Sunday, September 11, 2011

Genius of Gwalior: Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan

Sometimes in those happy and slow weeks around Christmas and New Year my dad would pack the family up into the grey Ambassador and drive us southward into the scratchy hills of the old Princely State of Rewa.  The Maharaja of Rewa was famous for raising white tigers, which have since become famous around the world as well as synonymous with Indian royalty.

Long before that the court of Rewa was home to a conflicted man from Afghanistan who traded horses by day and played beautiful music when the sun went down.  Mohammad Hashmi Khan of the Bangash clan of Afghanistan Pathans carried with him an instrument known as the rubab.  An instrument that sits comfortably in the player’s lap the sarod (India’s version of the rubab) has a lean and clean sound which like the sarangi has a strong melodic quality akin to the human voice.  Bangash settled in Rewa, after giving up his day job, and became the progenitor of a long line of master sarodiyas (sarod players) of which Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan is surely the most accomplished.

By the time he was born in the late 19th century his line of the family was under the patronage of the Maharaja of Gwalior, another royal state south of Agra. Born out of wedlock and therefore under a dark social sky, Hafiz Ali Khan had to overcome more barriers than most of his peers to attain a position in the Maharaja’s court. But he did. And once he began performing publicly audiences would be in awe of his physical presence and charisma and charmed by his inventive virtuosity on the sarod. Given the strong dominance of vocal music in that era, his wide acclaim and fame added to his aura.  Apart from his formidable command over traditional sarod compositions, dhrupad and thumri, Hafiz Ali Khan was particularly appreciated in the Viceregal firmament of colonial India for his unique, stylized renditions of God Save The King on his sarod. This tradition of performing sacred, religious and official state hymns on the sarod is kept alive by his illustrious son, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan as well as grandsons Amaan and Ayaan.(wikipedia)

These recordings were made by All India Radio, the somewhat strict guardian of musical taste and appreciation in the early decades of India’s Independence.  Many classical musicians, especially of Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan’s era, at first demurred from performing in the studio. They didn’t like its anonymous distance from a live, well educated audience. Neither did they think the abbreviated timeslots allocated for their art (rarely more than 30 minutes) did their music any justice.  Sometimes trickery was resorted to by frustrated producers.  One prominent vocalist, insisted that his rendition of a particular raga would need no less than 90 minutes, and that he only would sing if allotted this amount. The producers agreed and set the man to singing. But they did not turn on the mikes until he was well into his alap. Then when the scheduled 30 minutes were over the microphones were turned off. The Ustad sang on for the full hour and half oblivious to the crime that had been committed against his art.

Therefore, the three selections on this (otherwise) wonderful recording do tend to ‘fade out’ rather abruptly! All those AIR engineers trying to be sneaky!

            Track Listing:
01.   Raga Mian ki Malhar
02.   Raga Sanjh Tarini
03.   Raga Bhairavi
Listen here.


bala said...

thanks a lot for this rare collection.

Please post some more of Begum Akhtar if you have.


ajnabi said...

Bala, you are welcome. I will be posting more Begum Akhtar in the near future, as well.