Raga Malkauns – Brij Bhushan Kabra
The guitar represents an interesting axis point between Indian Classical traditions of music and their Western counterparts. During the 1960’s and 70’s, when Indian music enjoyed its largest period of appreciate in Europe and America, there was well acknowledged export of traditional Indian instrumentation into popular music, and in some cases, as with guitarists such as Robbie Basho, Peter Walker, and Sandy Bull, the direct transmission or interpretation of Classical Indian modes into the music itself. It was through my love of these guitarists that I first became interested in ragas. Though Basho, Walker, and Bull all made some level of academic and technical study of Indian Classical music, it is important to understand their “ragas” are technically no such thing. They are stylistic interpretations drawing their inspiration from ragas, are not part of the Indian traditions, and do not adhere to the structures that define a raga. Because of the origin of my interest in ragas, as my explorations and understanding of Indian Classical music developed over time, I began to wonder what an actual raga would sound like on guitar. It took years for me to uncover one.
The incorporation of Western instruments into both the Hindustani and Carnatic traditions of Indian Classical music has plenty of precedent – most notably in the case of the violin, which developed from the Ravanahatha (an ancient Indian instrument), and was reintroduced to India in its refined form under British rule. In most cases the acceptance of a “new” instrument into the Indian traditions takes centuries, but particularity during the 20th century it often was realized by the recognition of the virtuosity of a single player. Such is the case with Brij Bhushan Kabra and the guitar. There are very few recordings of the guitar from India’s golden era of recording – 50’s, 60’s, 70’s. Nearly all of them are by Kabra. Though far from the only guitarist working within the classical traditions, he is single-handedly credited for its popularization and acceptance within them. Because many of my readers are likely to have a developed relationship with the tradition of American guitar ragas through Basho, Bull, and Walker, but are far less likely to be aware of the Indian traditions, I thought I would offer this incredible film of Brij Bhushan Kabra playing Raga Malkauns as an introduction. I hope you love it as much as I do, and that it opens a world of discovery.