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Grandeur of the gharanas

LAKSHMI SREERAM

Satyasheel Deshpande's love for khayal music led to the setting up of Samvaad.



DOCUMENTING A TRADITION: Satyasheel Deshpande.

“Gharanas are different styles of meaningfully filling in the taal cycle while elaborating a raga, climaxing in picking up the mukhada (refrain) to imaginatively arrive at the sam – that is how I see it.” In this succinct summary, Hindustani vocalist Satyasheel Deshpande, son of well-known music theorist Vamanrao Deshpande, both draws upon and goes beyond his father's analysis of the gharana phenomenon in khayal music. ‘Gharandaaz Gayaki' by Vamanrao Deshpande, translated into English as ‘Indian Musical Traditions' is still considered one of the finest attempts to analyse the differences between the gharanas in Khayal music.

Rich legacy

Besides the formative influence of his father's legacy, Satyasheel Deshpande also benefited from studentship under Pt. Kumar Gandharva. Kumar Gandharva himself trained under B.R. Deodhar who instilled in him awareness about the diversity of styles that abound in khayal.

Today, Deshpande is known for his thematic presentations as well as mehfils. A significant contribution of his is Samvaad, an archive of khayal music in Mumbai established in 1975 and registered as a public charitable trust in 1983. A project to document numerous musicians and musicologists was undertaken in 1984 and this was later supported by grants from The Ford Foundation, the Government of Maharashtra and the Central Government of India. Today, Samvaad has about 8,000 hours of music and about 3,000 annotated compositions. In an interview, Deshpande talks about his guru, gharanas and more…

On Kumar Gandharva's influence:

“Thanks to my father's obsession, I grew up listening to intense debates about gharanas. This gave me a broad outlook on the khayal form and its gharanas. Going to Pt. Kumar Gandharva was a natural extension of this. He was a mystery to me: he seemed to belong to no gharana and yet to every gharana! During the years that I stayed with him, he would urge us to not imitate his music but to understand his thoughts on music, go back to the roots by listening to old masters such as Faiyaz Khan sahib, and take it on our own from there. Another important contribution of Kumarji's was that he gave us deliverance from the ashtanga approach to khayal singing. Ashtanga is the well-known eight elements of khayal presentation. “From him, I derived the idea that the development of the raga should revolve around the bandish and the mood of the artist. and not be about belting out a set number of elements in an attempt to give an ‘exhaustive presentation.'

On gharanas:

“It is widely agreed that gharanas came into being because students imitated the voice of the founder. For instance, there was Abdul Karim Khan sahib who sang in a particular way with strong emphasis on emotion-charged swaras. Those who were inspired by him imitated his voice, but most likely restricted and negated their own voice capabilities. That is how gharanas came into being. Alladiya Khan sahib is another example. The primary feature of any gharana is the voice. What you deliver is a product of your imagination at that moment; but what you think is determined by the voice you have cultivated. I believe it is important to have a broad exposure to all the styles and find your own style, explore your strengths and possibilities.

“Music making anywhere in the world involves three things: sur, taal, and striking a balance between these two. I find beauty in every gharana and try to draw from each one of them. My music is the result of my listening to various masters.

On Samvaad and its role

“Samvaad houses only khayal – no instrumental music, no dhrupad. It is a product of my obsessive passion for understanding the various ways to approach khayal. The role of an archive such as Samvaad is important, especially today, because there are no set methods to teach our music. How do you teach taal kriya or sabdaaghaata for instance? The guru sings and the sishya absorbs, internalises and practises. One can only learn by listening. That is where the archives make our music accessible.

On Carnatic music:

“Hindustani musicians can learn a lot from Carnatic music. The sruti and gamaka are wonderful. True artistry lies not in doing many things but doing a few things thoughtfully and aesthetically. Today, nobody tries to or even wants to become an artist – a kalakar. They want concerts and they tailor their music to suit what they perceive as audience taste.

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