Sonic Saturdays

Rain, romance and rhythm come together in these jhoola folk songs

This style usually describes amorous scenes of Krishna and Radha swinging on a rope-swing tied to a branch of the Kadamb tree during the monsoon.

Last week, this column featured interpretations of kajri, a seasonal folk song-form that was included in concerts by thumri-dadra singers.

Jhoola, also called hindola, is another seasonal folk song-form that is connected with the monsoon and has been similarly added to the Hindustani repertoire. This song-form usually describes amorous scenes of Krishna and Radha swinging on a rope-swing tied to a branch of the Kadamb tree during the monsoon. According to scholar Radha Vallabh Chaturvedi, the hindola is a song-form particularly popular in the Meerut and Bulandshahar districts, where it is also referred to as Malhar.

Such songs are an integral part of the folk repertoire from the Gangetic basin, but their interpretation by vocalists trained in art music takes on a different hue. The melodic elaboration in the latter case involves exploring shades of different raags without losing sight of the song-text. Often, the tabla introduces laggis or quick and short rhythmic phrases that are reminiscent of dancers’ footwork.

The first track in this episode is a jhoola sung by Ghulam Mustafa Khan, the doyen of the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana. The song-text is by Amir Khusrau (1253-1325), Sufi poet and scholar, whose contribution to the evolution of Hindustani music is widely recognised. The composition is based on the raag Des and is set to Kaherva, a cycle of eight matras or time-units. This recording was made for the BBC.

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Girija Devi, thumri exponent of the Banaras gharana, sings a jhoola set to Kaherva. Her exploration involves a juxtaposition of free-flowing melodic elaboration and more rhythmically inclined phrasing with changing syncopation.

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The concluding jhoola is sung by Chhannulal Mishra, also a well-known thumri singer from Banaras. This popular composition is based on the raag Tilak Kamod, but has traces of Manjh Khamaj. It is set to Kaherva.

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