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END OF AN ERA

Carrying forward a tradition

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CHOSEN ONE: Joshi once called Rashid Khan the 'hope of Hindustani music'

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was undoubtedly a titan of 20th century classical music. He hardly performed in the first decade of the 21st century. Over the last many years, stricken by illness, he had not appeared on the concert stage. When a true giant like him passes away, it is customary for distraught connoisseurs and music lovers to say that the void created by his death will be difficult to fill. Certainly, it will be almost impossible to find a replacement for a towering singer like him. His virtuosity was such that he could hold his position as a leading musician for well over five decades. "The excellency of every art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeable disappear, " poet John Keats had said. Bhimsen Joshi's music fit this definition of good art like a glove. However deep our grief over the death of titans such as Joshi, or before him Gangubai Hangal, it would be illogical to take a personality-centric view of a great classical tradition like Hindustani music. The fact is that this tradition has survived through all these centuries because it is rich and varied. It is the sheer multiplicity of talent that has kept this tradition alive and vibrant. It continued to thrive after the demise of the greats of yesteryear such as D V Paluskar and Ustad Amir Khan. It follows then that it will continue to do so even after we lose this generation of living masters.

There are, of course, the "junior" contemporaries of Joshi who are capable of taking charge of the legacy: Pandit Jasraj, Laxman Pandit, Sharad Sathe and many others are still around and fit enough to turn in effective performances and inspire the younger generation of singers. The classical solidity that made Joshi what he was can still be savoured in the music of this generation.

In terms of popularity, Rashid Khan of the Kirana gharana has emerged as the numero uno vocalist of today. His resonant and mature voice, his ability to plunge deep into a raga and his incredible stamina have earned him appreciation even from Joshi. The maestro was so indulgent of Rashid that he figured in a jugalbandi with the junior singer at a public concert. Joshi had called him the "great hope of Hindustani music", a big compliment coming from a colossus.

Music lovers were unanimous about Bhimsen Joshi's musical genius. Few other vocalists enjoy this kind of collective and undisputed admiration. In the earlier generation of musicians, there was D V Paluskar. His simplicity of expression and the brilliance of his rapid taan patterns would overwhelm the average listener as well as the afficionado.

Among the present generation of singers, the honour undoubtedly goes to Ulhas Kashalkar. All other singers have their share of avid fans and trenchant critics. Kashalkar has only admirers. The manner in which Kashalkar has integrated the music of three gharanas - Gwalior, Jaipur and Agra - is truly marvellous. His music appeals to the informed listeners but impresses the uninformed listeners as well. This has given him a wide fan base.

"His music is art music, well-fortified against a drift towards entertainment. It is engaging because of its structural soundness, melodic richness, rhythmic dexterity, and the transparency of communicative intent, " says music commentator and author Deepak Raja. That view is easily endorsable.

Ajoy Chakraborty, like Rashid Khan, is a product of the ITC Sangeet Research Academy. With an ability to reflect the nuances of the singing style of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Chakraborty has made his mark as a performing musician. He has trained with M Balamurali Krishna, the noted Carnatic singer, and this has broadened his horizons as a singer and lent further elasticity to his already astonishingly flexible vocals. The Rajan-Sajan Mishra duo has established itself firmly on the jugalbandi stage as have the dhrupad singers, the Gundecha brothers.

Uday Bhawalkar, the exponent of the dhrupad form, is another fine talent on the contemporary scene. His style of singing brings out the finest qualities of Dagarvani. I would say that Bhawalkar is undoubtedly the best dhrupad singer in the country today. His stentorian voice, complete command over the form and his serious approach to performance have all contributed to the continuous rise of his career graph. Singers like Shaunak Abhisheki, Raghunandan Panashikar and Sanjeev Abhyankar have also made their presence felt as performers on the contemporary stage.

This list may have concentrated only on men as worthy successors to the Joshi legacy, but there are several women singers who have kept the scene lively too. Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Padma Talwalkar, Shruti Sadolikar, Neela Bhagwat, Shubha Mudgal, Ashwini Bhide and Aarti Ankalikar, Devaki Pandit and Manjiri Alegaonkar are all above 50 and enjoy niche following. Among the younger women singers, Manjusha Kulkarni Patil, Manjiri Alegaonkar, Savani Shende, Meeta Pandit and Kaushiki Chakraborty are effervescent performers.

Amarendra Dhaneshwar is a musician and a music critic

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