Pioneer performer

Pioneer performer

Maestro

Pioneer performer

A century ago, the by-lanes of Indore had seen the growth of the Bhendi Bazaar Gharana, a term that had been coined from the staid connotation ‘the bazaar behind the Fort’, referring to the Fort surroundings in Bombay.

More importantly, it was the chosen place of residence of Ustad Shahmir Khan, a sarangi and veena player of this order. To him was born on August 15, 1912 a son, Amir Khan, who is regarded today as the greatest exponent of Hindustani classical music in our times.

The late ustad came from a distinguished lineage for even his grandfather had been a court singer at the Mughal court of the Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and right from his childhood, Ustad Amir Khan had been initiated into the culture of the mehfil or musical soiree as their home in Indore was the venue of a regular mehfil of top performers every Friday after the customary Jume ki Namaz.

Perhaps it was this experience that led Ustad Amir Khan into a conscious decision to forge a new path, wrapping up the highlights of the music of the greats rather than the gharana per se.

Thus this latter day ustad has definitely became a pioneer performer of his times, for in the early years of the last century, a musician was known by his legacy as much as by his performance qualities, unlike the tendency today, when a musician’s recognition is along more ambivalent lines.

As gharana attachments were still a necessary passport into the music world, the late ustad, according to his senior pupil Pandit Tejpal Singh, had called his original style of merger as the Indore Gharana, as the ustad was a resident of the city at that time.

Major influences

The major influences in his music stemmed from three distinct sources. His command over the vilambit or slow-paced introductory khayal was after that of the late Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan of the Kirana Gharana. There was a slow-paced grandeur born of straight notes, graduated development and an unhurried pace where there was ample space for improvisation and the creation of an aura of serenity in which the character of each note of the raga invoked a spiritual presence.

There was the straightforward serenity of the dhrupad connected to his rendition at this stage. But more essentially it was the character of his merukhand singing that became his hallmark characteristic. It required the assimilation of the very colour and spirit of a raga, for every note of the raga was presented through combinations and permutations in a manner that the end result appeared to be a mathematical presentation with an artistic underbelly.

When he branched into the next stage of exposition, namely the syllabic patterning of taans, both through the enunciation of each note and through verbal snippets of the khayal passage, there appeared on his music the influence of the late Ustad Rajab Ali Khan of the Indore Gharana.

The taans had a quicksilver quality but were combined with amazing clarity and perfect enunciation and the late Ustad Rajab Ali Khan, who had been a performer at the Friday mehfils, complimented the young ‘Amir beta’ (as he affectionately called him), with a rare acquiescence that if one wanted to know the quality of the music of Ustad Rajab Ali Khan in his youth, he should hear the music of young Amir Khan!

Soulful rendition

When young Ustad Amir Khan had moved from Indore to Bombay, he had been very closely associated with Ustad Aman Ali Khan whose musical influence laid its stamp on the late ustad’s gayaki merukhand badhat. Yet, when the taan expositions took over, there appeared flashes of genius in the fast-paced exposition audiences in Kolkata had remained riveted and mesmerised.

And when they could not find an entry into the concert hall premises, they spent entire nights on nearby park benches, regaling in the music of Ustad Amir Khan through the loudspeakers blaring around the concert area.

The evocative serenity that he managed to retain even in  the most electrifying of musical passages was nowhere more evident than in his rendition of the tarana. As Pandit Tejpal Singh recalls, “It was the rubai dar tarana concept that my guru Ustad Amir Khan expounded. Each syllable of the tarana was clearly enunciated, for, according to him, if one listened to the sounds with concentration, they became meaningful messages of spirituality.”

Known as an ustad whose craftsmanship mellowed with grace and artistry instead of dexterity, a unique revelation of his true spiritual nature, according to Pandit Tejpal Singh, was the master’s introductory syllable ‘La’. It was a short form of the word Allah for according to the Pandit, music for his guru was a channel of philosophy and not a stage performance.

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