Tribute to the Tabla Maestro

Indian Music Festival and Mridangraj held a two-day festival of Indian classical music at the Nehru Centre as a ‘shraddhanjali’ to the late Ustad Niazu Khan Sahab, doyen of the Ajrada Gharana (Tabla). It was the sixth edition of the annual festival. Various artistes came together to play and pay tribute, which sadly, was only peppered with a meagre audience of music lovers.

Day One featured vocal music by Kumari Kaushiki Joglekar, tabla solo by Ustad Fazal Allarakha Qureshi, (son of the legendary Ustad Allarakha Khan Sahab), and a sitar recital by Purbayan Chatterjee. The second day opened (albeit 45 minutes behind time) with a flute recital by Pandit Ronu Muzumdar, one of the musicians responsible for popularising the instrument across the country to the lay audience. He was accompanied on the tabla by the extremely young and dynamic Mukundraj Deoji, and on the flute by Kalpesh.

Ronuji played the evening Raag Marwa, which when heard in the twilight hours, sounds profoundly mellow and reflective. He played two bandishes, in Dhamar and Teen taal, the jod, jhala and alaap mellifluously melding as he displayed amazing lung power in his effortless mastery over the flute. There was a lot of virtuosity in the alaap, making it immensely appreciated. The ability to create the sweetest sound to human ears in the playing of the age-old bansuri, is a skill affiliated with the gods. Mukundraj’s table-playing was dynamic, even aggressive, but the flute and the tabla bonded in easy synchronicity. The fast paced alaaps (at the continued speed of an express train) were literally breathtaking, as Ronuji caressed lyrical notes out of his flute.

Ronuji ended with a short bandish in Khamaj, with a folksy lilt, and a sweetness that had the audience want for more.

The second part of the evening had Pandit Mridangraj and his disciple Ojas Adhiya on the tabla, the Guru and Shishya, in perfect harmony. In just 20 minutes, with the deftness of their fingers flying across the tabla and dagga, they treated the audience to a veritable storehouse of popular as well as anvat (rare) taals, each rhythmic interplay preceded by a layman’s explanation, whilst also engaging the audience throughout the spellbinding changes in laya as well as taal.

The evening concluded with a vocal duet by Sangeet Martand Ustad Dilshad Khan (of the Patiala Gharana) and Sangeet Samragini Begum Parveen Sultana(of the Kirana Gharana). Since her association with Ustad Dilshad Khan Sahab, Parveenji’s music has assimilated the best of both Gharanas. Together and individually, these living legends boast an incredible list of accomplishments, accolades and awards, that could easily fill a large tome. Both these priceless artistes are renowned for voices that traverse the gamut across five octaves, and which Parveenji did display as the evening wore on. They started with Raag Rageshri, Vilambit khayal , Saguna vichar, followed by a Drut, she full throated, and he bass. Both their voices were in excellent form. They concluded with Bhavani Dayani in Bhairavi, and as she sang the names of the various forms of the Devi, it felt like honey flowing off her tongue, a rich, matured, sweet pure golden experience. Pitch perfect!

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Suguna Sundaram belongs to the rare breed of writers in English who review Indian classical music and dance. A trained classical musician and dancer, Suguna has over three decades of experience as a writer. Interestingly, her day jobs over the years have been with all things commercial, including being editor of some of the most popular (and boldest) film fanzines. Suguna Sundaram reviews Indian classical music and dance on Xyngr.