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When it rains ragas

For Kumar Gandharva, folk music and classical music were never watertight genres. His broad, generous vision informs this theme compilation

How we celebrate the rains! The music of India is rich in rain compositions. This wealth inspired Kumar Gandharva to do a theme concert in 1978. Music Today has just remastered the Delhi concert and released it in three volumes. It is also their tribute to the unorthodox maestro, who would have turned 75 in April this year.

This compilation is not just about that popular rain raga, Malhar. It derives from genres as varied as folk, khayal and bhajan and the ragas too offer diversity.

For Kumar Gandharva, folk and classical music were never watertight genres. He always went to folk music for ideas that could enrich his classical repertoire. He approached folk music with love and humility, and believed it was hard for classically trained singers to capture its unpredictable cadences.

Music Today has produced this compilation under its Parivar Parampara series which highlights musical families. Here Kumar Gandharva sings with wife Vasundhara Komkali.

Vol 1 opens with a composition about the shimmering, unbearable heat. Raga Marwa rises to the tense komal rishabh (flat second) and plunges to the despairing lower shuddha dhaivat (the sixth), constantly frustrating the desire for repose. The raga thus rarely touches sa, the tonic note. Kumar Gandharva's anguished rendering expresses the restlessness of hot, pre-monsoon days.

He takes us through short pieces in raga Surat Desh and Gaud Malhar, representing the gathering of clouds and the sound of thunder.

Besides two compositions in Mia Malhar, this tape also features a couple of folk songs Kumar Gandharva picked up from the Malwa region, where he lived.

Volume 2 covers the rainy month of saawan, whose repertoire includes songs of separation and frolic. In Ho saiba, Kumar Gandharva sings the chromatic descent, so characteristic of folk songs, with great feeling. Jaladhar Basanti is Kumar Gandharva's name for raga Basanti Kedar of the Jaipur gharana, and he sings a short piece in it. The thumri-style Main kaise aaoon talks of the rain as a spoilsport between lovers. It draws from two ragas popular with thumri singers: Khamaj and Pilu.

Vasundara Komkali sings all compositions in Volume 3. Her voice is strong and expressive, and it's a pity we have heard so little of her. She may not launch into spontaneous, unconventional flights like Kumar Gandharva, but the folk spirit inspires her just as much. She opens with Rahi, a raga Kumar Gandharva created from a folk melody: Aaja re kantha is a strikingly attractive composition. It sways to folk dissonance, and brings to mind Kumar Gandharva's approach to Ho saiba in the previous volume. She sings six compositions in all, ending with a slow-paced tarana in raga Gara.

This is a compilation Kumar Gandharva's admirers will cherish. It is a full-scale musical narrative, replete with compositions of languour, pain and celebration. The sleeve notes by Bandana Malhotra are elaborate and evocative.

S R Ramakrishna

Kumar Gandharva/Vasundhara Komkali
Parivar Parampara Series
Rs 65 each (3 volumes)
Music Today

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