of the most important event in the realm of Hindustani classical
music took place last year with the release of 'Ananya', a double
disc comprising 2 hr. 12 min. music of Ustad Amir Khan (25th February
1912-13th February 1974). Released by Navras Records in 'The Great
Masters' series, these rather fragile but rare private concert recordings
of the Ustad now find their their place where they belong--the hearts
and minds of the listeners of Hindustani music. To many followers
of Amir Khan's music, it comes like a true revival.
many historical events of great worth, whose significance is realised
and re-constructed much later, this event too passed rather without
much notice, except in Calcutta--the city where Ustad spent his
most important and final years of his life. 'Ananya' rescues, 25
years after Amir Khan's death, his priceless gayaki in Raga Yaman,
Hamsadhwani, Puriya and Abhogi from going into oblivion. His rendering
of Raga Yaman (43:21min.) shines through the haze of numerous schools,
conventions, renderings and interpretations, makes them look like
half-hearted attempts, and appears so definitive that it will be
difficult for musicians in future to emulate or ignore it.
is just not a piece of gayaki (vocal music); it is a revelation.
Amir Khan had done to Yaman what he had earlier done to Raga Marwa,
Megh, Hamsadhwani and Nand: he has made it all his own.
minutes into this monumental piece of singing he suddenly feels
it important to remind listeners that he is singing a very old bandish
of khayal--a Persian rubai of Amir Khusro, that it is very old indeed.
Now, we know that there was no khayal in 13th century; the genre
was made popular only in 18th, and that Amir Khusro's rubai that
he is singing was never used as a bandish of khayal before! It has
been an old habit or strategy of Hindustani musicians to hide their
originality and seek legitimacy for their innovations and feats
of individual creativity by attributing them to ancient sources.
The true genius of Amir Khan lies not in his classicism and traditionalism
(he was a master of both yet disregrded them at will) but in the
revolutionary changes he brought into the very mode of Raga presentation
and singing style. He was the most profound, original, intellectual,
meditative, democratic-humanist and critically aware vocalist in
the entire history of Hindustani music.
we have said Amir Khan was not a destroyer of tradition. He simply knew what to do with it. Most
musicians before him did not know that and many do not even today.
He was original without being jerky, and was a traditionalist without
being parochial or bigoted. He was great builder and a great dreamer.
He understood the essence of the Indian cultural tradition lies
in continuously evolving multicultural and shared heritage of which
the Hindustani classical music was the finest example, and to which
he contributed almost as much as--if not more than--anybody else.
being rooted in the ethos of post-independent Indian society and
contemporary concerns and tensions, his music transcends his age
and his time in a way all great art does. Once some people in a
group were informally debating the relative merits and demerits
of various gharanas (schools or traditions) and practitioners
of Hindustani music. As always the question was raised about Ustad
Amir Khan's place in the scheme of Hindustani music and the exact
significance of his gayaki. A young admirer of Ustad asserted that
Amir Khan was perhaps the greatest musicians of this tradition that
we know of. There was instant disapproval; some people asked: what
about Tansen? Baiju Bawra? Swami Haridas? etc. Others asked, more
reasonably, what this follower of Amir Khan thought, for instance,
of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Fayyaz Khan, Ustad Bade Ghulam
Ali Khan, The two 'Pandits' (VD Paluskar and DV Paluskar), the two
Dagars (Moinuddin and Aminuddin), Ustad Alladiya Khan, Ustad Mushtaq
Hussain Khan, Ustad Rajab Ali Khan, Kesarbai Kerkar, and, of course,
Begum Akhtar. Faced with this barrage, the youngman responded in
a much subdued voice that Amir Khan may not be the greatest musician
of 20th century by the criteria, standards or parameters that have
evolved in this century (may be Abdul Karim Khan or Fayyaz Khan
or Kesarbai are greater), but on the scale of a millenium, on a
larger civilisational canvas, Amir Khan would still be the greatest
Hindustani musician of all time. To his surprise this point was
generally conceded and even applauded by the cognoscenti. This incident
does underline the way in which the quiet genius of Amir Khan has
irresistably come to symbolise the very soul of Hindustani music.
have chosen some excerpts from the available
recordings to pay tribute to Amir Khan at the turn of the millenium.