With its impressive title and innovative cover, Baiju Bawra—A Tribute by Pt. Jasraj, is an easy buy.
The double CD pack comes with a neat booklet that is an assortment of stunning photographs and text. It starts off with the Mewati gharana maestro talking eloquently about master musician Baiju Bawra. There are also titbits about the most ancient form of known music, dhrupad, and its pristine qualities. The rest are pages detailing the accomplishments of present-day “Baiju”, Pandit Jasraj, stunning snaps of him and limited sleeve notes pertaining to the contents of this unique tribute project. Sorely missing are details about Baiju Bawra’s compositions and a photograph of any painting or sketch of the most virtuous dhrupad composer-singer ever known.
The musical offerings on the two CDs are placed in accordance with the ancient concept of time theory, singular to Hindustani music. Raga Bhairav is followed by ragas Aasavari, Bhimpalasi, Sorath and Nayaki Kanhada. And the veena predictably precedes the voice in the opening of every piece and continues its support till the end. What follows is a novel version of alap by the khayal singer. The elaboration of Pandit Jasraj gets questionable with the absence of full-bodied gamak and with the presence of full-bodied taan.
In the alap of every raga, the addition of prefixes such as “shri”, “shriman”, and “jai” before the word Narayan makes the whole effort sound like a Narayan jaap. Then come the taan in the pada which makes the dhrupad sound like a khayal. Of course, these sacrileges will undoubtedly be lapped up by his numerous fans (including this reviewer) and, who knows, it may even be hailed as path-breaking innovations to a 5,000-year-old established style of music. With its liberal use of khatka and murkee , it is quite a stretch to call the five pieces sung on this “tribute” album as dhrupad. And certainly not with the employment of tabla and harmonium. In fact, any composition sung to the accompaniment of a pakhawaj simply does not qualify as a dhrupad.
The marketing of this CD is really very clever. Nowhere on the sleeve notes does it say that Pandit Jasraj is singing dhrupads as a tribute to the world’s greatest dhrupadia, Baiju Bawra. And none of the opening lyrics or the composer’s name or genre of the compositions is printed anywhere on the CDs or their cover.
The emotive quality of Pandit Jasraj’s singing has always been a crowd retainer, and this album is no exception. At 77, this singer has amazing breath. Stretch marks (a tiring voice) are only visible towards the end of the compositions, and only if one listens attentively. But certainly no compliments for the 10-beat cycle Saadra tala Aasavari track, which is marred by improper editing/rendition at 17.04 seconds. The gaffe is especially unacceptable from a studio performance recording.
While there is no denying that listening to this most beautifully-voiced Indian male classical vocalist is a treat, one must make sure that he is performing his established genre of khayal gayaki or brand of bhajans! Unless one is a diehard Jasraj fan, this album, just as his earlier Tansen tribute, is avoidable. The Times Music album is priced at Rs390.
Kushal Gopalka is an archivist and student of Indian music who writes for Swar Aalap , a monthly newsletter.
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Shubha Mudgal’s column Music Matters will return next week