Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Salamat Ali Khan: Ragas Gunkali, Saraswati, Durga
The British Nimbus label has released many recordings of classical music from the Indian subcontinent over the years and this very fine album of Hindustani vocal music, recorded in November 1990 at the label's studio at Monmouth, England, by the master Salamat Ali Khan and his sons, Sharafat and Shafqat, features three long ragas.
As pointed out in the notes, very helpful to an amateur (however enthusiastic) such as YHB, Hindustani music from northern India is also found in Pakistan, Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), Nepal and parts of Afghanistan. It is also observed that Muslims and Hindus are practitioners of the ghazal form of the music and often perform together despite the political differences that have driven the two groups apart.
Salamat and his brother Nazakat became known for their vocal duet performances from childhood in the early 1940s and were partners until 1974. Sharafat then began working with his father and Shafqat joined the two for this first recording session with this album. The partition of India in the late 1940s meant that the Khans moved to Pakistan and performed there for many years, although their return to India much later was widely hailed, as audiences recognized the brilliance of these amazing vocalists.
The first, the Gunkali, running over 20 minutes, highlights the singing of Shafqat and, while this was his debut on record, his vocal technique is outstanding with power, deft handling of complex lines, and beautifully-controlled tremolo as he navigates the tricky crescendos and diminuendos germane to the form.
On the half-hour Saraswati, Salamat and Sharafat sing with the elder Khan leading and the younger supporting beautifully. The song is filled with great technique and expressiveness, despite Salamat's recovery from a recent stroke, and his sons obviously learned well from their father's tutelage. The piece begins quietly and solemnly with the two vocalists accompanied by the harmonium before the tabla breaks in with a flourish at 3:45. From then on, the Khans work their magic with the fine underpinning by the instrumentalists.
The closing Durga, at a hair over 20 minutes, is a tour-de-force with Salamat and both his sons. The intertwining and harmonizing of their vocals is a wonder to behold and makes this wonderful song the highlight of the album, even through the other two ragas are remarkable on their own. The improvisations and vocal gymnastics are spectacular and the three frequently return together to the composed main vocal line. The tabla player also has the chance to demonstrate more of his skill here than on the other pieces.
The supporting musicians do an excellent job of providing the right balance of playing to buttress the singing of these masters and include Sharafat on harmonium, tabla player Ghulam Abbas Khan, who had accompanied Salamat and Nazakat from the age of 13, and tambura player Christian Ledoux.
The notes also have a useful history of the "khyal" or vocal music embodied by the disc and detailed explanations of the form of each raga.
For a novice, quickly absorbing what he can of the amazing variety, tradition and beauty of the music of India and Pakistan, this is another phenomenal recording among many that will be highlighted here. While Salamat Ali Khan died in 2004, his sons continue to work as ustads, or masters, in their field.