Saturday, April 7, 2012

Debt Collector's Blues: Ustad Rashid Khan

Rampur Raza Library

In the late 18th century the Pashtun clans known as the Rohilla Afghans created a spot of bother for the grand Nawab of Awadh.  The Nawab’s forces had, a few years previous, loaned the Rohillas a substantial bit of cash to support their fight against the rampaging Maratha fighters coming up from the western parts of India.  It was a time of chaos. Lots of wars. Everyone was jockeying for power as the once mighty Mughal Empire began its rather rapid decline.

The Rohillas turned the Nawab’s debt collectors away when they came asking to be repaid which left no option but to crush the bastards. The Rohillas, who had settled for the best part of a century in several districts of what is now Uttar Pradesh, were scattered and shattered. The only substantial group to survive was led by one Faizullah Khan who set up shop in the town of Rampur.  Under his ‘strong’ leadership the new state of Rampur became an island of enlightened rule and luxurious consumption surrounded by a pretty bleak and poor countryside.

Faziullah Khan’s rule was stable which made the economy flourish. As did the protection and active support of the British, who had a habit of supporting pliant local rulers. The city state became one of the main centers, along with Lucknow (Awadh), for the consumption of luxury goods, especially woolen paisley shawls.  The arts and learning were sponsored by the court and an amazing collection of manuscripts and books, the Rampur Raza Library, was preserved in a royal palace.  A Rampur gharana (school) of classical gayiki (singing) emerged under the guidance of Ustad Mehboob Khan.

Tonight the Washerman’s Dog highlights the contemporary scion of the house of Rampur, Ustad Rashid Khan.  Born in 1966 he initially showed little interest in singing or music but under the wing of his uncle Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan who recognized genius amidst the youngster’s humming (how, don’t ask me), Rashid blossomed.  Today he is widely regarded as one of the finest classical vocalists in South Asia and indeed, none other than the iconic Pandit Bhimsen Joshi stated the survival of the form was ‘assured’ as long as Rashid Khan kept singing.

This double disc set is one of the recent brilliant releases by India’s National Center for the Performing Arts.  As you listen and absorb this sublime music spare a thought and note of thanks for Faizullah Khan, who all those years ago, didn’t pay his debts but more than made up for it by gifting to the world the Rampur gharana.

            Track Listing:
            (Disc 1)
01 Raga Basant (Piya Sang Kheloon)
02 Raga Marwa
03 Raga Jhinjhoti (Tarana)
04 Raga Basant Bahar

Listen here.

            Track Listing:
            (Disc 2)
            01 Raga Bhoopali
02 Raga Shuddh Kalyan
03 Raga Puriya Kalyan
04 Raga Kirwani

Listen here.

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