Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rasoolan Bai: Jaawe Man Najar Nahin Aaye

Rasoolan Bai (1902 – 1974) was a classical tawaif of the Benaras gharana. She specialized in the romantic Purabi Ang  - Eastern Arm - of the Thumri and Tappa musical genres.

The Tappa is a form of Indian semi-classical vocal music. Its specialties are its rolling pace and its knotty construction. The tunes are melodious; intended to mimic the emotions of a forlorn - perhaps God-obsessed - lover.

Tappas originated in folk songs of camel riders of Punjab. The style was refined and introduced to the imperial court of the Mughal Emperor Mohammad Shah 'Rangeela' in the 1720s; and thence to the court of Asaf-ud-Daulah, Nawab of Awadh. It then spread to Benaras and Bengal. In Bengal, Ramnidhi Gupta's compositions form a genre called Nidhu Babu's Tappas. Tappa gayaki took new shape in Bengal, and, over the decades, became puratani, a popular semi-classical form of Bengali vocal music.

Rasoolan Bai was born in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, in a poor family, of a musical mother - Adalat. At the age of five, her prodigy was recognized and she was sent to learn music from Ustad Shammu Khan, and later from the sarangiyas Ashiq Khan and Ustad Najju Khan. She became an expert in tappa singing and went on to dominate the Hindustani classical music genre for next five decades, basing herself in Varanasi and becoming the doyenne of Benaras gharana. In 1948, she stopped performing mujra, moved out of her kotha, married a sari dealer, and moved into a bylane.

Below, Rasoolan Bai sings a tappa in Raga Gaud Sarang. The lyrics are very simple:

Jaawe man, najar nahin aaye -
(Dhhondhata phirat nisi-din, sun Miyo.)

My mind goes (to Him), my eyes do not see (Him)
I look (for Him) night-and-day; listen, Master.

This material was morphed by Sachin-karta into his Ghum Bhulechhi Nijhhum,  and from there into Hum Bekhudi Mein Tumko Pukare Chale Gaye, where it is sung in a cousin-raga, the Chhayanat. The ragas Kedar, Gaud Sarang, and Chhayanat have very similar melodic movements.

Rasoolan Bai was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in Hindustani music Vocal in 1957 by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy of Music, Dance and Theatre. Despite an illustrious musical career, she died in penury, running a small tea shop out of a hovel next to the radio station from where she had often broadcast in her heyday.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Moujuddin Khan: Bajawa Re Baar Baar Baje

The defeat of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 led to the collapse of centers of cultural patronage in Awadh, Agra and Delhi. The famous courtesans of the age moved around in search of benefactors to Benares or Kolkata. Victoria Hemmings - the famous Maika Jaan - and her daughter (by one dry-ice engineer named William Yeoward) Angelina better known as Gauhar Jaan - are two famous singers who followed this trajectory.

Between the 1870s and 1930s, Benares came into its own as a center for classical or semi-classical music. This was the age of Rasoolan Bai, Siddeshwari, Moti Bai; the thumri in Eastern-style or Purbi-ang reached its zenith. Veshya-Stotra written by Babu Bacchu Singh in the 1890s lists over 100 tawaifs or courtesans, each of whom would conduct a mehfil every few days.

Compared to the teentaal based regular beats of the courts of Oudh, Benares preferred the irregular 1-2-3/1-2-3-4 deepchandi. The lyrics and melodic span were simple, the goal was a contemplative depth of emotion. Boating parties carrying the singers and their patrons would ply the Ganges all night. A music lover was to lament in 1979:

Ah - at 2 in the night - Siddeshwari in one boat, Kashi Bai in another, Rasoolan in a third. Each singing different ragas - one a chaiti in Jogiya. Sometimes all three boats would come together, sometimes they would all float separately. People would forget where they were going. Where are those days now?

Below, Reba Muhury (who sang Mohey Lagi Lagan in Satyajit Ray's Benares-based Jai Baba Felunath) revives a thumri from that era. The composition is attributed by Smt. Muhury to Moujuddin Khan Saheb, the guru of the Elder Moti Bai. The simple - even rustic - lyrics describe the wedding procession of Rama and Sita in Awadh. It is sung with an artlessness that is the art, and contrasts with the sensual histrionics of the other styles of singing.

Bajawa re baar baar baje
Awadh mein
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Pragat char bhaiyya
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Behak saaj saaje.
Raja Dasarath ati sukhat bhayo
Kanchan roupya det lutaiyyan.
Puranari sab harash bhar
Abir gulal det udaiyyan.

The strings and pipes they play and play
O - in Awadh
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Proceed the brothers four
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Beguilingly decked all o'er.
King Dasarath, so happy is
Of gold and silver he the strewer.
Women-folk of town in joy
Let colors fly in the air.