Sonic Saturdays

Rhythmic interplay marks Nasir Aminuddin Dagar and Nasir Moinuddin Dagar's rendition of raag Kafi

This is the second episode of our series on the raag.

Hindustani musicians often profess the oneness of all music, whether from India or elsewhere, but their responses to the immediate musical reality around them leave much to be desired in this context. They are bogged down by loyalties to particular musical forms, gharanas and individual gurus.

Thus, many dhrupadiyas or dhrupad singers consider themselves to be the conscience-keepers of what they consider a pure and authentic tradition, in contrast to khayal and thumri singers, who they believe have deviated from this tradition. The khayaliyas or khayal singers on their part do not think much of the thumri singers.

Notably, prejudices such as these existed in previous centuries too. For instance, vocal music was regarded as the highest strata of music-making with instrumental music and dance following at the second and third tiers. Similarly, accompanists to vocalists, instrumentalists and dancers, were relegated to the lowest rung.

Many of the older prejudices have disappeared or are not noticeable. But there is no doubt that the openness that is otherwise touted, needs to be seen on the ground as well. Sadly, die-hard Hindustani music lovers also seem to harbour such biases.

Fortunately, every generation has seen some musicians go beyond these imaginary walls to draw inspiration from a variety of sources. The reasons for doing so may have been many, ranging from a possible passion to the desire to enhance their creativity to the more mundane purpose of garnering support from patrons who perhaps desired a change.

Coming together

Horis are songs specific to the celebration of the Holi festival and contain imagery related to the festival. Dhrupad vocalists usually sing horis that are set to Dhamaar, a cycle of 14 matras or time units played on the pakhawaj, and the song-form is also called dhamaar. These renditions are replete with layakari or rhythmic interplay that is one of the hallmarks of dhrupad-dhamaar gayaki or vocal style.

We begin the second episode of our series on the raag Kafi (you can read the first piece here) with a recital by maestros Nasir Aminuddin Dagar and Nasir Moinuddin Dagar that bears evidence of these crossovers.


This track featuring the Dagars, known as chief representatives of the Dagar gharana of dhrupad singing, contains a hori sung by them in the thumri style set to Deepchandi, a 14-matra taal. The ease with which the maestros present this hori reveals the manner in which they have internalised thumri gayaki too.

They employ devices that are integral to thumri singing, such as bol banaav or free melodic elaboration using the words of the song-text over the rhythmic canvas, pukaar or the stretching out of the voice to create a feeling of yearning, ornamental devices like khatka and murki, and short taans. As per the conventions of thumri recitals, they change from Deepchandi to the eight-matra Kaherva after singing the antara. Listeners will note the laggi patterns played on the tabla during this phase.

They conclude their recital with a bandish ki thumri, composed by Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh known for his patronage to music and dance. Set to the sixteen-matra Teentaal, this composition is also in Kafi describing scenes associated with Holi and the escapades of the god Krishna.

Unfortunately, there is no mention of the tabla player on this track, but several rhythmic responses from the tabla lace this recital.

As mentioned last week, many performers choose to deviate from the formal structure of Kafi to include the shuddha Gandhara and shuddha Nishad, the natural third and seventh notes. The Dagars also incorporate these in this recital.

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