Sunday, 13 April 2008

Review: Mashkoor Ali Khan, New Jersey Concert (1999)

Concert: Mashkoor Ali Khan - Princeton Junction, New Jersey - 29 October 1999

Review by Chetan Vinchhi

Mashkoor Ali Khan has enviable Kirana pedigree. But his 1999 concert in New Jersey belied his roots. The air was agog with excitement at the prospect of hearing a direct descendent of Kirana gharana pioneers Abdul Karim Khan and Abdul Wahid Khan. But what does air know, huh? This is a partial review of his performance.

Well past the due time, Mashkoor Ali Khan tuned the tanpura and the surmandal, flanked on his left by Anand Gopal Bandopadhyay on the tabla and on his right by Jyoti Goho on the harmonium. As he casually plucked the surmandal, the Kalyan scale emerged. He started a brief alaap in Marubihag, a good choice for the opening item! This was the first time I was hearing him. His voice has a pleasant texture. Everything kosher so far.

The brief alaap morphed into the the canonical 'rasiya maane naa'. For the first few minutes, the raag structure was held together by the mukhada itself. After that, the mutilation began. There was no palpable design to the raaga presentation. The customary Kirana treatment of sur was conspicuous by its absence. There was a lot of sargam gayaki. In fact almost all his melodic gestures comprised of sargam! The lack of structure was reinforced by the way the taar shadaj was hurled rather gracelessly at us.

The antara was not even sung and there was no development of the antara ang and the laya increased. The faster laya gave MAK the opportunity to diplay some fearsome 'fast-fast' sargam taans. The whole aural spectacle was akin to a WWF wrestling match. And MAK was all over the poor swaras. Thus ended the baDa khayal without any aakaar taans whatsoever!

The chhoTa khayal was just a teentaal version of the latter part of the vilambit. The only faint saving grace was MAK's better facility with the drut laya. Finally, thankfully, the raag ended, the drut also without the antara being sung. Quite easily the worst Marubihag I have had the misfortune of hearing.

The second piece started with drut ektaal tarana in what was intended to be Desh. This is such an evocative melody, but the singer could not summon the romance. Chhayaas of various raags flitted in and out of the presentation, quite possibly accidentally.

We were truly in the presence of greatness that evening. Halfway through the Desh, Vilayat Khansahib walked in. Things came to a standstill as everybody recognized him. After he had settled down, the artists asked for his ijaazat to sing and continued the tarana. Most of the development here too was in the form of sargam. By now, this was par for the course. This was followed by a bandish in ati-drut jhaptaal. This was my first exposure to the taal at that laya in a classical context and I must say it sounds quite nice.

In the brief interval, Vilayat Khan-sahib was seen chatting with the artists. I fantasized about this being a spot tutorial in Desh and allied melodies!

The second half began with Darbari. It was unfortunate that the singer had already spent considerable time in the upper registers and his voice refused to go back to the mandra swaras. I think he attempted the andolit mandra dhaivat once, but could not summon it with any authority. He never revisited the swara. In the subsequent boltaan, there was a brief andolan on the rishabh! There were such excesses galore for the remaining duration of the vilambit.

The general behavioral pattern was along the lines of what had transpired in the Marubihag. Two chhota khayals followed, one in drut teentaal bandish and one in ati-drut jhaptaal bandish (another one!). That was the end of the evening as far as I was concerned. Strains of a Khamaj thumri echoed through the house as we were leaving.

Anand Gopal Bandopadhyay was excellent on the tabla. Even his thekas sounded ever so sweet. His accompaniment was exemplary. Jyoti Goho on the harmonium was quite mediocre. His fingerwork was a little sticky. And was it just an illusion that he first introduced the chhaya of Tilak Kamod in the Desh presentation?

Mashkoor Ali Khan has a cultured voice. His range (especially on the higher side) is very good - he could go to the ati-taar shadaj. But that day's performance betrayed a serious lack of tayyari or at least riyaz.

He attempted a few aakaar taans, but his voice simply wouldn't move, although his head did the requisite oscillations. I think he completed the evening without a single respectable taan! His sense of laya is a little shaky in the vilambit (e.g. he invented the 'chauthaa_ii' in the Darbari baDa khayal). He is a lot more comfortable in the faster laya.

If raagdari is defined as the ability to paint a convincing picture of raaga, he was severly lacking in that department. Perhaps he was just having a bad day, but everything was going wrong and he seemed to be blissfully unaware. If I were to pass judgment based on this performance, he has squandered the heritage of an illustrious lineage.


james said...

Nice review Chetan. I attended a concert of his in Mumbai a few years ago and had a similar experience- never again! I do though have some very nice solo recordings of his father. All those years at SRA, what happened? I believe he has been taken up as "khalifa" by the American sufis, formerly devoted to Pt.Pran Nath, so should have no ego or financial difficulties! James

Chetan Vinchhi said...

Thanks for your comment, James. I am not sure what taalim he got at SRA, from whom etc.

This khalifa-hood looks to be a strange phenomenon, dependent more on genes than on genius.

Abhik Majumdar said...

> I am not sure what taalim he got at SRA, from whom etc.

This is what the ITCSRA site says:

"After his father’s death, Mashkoor joined the ITC Sangeet Research Academy in 1984 as a musician scholar to further develop his undiluted style of Kirana gayaki."

About what this is supposed to mean, go figure.

Chetan Vinchhi said...

Thanks for the detective work, Abhik. It would be interesting to know which Kiranites were teaching actively at SRA in 1984. A.T.Kanan perhaps? Who else?

Anonymous said...

Mashkoor Ali has been infamous for years for singing only sargam! I heard it about him already ten years ago. I am sad to hear it’s still all he does.

Stephenie said...

Great work.

Anonymous said...

I once asked a very reputed musician at ITC SRA as to who mashkoor Ali Khan learnt from. The response was "woh swayambhoo hain" !