Sonic Saturday

Revisiting the magic of AIR's National Programme of Music

For collectors, recordings of these old radio broadcasts remain prized possessions.

A year and a half ago, this column had discussed the role that the All India Radio or Akashvani had played as an Indian national public broadcaster over decades in bringing the best of Hindustani music to the listeners.

Through this period, musicians have regarded the clearing of auditions for eligibility to broadcast and the subsequent periodic broadcasts as important milestones in their performance careers. Of these broadcasts, some have been considered more significant, as they reach out to a wider audience. The National Programme of Music is one such broadcast and being selected to record for it is in itself cherished by musicians, notwithstanding the stiff competition that is offered by television and other attractions.

For collectors, recordings of old radio broadcasts, particularly those of National Programmes of Music, remain prized possessions. They are guarded zealously, despite the static that accompanies many of these broadcasts, as they are wonderful documents of musical renditions that went on for a total of 90 minutes.

At times, a well-known musician or scholar would present the National Programme of Music featuring archival radio recordings of a maestro of yesteryears. The next track is a National Programme broadcast in 1975, presented by Gyan Prakash Ghosh, prominent composer and teacher. He elucidates on the gayaki or vocal style of Patiala gharana maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who is accompanied on the sarangi by Bade Ghulam Sabir Khan and on the tabla by Afaq Hussein Khan. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s son and disciple Munnawar Ali Khan provides vocal support.

The track begins with two compositions in the pentatonic raag Bhupali. The first composition is set to Ektaal, a cycle of 12 matras or time-units. The melodic elaboration is replete with broad gamaks or oscillations on notes that accentuate the majesty of the raag. The gamaks give way to taans or swift melodic movements that traverse across octaves. Known for his malleable voice and incredible intonation, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan seamlessly moves through these phases and sargams or solfège, maneuvering his voice from a heavy and earthy projection to a delicate one.

The second composition in Bhupali is set to the 16 matra Teentaal.

Bhupali is followed by a medium-paced composition in the raag Rageshree set to Teentaal.

The concluding composition is based on the raag Bihag, but deviates from the conventional structure of the raag.

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