June 21, the summer solstice, is also World Music Day. Scientifically it is when the tilt of our planet’s axis in the northern hemisphere is most inclined toward the star that it orbits – in our case, the Sun. It is also considered to be the longest day of the year.This day, also considered Midsummer’s Day is marked by festivals and rituals in many parts of the world, accompanied by joyful music that celebrates fertility, the bounty of the harvest and the energy of the sun. Thus the tilting of the Earth’s axis is accompanied by lilting music and the inclination of the planet is aligned with the festive spirit of the musically inclined to give us World Music Day.
Conceived in the 1970s to welcome the first day of summer, World Music Daywas finally adopted by France and celebrated as the “Festival of Music”. That was the year 1982 and the first ever Fête de la Musique, performed in the streets of Paris became a huge success.
Since the earliest times,people of the world, including the most isolated tribal groups, have developed their own forms of music, the beginning of which was likely to have been present in the ancestral population and before the dispersal of humans around the globe. It is believed that the first music may have been invented in Africa and then evolved to become a fundamental constituent of human life.
The origins of traditional Native American music or Australian Aboriginal music are unknown and may be prior to recorded history. There have been many suggestions that the origin of music is likely to have stemmed from naturally occurring sounds and rhythms.
Traversing time, music has evolved in very many ways. In the western-northern hemisphere where music evolved around ancient to medieval to renaissance and to classical eras when names like Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert ruled. They made way for Schuman and Chopin and then Brahms and Tchaikovskyto name a few. Side by side, as time advanced towards the 20th-21st centuries, music was modernised ushering in new freedom and experimentation and new styles and forms. Music also became increasingly portable.
When we talk about music and we must certainly talk about Indian Music. One of the oldest musical traditions in the world, Indian Music’s origins can be found from the oldest scriptures the Vedas, with Samaveda, one of the four Vedas, describing music at length. The classical music of the Indian sub-continent flows through two traditions, that of the North, which is termed Hindustani, and Carnatic is the south Indian expression. Yet we can definitely say the two systems have more common systems than differences.
With different Gharanas, which has its root in the guru-sishya traditions,be it the Maihar Gharana, the Banaras or Gwalior Gharanasto name a few, the legacy of the founders, who were maestros themselves, have their flames carried through exponents across the world. Some even took Indian classical to the west and made them popular like none other than Ravi Shankar who belonged to the Maihar Gharana. Timirbaran Bhattacharya, who was also from the Maihar Gharana was another exponent who was considered to be the father of Indian Symphony. Rabindranath Tagore gave birth to another line of expression through his musicals and dance dramas which received recognition through his Rabindrasangeet.
The modern era of music cannot be separated from the classical side. Even in the times of modern instrumentation and technology where fusions and adaptations are not unheard of, the successful clan of musicians have their roots into classical basics and training, making them more versatile.
We at Niyogi Books, have been at the forefront of publishing interesting books on musicians, their music and musical history, giving glimpses of their life, their journey and their achievements, with sometimes personal touches. Here are some notes from our musical medley.
What were monophonic Gregorian Chants? Why did Western classical music become polyphonic during the Renaissance? What kind of music did Bach, Handel and Vivaldi compose during the Baroque period? When was the opera born and which compositions are among the best? Which European city was the hub of Western classical music? What was the contribution of the Romantics to Western classical music? How did the 20th century impact Western classical music? Who were the famous conductors, tenors, divas or music critics of the last century? What is the fate of Western classical music today?
Beethoven and Friends by Kishore Chatterjee, presents the history of Western classical music through the unusual stories of the many lives that shaped it.
Ever wondered how late Pandit Ravi Shankar went beyond cultural boundaries to propagate Hindustani classical music and impact the global music scene? How did Ustad Amjad Ali Khan fight emotional and financial setbacks to settle into musical harmony with destiny? How did Begum Akhtar’s soulful voice inspire a reluctant percussionist to dedicate his life to vocal music and emerge as the legendary Pandit Jasraj? How did late Dr GangubaiHangal break away from the shackles of social ostracism to emerge as a legend of her times? Beyond Music – Maestros in Conversation delves into candid opinions on issues, revealing thoughts on music-making and emotional sagas of some of the most accomplished, revered classical musicians—Dr PrabhaAtre, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Dr N. Rajam, VidushiShannoKhurana, Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, to name a few. This book is not just about music; it is an exciting journey into the minds of the musicians, bringing alive the fragrance of their musical thinking. A must read for all Hindustani classical music connoisseurs.
Dhrupad is one of the earliest and most dominant streams that has contributed to Hindustani classical music. According to Faiyazuddin Dagar (1934–1989), ‘In the two parts of the dhrupad, the alap [the improvised section of a raga, forming a prologue to the formal expression] is sung in free rhythm over drone, and the pada [word or phrase that signifies the concept of a raga] is more a rhythmic poem accompanied by drumming over the two-headed pakhawaj [the standard percussion instrument used in dhrupad]. It is a devotional and spiritual type of music … and though the basic style has not changed right from the earlier times—15 centuries ago—individuality does come in and find its place’. Dagars & Dhrupad: Divine Legacy gives glimpses of the rich heritage of this haunting form of music that has enthralled audiences worldwide. It traces the history of the illustrious Dagar family through 20 generations of dhrupad singers and highlights their distinctive approach to this unique form of music. Rare photographs make the book all the more special.
Songs of Tagore: ‘Though famous the world over as a poet, Rabindranath Tagore was no less remarkable as a music maker. Appropriately the Nobel Award was for Gitanjali which means an offering of songs and is indeed such. Tagore’s poetry is rich with music and his music no less rich with poetry. To appreciate his music, known as Rabindra Sangeet, one must understand the poetry of the words.’ (Krishna Kripalani)This publication of 112 select songs of Tagore, is primarily for those Indian and non-Indian listeners who have no access to the original language of the poet, but enjoy listening to his songs and would like to understand what the song says.
Bismillah Khan: Maestro from Benaras is an insightful look into the home and heart, muse and music of one of the greatest artists that India has produced. It traces his journey from the small town of Dumraon to Benaras and thence to the world. The book follows Bismillah Khan as he grows from child to man, shagirdtoustad, pupil to legend. Bismillah Khan’s life is played out against the streets and muhallas of Benaras, its ghats, temples, mehfils and musicians, bringing to life an era that has since passed. The book also lovingly portrays the whims and foibles of Bismillah Khan—an artist whose stature as a musical legend could never quite overshadow the wit, humour and charisma of the man.
Since 1949, when LataMangeshkar was first noticed for her extraordinary singing talent in the Mahalsong ‘Aayegaaanewala,’ her magical voice has taken a firm hold of the Indian imagination. The tuneful purity and timeless quality of her voice have had a profound impact. For over six decades, as the much loved singer, she has reigned supreme in Indian film music and has been conferred in 2001, the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. LataMangeshkar has recorded more songs than anyone else in the world. Lata Mangeshkar…in her own voice, a series of fascinating conversations between Lata Mangeshkar and Nasreen Munni Kabir, takes us into the world of India’s most gifted singer and reveals the person behind the voice that has provided the soundtrack for the lives of billions.
Before Mohammed Rafi there were, probably, none and after him only two great singers—this succinctly describes the legendary singer of four decades whose rise to stardom was phenomenal. Indeed, Rafi was bigger than many of the stars who lip-synced to his golden voice. For a man who came from a rather humble and conservative background, it was his hard work, natural talent and saintly nature that made him stride like Colossus in an industry known for its crass, commercial values. Before the writers of Mohammed Rafi: God’s Own Voice,Dhirendra Jain and Raju Korti embarked on this historic journey of encapsulating this simple man’s history and career—the stuff folklores are made of—they were well aware of the magnitude of the task. Thirty-five years after his death, Rafi’s popularity keeps growing, and each day one gets to hear new anecdotes about his prowess as a singer and his nobility as a human being.Years of painstaking research and experience have gone into in to the compilation of this book, but it cannot be said to be complete by any stretch of the imagination. Apart from mentioning the 7,000 plus songs he sang and hundreds of shows he performed at home and abroad, the authors have tried to piece together a spellbinding account of Rafi’s professional pilgrimage.The biographers feel humbled and rewarded to chronicle a personality rightly acknowledged as among the ‘Best 50 Indians’ ever born. This is the first time a book has delved into the stupendous life and times of a titan in such comprehensive depth.
Nilina’s Song is an engaging biography of the musician, Naina Devi, whose extraordinary life took her through fundamental changes of environment and fortune. Each new turning point reflected significant shifts in history as well as geography, from the cultural ferment of post-Renaissance Bengal to the glamour of Vice regal Simla; from the glittering social life of royalty in the Raj era to the elegance of the Nawabi lifestyles of Awadh and Rampur; and finally to a newly-independent Delhi re-discovering its identity.Through extensive interviews with her family and friends, the author traces the saga of a woman who re-invented herself and her persona, from the young Nilina, grand-daughter of Keshub Chandra Sen, steeped in the philosophy of the Brahmo Samaj, to Rani Nina Ripjit Singh, wife of an aristocrat of Punjab, adapting herself to a different kind of sophistication and refinement and then, as circumstances changed, to Naina Devi, seeker of music, who found her peace and her vocation in the world of the performance arts.
Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty: Seeker of the music within is an in-depth account of the life, work and ideas of one of the most eminent vocalists of our times. The book is an outcome of an intense exchange between the incisive perspective of the author and the soul-searching memories of a musician, both weaving together into a seamless narrative of a biographical mural.Sensitively exploring Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty’s early life, including his initiation into music and the role of his gurus, his emergence as a classical singer, his unbounded approach to music, his collaborations with stalwarts of other genres, his creating a whole new language to teach music, his establishing Shrutinandan—a unique institution for imparting classical music education to young learners—and the spiritual ethos of his music, the narrative flows through the melody of his life illuminating its key moments and inspirations. Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty: Seeker of the music within illustrates the potential that every human being carries within oneself to surpass excellence. It is the story of a person who believes that the musical note is God and that this musical bounty needs to be shared limitlessly to create a music-loving world. It is also the journey of a maestro who was not born into a gharana but has come a long way to become an institution himself.
Shiv Kumar Sharma: The Man & His Music by Ina Puri takes the reader on a journey that goes back to a time when the maestro started out as an adolescent learning the rudiments of Indian classical music under the guidance of his guru and father, Uma Dutt Sharma. It traces, through fascinating text and rare photographs, the life of the young boy who dared to dream of becoming one of the greatest musicians of the country and then went on to receive the Padma Vibhushan. Pandit Vijay Kichlu, an old friend and distinguished fellow musician, shares anecdotes from his earliest memories of how he saw Shiv Kumar Sharma establish the santoor in the highly competitive field of Indian classical music. Manek Premchand, a renowned film historian, writes about the maestro’s long innings as a music composer in the Hindi film industry and as a musician, when he was associated with legendary music directors like S.D. Burman and Naushad. Ina Puri draws upon her own association with Shiv Kumar Sharma and engages him in an animated dialogue that touches upon his life and music. She talks to him about not only the highs but also the disappointments, as well as the deep faith that continues to guide him.
Are we truly familiar with the deeper connotations of the terms ‘Baul-bairagi-dervish, fakir-Sahajiya’ or for that matter the Sufi and the udasin—terms that we often loosely apply to certain people or sects while ploughing through the routine walks of life? H. A. Wilson (The Various Religious Cults of India) or Akshay Kumar Dutta had rightly spotted these people and produced seminal works on this community more than a century and a half ago. However, almost no further work of worth or in-depth study followed the first.In the book Along Deep Lonely Alleys: Baul-Fakir-Dervish of Bengal, by Utpal K. Banerjee (translated by SudhirChakravarti)the author holds mastery over his pen and opens the doors to a new vision of this unique world of wandering minstrels, having travelled through the districts of Nadia, Murshidabad, Birbhum and Bardhaman – cutting across tiny hamlets and settlements tucked away in the farthest corners of Bengal – completing an intensive research over a period of time spanning two decades.These spiritual communities and cults are unique as well as varied; the lingo they use and the norms of living they follow are remarkably mysterious and tinged with a certain rarity. The obscure mysticism in their songs, the cryptic and somewhat unintelligible and nuanced bends in their train of thoughts and philosophy have been portrayed in the book through an inclusive approach, with singular clarity and totality. A relatively unknown world thrives parallel to the extensive studies in the fields of folk sociology and rural cultural anthropology; tracing this distinctive strain of folklore, music and spiritual beliefs, this book throws up certain characters which have no archetypes, and lends a composite structure to it all.