Hindustani Classical

Influenced by Persian Music

New Delhi
For centuries, musical legacies have crossed geographical boundaries, says world music guru Laurent Aubert, citing how Hindustani classical got its Persian influence and how the Beatles opened the window to Indian notes.

Aubert, curator of the Geneva Ethnographic Museum and the director of the Ateliers d'ethnomusicologie, says global migration has changed the tenor of music irrevocably. The Ateliers d'ethnomusicologie is an institute dedicated to the dissemination of world music.

"Hindustani classical has been influenced by Persian music since the 16th century after the Mughals arrived from Persia," Aubert told IANS here.

The advent of Islamic rule over northern India caused musicians to seek patronage in the courts of new rulers. Most of them, of foreign origin, had strong cultural and religious ties outside India. Several centuries of interaction with the ruling gentry from Persia caused Hindustani music to absorb influences from the Islamic world, primarily greater Persia. It gave birth to genres like kheyal, ghazal and thumri - and smaller offshoots like dhrupad, dhammar and tarana, the professor said. 

Similarly, American music also underwent a prolonged period of assimilation from the 16th to the 19th century when slaves from Africa were brought to the new land to work in the tobacco and cotton plantations.

"Initially, their cultures were banned. But gradually, the slaves began to play their music in secluded pockets and created new music. It was a fusion of their African remembrance with the instruments, sounds and influences of people they met," he said.

The consequence was an explosion of new genres that like the blues and jazz emerged in the US, reggae in Jamaica, Salsa in Cuba and Puerto Rico while Samba captured the popular fancy in Brazil, Aubert said. 

Aubert, who has authored a book "A Music of the Other: New Challenges for Ethnomusicology in a Global Age", was in the capital to address students of sociology and musicology at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) at the behest of the Swiss Arts Council.

"We are surrounded by new musical encounters today as never before and the experience of music from elsewhere is progressively affecting all arenas of human conscience," said Aubert, who is also secretary general of the International Archives of Folk Music. 

However, migration music, felt Aubert, had a certain conservatism because of the memories involved.

"One such example is the music of Ziyodulloh Shahidi of Afghanistan, the founder of modern Tajik music. In the 1960s and 70s, Shahidi taught his sons the music of his youth which he learnt as a student at the conservatory of Moscow in the 1940s," Aubert said.

At the seminary, Shahidi embarked on a synthesis of Russian, Caucasian and Central Asian musical traditions - inspired by the movements of people across Asia following political change. 

In the last decade, the cross-cultural journey of music was felt in Britain when Bhangra travelled to Asian-Punjabi homes in Britain with the exodus of Punjabi youth to the country from India in search of better livelihoods.

"The trend saw new forms of Bhangra like the Bhangra pop take the musical centre stage," he said.

Migration, said Aubert, brought people, music and technology together. "I am seeing more technology in music these days and better distribution through the web which was not there before.

"Countries like India do not need technological giants like Japan and the US to master technologies. Expertise is available in India too - though I personally feel that technology has closed the door on musical subtlety and purity of ambience," said Aubert, a lover of Hindustani classical music and Beatles.

"Music has also developed links with identity, which has a lot to do with politics. It is either fundamentalist or open minded."

Beatles set a fine example of migration music in the 1960s when they espoused the cause of freedom, sexual liberation and opened the window to India through their association with Pandit Ravi Shankar and the late transcendental meditation guru Mahesh Yogi.

Aubert will present a paper here on Alan Danielou, a music maestro who carried Rabindrasangeet to Europe and was a close confidant of Rabindranath Tagore.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at  


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