S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Ustad Bismillah Khan

Birthdays & Anniversaries
21.3.1916 - 21.8.2006
Ustad Bismillah Khan, the shehnai maestro, and possibly the most popular Hindustani classical musician of the 20th century, breathed his last at the age of 91 in Varanasi at 2.20 am on August 21. In his death, the nation mourns the fading away of the musical magic that heralded the dawn of Independence at the Red Fort on August 15, 1947, and regaled free India for six decades.

Bismillah Khan was one of the chief architects of India’s postIndependence musicscape. He elevated the shehnai, an ancient ceremonial instrument, to the status of a concert instrument. Through the 1960’s and 70’s, his formidable musicianship, along with that of instrumentalists like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and Ustad Vilayat Khan, enabled instrumental music to overtake vocal music in terms of stature and popularity. Bismillah Khan, however, achieved much greater popularity than other instrumentalists of his generation because he straddled the worlds of classical, folk and popular music with equal ease and distinction.

The key to Bismillah Khan's musicianship lay in his having steeped himself in the rich musical tradition of Varanasi, the cultural capital of early 20th century India. Though born to a family of musicians from Dumrao in Bihar, Bismillah Khan moved to Varanasi at a young age to become a disciple and later, also son-in-law, of his uncle, Ustad Ali Baksh. It was in this holy city, that Bismillah Khan mastered classical music, and the various semi-classical, folk and romanticist genres of the Purab (Eastern U.P.) region, like thumri, chaiti, kajri, and dadra. Over the years, he transformed these genres into a distinctive modern idiom for the shehnai, of which he remained the only convincing exponent.

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