It has been one of our goals, perhaps the principal goal, at Flute Journal, to bring out information that can help to expand musical boundaries. Among the artists we have featured many have contributed to that effort by demonstrating a mastery of multiple instruments, forms or genres. So it is something of an oversight that we have not yet introduced our readers to a master of the bansuri, or Indian bamboo flute, Deepak Ram. Deepak can be seen playing the John Coltrane composition Impressions at the opening and closing of the trailer for my documentary The Flute in Jazz; he is one of very few artists who attempt to play jazz on the bansuri. On his own most recent recording, however, he is found performing, with great distinction, works from his own most cherished tradition, North Indian, or Hindustani, Classical Music.
Deepak’s mastery of this ancient tradition should come as no surprise, as he is a senior disciple of world-renowned bansuri maestro Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia whom we have met several times within these pages. Deepak came into Pandit Chaurasia’s influence by a somewhat circuitous route, however. He was born and grew up in South Africa where he began his formal training in bansuri and tabla under Sri Jeram Bhana in 1975. Two years later, however, he was off to Mumbai, India where he studied flute under the late Sri Suryakant Limaye, best known as India’s master flute maker, and another distinguished flutist Pandit Vijay Raghav Rao. He also studied tabla, voice and music theory. Then, in 1981, his dream was realized when he was accepted as a student by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia.
Since then, Deepak has moved his base to the United States where he has performed extensively, as well as in South Africa, India, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Taiwan, Austria, Germany, Lebanon, Turkey and Holland. He has had the honor of accompanying Pandit Chaurasia, in Geneva, London and Paris. Along the way, in 1996, he has earned a Masters Degree in Music from Rhodes University, South Africa, issued eleven solo recordings, performed as a session musician on over sixty albums and a number of movie soundtracks, and received a series of music awards.
Deepak’s recordings have embraced a number of genres, but for his twelfth album, Confluence, he has returned to his most essential influence with a recording of two North Indian ragas, Raga Yaman and Raga Jasamohini and, as has become a tradition, ends with a folk melody.
For any such performance, first-rate tabla accompaniment can be essential. Here Deepak is very fortunate because a very accomplished tabla artist from a distinguished musical family lives very close to him in Baltimore. Enayat Hossain was taught tabla by his father Ustad Hamid Hossain and has accompanied leading Indian artists such as Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, Pandit Jasraj, Budhaditya Mukherjee, Shujaat Khan, Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan and many others. He has 14 CDs to his own name, again in a variety of genres, and owns his own record company.
The first of the two ragas presented here is Raga Yaman. “Since Mughal times,” we read in the Raga Guide, “Yaman has been regarded as one of the grandest and most fundamental ragas in Hindustani, Classical Music. It is also one of the first ragas which is taught to students , as musicians believe that a thorough knowledge of Yaman creates a foundation for understanding many other ragas.” This was my experience when I studied with Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, as well as with Ustad Zia Mohammed Dagar. I was told, however, that it would also be the last raga I would study as it is only fully realised after extensive study of the other ragas. (It is particularly so with the bansuri, as the Yaman scale employs a raised 4th degree which is an open hole, much easier than a natural 4th which requires a half-covered hole, which takes much practice to master.)
Following the traditional format, Deepak presents us with a 7 1/2 minute Aalap before introducing a composition in two rhythm cycles, Rupak and Ektal of 7 and 12 beats respectively. With Hossain’s highly sensitive tabla, including occasional solo flourishes, Deepak unfolds Yaman with great respect for its antiquity yet making it sound completely new. Go to Youtube and the versions of Yaman available are endless, from artists young and old. You will not find anything superior to this version, however.
According to the time theory of Hindustani music, Yaman is a raga that should be performed in the early evening. The same is true of Raga Jansamohini, although it is not quite as well known as Yaman. Deepak presents a brief Aalap before the tabla enters in teental tala of 16 beats. The exposition is as relaxed and as precise as the Yaman. Both together, played in the early evening, will provide great calm and a profoundly refreshed and settled atmosphere for the listeners before they retire for the night. Unless you are still awake. Then enjoy the night-time Raga Kirwani (below).
The performance ends with a folk tune set in Raga Mishra Pahadi. Virtually every bansuri concert I have attended has ended in this way, and often the effect is magical as the deep concentration brought about by the main raga exposition gives way to a simpler melody that evokes rural simplicity, mountains, milkmaids, Lord Krishna.
The Access to Ustads Project brings the greatest maestros of Southeast Asian Classical Music to the Pacific Northwest and beyond. A project of Seattle Tabla Institute. www.ACITSeattle.org
Deepak Ram and Enayet Hossain play Raga Kirwani – a night-time raga
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