[by Ken Hunt, London] By any standard, she is one of the greats of popular music. He is, in my opinion and that of many others’, the finest sitarist of his generation, with a work ethic and melodicism drilled into him through studying sitar with his father, the legendary – for once the word is deserved – Vilayat Khan and working as a Bollywood session musician. This world premiere looked to their recently released collection of sitarist-singer Shujaat Khan’s settings to traditional melodic or lyrical themes, Naina Lagaike – to stick to the CD artwork’s spelling – though the concert programme carried the more accurate “Naina lagai ke”, meaning ‘I rue having locked eyes with you’ was an unmissable event. It was also the programme’s baptism of fire before a paying public.
Concerts that wrong-foot and thwart expectations are amongst the best. This one did so to no little degree. That said, there were elements in the auditorium who for some benighted reason or the other thought it should be, or wanted to turn it into an Asha Bhosle Bollywood bash. They wanted Bollywood now and called out greatest hit titles. To state the flaming obvious, what should have been the giveaway clue was the dual billing on the tickets and concert programme.
Shujaat Khan clarified upfront that they were “doing something very different” before the instrumental sextet of sitar, flutes, guitar, keyboards/synthesiser and two percussionist attuned the audience’s ears to the evening’s sound, with a piece attributed to the semi-mythical Amir Khusro. Though the audience in due course got a taste of Bollywoodisms with, say, Mera Kuchh Saamaan (‘Some of my belongings’) and even one of her father, Dinanath Mangeshkar’s Marathi-language martyr songs, it was the album’s Aaja Re Piya Mora (‘Come back my love’) and their kind that elevated this concert.
Spontaneous creativity should come with blemishes. “Give me spots on my apples/But leave me the birds and the bees,” is, of course, part of a verse generally attributed to Amir Khusro. In it he distils how each act of musical creation should be different and individual, just as it is the apple’s flavour and content that is the gardener’s goal, not an fruit sized and shaped by the conformities of the marketplace. That is, naturally, merely one interpretation. Amir Khusro’s left many puzzles. The main puzzle of this particular night was the absence of a Shujaat Khan sitar solo.
With Saregama having recorded the run of UK concerts, the Royal Festival Hall concert may well have captured a piece of history being made. Let’s hope.
CD image courtesy of Saregama, © Saregama 2011