It’s not often you see a sell out concert of Indian classical music in Britain, especially when audiences are asked to pay top dollar. But then again Ustad Rashid Khan is no ordinary musician. Many years ago, on hearing the young Rashid, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi reputedly said that that “the future of Indian vocal music is assured.”
That’s quite an accolade for someone who showed little interest in music at a young age. Despite this, coming from a strong musical family in the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana, music was drummed into him and Rashid Khan is one of the most sought after Hindustani vocalists.
Sold out almost a month ago, people had travelled from Newcastle, Manchester, Cardiff and Wolverhampton. Some, in true ‘Indian style,’ arrived at the venue expecting to buy tickets on the night. They were disappointed.
Being an Indian music concert, the curtains opened a little late, almost half an hour on this occasion. But before the music the Indian High Commissioner lit the ceremonial candle, we heard some slightly overlong introductions and saw the artists being presented with flowers. (Shouldn’t this be after the performance?) Aside from Ustad Rashid Khan, on stage they were Jyoti Goho on harmonium, Rajkumar Mishra on tabla and two Bhavan students playing the tanpuras. Speeches over, we then had some ear piercing feedback.
Rashid Khan started with one of the grandest of ragas, Yaman. Eyes closed, oblivious to the other musicians, Rashid’s deep, sonorous voice reverberated around the auditorium. Jyoti Goho followed the vocal cadences with sublime ease. Rashid moved effortlessly around the scale, weaving sargam patterns before sliding into a delightful bandish. Raj Kumar Mishra accompanied rather than attempt to take over the performance.
Raag Bihag was next up and by now the musicians looked more comfortable with each other. If anything the tanpura players were enjoying themselves a bit too much as they swayed to the music. In my mind, the tanpura should remain the constant harmonic backdrop to the music but not be drowned out either as it was on this occasion by the sound level of the harmonium.
After the break, it was a real pleasure to hear raga Megh Malhar. This ancient seasonal raga was just right as the dark storm clouds gathered to unleash rain some hours later. Rashid moved easily between long sustained notes in the lower reaches of the scale; his deep, throaty voice perfectly attuned to the menacing thunder and lightening brooding outside.
The rain theme continued with raga Gaud Malhar before the evening concluded short recitals of a Sohini Bahar and raga Sindh Vairavi and a deserved standing ovation.
It was a satisfying rather than an outstanding performance. Rashid seemed to sing well within himself and hardly ‘broke sweat’. The evening promised much and at times during raga Megh Malhar I felt as if I was being transported to a place where all audience members cherish, away from the mundane concerns of every day life and into a world of delightful sound. Although these moments were more than fleeting they were not sustained.
Nevertheless, the organisers, NAAD, and the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and must be applauded for pooling their resources to bring to Britain – if only for one night – a quite exceptional vocalist.