Alla Rakha Kalawant: Sarangi, the closest musical instrument to human voice

Posted by Kaahon Desk On August 30, 2017

AllaRakha Kalawant is one of the most recognized names among the contemporary Sarangi players in India. His basic training was under his grandfather, Ustaad Immamuddin Khan, who was a student of legendary Ustad Amir Khan. Later on, he joined the Saptak School of Music at Ahmedabad received training under Smt. Manju Mehta, a renowned Sitar player. In 1995, AllaRakha won the first prize in the AIR competition. He also stood first in the Omkarnath Thakur competition in 1997 and the Swarmani in 2000. He had performed at various concerts such as AIR concert in Pune (1995) Saptak Festival in Ahmedabad (1997, 99, 2000, 2001) Jaipur Sankalp Saptah and many others. As an accompanying artiste, he had performed alongside some of the greatest stalwarts in Indian Classical Music including Ustad Zakhir Hussain and Ustad Fazal Qureshi in Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan, Ustad Rashid Khan, Pandit Ajay Chakravarthy, Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan, Ustad Sabir Khan, Pandit Swapan Choudhury, Pandit Anindo Chatterjee among many others.

When asked about the possible predecessors of Sarangi, AllaRakha talks speculatively about a number of instruments. He points out folk instruments such as Ravanhatta or Surinda from the region around Rajasthan and even Kamancheh from Persia. He further points out the instances of similar fiddle instruments in the far east such as China or Japan. He goes on to talk about the evolution of the current form of a sarangi, describing in detail the various parts and their possible implications in terms of musical output. As for the recent tendencies of turning it into an electric instrument, he expresses his misgivings and shares his experience of attempting the same with counterproductive results. Having said that, he feels that just like a dearth of musicians, there is even a scarcity of competent sarangi manufacturers.

As AllaRakha looks back on his early years in Jaipur, he talks about taking his baby steps in the world of classical music. As his journey with music continued, so did the places and finally an association with Ustad Mashkoor Khan brought him to Kolkata where he got acquainted with Mr Mathur from ITC and landed a job as a teacher in Sangeet Research Academy. His career as a performer and an accompanying artiste has continued to grow over the years, especially since a skilled sarangi player is a rare find. AllaRakha believes sarangi to be the most complete instruments in terms of its wholesome register of expressions and its ability to adapt to multiple genres. Although he refuses to believe that a musical instrument or a style can disappear completely, but he recognizes the decline in the overall practice of classical music. He sounds somewhat bitter as he feels that both the artistes as well as the irrational expectations from the audience are responsible for such a scenario. According to him, the entire culture in contemporary world, lacks the required seriousness for such a pursuit.

Talking about his career and success as an accompanying artiste or sarangi as an accompanying instrument, All Rakha reflects upon the very idea of accompaniment in classical music. He recounts his grandfather’s words that sarangi doesn’t belong to any specific gharana but is capable of articulating the musical styles and nuances of every gharana. However, one can never learn to accompany from one’s tutor or guru or by doing classes. It can only be achieved through the experience one gathers from performing on stage and by developing one’s instinctive response as a musician. He also discards the idea that an accompanying musician holds a secondary position. He believes that when the show is on full swing, both are accompanying one another. However, the essential thing is to have a control of one’s ego and check the drive to outshine the other.

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