Classical music of the Indian
subcontinent is based on two central principles, ‘sur’ (musical note) and
‘lai’ (rhythm). The systematic organisation of musical notes into a scale
is known as a ‘raag’. Each raag is distinguished from the other by a
variety of features including the number of notes it consists of, the ascent and descent of
the scale, and special emphasis on particular notes. Music is heavily dependent on
feeling and emotion and Indian classical music is no different. Each individual
raag has its own character and personality, in order for the true feeling or ethos to be conveyed to the
listener, a particular time is
ascribed to each raag whilst some raags are even suited to a particular season.
Tabla Wizard Ustad Zakir
The arrangement of rhythm (lai)
in a cycle is known as ‘taal’. Each composition is set to a rhythmic cycle,
the first beat of each rhythm cycle is known as the 'sum' and great stress is
placed upon it. Over the years, the importance of the rhythm accompanists has
increased and they are encouraged to improvise and undertake short solo pieces
during the performance. The main rhythm instrument used for accompaniment is the
tabla. The likes of Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa, Ustad Alla Rakha and his genius son, Ustad Zakir Hussain
have been responsible for transforming the tabla into a popular solo instrument.
Improvisation plays a major role
during a performance. The success of a performance depends on how creative and
imaginative the performing artiste is. The artiste has to continuously develop
and improvise the performance and yet be careful that the overall mood and
structure of the performance is not spoilt. A competent vocalist will always
make sure that the correct structure of the raag is maintained whilst
order to retain the purity of the scale.
The major genres of classical
music in the sub-continent are dhrupad and khayal. Dhrupad is sadly approaching
extinction in Pakistan despite the tenacity of vocalists Ustad Hafeez Khan and
Ustad Afzal Khan who have managed to keep this art form alive. Khayal is by far the most popular genre of
classical music in North India and Pakistan.
The majority of classical musicians are from hereditary families and belong to a
'gharana'. A gharana can be considered to be a school of thought by which a
musical style is preserved, taught and propagated to subsequent generations. A
gharana’s success depends on how strongly it retains its distinct style,
repertoire and techniques whilst incorporating fresh ideas without altering the
authenticity. The gharanas flourished during the rule of nawabs and maharajahs
who actively patronised the arts. The major gharanas of khayal are Qawwal Baccha,
Agra, Kirana, Rampur, Patiala, Delhi, Kirana and Shamchaurasi. The gharana system and
indeed classical music are in a process
of decay in Pakistan. The lack of patronage and the decline of
hereditary musicians taking up classical music has led to classical music
becoming a static art form. The situation in neighboring India is faring better, mainly because of active promotion of classical music to the masses.
Over the years this has resulted in a growing number of musicians from educated and
prominently middle class backgrounds outnumbering hereditary musicians as
Light classical music genres are
thumri, ghazal, tappa and kafi. Very often performers conclude their recitals
with a light classical piece. Ghazal is very popular in both India and Pakistan,
mainly due to the fact that it combines romantic Urdu poetry with music.
Artistes such as Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, Mehdi Hassan, Begum Akhtar, Farida Khanum and
Ghulam Ali have been responsible for raising the status of ghazal singing to be
bracketed as a light classical genre.
Click the links below for
raags and instruments.
Ghazalnawaz Ustad Mehdi