Seldom does audience, at the end of a classical concert, invite the foreigner artiste to settle in the host nation. When Daud Khan Sadozai kept his string instrument rabab down after an hour-long performance, a few in the Delhi hall requested the sexagenarian Afghani to reboot life in the heartland of Hindustani music.
The bearded virtuoso with a round-topped woolen hat smiled benignly, apparently taking the suggestion as nothing more than a note of appreciation to the three pieces he played for them in ragas popular in northern India.
“I have been living in Germany for 35 years, but I still don’t know to play a Western number,” shrugged the 62-year-old who teaches at the Academy of Indian Music at Cologne.
The master, originally from Kabul where rabab has a special place, was in Delhi this week, during which he performed on Sunday evening under the aegis of Ustad Imamuddin Khan Dagar Indian Music Art & Culture Society along with the Jaipur-based Dagar Archives.
The 125-minute ‘Gunijan Sabha Verse 20’ at India International Centre (IIC) focused on the art of the Afghan Rabab, in which Sadozai was assisted on the tabla by young Sabir Husain, featured an interactive session moderated by scholar Manjula Saxena.
For all his long stay in Germany, by the banks of the Rhine river flowing along the country’s southwest, people far and near Cologne—the country’s fourth-largest city with a population of 10 lakh people—hardly listen to Indian music, according to the instrumentalist.
“There, nobody is actually very keen to hear this,” says Sardozai, whose institute was founded by his Indian guru Amjad Ali Khan, who also taught him the sarod, which is a modified version of the rabab (also called robab, ribab and the rebab).
Even so, Sadozai has performed on German TV and radio several times. Also, his academy has a handful of students at any point in time—and largely from southern Europe, says the instrumentalist, who learned the rabab primarily from the celebrated Ustad Muhammad Umar (1905-80).
It was back in his native Kabul, where he grew up, that Sarozai learned the instrument and debuted when he was 16. The fretted Rabab, with 25 strings, is tough to master even as it has bigger versions—they are less used for classical genre—in countries adjoining Afghanistan, where it is a national music instrument. Undivided Punjab, for instance, is one territory where the bigger rababs are in vogue, while—a young buff in the IIC audience—pointed out that Kashmir continues to have the instrument played during certain occasions that include harvest. The Sikh community, too, has an age-old connection with the rabab—as the first instrument used by Bhai Mardana, a long-time companion of Guru Nanak Dev, who founded the religion in the 15th century.
Back in Afghanistan, the rabab has very few practitioners left owing to waves of crisis the country faced—more so during its 1996-2001 regime under the Taliban, the after-effects of which continue to persist, albeit in lessening intensity.
“Kabul today has no master with a stature to teach classical rabab,” says Sadozai, recalling a rich culture his motherland groomed for long till 1978, when the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan took power in a military coup that triggered a Soviet intervention followed by a decade-long war.
Of late, though, there is a cultural revival happening around Kabul, Sadozai says, adding that the Afghan capital has institutions teaching vocal music, sitar, rabab and certain Western genres. To a pointed question, the master says the instrument he played was a two-century-old one, having been handed down generations. Rabab, generally, is made from the trunk of mulberry tree, besides goat hide and strings made from the rut of that animal (or also from nylon these days). Largely considered a Persian and Central Asian instrument, its varied forms are widely prevalent also in Pakistan, Azebaijan, Iran, Turkey, Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Sadozai’s February 26 session was attended by a range of music exponents and buffs of various genres. Prominent among them was Hindustani classical maestro Bahauddin Dagar, who gave a rudra veena recital earlier in the day at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).
The 47-year-old instrumentalist was in Delhi to perform at the IGNCA’s monthly Bhinna Shadj music series, where the Mumbaikar rendered rare afternoon ragas Suha and Noor Sarang before a concluding item. Accompanied by Dr Anil Chaudhary on the pakhawaj, the two-hour concert was the fourth in the new series of the 1985-founded IGNCA, which functions as an autonomous body under the Union culture ministry.
(The videos are from an earlier performance of the artistes.)