I have made two percussion-related discoveries recently. To be more accurate, one is a discovery and the other is a realization …
I have realized that not only do I love to watch Kathak dancing, but I also very much enjoy listening to the Kathak bols – that is, the rhythmic syllables that comprise the taal/rhythm. I enjoy the sound of this kind of work even when it is stripped down to the most basic elements: the parhant (the vocal recitation of syllables), the rhythm of the jangling gunghroos strapped around the dancer’s ankles, the feet hitting the floor, and the percussion instrument (usually a tabla). It surprised me how enjoyable this aspect of the dance became to me just for listening, but this is a fondness that grew a lot over time.
I ended up reaching this realization in great part because of an album I had downloaded six years ago via the highly interesting eclectic global music blog called Snap, Crackle & Pop. The album was Kathak Dance of India (1961), which this post and a couple of other sources list as being by “Sitara Devi with Choube Maharaj.” I suspect, though, that the correct spelling of Sitara’s collaborator here is Chaubey Maharaj, who was Sitara Devi’s brother. He was a Kathak dancer also, but in addition, he became a fine tabla player, which must be his contribution here.
Now, I am sure there could be a lot of technical explanations describing what goes on in this album, including names for the speed of the rhythm, etc. I have tried in recent times to learn about the different kinds of “syllables” and arrangements thereof used in a Kathak taal. But this blogger, Mr. Tear, came up with a nice and simple description that sums things up pretty well:
The recording on this LP is pretty lo-fi and there seems to be a musical conversation flowing between Sitara Devi and the tabla player throughout of most of the tracks. The rhythms are complex and kaleidoscopic.
By the way, Mr. Tear said that he had found this recording at some sale as a vinyl record with no cover (and what an amazing find!), but he searched the Internet to find the cover, and that picture, alone, is well worth posting. So I am going to provide it here as well:
I suppose one might ask, why didn’t I post about this six years ago if I like it so much? And the answer is, I didn’t like it as much at first. I considered it a good thing to put through my ears if I needed good background sound or if I wanted to drown other sounds out. But the recording grew and grew on me until it became a real source of listening enjoyment.
And now I might say the same about the sound of many Kathak taal videos that I’ve found on YouTube. Sometimes I started listening to the videos without looking at the dances, and they also grew on me. At this point, with a little effort, I probably could compile a list of the YouTube Kathak videos that I like most just for listening to the bols and taals. But I think I will save that project for another time.
And Now, Regarding the Dholak . . .
About a year and four months ago, I wrote a post about Three Queens of the Indian Drums. Above the text, I posted a screen cap from the beginning of the film Dholak, of a whole bunch of women playing the dholak. Unfortunately, I had not found any female drummers who played the dholak; the closest I could find was the UK-raised Rani Taj, playing the dhol. I pondered in the post regarding whether there actually could have been all these women playing the dholak back in 1951, considering that there simply were so few professional female Indian drummers in general. I wondered if any of the drummers doing playback for those women on screen were actually women – and I still would bet that none were. So, I thought that the film’s emphasis on women playing the dholak was a real curiosity.
Unfortunately, I still haven’t found out about any female dholak players who worked in Hindi films in the 1950s, but I have recently found an excellent contemporary dholalk player with videos on YouTube. Maybe I didn’t find her while I was writing my queens of Indian drums post because I wasn’t looking in the right place. She’s not from India or Pakistan or the UK or the U.S.A.
To give you a hint of where this dholak player is from, let’s say, she’s from some place closer to the countries in the Western hemisphere that obviously influenced the Latin-flavored jazz within that song from the film Dholak. Her name is Chantal (referred to at different times, I see, as Chantal Mangal or Chantal Khaderoe), and she is from the Caribbean – specifically, Suriname.
So, I could have put her in one of my Chutney music posts – and maybe I will in the future. But this music from Suriname, known as Baithak Gana, is probably more traditional than most Chutney music that you’ll hear today, with very evident roots in Bhojpuri folk music. And the dholak is very important in Baithak Gana; it is the drum that is traditionally used. So, maybe it’s natural that some of the world’s best dholak players are playing Baithak Gana in Suriname. In any event, here are a couple of clips that show Chantal’s great talent. From what I have seen so far, I think I would be justified in calling her the International Queen of the Dholak!
Half a month after I wrote this post, it was pointed out to me during a Facebook discussion that we caught a glimpse of a certain young actress playing the dholak (at least on screen) in a very famous Indian film song some six years before the release of the film Dholak. (So the idea of female dholak players existed in Indian films going way back! ) I was reminded of this song – and the fact that a certain girl was shown playing the dholak in it – by Sidharth Bhatia (who is a founder/editor of Thewire.in). (Actually, I had known about this actress’s presence in this song, and her role as a dholak player is pointed out in comments below the YouTube video. But Sidharth was the one who brought this to at least a few people’s attention on Facebook.)
The song is the pioneering qawwali “Aahen Na Bharin” in the famous Noor Jehan starrer Zeenat (1945), and the little girl shown playing the dholak in this scene was Shyama! (Her significant part of the song – with close-up – occurs in this video from 3:34 to 3:42.)
Of course, the conversations about Shyama had started because she had died that day. That was very sad news (she is one of my favorites). But it was a delight to exchange some of her film clips with a few people, and also to be reminded of her adorable debut.
I also went on a YT search and found these: