In its sixteenth edition of the series on Yaman and Yaman Kalyan and the sixth episode on instrumental interpretations of these raags, we feature shehnai wizard Bismillah Khan. Most listeners have heard the maestro present shorter versions of raags through brief aalaaps or introductory sections and madhya laya or medium-paced compositions. But this recording contains a detailed presentation of the raag Yaman.


The moment the sound of the shehnai rises above the drone of the shruti-box, it is easily discernible that the maestro’s aesthetic approach is one that resembles khayal vocalism. He chooses to elaborate upon a composition set to vilambit or slow Ektaal, a cycle of 12 matras or time units. Using ornamentation that is normally found in khayal renditions, he proceeds from the vistaar or free-flowing elaboration to introduce faster filigree patterns that are known to be an inseparable part of his style. Often these patterns follow a sequential order and invite response from the other shehnai players in the ensemble. The response echoes the melodic phrases played by the main performer, who also resolves the dialogue by reintroducing the mukhda (literally "face") of the composition on the last matra of the cycle.

Percussion accompaniment during the vilambit composition is provided by the dukkad, a hand kettledrum. While the dukkad forms a part of traditional shehnai recitals, it is rare to hear a vilambit Ektaal played on the instrument, as unlike the tabla, the dukkad does not have the resonance required to fill the long spaces between syllables of the theka when played at a very slow speed.

The second composition is medium-paced and the percussion accompaniment is now provided alternately by the dukkad and the tabla, both playing short solo sections between the melodic elaboration. During this phase, Khan employs dynamics as he plays simple phrases that are interspersed with telling pauses. Building up a drama around these phrases, he resolves the idea with repetitive phrases that lead into a descending pattern that often ends with a tihai, a rhythmic pattern calculated in a manner that allows the last syllable to coincide with the approaching sum/sam or first matra of the cycle. He also uses phrases in triplet rhythm that also end with a tihai.

Bismillah Khan ends the recital with a jhala, a section played at great speed with repetitive notes often grouped in fours to simulate the strokes used in the jhala presented by plucked instruments.