One of the features found commonly across many musical cultures is the presence of rhythmic grooves of three, four, six and eight counts. Similar patterns are found in several folk traditions in India too. For a few weeks, this column will focus on the four and eight count rhythmic frameworks and discuss the ways in which these are handled in some musical forms.
Students of Hindustani music are taught many taals or rhythmic cycles, each having a distinct identity created by the number of matras or time-units in the cycle, the manner in which groups of these are divided into vibhags or khands, the accented or unaccented beginnings to each of these groups, and the theka or string of mnemonic syllables that represent the structure of the taal.
Kaharvaa, an eight-matra taal divided into two equal vibhags of four matras each, has its roots in folk music. It is commonly heard on dholak and other instruments that are used in folk music and is an equally popular taal for film and non-film popular music. Interestingly, the theka that is usually taught to students is rarely used in its original form. Instead, several variations of the theka are used to suit particular songs or tunes at various tempi.
Today, we feature two recordings of qawwali that use Kaharvaa. The first is a rendition by eminent qawwali singer Jaffar Hussain Badayuni. The rhythmic cycle starts at a slow pace and gradually accelerates through the performance. Evidently, the emphasis of the entire ensemble is on the song-text and the musical development heightens this aspect. The manner of maintaining the theka also assists this process by not embellishing it overly or moving into long sections of rhythmic elaboration.
The second recording features iconic qawwal Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Kaharvaa is played at a fast pace in this rendition. Once again, there is a sense of restraint in the way that the theka is played, which lends a trance-like effect to the performance that is so crucial to qawwali recitals.