Vilayat Hussein Khan, revered guru from the Agra gharana, taught several vocalists, many of who were well-known performers who did not belong to his family. Evidently, he was generous in imparting knowledge that he had assimilated from several eminent musicians.

Last week, this column featured some 78 rpm and 45 rpm discs that Vilayat Hussein Khan recorded between the 1930s and the 1960s. Some of his recordings made by the All India Radio are now available to listeners.  These recordings come close to what his live concerts would perhaps have sounded like, given the fact that they are longer in duration than the commercial recordings and are not neatly packaged clinical renditions. There are no live concerts of the maestro easily available online.

The self-consciousness that is often present in a recital for a studio recording prevents a performer from taking musical risks, but that is not the case with these recordings. There are moments that may seem a trifle repetitive, but the nature of a live concert is such that a musician cannot edit a performance and at times gets inexorably drawn towards some musical devices or ornamentation.

This is true of most performers and it is for this reason that listening to a recording of a live concert may or may not elicit the same response from the listener that the concert had in the first place. But this is also why such recordings are important aids in understanding and enjoying different musical styles and aesthetic perspectives.

Tabla accompaniment for all three tracks featured here has been provided by the maestro Ahmed Jan Thirakwa. Vilayat Hussein Khan’s son and disciple Yunus Hussein Khan, also an acclaimed scholar-musician, provided vocal support.

Unfortunately, Vilayat Hussein Khan’s dhamar renditions are not easily available on the net.  Those who have heard these renditions, will vouch for his command over the laya or the rhythmic aspect that they demonstrated. But the essential features of his khayal gayaki or vocal style can be discerned in the recordings featured here.

A strident voice projection, a clearly demarcated interpretation of the raag even when an acchop or uncommon raag was presented, and a command over the laya that allowed him to easily negotiate rhythmic complexities and also opened up avenues for interaction with the tabla player, are some of the important elements in his singing.

Raag Gaud Malhar

The first track features two compositions in the seasonal raag Gaud Malhar, prescribed for performance during the monsoon. There are differences in the interpretation of this raag among followers of various gharanas.  The rendition of the first composition uses the flattened third or the komal gandhar, but this is absent in the second composition.  The vilambit or slow composition set to Tilwada, a cycle of sixteen matras or time units, is a creation of the eighteenth century composer Niamat Khan ‘Sadarang’, a court musician of the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah 'Rangila'.

Interestingly, Ahmed Jan Thirakwa breaks into an elaboration similar to a rav or a roll like composition in the last two cycles of Tilwada.  Such rhythmic elaboration is not usually heard in tabla accompaniment to vilambit khayal. The rav, a part of the tabla solo repertoire, is based on an outline that is then filled in with filigree work at quadruple or eight times the original speed.

The ease in interaction between Vilayat Hussein Khan and Ahmed Jan Thirakwa is obvious from the saath sangat (also called ladant or bhidant at times) that the latter enters into during bol baant and taans. This musical device involves tremendous skill on the part of the tabla player, as he is required to anticipate the changing rhythmic arrangement of the melodic sequences.

Sohini – Teentaal

Vilayat Hussein Khan sings a composition in the night raag Sohini set to Teentaal, also a cycle of 16 beats, although with different syllables. Though this is a bandish ki thumri (a thumri that is structured in a manner that each syllable coincides with almost every matra of the taal), he treats it like a chhota khayal (a khayal that is sung at a faster pace).

However, this is not altogether uncommon, as there are several traditional compositions that may have been created as bandish ki thumris, but have over the years been presented as chhota khayals.  It is unusual though that Vilayat Hussein Khan sings sargam or solfège at the very end, as most traditionalists believed that this device was not worthy of incorporation into a performance.

Raag Paraj Kalingada

The final track features a raag compound, raag Paraj Kalingda, a combination of the seasonal raag Paraj conventionally prescribed for spring, and Kalingda, a raag that is popularly used in the thumri-dadra genres.  The composition is set to drut or fast-paced Teentaal.