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Unforgettable women on record

Ranee Kumar
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Music Vidya Shah reproduced forgotten khayals, rendered by women singers of the gramophone era, with finesse. Ranee Kumar

Originality at its bestVidya Shah’s commendable performance.
Originality at its bestVidya Shah’s commendable performance.

It was originality at its artistic best; what more, it was an archetypal re-creation of an era when the gramophone records made their foray into the music scene. Subtly titled ‘Women on record’ the event had the redoubtable Vidya Shah educating her audience on the abundant talent that lay in the dusty layers of music history of the North. There women behind the screens sang to their ‘special’ audience, some of the most memorable songs that ever crossed the hearth of Hindustani music; they may well have been lost since they passed away with their music intact, had it not been for the onset of the ‘gramophone’. The women were mainly into ‘mushaira’ and may not have belonged to the ‘respectable, genteel’ socio-economic order. But their musical compositions and their vocal talent were par excellence, Vidya revealed. Needless to say audience soon turned into Vidya’s fans, all in a matter of an hour.

Unique tone

Vidya’s unique tone and timbre as she narrates part of history and begins to render a full-length song to corroborate her statement has a magnetic attraction difficult to ward off.

We get drawn to her lovely lines as her voice takes us along the hills and dales of the composition. Beginning with Jo pucha tha woh aaj kya ho raha hai a Gauhar Jaan’s creation, she led us on an exotic trip of the singing queens of Kolkata with digital pictures to give us a peek into their personalities. The music and language was lucid and romantic sans vulgarity, which was highly commendable. Vidya followed the khayal of Gauhar Jaan with a bhajan penned and sung those days by Mumtaz Jaan on Krishna! tho sey karoongi ladaye kuwar… ’ explodes like a rainbow as she reveals Yashoda, the loving mother addressing her child Krishna in mock threat.

The notes of the sarangi (Ghulam Ali) lent finesse to the rendition. Badrukhan on the harmonium was melody incarnate.

Making of music market

According to the artiste, the making of music market began in the 20th century. The lack of techniques was an impediment to recording, yet the challenges were met by these queens of music who live today only by virtue of their recorded songs. Mehboob Jaan Sholapur’s tarana in Basant raag was a rage those days in the British-dominated Bengal! ‘Miss’ Dulari was supposed to have been a coquettish singer who excited the ‘company’ English masters. Her ‘sawan’ song, nanhi nanhi boondiyaan rey, sawan mey mera jhoolana… seemed to get a fresh lease of life now in Vidya’s vivacious voice. The lyric goes on a swirling gait from a droplets stage picturising the steady shower of monsoon rain.

We actually felt drenched in her heavenly rendition.

Vidya mentions a very individualistic singer of yore, Janaki Bai ‘chappanchuri’ of Rewa (Madhya Pradesh) mehafilyat who was known to be unattractive in physical looks with an arresting voice. She would always sing from behind a screen and when her honeyed tone kicked up a raving desire in the men to ‘see her in person’ she was known to have cautioned them with ‘soorath pey nahi, seerath pey jaathe hai’.

Vidya gave us a glimpse of this golden voice with Janaki Bai’s thumri, raseeli thori akhiyaan …jiya le jaaye which had us all swooning over our own Vidya’s inviting reproduction.

With the advent of movies in Hindi, a sort of democracy dawned on the next generation of singers who emerged out of their purdah existence to record for films. One such woman of consequence was actor Sunjay Dutt’s maternal grandmother, Jagan Bai (mother of Nargis Dutt).

A few film numbers which were in the semi-classical genre and she wrapped up this beautiful revelation with a popular Bhairavi rendition.

It was short, sweet annals of the unsung music queens, unearthed, sieved and presented to us in the best possible way at Hotel Taj Banjara, Hyderabad.

Kudos to Kalakriti Art Gallery and Vidya Shah for such a unique presentation.

The women were mainly into ‘mushaira’…but their musical compositions and their vocal talent were par excellence.


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