New lease of life for the Sarangi


New lease of life for the Sarangi

But of late, mainly due to interest shown by western musicians, and emergence of young Sarangi players like Kamal Sabri, the future of Sarangi seems bright. The word Sarangi is derived from two Hindi words — sau (hundred) and rang (colour). This is because the sound of the Sarangi is said to be as expressive and evocative as a hundred colours. Although its origins are unknown, many people believe that it became a
mainstream instrument in India in the mid 18th century.

The Sarangi has traditionally been used primarily for accompanying singers (shadowing the vocalist’s improvisations). Eminent maestros of the past included Bundu Khan, Nathu Khan, Sagiruddin Khan, Gopal Mishra and Shakoor Khan. In recent times it has being recognised as a solo instrument due to the efforts of Pandit Ram Narayan and Ustad Sabri Khan. Other current celebrated performers include, Sultan Khan, Kamal Sabri, Dhruba Ghosh and Aruna Narayan Kalle.

One of the reasons that the instrument has not been so popular is because it is one of the most difficult instruments to master. Unlike the Sitar, there are no frets, which means that every note has to be extracted from a thin string in a Sarangi. Another being Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali, who once became furious with his accompanist, Shakoor Khan, as the latter by his brilliant performance, captured the limelight of the concert. From then on, the great Ustad dispensed with a Sarangi player in his concerts. Before long, other vocalists like Ustad Amir Khan followed suit and switched to the Harmonium as an accompaniment.
Says Sharan Rani, one of the few surviving women exponents, “Vocalists avoided Sarangi players simply because most of them started competing with the main artiste.” According to Sarangi maestro Kamall Sabri, “A vocalist cannot hope to get much help, if he goes out of tune, as the Sarangi magnifies flaws while the Harmonium can easily cover it”.  
As for the popularity of the instrument in India — the audience here is more tuned to classical Indian music. Therefore, it’s simply the familiarity factor that’s at play in Indian Sarangi concerts here. But the audience abroad has its own critical barometer. It’s the instrument’s sheer music that captivates them. It was Ustad Sabri Khan who first introduced it to the American audience in 1968, performing with Yehudi Menuhin and the Beatles.

In the words of Sir Yehudi Menuhin: “The Sarangi remains not only the authentic and original Indian bowed stringed instrument, but the one which expresses the very soul of Indian feeling and thought.” But the Sarangi is not much appreciated in India. Therefore, it is upto young maestros like Kamal Sabri Khan, the revival of Sarangi is due today.
Kamal Sabri Khan’s new album Sarangi Funk (which took the artist two years to put together) does show some great promise in starting off a new chapter in the history of the instrument. In the maestro’s words, “Sarangi has never been about ‘dance music’ or ‘energetic  music’. That is where other Sarangi players haven’t ventured. I wanted to explore that with this album. It was not easy for me to experiment because I have a tradition  to live up to.” He adds further, “You cannot dilute music, but at the same time you have to move with the times.”

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