This column has previously included an episode on jugalbandis or duets, which featured performers who were trained by the same guru or were siblings and had always performed together. We had also included a couple of tracks that featured duets between a vocalist and an instrumentalist and another between two instrumentalists who had not learnt from the same guru. Briefly, therefore, jugalbandis are possible between performers, who have not necessarily had the same training but who are open to entering into such musical dialogues. The success of such recitals depends on various factors, but above all, it is the mutual respect for each other’s music and artistry that acts as the defining moment.
This week, we include a rare recording that demonstrates a level of camaraderie that many would find difficult to imagine, considering the artists’ strong musical personae.
This track features a jugalbandi between Banaras gharana exponents Siddheshwari Devi (1908-1976) and Rasoolan Bai (1902-1974). Both were respected for their exquisite presentations of forms like thumri, dadra, tappa and many others. They sing a bol banaav thumri set to Deepchandi, a cycle of 14 matras or time units, in the raag Manjh Khamaj.
The recital demonstrates the degree of complexity that thumri singing can assume when presented by the greats. Both vocalists weave myriad melodic phrases never losing track of the song-text, thus lending layered meanings to the latter. They seem to coax out every possible melodic twist and turn, lingering on notes that are not necessarily highlighted in conventional renditions in Manjh Khamaj. Clearly, this follows the logic of the thumri form that allows vocalists to deviate from the melodic structure of the chosen raag, and yet, it does not dilute into an aimless meandering through several raags.
The jugalbandi is marked by an open acknowledgement by both vocalists of each other’s artistry. They respond freely to each other’s melodic explorations, rather than maintaining a cautious distance. While this is so, their performance is free of any competitive spirit, as they do not appear to interject or disturb each other.
The second composition on the same track is a dadra set to the eight-matra Kaherva.