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A voice that enlightened

KULDEEP KUMAR
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TRIBUTE Ustad Amir Khan, the vocalist par excellence, was remembered through a two-day programme organised by his disciple Tejpal Singh. KULDEEP KUMAR

Ustad Amir Khan
Ustad Amir Khan

In his 1960 film “Meghe Dhaka Tara”, now considered a modern classic, Ritwik Ghatak shows Anil Chatterjee passing through the village market. In the film, Chatterjee plays the character of an aspiring classical singer, does nothing to earn money and depends entirely on his younger sister played by Supriya Choudhury. Somebody in the market asks him why he is hell-bent on becoming a singer. Chatterjee replies, “Do you know how much Ustad Amir Khan Sahib is paid for one performance? Rs.10,000. Let me become famous. I will also earn like him.”

Even at a time when such colossuses as Omknarnath Thakur, Kesarbai Kerkar and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan were dominating the Hindustani classical music scene, Amir Khan had made his presence felt to such an extent that he was immortalised in a Ghatak film dialogue. Not only this, Anil Chatterjee was shown doing his riyaz near a river and Amir Khan’s disciple A. Kanan’s voice was used for rendering the Hansdhwani chhota khayal “Laagi lagan pati sakhi sang” in the typical Amir Khan style.

Revolutionising khayal vocalism

When Amir Khan died in a car accident in 1974, the world of Hindustani classical music suffered a terrible loss. He was at the peak of his musical creativity and had firmly established his individualistic style of Khayal and Tarana singing. He was only 62 at that time and had emerged as one of the top-ranking vocalists of the 20th century. His ati vilambit (extra slow) alap, frowned and mocked at in the beginning, became the model for many a singer and his influence spread across gharanas. Although his and his disciples’ claim that he established a new Indore gharana of Khayal singing is still being discussed, debated and contested, there is no denying the fact that he in a sense revolutionised the way Khayal vocalism was looked at before his appearance on the music scene. It requires a true genius to consciously borrow different things from different sources and weld them together in such a way as to give birth to an entirely new style. Amir Khan’s debt towards Abdul Wahid Khan, Rajab Ali Khan and Aman Ali Khan is well-known and well-documented and is a testimony to the originality of his approach towards music. Although he was second to none in terms of his taiyaari — his ati vilambit alap has been emulated by many but nobody has so far been able to come anywhere near his amazingly intricate, clear and fast taans — his was an introspective and meditative approach, shunning exhibitionism of every kind. He aim was not to dazzle but to enlighten the listener.

In a laudable attempt, Amir Khan’s disciple Tejpal Singh (senior of the Singh Bandhu duo) organised a two-day programme this week under the aegis of Kalashri Foundation to pay musical tribute to his guru as part of the late maestro’s birth centenary celebrations. His student Rama S. Ranganathan chose Yaman Kalyan to open the second day’s proceedings and sang the familiar Amir Khan bandishes “Kajara kaise daroon” and “Kaiso sundar sugharwa balamwa” in bada and chhota khayal respectively. Gifted with a good voice, she is yet to go a long way to become a successful concert artiste and needs to work on the neatness and clarity of her taans. Her recital sounded much more pre-conceived than spontaneous. She was accompanied by Akhtar Hasan on tabla and Vinay Mishra on harmonium.

Sitar maestro Debu Chaudhury concluded the evening’s programme as vocalist Mahendra Toke could not come due to sudden illness. He played Vishweshwari, a raga of his own creation based on the Charukeshi mela of the Carnatic system. Chaudhury complained that Hindustani musicians took uncalled for liberties with Carnatic ragas and explained that his creation incorporates Malkauns ang, Kanhda ang and Rageshwari ang. He played a leisurely alap followed by a hurried jod-jhala. Debu Chaudhury, a disciple of the famed sitar maestro of yore Mushtaq Ali Khan, concluded his recital with a lilting gat, enthralling his admirers. Akram Khan of Ajrada gharana provided good accompaniment on tabla.

On the first day, Naresh Malhotra sang Puriya Kalyan and Jog while senior vocalist Baldevraj Verma settled on Yaman Kalyan and a Jog tarana. Both the vocalists sang popular Amir Khan bandishes. The evening drew to a close with a sitar recital by father-son duo Mohsin Ali Khan and Mehtab Ali Khan who played Jhinjhoti.

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