears a close resemblance to the sarangi we know. The modern day sarangi is a far accomplished and highly engineered instrument. Sarangi Sau rangi , (the sarangi has a hundred colour) is an adage that goes aptly well with this instruments virtuosity to create such delicate and fine music. Played with cuticles and the lowest part of the finger nails, it is not an easy instrument to master. What started off as an accompanying instrument has slowly taken shape of being a classy solo concert instrument, thanks to the undying efforts of Ustads from all these gharanas.
Speaking of his early days of learning music Murad recollects his taleem under his gurus. I would have to spend many studious hours in riyaaz. It was not easy to see my cuticles bleed and feel the pain. I would just stick bits of tape around my fingers and carry on with my music practice. Years of such hard work was bound to pay well and Murad won the first prize at the all India radio national music competition at the tender age of sixteen in 1992. Ever since then, there has been no looking back for him. Having accompanied the likes of Smt Girija Devi, Ustad Rashid Khan, Pandit Gopal Mishra, Pandit Briju Maharaj and many more senior artists from the world of Hindustani classical music and dance, he is currently an A grade artist from AIR Delhi.
Murad who feels that vocal music is important, like his seniors first learnt vocal before he graduated to taking the Sarangi. Vocal music is very important especially for sarangi players. When you learn the intricacies of Khyaal and other genres like dadra, tappa, thumri and so on in vocal, it becomes far more easier to practice it on the instrument says Murad. His grandfather the great Ustad Saddique Ahmed Khan saab was also a student of Hindustani vocal for twenty years before his gurus allowed him to touch the sarangi. A strong grounding in vocal becomes an essential part of an instrumentalists journey into musicdom. There have been many sarangi players who have mastered this instrument. But there have been a very few who can be credited with making sarangi the solo instrument. Ustad bundu khan saabs name stands out first. He was responsible for changing the presentation and the music of sarangi and taking it to a new stature. After him come Pandit Gopal mishra ji and Pandit Ram narayan ji who was responsible for making it popular in the music festivals across the world. There have been many others too, but you need to see who got the opportunity and who got the right platform to present their skill, says Murad.
The Sarangi has also been one of the main instruments to provide music for Kathak as a dance form to grow. Initially when I set out to become a solo concert performer, my father also encouraged me to experiment. I was to learn how to play the lehraas with tabla or pakhajwaj as an accompaniment or how to play it with dance. For that I worked in Bharitiya kala Kendra in delhi for about six months to learn this art. The people there wanted me to stay back when I was leaving six months later, but this stay extended for six years and I had to beg myself out of that place to continue my work. But what I learnt there was priceless. The Sarangi is one of the most versatile instruments and can be played with all genres of music and dance forms if it is mastered the right way, adds Murad.
The Sarangi has come a long way. With the passing over of Hindustani musical patronage from royal courts to emergence of havelis and kothas of the nawabs, the Sarangi started to become associated with mehfils and tawaifs or nautch girls. A little known fact is that even famous senior Hindustani vocalists like Ustad Abdul Karim Khan saab, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan saab and Ustad Amir Khan saab who had begun their artistic careers as Sarangi players disowned their instrumental past on their path to fame. From classical concerts the Sarangi came to be a more popular instrument among lighter semi-classical forms like Ghazal and soon was adopted by the film industry for playback music. But how many ever such confrontations later, the Sarangi continues to survive the onslaught of time, space, technology and more to constantly keep re-emerging as an instrument worth all ages and all times.
Whatever be the origins of this instrument, many people have come forward claiming to be its original inventors in the past. Earlier sarangi had 4 strings of Sa, Pa, Sa and Pa. In this last century, it was reduced to three strings. Now if I put the forth string back and say it is my invention, it is not right, says Murad demystifying all these false claims of older artists who were supposed inventors. Being close to human voice and able to replicate patterns of vocal music, the Sarangi is an ideal accompaniment to Hindustani Classical music. The subtleties that can be acquired through sarangi cannot be attained through harmonium due to its limitations. But lately, just for convenience sake, sarangi is being replaced by harmonium. One of the other reasons why its popularity is on the decline is also because of the fact that it is a difficult instrument to learn and master. But Murad with his determined efforts has been credited to elevate the status of the instrument with his fusion concert tours and other musical alliances. I have toured with music groups like Indian Ocean and Shubha Mudgal Jis group and we have seen how widely sarangi has been appreciated. I have collaborated with pianist Anil Srinivasan from Chennai and done classical fusion. I love innovation and love experimenting because this instrument easily accommodates such practices. Its musical limitations are almost negligible and hence for a player like me it comes as a blessing says Murad speaking about his musical collaboration.
There is a falsehood generated by popular perception that Islam is against music and those Muslims who practice music are anti-Islamic. Breaking that myth once the late Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan saab had said that those who say music is anti-Islamic know nothing of music or of Islam. This is not true. Music is very much a part of all cultures. I have been to Jerusalem to the tomb of one of our saints and I was surprised to find the design of a violin engraved on his mazaar in that dargah. There were music notes written on the chaadar along with figures of other musical instruments because the saint himself must have been a person of music. So there is no such thing in Islam. That kind of culture which encourages excessive alcoholism, domestic abuse and violence and other immoral activities must not be encouraged anyways be it Islamic or not. Its harmful for the society anywhere in the world. In fact Islam says a lot more things are haraam, why target something as divine as classical music? Classical music is pure and nothing can touch it, says Murad with affirmation against all these rumours that do more harm to music and to Islam than anything else.
Having over a dozen albums of solo and non-solo music albums to his credit, Murad is the new face of Sarangi amongst the performance and festival circles. The Saurangi festival conceived and created by him and his team of efficient musicians was a landmark festival in the history of Sarangi as well. It is an annual feature marked on the musical calendar where a sarangi symphony is performed by a dozen players who play a scripted symphony. For the first time ever in the history of Hindustani classical music, the best of hundreds of Sarangi players and music connoisseurs gathered under one umbrella to enjoy a festival dedicated to this instrument. In the past Pandit Ram Narayan did a similar event with hundred sarangis but that event was on a different level. I have tried to put together an Indian symphony like how Pandit Ravishankar used to do the national orchestra with different instruments, says Murad about the Saurangi festival. Murad along with his twin brother Fateh ali , sitar player , vocalist imran khan and tabla player Amaan Ali have formed a group called Taseer. Taseer as a band has collaborated with many more musicians from across the world according to the needs of performances.
Ask him if he believes if its possible to become a full time professional musician and he says Yes! Why not! It depends on how much riyaaz you do, how committed you are to your music. Nothing is impossible, he says.
With such exponents like Murad Ali in its fold, the Sarangi can be proud to make a fresh come-back on the concert stage more actively. Murad proved many a critic who thought that the sarangi was on the verge of extinction, totally wrong with his innovation, bowing techniques and newer musical collaborations. With a well-established aesthetic sense deeply rooted in his great legacy and in the tradition of his Gharana, so far as we have musicians like Murad Ali we can all say that Sarangi and its pristine music are in safe hands.
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