Sonic Saturdays

Listen: Krishnarao Shankar Pandit, Siddheshwari Devi sing the swift and melodic tappa in raag Kafi

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

A nocturnal melody in the Hindustani stream, raag Kafi has been used extensively for tappas. This column has elaborated upon the tappa form in three episodes (here, here and here).

Like other forms found in the Hindustani system, the tappa also requires special taaleem or training and riyaaz or practice. In other words, the characteristic features of the tappa are so distinctive that it requires a different skill set to present it in a competent manner. Traditionally, tappas use Punjabi for the song-text, thus placing yet another challenge for those who are not familiar with the language. Naturally, this would not matter much to those who choose to throw language and form to the wind.

While the tappa may seem to involve a great deal of vocal adroitness, it is not merely a display of speed and acrobatics in the taans or swift melodic passages. It is, in fact, a fine play of quick melodic phrases balanced almost precariously on the vowels and consonants of the song-text and unleashed in an unpredictable manner, moving against the rhythmic cycle but rushing to meet the oncoming sum/sam or first time-unit of the latter.

The tappa is one of the important forms in the repertoire of Gwalior and Banaras gharana vocalists. In the sixth episode of our series on raag Kafi, we include two tappas in the same raag presented by exponents of these styles.

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Over here, Krishnarao Shankar Pandit, doyen of the Gwalior gharana, sings a tappa set to a cycle of 16 time units or matras. Typically, the Sitarkhani or Addha taal would be used in such a case, but the tabla player employs Teentaal, also a 16-matra cycle.

After stating the sthayi or first part of the composition, the maestro surges forward with slower clusters of notes that suddenly quicken and leap across the octave. At times, his voice climbs gradually through the octave and releases a cascade of notes that resolve on the lower tonic only to rise unexpectedly to the Komal Gandhar, the flat third, or Pancham, the fifth, in the upper octave.

He uses a falsetto unabashedly to reach out to the notes in the upper octave, but equally employs a deep and full-throated projection for the lower notes. Unlike most tappa renditions, he chooses to also use short layakari passages that have a cross-rhythmic flavour.

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The second track features a tappa rendition by Siddheshwari Devi, one of the greatest thumri-dadra and tappa singers of the Banaras gharana. She sings a tappa set to the Addha taal. Creating clusters of notes that pirouette on tonal centres or on successive notes in the ascending or descending order, she uses taans that are distinctive to the tappa form. Her approach to the sum/sam is unpredictable, as is her melodic elaboration, thus creating a wonderful musical tension that captivates the listener right through the performance.

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