Parveen Sultana holds a special place in the hearts of Indian music lovers. Over the course of a hugely successful career spanning five decades, Parveen Sultana has built up a unique relationship with her many fans, captivated by her vibrant and mellifluous voice and charmed by an endearing and charismatic stage presence, This recording treats us to a full concert recital given at the Saptak Festival on the 9th January 2005, featuring a commanding performance covering several North Indian vocal music styles including khayal, tarana, thumri and bhajan. Saptak is the largest annual music festival in India held in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, featuring the cream of Indian music talents and spanning over 13 days.
Begum Parveen Sultana was born in Assam in 1950. As a classical music devotee, her father Janal Ikramul Majib made sure his daughter was exposed to the finest singers of the time, and encouraged her early musical endeavours without hesitation. With full family backing, she made her first significant stage appearance at the age of nine. In 1965 she recorded her first EP for EMI India, and in 1967, at the age of just seventeen recorded her first LP for the same label. She trained with Chinmoy Lahiri for ten years in Calcutta before failing health necessitated him to suggest a replacement in the form of Bombay based Dilshad Khan.
She balked at the prospect initially, eventually accepting him as her guru in August1974. He was to have a profound impact on Parveen Sultana nurturing her musical aspirations and ably guiding her through her path to success. On August 26, 1975 they became man and wife. Since then they have each pursued solo careers parallel to their duo work. Originally trained according to the Patiala Gharana, Dilshad Khan's guidance in the Kirana gharana vein has helped the essence of other styles to flow into her music. Proof of her versatility is evident in her successes in the Indian film industry, featuring in the soundtracks of film classics such as Ashary, Kudrat and Pakeezah. During this remarkable career, she has picked up several prestigious titles, being the youngest performing artist to receive the Presidential Award of "Padmashree" in 1976.
In 1998, she collected the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the highest national recognition given to practicing artistes in India. Blessed with a voice that spans three-and-a-half octaves, its sweetness has been compared to that of the Rabab, an ancient Persian string instrument.
The first disc features a khayal in Raga Maru Behag. Khayal has been the most popular classical vocal form in North India since the time of the Emperor Muhammadshah Rangile (1716-1748 AD), a generous patron of classical music. It was in his court that Nyamatkhan, popularly known as Sadarang, is said to have created Khayal as a new genre. Its emergence was a result of the influence of the Muslim art and culture on the indigenous music combined with a change in the tastes of patrons who were not satisfied by the prevailing Dhrupad form.
From the Arabic word meaning imagination, Khayal combines facets of dhrupad styles, techniques, and structure, employing a wider variety of ornamentation. The structure of a performance is less restricted and the artist has a wider scope in structuring and improvising the performance.
Here, the khayal is preceded by a relatively short Alap, an un-metered, improvised and unaccompanied elaboration of the main phrases of the raga outlining its character. A khayal recital is divided into two parts: Bada (great) khayal and Chhota (small) khayal. In this rendition the bada Khayal is set to a rhythmic cycle of twelve beats played out on the tabla. The lyrical as well as melodic content of bada khayal compositions are devotional or romantic, set in vilambit laya (slow tempo). Interplay with the rhythm and the use of more complex improvised phrase (or taans) are introduced as the khayal develops. Throughout the performance the role of the accompanists is to complement the lead vocals. The chotta khayal (track 3) is set to teentaal, a popular sixteen beat tala, in which the tabla accompanist, Mukundraj Deo, enjoys the opportunity to shine.
CD 2 commences with a Tarana composition in Hansadhwani, a raga of South Indian origin. Tarana is a lively rhythm-based composition type which playfully uses the syllables of the tabla and Pakhawaj in its lyrics.
It is often suggested that these sounds are meaningless while some musicologists contest that these syllables are of Persian ancestry and hold mystical properties. Classical ragas form the melodic structure of tarana singing and there is a marked resemblance to the tillana singing of Carnatic music.
Bhajans are deeply rooted in the Indian tradition. Bhajan is a song form using soulful language expressing surrender to God. Many bhajans are rooted in the hymns found in the Sama Veda, the third Veda in the Hindu scriptures. Some of India's most loved bhajans were composed by the poetess Meera (track 2). Born in the sixteenth century at a time of political and social unrest in India, Meera having lost her father, husband and father-in-law sought peace and dedicated her life to Lord Krishna. She composed hundreds of poems in a simple and unpretentious language capturing the beauty of her intense and deep love to God. Bhajans are also often loosely based on the melodic phrases of Ragas; in this case Sai Ram Sai Ram (track 3) carries a strong sense of Ragas Kirvani and Shivranjani. The recital aptly concludes with Bhairavi, an auspicious and deeply devotional raga traditionally sung to conclude the concert performance.