Gifted with a rich and melodious voice,Ashwini Bhide Deshpande evokes the true spirit of North Indian khayal vocal music, combining devotional fervour with technical excellence in this exciting concert performance recorded on 6th January 2005 at the Saptak Festival, India's largest and most prestigious annual music gathering.
Ashwini has made her reputation on soulful raga renditions built on the spontaneous exploration of the unknown within the framework of the known, searching out the fresh and unpredictable within the perimeters of an established musical code built up over hundreds of years. Raga is the lifeblood of Indian classical music, a framework through which an able artist can generate an infinite variety of melodic sequences. Aswhini's performances take us on a journey of discovery revealing unseen possibilities of each revered raga.
Ashwini was born into a family where music was seamlessly woven into her daily routine. From the age
of five she joined her mother and grandmother in musical coaching sessions led by respected singing teacher, Pandit Narayanrao Datar who routinely visited her house three times a week.
Her training stepped into serious mode during her teens, when her mother, Manik Bhide, a senior disciple of Kishori Amonkar, took charge of her grooming, instilling in her a ruthless discipline of practice. Her efforts were rewarded at the age of sixteen when she won the prestigious All-India Radio competition in spite of bouts of serious illness. Later, she went on to work alongside sitar maestro Ravi Shankar on the musical score for the film 'Gandhi'.
Her early training thoroughly grounded her in the roots of the Jaipur-Atrauli Khayal tradition. A Persian word meaning imagination, khayal is the most popular genre of North Indian classical vocal music today. A legacy of the thirteenth century Mughal invaders with its origins rooted in Qawali (Muslim devotional songs), khayal thrives on the use of ornamentation and is less rigid in form and content than Dhrupad, the ancient vocal style dominant up to the sixteenth century in India. Breaking away from the rigidity of dhrupad, khayal offers the singer space to apply imagination and impose the artist's own style over the form.
Improvised note patterns, or taans can be constructed around various sounds, for example aakar taans are
sung to the vowel syllable 'aa', sargam taans are sung to the names of the notes (sa, re, ga etc) and bol
taans are sung to the syllables of the words used in the text of the composition. Khayal lyrics cover such diverse topics as divine love, separation of lovers, seasons, adoration of kings and patrons as well as the pranks of Lord Krishna.
The history of khayal has been dominated by several families of musicians who have shaped the music of the Indian sub-continent through the development of their own distinct approaches to classical singing. These gharanas form the backbone of Indian music today, each holding its own particular vision and rendering of the different ragas.
Atrauli - Jaipur Gharana is associated with Alladiya Khan, the legendary singer of the late 19th and early 20th century, and is renowned for its use of rare and compound ragas such as Sampurna-Malkauns, Basant Kedar, Basant-Bahar, Kaunsi-Kanada and Nat-Kamod. Musically, the Jaipur-Atrauli style offers inexhaustible reserves of intellectual and spiritual elements.
For this recital, Ashwini chose Raga Bageshri for the main centrepiece of her performance at the Kashiram Hall, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Bageshri is a popular, evening raga that is romantic in nature and offers the artist plenty of scope for creative improvisation. The first composition is set to teentaal, a slow tempo rhythm cycle of sixteen beats. Here the singer demonstrates a systematic exposition of the raga structure, at first improvising introspectively on the lower notes in the register then gradually and skilfully working her way upwards to the higher notes, all the time paying careful attention to the text and mood of the raga. This is followed by a composition set to a rare rhythm cycle of 9 and Â½ beats which demands skill and concentration from both the singer and accompanist. The final bandish composition is a lively affair set to a faster twelve beat cycle.
Mumbai based tabla player Viswanath Shirodkar is a fluent accompanist who has benefited from training under the guidance of some of India's finest players including Vibhav Nageshkar, Suresh Talwalkar and Nayan Ghosh. His tabla playing is assured and supportive throughout, characterised by a crystal clear tonal quality.
Ashwini further demonstrates her versatility by rendering two songs from her light classical music repertoire. Bhajans are Hindu devotional songs with origins in the ancient hymns of Sama Veda, expressing the many emotions of love for God.
'Sakal brij dhoom machi hai', is based on the theme of the Hindu festival of colour, Holi. By throwing colours in the evening Lord Krishna transforms darkness into light. The bhajan features many descriptions of Krishna including Murali, the cow herder and Girdhari, the one who carries mountains. The bhajan is based on the Raga Tilak Kamod and includes a brief but soul stirring alap before the text is sung.
The final bhajan, 'Madhave kya kahiye prabhu aisa' is a composition of Sufi Poet- Saint Ravidas. It is a celebration of Krishna, which proclaims that our existence is proof only of His existence. The spiritual experience of the listener is enhanced through a deep and genuine involvement of the singer with the song.