Remembering the Divas: Gauhar Jaan, Begum Akhtar, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Shobha Gurtu, Noor Jahan, Kishori Amonkar
Conceived, curated and presented by Kaushiki Chakraborty
Indian art (classical) and semi-classical music as we know it today, has been shaped by many stalwarts over the years. Their lives, creativity and musical genius have set significant milestones in the history of Indian music which will always be remembered, treasured and followed as guiding principles for generations to come. Among these were some talented female musicians whose lives and music, despite oppressive norms of society, paved the path for female singers of the subsequent generations.
Naturally endowed with tuneful and delicate voices, coupled with systematic training and arduous practice, these women became custodians of an unusually large repertoire ranging from khayal, thumri, dadra, tappa and hori to ghazal. It is also equally laudable that these songstresses overcame the challenges of the newly emerging technology of recording; thus, contributing immensely to the documentation and propagation of traditional repertoire.
Kaushiki Chakraborty is the daughter and disciple of Ajoy Chakrabarty, the eminent exponent of Patiala gharana. She is known for having an extraordinary command over the voice and her effortless exposition in diverse genres.
Empathising with the female singers of yesteryears, this is her attempt at celebrating the works of three female exponents of a semi-classical genre whose life and music have paved the path for others. Studying the music of these legendary singers also provides a window into their lives, the socio-economic conditions of the country and notable events that have found expression in their music.
The six prominent female exponents of Indian classical music whose works will be remembered and reiterated in these musical presentations are:
Gauhar Jaan alias Angelina Yeoward (1873-1930), was the first musician to record music on 78 RPM records in British India, which were later released by the Gramophone Company of India. She was quite aptly referred to as the ‘Gramophone Girl’.
Akhtari Bai Faizabadi alias Begum Akhtar (1914-1974), was one of the most prominent and dazzling divas whose voice, expression and graceful presentations brought her the recognition of being referred to as the Malika-e-ghazal (the queen of ghazal).
M. S. Subbulakshmi (1916-2004) hailed from the devadasi tradition associated with south Indian temples. Starting her career at the young age of 13, she went on to become one of the most celebrated exponents of Carnatic (South Indian) music, besides acting in a few films. Eventually, she came to be recognised as the iconic voice of devotion in Independent India.
Shobha Gurtu (1925-2004) inherited music from her mother, who was an accomplished vocalist as well as an expert dancer. Although trained in the Jaipur-Atrauli tradition, she chose to specialise in semi-classical forms of thumri, dadra, chaiti, hori, etc., besides singing for Marathi and Hindi films.
Having started her stage career at the tender age of six, Alla Wasai alias Noor Jahan (1926-2000) reigned supreme over the Hindi cinema as a singing actress of the 1940s. After the partition in 1947, she migrated to Pakistan, where she continued to hold an iconic position, rendering hit film songs in Punjabi and Urdu.
Trained by her legendary mother, Kishori Amonkar (1932-2017) was considered to be one of the foremost exponents of the Jaipur gharana. She also had the privilege of learning khayal from stalwarts of other gharanas. In addition to the classical form of khayal, she excelled in lighter forms such as thumri and bhajan. Spiritual and emotional aspects were integral to her performance, the reflection of which could be seen in several poignant compositions that she created.
Besides presenting some memorable compositions associated with these six divas, the ensemble led by Kaushiki Chakraborty, will also attempt to present some new compositions, keeping in mind the individual style of these divas.
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