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Girija Devi – a vocal treat

by Indrani Talukdar
(Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India)

The silky notes of a Raga Puriya Kalyan vilambit khayal roll out like a heady banarasi paan from the mellifluous vocals of the thumri doyenne, Girija Devi. The evening raga, like the sunset and surrounding ambience it represents, is ponderous and languid- reminiscent of long summer evenings at a hill station. Like its close kin Pooriya and Pooriya Dhanashri, Raga Puriya Kalyan throws up the flat Rishabh and sharp Madhyam, true to its Marwa geneology through the singer’s voice with delicious ease.

Largely interpretative, Puriya Kalyan has undergone different treatments by various musicians. The tap khayal queen, Girija Devi, plays on the ascendant aspect of the raga giving it a distinct Maru Bihag flavour. The sargam taans leading to the climactic drut khayal is reminiscent of the Dhrupad style of singing. Fast-paced bol taans add spice to the composition.

It is in the tappa genre that the Banaras prima donna excels, although the thumri is considered as her forte. Her rendition of the tappa in Mishra Kaafi, Piya re nahin aala pours sparkling gold into the auditories. Few musicians can manage the knotty, rolled out and yet poetically sublime notes of this difficult genre. The tappa comes from the folk music of Punjab, more specifically its camel riders. Introduced by the Mughal king Muhammad Shah, a connoisseur of music and poet, the tappa was refined by Mian Ghulam Nabi Shori, one of the greatest musicians of Awadh. The kaafi notes rolling out in swift taans and treated in the typical Banarasi thumri style takes the listener to a new orgiastic level altogether.

The diva rounds off the album entitled Girija Devi – Vocal with her pièce de résistance- a thumri in Mishra Khamaaj Years ago, the singer had spoken on Doordarshan (during its heydays in black and white) about the importance of expressing bhaav or emotion of the composition. She does it with abandon here as she interprets the lovelorn lyric E ri araj mori maan set to the waltzy Dadra tala played by none other than the great maestro of all time, Ustad Zakir Hussain.

Most people – especially connoisseurs – are aware that Smt. Girija Devi was a faculty member of the ITC Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata. She also has several awards to her credit including the Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natak Akedemi. Like Girija Devi, Ustad Zakir Hussain too has been the recipient of several prestigious awards including the Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri.

The tappa-thumri empress and the tabla wizard form a brilliant team in the album dedicated to their performance by Times Music.


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