INDIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC

Shamsuddin Faridi Desai's virtuosity is on display as he performs Raag Darbari on the rudra veena

This is the fourth recording in our series on the All India Radio National Programme of Music.

There was a time when broadcasts on All India Radio, also called Akashvani, attracted new public concert opportunities for performers. This was particularly so when a musician had a successful broadcast on the National Programme of Music.

Organisers from various music circles and music festival committees sent postcards and inland letters to performers to compliment them for successful radio concerts. In fact, senior and junior musicians also tuned in to these National Programme broadcasts and on rare occasions, even sent congratulatory letters to their colleagues. At times, specific items became subjects of discussion in these letters or in informal gatherings.

But those were days when the prestigious National Programme of Music meant a lot not just to performers but to listeners as well. The All India Radio administration also valued such broadcasts. For a while, these concerts were held in the presence of an invited audience, but this had to be given up, perhaps, due to the dwindling number of listeners.

Today, we live in times when most music lovers do not have access to the radio, or if they do, it is only to FM channels, most of which belt out the latest Bollywood hits. The question then arises is: does the National Programme of Music need to be done away with, given that classical music programming on radio has seen a gradual decline? Or can we hope to draw more listeners to the broadcasts by advertising them on various media?

This may assure musicians that their own mann ki baat will be heard a bit more than it has been in recent times. If advertising costs are astronomical, perhaps some of the funds allocated to the Prime Minister’s monthly Mann ki Baat radio address could be diverted to this programme, towards promoting the country’s heritage. Perhaps, musicians enjoying a close rapport with the Prime Minister and the government could put in a word to this effect.

Shamsuddin Faridi Desai

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Moving to our track for the day, the fourth in our series on AIR National Programme of Music recordings, we feature a rudra veena recital by Shamsuddin Faridi Desai (1936/’38-2011). From the description that accompanies the track, it appears this recording had been broadcast on the National Programme of Music in 2001.

Desai plays Darbari Kanada, a raag suited to the rudra veena, as the long meends or glides between notes and andolans or gentle swaying on certain notes can best be heard on this sonorous instrument. This column has featured this instrument on a few occasions in the past.

Desai exploits this tonal quality as he delves into the lower octave and produces some incredibly long meends in the aalaap or introductory section. He shifts imperceptibly to the jod section that introduces a pulse with a steady right-hand stroke pattern. The hitherto free-flowing melodic elaboration thus moves to a rhythmic structure. He gradually increases the speed to enter into the jhala section that has a repetitive right-hand stroke pattern.

The composition that follows the aalaap is accompanied on the pakhawaj by Ramkishor Das. It is set to a 10-matra (time-unit) cycle that sounds like a variant of Surfakta, also known as Surfak. Desai engages in a flurry of aggressive gamaks or rapid oscillations on single notes that are played slowly to begin with but gain speed, at times to enter into triplet rhythm and at other times to almost swim against the tide over the main cycle. The vigour of the gamaks on some occasions obfuscates the intonation, but demonstrates the virtuosity of the performer.

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