A Brief History of Ragas and North Indian Classical

Photo credit: BBC

Ragas and North Indian classical music are a great example of an amalgamation of cultures. The roots of classical music are in the Vedas (Hinduism scriptures) however in the 16th century the Islamic influence through the Mughal empire in India also permanently influenced this art form. After the British left and the 1947 partition of British India occurred, Lahore ended up in the Punjab province of Pakistan, which is considered the artistic and cultural capital of Pakistan. It is this sacred classical music that remained and has now created a bond for artists across both countries, despite the geopolitical issues. 

There was an amalgamation of cultures, albeit at a smaller level again during April 2019 in Lahore, Pakistan when a white British musician by the name of Tenderlonious visited us, expressing a desire to play ragas with our band Jaubi. Ed was accompanied in his trip to Lahore by the Polish pianist Marek Pędziwiatr (bandleader for EABS) and with founding members from both 22a records (Oliver Reeves) and Astigmatic records (Łukasz Wojciechowski and Sebastian Jóźwiak).

It takes years to learn ragas from one’s guru and a deep understanding of the complexities and spirituality within ragas to do them justice when played. We questioned what this tattooed London flautist/saxophonist/DJ/House Producer would know about ragas and our culture. The cliché “don’t judge a book by its cover” couldn’t be more appropriate when we artistically met in the studio for the first time. During those studio sessions we were all blown away by Ed’s (Tenderlonious) musicianship evidenced by a deep understanding and supreme command of the nuances of ragas. This level of playing only comes from years of practice and appreciation for the ragas and most importantly musical sincerity, traits that we all respected immediately. Even more he is mostly self taught! 

We are grateful that this amalgamation of cultures and cities (London meets Lahore) occurred because it not only allowed us to share our culture both in the studio and in the streets of Lahore but also break down cultural misconceptions… inshallah. The journey will continue when Ed appears on our soon to be released debut album “Nafs At Peace” which itself is a musical exploration of Qur’anic verses and Islamic philosophies through a prism of Spiritual/Modal Jazz, North Indian Classical Music and Hip-Hop. 

Tender in Lahore will be released on 29th May via 22a.

Ronu Majumdar – Raag Mangal Bhairav 

This is the track that inspired Tenderlonious to come over to Pakistan and work with us. It was after hearing the North Indian Classical flautist Ronu Majumdar’s ‘Raga Mangal Bhairav’ that Tender knew this was a musical style that he had to explore. It’s the raga he would practice everyday, that prepared him so well for the studio sessions in Lahore.

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme, Pt. II – Resolution

Coltrane was influenced heavily by North Indian Classical music — he befriended Ravi Shankar and was due to study with him before his premature death. Coltrane even named his own son Ravi. Coltrane’s famous quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones— one of the most influential jazz groups of all time — explored the extended modal improvisations and time frame found in Shankar’s music.

Ravi Shankar – Live at Monterey Pop (June 1967)

Sitarist Ravi Shankar is almost single-handedly responsible for popularizing Indian classical music in the West, through his virtuosity and affiliation with the Beatles. He eventually was performing for large audiences in concert halls and at major music festivals, including the famous Monterey (California) pop festival of 1967, and was almost a pop icon himself.

Alla Rakha – Tabla Solo in Jhaptal

Taal (or Beat) is very important in ragas and it is provided in North Indian classical music by the percussion instrument called Tabla. It requires exceptional skill on the part of the percussionist as well as the melodic soloist to keep track of all the measurements and sub-divisions pertaining to any given taal. Allah Rakha was one of the masters of the tabla and in collaboration with Ravi Shankar popularised the rhythmic aspects of North Indian classical music.

Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan

Indian classical music is generally passed down in an oral tradition where the student would spend many years with their ‘guru’, developing a very special, spiritual bond, imbibing all aspects of the music along with philosophical and moral principles that shape them for life. Many instruments aim to emulate the voice in their technique and expression. Ustade Bade Ghulam Ali Khan is considered one of the greatest vocalists in North Indian Classical music.

Tender in Lahore will be released on 29th May via 22a.


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