Ulhas Kashalkar is one of the most highly regarded exponents of North Indian khayal singing in the modern era, appreciated widely by music lovers, critics and connoisseurs alike.
A favourite with major music festival audiences he has built his reputation by embracing both traditional and contemporary approaches in his singing without sacrificing quality. He is particularly held in high regard for his excellence in three areas; namely pronunciation of text, richness in tonal quality and 'taalim', that is,control of rhythm while improvising.
He is predominantly associated with the Gwalior gharana, one of several distinct schools of vocal music that have developed over the past two hundred years. With perceptible influence of both Jaipur and Agra gharanas in his delivery, Ulhas Kashalkar has managed to successfully embrace and absorb a variety of influences to create a style which is his own, making his performances a rewarding and wholesome experience.
Gwalior gharana is said to be the first school to have evolved the khayal gayaki. Ragas such as Yaman, Hamir and Behag, which continue to hold the imagination of artists, were popularised its followers.
Like many other prominent Indian musicians Ulhas Kashalkar was first initiated into music through his immediate family, in this case his father, N.D. Kashalkar, a distinguished musicologist. This initial phase of his musical grooming was followed by intensive training at the hands of Pandit Gajananbua Joshi and Pandit Ram Marathe, artists who have both had a profound influence on musical development, particularly in the western state of Maharashtra. Gajananbua Joshi can be aptly described as a musicians' musician cast in the traditional mould. He made his mark both as an eminent vocalist and also as an equally noted violinist. His father, Anantbuva is credited to have brought the khayal style of Hindustani music from Gwalior to Maharashtra.
As well as being the most popular vocal genre, Khayal is the main driving force of all North Indian musical thinking. All serious instrumentalists are trained as singers, and are encouraged to express all the subtle nuances of the voice through their playing.The word khayal, meaning imagination, has its roots in Arabic but is commonly used in Urdu or Hindi. It has developed as a form which allows the artist maximum scope for creativity. Khayal almost always begins in a slow, meditative tempo gradually increasing in speed and intensity. The lyrical text is usually short, often consisting of four lines, and while the meaning of the text is not unimportant, the emphasis is focussed more on the artist's ability to portray the particular raga in their own unique creative manner. Khayal combines the intricate and complex ornamentation of Thumri with the strictness and boldness of the ancient Dhrupad form while maintaining the purity of the raga.
This live performance was rendered at the annual Saptak Festival in January 2006 in front of an enthusiastic audience of two thousand.
In this concert Ulhas Kashalkar has performed two ragas beginning with the popular Malkauns, said to be one of the six original ragas in North Indian music according to ancient texts.
Both the compositions in Malkauns were composed and taught by his guru Pt. Gajananbua Joshi. The theme of the text is devotional throughout, concerned with aspects of surrender to God.
The performance begins with Alap, an improvised elaboration establishing the specific mood and character of the raga in a free style. The first composition is set to a sixteen beat rhythmic cycle called Tilwada, a rhythm used exclusively by khayal singers.
Tabla is provided by Suresh Talwalkar, a renowned master of vocal khayal accompaniment who has shared the stage with virtually all of the great masters of Indian music in recent times. Based in Mumbai, he is one of the leading authorities on tabla in India and his contribution as an educator as well as a performer in this field cannot be underestimated. Instrumental support is also provided throughout by Mukand Petkar, playing the keyboard Harmonium, and Ikram Khan on the stringed Sarangi, the traditional melodic accompaniment for khayal recital.
The second composition (track 4) brings out two different sides of the musical characters of both singer and tabla player. Tarana is an animated, lively composition form that is built around the rhythmic sounds of tabla, which have no literal meaning.
Lalit Pancham, sometimes known as Basant Pancham, is a rare rag and a traditional one mainly sung by Jaipur and Agra Gharana singers. The raga includes influential phrases of Marwa and Pancham, each separate ragas with their own identities. Two compositions have been rendered in this raga, the first bandish set in Jhaptaal, a lilting ten beat rhythmic cycle, followed by a playful tarana in the popular sixteen beat, teentaal.