Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar | Homage to a Musical Genius (Live Dhrupad Recordings)

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Homage to a Musical Genius (Live Dhrupad Recordings)

by Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar

Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar is a musician and singer of unbounded imaginative power. He is a master of dhrupad, the magnificent ancient North Indian musical genre. Intense, hypnotic, and powerful renditions by one of the most renowned dhrupad masters.
Genre: World: Indian Classical
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Bihag (Live)
50:29 $9.99
2. Chandrakauns (Live)
47:11 $9.99
3. Hindol (Live)
50:11 $9.99
4. Multani (Live)
33:33 $6.99
5. Jogia-Durga (Live)
10:05 $3.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
With the passing of Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar on May 8, 2013, the world lost a great singer and a beloved teacher. He was a master of dhrupad, the magnificent ancient North Indian musical genre. This memorial collection presents intense, hypnotic, beautiful, spiritual, romantic, visionary, Thunder-and-Lightning powerful vocal music sung by a great artist.

Four of the five performances were recorded in a "baithak" situation, where Ustad was singing in a living room for dhrupad connoisseurs, for whom he can be heard demonstrating the nuances of the raags during his improvisations. The remaining raga, Chandrakauns, was recorded in a formal concert situation before a large audience.  The Chandrakauns rendition was especially spectacular since Ustad was performing in front of all the living Dagars - the legendary dhrupad maestros - who had gathered together for the first time in many years.

The performances selected in this collection are especially significant -  they were picked from amongst several possible ones by Ustad himself as his favorites while he was visiting me in Agoura, California, a few years back.

Sunil Dutta
Los Angeles, California
December 2013

Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar is a musician and singer of unbounded imaginative power. He is a master of dhrupad, the thriving ancient North Indian musical genre that is widely and wrongly supposed to be moribund from the weight of its rules. If ZF Dagar’s beautiful, hypnotic, intense, and sometimes terrifying music were rule-bound how could it fly to the heavens as it does?

During the lifetime of his elder brother and mentor Zia Mohiuddin (ZM) Dagar he was affectionately and ironically known to students of the family as “Chhote Ustad” in contrast to his brother who was “Bade Ustad”.  But make no mistake, Chhote Ustad is a bade ustad, a great master.

When singing variations of a metered composition he reflects his brother’s approach; the command of taal and lay (meter and rhythm) is absolute, but the effect is of spontaneous freedom. In singing alap (unmetered exposition of the details of a raag) ZM was generally phrase-oriented, whereas ZF’s alap style features more long tones sung at the required microtonal pitch, and with a variety of timbres, now sounding like a bansuri or conch, now like a bell, and often with a wide range of overtones that suggest a human tanpura. I am of the opinion that ZF Dagar is without equal in the singing of rhythmic alap.

Fariduddin Dagar was born in in 1932 in Udaipur, Rajasthan to a family of hereditary musicians who were the top ranking court singers employed by the royal family. He represents the eighteenth generation of professional dhrupad singers, players, and teachers. His forbears include the musical sage of Benares Behram Khan and the legendary vina master Bande Ali Khan. His paternal grandfather was Zakiruddin Khan, the elder brother and singing partner of Allabande Khan, who was the grandfather of the two sets of siblings who each sang in duet as “The Dagar Brothers”. The voices of Zakiruddin and Allabande were compared to the sun and moon respectively, and their instruments also reflected this difference. Zakir played the sonorous vina and Allabande the silvery-voiced sursringar.

The musicologist Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande notated and published a number of compositions from Zakiruddin Khan and pronounced him the greatest musician of North India, adding that the ustad’s son Ziauddin Khan had inherited his father’s knowledge and skill in full measure. Ziauddin was known as “Dhamarnath” because of his skill in singing Dhamar, a dhrupad sub-genre whose themes, ambience, and fourteen beat structure correspond to the more recent thumri genre.
Ziauddin died when Fariduddin was young but not before teaching his eldest son Mohiuddin and his nephew Moinuddin, the eldest son of Nasiruddin Khan Dagar and grandson of Allabande (and eldest of the four “Dagar Brothers”).

It is of interest to note that many of the musical lineages (gharana-s) of khyal trace their musical styles to the teachings of the ancestors of Ustad Fariduddin Dagar. Patiala and Bhindibazaar were founded by disciples of Behram Khan. Kirana and several sitar gharana-s were begun by Bande Ali Khan’s pupils.

Popular opinion about the difference between dhrupad and the khyal vocal genre postulates that dhrupad is older, simpler, and – in contrast to the free and ornamented khyal – a dhrupad performance is often thought to be pre-composed, and devoid of ornament. Only the supposition about age is correct. The empirical sonic evidence proves dhrupad to be complex, spontaneous, and ornamented. Its complexity lies in the variety of its timbres, stresses, nuances, and rhythms, and in its meticulous attention to melodic and microtonal detail. Khyal, which is complex in a different way, is often simple in the areas in which dhrupad is complex. Khyal, although its name denotes free imagination, is rarely sung freely; khyal singers typically prepare in advance what they will sing at a recital, and most dhrupad musicians enjoy more freedom. Dhrupad singing is ornamented but it does not employ the ornaments of khyal.

It is also thought by the general public —should they think about raag sangeet at all —that dhrupad and/or khyal are emotionally dry media in which technique is valued at the expense of the expression of human feeling. Isn’t it time to put aside such silly ideas and actually listen to the expressive singing that is to be found in both genres?

It has been demonstrated that certain singers do not adhere to the traditionally prescribed sruti-s (microtones) of a given raag, and because these singers are apparently unaware that they deviate, it has become fashionable amongst both academics and practicing musicians to declare that the sruti system does not exist, at least not as the orderly theoretical model generally presented. The failure of some musicians to adhere to a model is not, however, the fault of the model. Fariduddin Dagar’s ability to replicate sruti-s out of context is remarkable, and his ability to use them in to create musical beauty is unsurpassed.

In Fariduddin Dagar’s dhrupad, sruti-s are not fixed at one spot in a given raag. The precise pitch of a microtone will depend on the context of the phrase. It is the same in western music. There is no such thing as —for instance — a fixed point that is an “A flat” in the playing of a good western classical violinist. Its precise pitch depends on the key, the duration of the tone, whether it’s an adjunct tone or the focus, etc.

For the last 40 years Ustad Fariddudin Dagar has devoted his energies to teaching. He taught for many years at the Dhrupad Kendra in Bhopal which he directed, and which produced some outstanding musicians who are now known throughout India and the world. Now at age 81 he is teaching at the Gurukul in Panvel, Maharashtra, that was established by ZM Dagar.

Most of the music in this collection was recorded in the music room of the home of ZM Dagar in Chembur, Bombay, where ZF Dagar often stayed. There's a good variety here and some extraordinary moments. The Bihag is as delicate as his Chandrakauns is overwhelming. The rendering of Hindol is magnetic, Jogia Durga is charming, and Ustad’s Multani is an antidote for the idea that sruti-s are imaginary.

Recorded December 1975 by Shantha Benegal at the home of Z.M. Dagar in Chembur.

Bihag, a beloved, perennial raag, always in favor, uses the seven tones of the western major scale (with slightly lowered pitch) plus an augmented fourth. Consensus opinion is that this pitch— tivra madhyam — was absent or weak in earlier times. It certainly adds to the beauty of this raag, especially when used as the Ustad does here. Bihag gains much of its character from the precise pitch of gandhar and nishad, which are lower than the western major third and seventh, and lower than the nominally shuddh gandhar or nishad in such raags as Yaman, Shankara, or Bhoop.

Ustad Fariduddin Dagar’s rendition of Bihag is as unusual as it is exquisite.The sur-s with the most weight are sa, gandhar, pancham, and nishad , the tonic, third, fifth and seventh. Shuddh madhyam, the natural fourth, is used both as an adjunct to the third and as a free standing but light independent tone. This natural fourth —a tone that in other contexts is supposed to inspire strength and martial qualities — is sung here in the most tender heartbreaking way. The other tones are touched very lightly, each in its own way. There are also shruti-s of nishad that approach komal ni. The breadth of Ustad’s range of expression can be assessed by comparing the delicacy of his Bihag with the titanic fierceness of his Chandrakauns on Disc 2.

Recorded by Jeff Lewis at Dagar Saptak, Bhopal, 1982.

Chandrakauns is a pentatonic raag of the night. Its pitches are the tonic, flat third, natural fourth, flat sixth and natural seventh. (Sa, komal gandhar, shuddh madhyam, komal dhaivat, shuddh nishad). It has an obvious affinity to Malkauns but is not simply a version of Malkauns with the seventh raised; Chandrakauns has its own identity with its own balances of weight between the sur-s.

The 1982 “Dagar Saptak” in Bhopal featured musical performances by all seven living adult “Dagar” musician descendants of Zakiruddin Khan and Alabande Khan. Fariduddin Dagar was fifty years old and sang like thunder and lightning. The composition Chalo Sakhi Braj Mein is set to Dhamar tal. The Pakhawaj accompaniment is by Shrikant Mishra. Don’t play this hypnotic recording while driving a car. I have twice witnessed drivers drive off the road while in its thrall.

Recorded January 1981 by Niranjan Benegal at the home of Z.M. Dagar in Chembur.

Hindol  is a morning raag and one of the six male raag-s of antiquity, the others being Malkauns, Shree, Bhairav, Megh, and Deepak. Hindol has no fifth or second degree (no pancham or rishab). Its pitches are tonic, natural third, raised fourth, natural sixth, and a light natural seventh (sa, gandhar, tivra madhyam dhaivat, nishad.) Nishad, the seventh degree is typically a very light adjunct to dhaivat, the sixth, and usually has no independent status. The word “Hindol ” denotes a swing.

After a stunning alap in which the rhythmic portions reflect the influence of the vina, Ustad Zia Fariddudin Dagar briefly presents 2 compositions, “Naad Bhed Aparampaar” in Chaual, a rhythmic cycle of 12 beats, and “Badaal Aayo Basant Baadshah” in sultal, a fast cycle of 10 beats.

Recorded December 1975 by Shantha Benegal at the home of Z.M. Dagar in Chembur.

Multani is an afternoon raag. Its pitches — which are very high in relation to the tanpura — are tonic, flat second, flat third, sharp fourth, fifth, flat sixth and natural seventh (sa, komal rishab, komal gandhar, tivra madhyam, pancham, komal dhaivat, shuddh nishadh). Multani tends to be pentatonic in ascent, omitting the second and sixth and these two pitches have less weight than the others. They are used with great delicacy, especially when sung by Ustad Fariduddin Dagar. I have heard him sing Multani many times and each time he presented it in a different way. This recorded rendition, in which he provides commentary on the raag and its development, is typical of occasions when he sings for a intimate audience of skilled listeners.

With the introduction of a rhythmic pulse also comes a demonstration of the sruti-s in Multani. This is done with alap syllables and with solfege (sargam).As the speed increases Ustad’s mastery of pulsed singing and its attendant lakhshanas become apparent.

Jogia Durga
Recorded December 1975 by Shantha Benegal at the home of Z.M. Dagar in Chembur.

Jogia Durga has only four tones, the tonic, flat second, natural fourth, and natural sixth (Shadja, komal rishabh, shuddh madhyam, shuddh dhaivat).

It is interesting and productive to compare this recording to Ustad’s performance of Hindol which is effectively a four note raag as well.

Jody Stecher
San Francisco, California


Sunil Dutta: Producer

Sunil Dutta learned dhrupad music from Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar in "guru-shishya parampara" - the traditional mode of learning music from a master. Sunil is a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department and a professor of homeland security and criminal justice.

Jeff Lewis: Sound Engineering, Mastering

Jeff is an outstanding rudra vina player and a student of the renowned vina maestro, Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. Jeff teaches dhrupad music in Seattle, Washington.

Jody Stecher: Liner Notes

Jody Stecher is a student of the sons of Ziauddin Khan Dagar. He plays the sursringar, a rare string instrument now in the early stages of revival in India. Jody teaches dhrupad music in San Francisco, California.

Photograph: February 9, 1995, Bombay.



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