Three Generations of Sarangi

4 12 2008

5 Ragas: Sarangis and Tabla (Arc)

Perhaps few instruments in the world have a distinct and pervasive enough sound to instantaneously define the culture that birthed it. The sarangi is one of them. While India is first and foremost known for its sitar, due to the ambassadorial role played by Ravi Shankar some four decades ago, the sarangi—as the literal translation has it, “hundred colors”—is the bowed lute that creates a texture unlike any other in the Hindustani tradition. In America Ustad Sultan Khan, a contemporary and friend of Shankar (they both played together in Tabla Beat Science, for one), is usually the first name to mind. The instrument has also been in various members of the Sabri family for eight generations, and this album is the first to invite three generations of players into the studio: Ustad Sabri Khan, Kamal Sabri, and Suhai Khan, along with tabla player Sarvar Sabri. Along with “colors”—which is also the meaning of the word “raga”—the sarangi has the intonations of a voice, often as if in urgency, or in calm. The paradoxical nature brings out its beauty; the 21-minute “Raag Megh,” an evening raga played during the monsoon season, captures elements of both serenity and fury. The genius of this musical system has always been its correlation between nature and sound, with humans mimicking the external circumstances. Playing predominantly evening or night ragas, by the time the closing morning raga, “Raag Pancham,” emerges, you feel as though you’ve gone through a journey with these talented kin. Over the course of five ragas and fifty-five minutes, they clue you into what has made this sound so important to their nation, and so appealing to the world. Derek Beres