Bai Sunderabai Jadhav Punekarin (1885-1952) was one of the earliest stars of recorded music in India. She recorded more than 150 thumris, ghazals, dadras, horis, bhajans, qawwalis and lavnis sung in Marathi, Urdu, Farsi, Bhojpuri and Hindustani. At the height of her career in the 1930s, the Pune-born artist owned two cars and hired the entire top floor of a sprawling building in downtown Bombay that today houses one of the largest McDonald’s restaurants in the city. An unsuccessful recording venture in her later years, however, robbed Sunderabai of these hard-earned possessions.
Sunderabai’s forte was the lusty, conversational lavni. But Saregama’s ‘Vintage 78 rpm Records’ series, which has published 16 of the singer’s songs for the first time in half a century, has not put out any lavni or natyasangeet. Instead, it has packed the set with middle-of-the-road ghazals. Their unpolished rhythms swing between the skipping beats of ‘In dino josh’ and ‘Yehi hai arzoo meri’ and the stodgy tempo of ‘Yun toh banda’ and ‘Huye judaai’. Together, they make you thankful that Begum Akhtar came around soon after.
Sunderabai takes on Abdul Karim Khan’s famous thumri in Tilang, ‘Kahe ko neha’, and renders it in a more accessible, less intense style. Such ‘straightening’ — singing powerfully from the gut without much drama — was probably considered one of Sunderabai’s strengths. Her best song in this collection, however, infuses some rare drama into an old calendar setting: in ‘Hori khele mose nandalala’, Sunderabai’s worldly-wise Radha sounds deliciously contemptuous of her frolicking lover.
One more from the desert
Amarrass has come out with its second folk album recorded in situ across Rajasthan, Banko Ghodo. The publishers raised a part of the project’s cost through Kickstarter, a crowd-sourcing website. (Amarrass uploaded the project details, interested investors pledged small sums over the next two months, and then these investors were given small stakes in the project.) The method’s success should raise the hopes of all artists who find themselves on the wrong side of Big Publishing.
This album shines a warm light on performers who are respected within their communities but are hardly known outside Rajasthan. Among them is Rukma Bai, ‘the first woman in the Manganiyar community to sing in public’ and the one to whom the album is dedicated. You may not be able to fully appreciate the effort behind Rukma Bai’s heaving vibrato till you see her singing, sitting coiled up behind a bulging drum (bit.ly/IuvuC6).
Kheta Khan’s falsetto moves like a purposeful snake, Sawai Khan cooks up a storm with the humble morchhang, and teenagers Lado and Pappu show why the pre-pubescent voice is idolised among the Manganiyars.
The album explains its title with the saying, ‘If a bridegroom arrives on a banka ghoda (bent horse), he must be of a distinguished lineage.’ These new, rough palimpsest of an old tradition allow the artists such an honour.
Cross with chary
At its best, sitarist Ravi Chary’s promiscuity in collaborations reminds one of the heights that can be scaled together by musicians who never miss the metronome. At its worst, it stands for all that was wrong with the sitar-led signature tunes that were once staple for programmes on state television.
It’s the percussionists — Fazal Qureshi, Taufiq Qureshi, Sridhar Parthasarathy, Sivamani and Ranjit Barot — who dominate the tracks. When other instrumentalists such as guitarist Amit Heri and keyboardist Harmit Manseta come on (as on ‘Sadguru’), they seem to be putting on their own jazzy side show. And there’s nary the Chary among them.