Celebrating the eclecticism of Hindustani maestro Ramkrishna Vaze
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This column has previously touched upon the issue of eclecticism in Hindustani music, noting that it is not a recent phenomenon. It existed even in the nineteenth century, despite the desire to maintain musical exclusivity and hereditary ownership of knowledge through the gharana model.

Vocalist Ramkrishnabuwa Vaze (1871-1945) is a striking example of a musician who studied under many gurus and drew from several influences. He created a style that eminent scholar-musician Professor BR Deodhar called “Vaze gayaki”. Vazebuwa, as he was popularly known, did not restrict his interests only to vocal music alone, as he also played the fiddle and the sitar.

Between 1920 and 1931, Vazebuwa was engaged as composer by the Lalitkaladarsh Sangeet Natak Mandali (established in1908) and the Balwant Sangeet Mandali (established 1918). Reputed actor-singers trained under him during this period.

Notably, Vazebuwa had completed four years of schooling with Marathi as the medium of instruction and was one of the early musicians to write his memoirs, in 1933 in the weeklyVasundhara. He also wrote two volumes of Sangeet Kalaprakash (1938), which include compositions in rare raags and an autobiographical account.

Vazebuwa was known for his powerful delivery and diverse repertoire, which can be heard on the 78 rpm recordings recorded in Bombay and published on the Columbia label. Recorded when he was in his sixties and later, they provide study material for students of music.

Additional information about the 78 rpm recordings has been sourced from the discography provided in The Record News, The Journal of The Society of Indian Record Collectors, Volume 21, January 1996 by researcher Michael Kinnear.

Raag Khat

Vazebuwa recorded raag Khat in August 1939. He negotiates this rare raag with ease, singing a composition in Jhaptaal, a cycle of ten matras or time units. He often uses bol baant or changes the scansion of the first line and even employs simple tihais, a mathematical device that involves singing or playing a particular phrase thrice in order to arrive at the sam/sum or the first matra of the cycle. His taans or quick melodic passages are not very swift or lengthy, but they are bold and emphatic with heavy gamaks or oscillations on each note.

Raag Tilak Kamod

The next track features a famous Jhaptaal composition in raag Tilak Kamod recorded in February 1933. The taans are longer in this recital, but often juxtaposed with short phrases that are at times repeated in two octaves.

Marwa tarana

Vazeubuwa sings a tarana in Marwa, a raag prescribed for performance at dusk. Recorded in June 1933, this track demonstrates his ability to reach high into the upper octave with the same force that he commands in the middle octave.

Bhairav Bahar

Bhairav Bahar, a compound raag, was recorded by Vazebuwa in April 1933. The composition is set to the 12-matra Ektaal.

Oodho Karaman Ki Gati

The is a bhajan recorded in June 1933. Written by the saint-poet Meerabai, the melody is based on raag Maand and the composition is set to the 16-matra Teentaal. In his bid to explore the melodic line, Vazebuwa deviates from the import of the song-text to launch into taans.

Raaf Kafi Kanada

Akashvani has also released archival recordings of the maestro. One of these is the next track featuring a composition set to Teentaal in raag Kafi Kanada. Once again, the heavy gamaks are easily discernible, but in this case, Vazebuwa employs some delicate movements in the vistaar or elaboration.

Mia ki Malhar

The last track is an exposition of Mia ki Malhar, a raag prescribed for the monsoon. Vazebuwa sings a famous vilambit Ektaal khayal composed by the eighteenth-century composer Feroze Khan “Adarang”. He focuses his raag exploration in the upper octave in the second composition set to a fast paced Teentaal. Vazebuwa’s penchant for short and almost abrupt phrases, leads him to take liberties with the song-text. He therefore often treats the syllables as discreet entities, rather than components of words with literal meaning that create a narrative.

He is accompanied on this recording by Bundu Khan, one of most renowned sarangi players, and the tabla maestro Alla Rakha.