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Mr. Vibhaker Baxi: The Music of India

Mr. Vibhaker Baxi founded Navras Records Ltd. in 1992 when Britain was recovering from the throes of recession. His talk did not disappoint, and it was clear that this man had an infectious passion for Indian classical music, after discussing at dinner all its links with Western classical and choral music, such as its use of scores and conductors, as well as the Hindi music business within global society itself, which he felt was being hindered by the mass popularity of the Bollywood genre. Mr. Baxi chose to specialise in the North Indian Hindustani form of music, and not the Mathila, Tamil, Sinhalese and Gujarati music of the South known as the Carnatic form, originating in the state of Karnataka.

The first sound of the night was a characteristic chant of the Sanskrit vocalised note ‘Om’, which was deep and euphonious, truly a spiritual and cosmic sound. Here Mr. Baxi explained the Vedic heritage of Indian classical music, arising from the Natya Shastra, a text written to explain the aesthetic structures of what music should have been in Dravidic society, and what moods the different ragas were meant to evoke. From three tonal chants a music scale evolved, forming the raga system. Initially Indian classical music was spiritual music, epitomised in the sinuous, auguristic Dhrupad form (which had the liet motif of the alap, jor & jhala phraseology at the beginning of a particular tempo), then developing into the raga.

What distinguishes Indian classical music from Western forms is its use of microtones, or shrutis. Whereas Western keyboards would be divided into tones and semitones, Indian music had evolved an extra 10 sounds which were produced from the extreme tilting of the voice, seen when sitar players often bend their strings to extortionate lengths in order to compel an almost inebriated sound from their instrument. When playing a sample where the singer was trying to bring out the brutal lashings of a storm and rain in the air, one could easily hear the deliberate distortion of the voice put on in order to create sensuous epiphenomenal effects, the breathiness to evoke the patter of rain and the dragging of the voice to show the swirling and tempestuous wind. In this way, all Indian music could be explained by rasa theory, which assigns moods or mental states associated with expressions in performing arts. The nine rasas were ‘romantic, comic, pathetic, wrathful, heroic, terrifying, odious, wondrous and peaceful’, all articulating a sense of pulchritude within a metaphysical realm.

Ragas are always improvised – no music is ever written down and it is up to the maestro to remember how the tune and rhythm of a piece goes. Thus, ragas are so specified that a morning raga can only be played in a specific quartile of the day and the same goes for an evening raga – these are classified by what moods special notes and their combinations evoke, such as the soporific sound of an afternoon raga for the languid, scorching siesta. Rhythmic patterns or time cycles are called taals, as Hindi music like its philosophy is focused in cycles and circularity, contingent plural motion in a unified sphere.

Later Mr. Baxi elaborated on the different genres of Hindustani classical music. He mentioned the Khayal and its embellishment on numinous sounds which were originally from the contemplative Persian kingdom in the 13th century, rooted in Rumi and Sufism. Its esoteric and melancholy lyrics cover diverse topics such as divine love, separation of lovers, seasons, praise of patrons and religious themes. Then there were the Ghazals based on Urdu poems by Tagore, Mira Bai, Kabir  & Tulsidas, and the Qawwali made popular by the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Islam had such an influence on Indian classical music even though its states banned cultural expression of this form seeing it to be anarchical).

Mr. Baxi gave a truly magnificent talk on a vibrant subject which touched the hearts of those in the room. With a phlegmatic air, he talked with elasticity on the raga, India’s famed musical gift to the world. It was clear to me that artists like Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, Sri Hariprasad Chaurasia & Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, with their versions of the Raga Kalyan & Tilak Kamod on the various instruments like the santoor, sarod & tabla have provided the world with a kaleidoscope on what emotions music has the capacity to educe in us.


Dhruv Ghulati

DATE POSTED: 13 February 2009

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