Sonic Saturday

Listen: Doyens of Lucknow gharana display the khulaa baaj, a tabla-playing style inspired by Kathak

Our series on the percussion instrument moves towards India's heartland.

After a brief diversion last week on child prodigies in Hindustani music, to mark Children’s Day, Sonic Saturdays resumes its series on the tabla gharanas.

After visiting recordings of maestros representing the band or bund baaj style of the Delhi and Ajrada gharanas, we move on to the schools that explore the khulaa baaj. This style focuses on the sur or lav bols or strokes that are played in the inner ring of the daayaan the right-hand skin-top between the kinaar, which is the outer ring, and the syaahi (black portion in the centre). Varieties of gat, tukda, and chakradaar are the main forms that fall in this category. This baaj is heavily influenced by pakhawaj bols and incorporates strokes produced by all fingers in unison or the entire palm. The latter has also lent this style other names like hatheli kaa baaj or thaapiyaa baaj.

The popularity of Kathak dance in Lucknow and the evolution of instrumental performances posed a different challenge to tabla players, and this was perhaps the beginning of the khulaa baaj popularised by the Lucknow, Farrukhabad and Banaras styles.

Collectively known as the Purab gharana or baaj, the three have had strong associations with Kathak dance, the thumri-dadra genres and instrumental music. They are also linked by a master-disciple lineage. In fact, the first two even had family ties.

Lucknow gharana

This week’s column features maestros of the Lucknow gharana, which started with Mia Bakshu.

Doyen of the Lucknow lineage, Wajid Hussein Khan, recorded in 1971, plays a solo in Teentaal, a cycle of 16 matras or time units. Although he plays some compositions from other gharanas, the main focus of this performance stays on the Lucknow repertoire. In particular, Khan plays a few rav compositions. The rav, an extendable form also referred to as rao or lao, is said to have been inspired by the drumming heard as part of Muharram processions, where a larger drum maintains an outline and a smaller drum introduces intricate strokes to fit into this structure. A rav consists of a basic outline and the spaces between its bols are filled with other finely woven bols that are subsequently added and demand tremendous dexterity from the performer.

Wajid Hussein Khan ends his recital with a series of shorter compositions like gats, tukdas and chakradaars.

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The next track is a live concert recording featuring Wajid Hussein Khan.

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The concluding track features Afaq Hussein Khan, son of Wajid Hussein Khan. The recording made in 1958 reflects the amazing virtuosity and tonal quality that Afaq Hussein Khan was known for.

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