Interview with Wasifuddin
Dagar courtesy of Raga Records. Visit their site at www.raga.com.
Ira Landgarten: This is your
first tour of the U.S. and it's been seventeen years since
your father and uncle [Faiyazuddin and Zahiruddin Dagar] have
been here. Now we're in the twenty-first century so you are
the first dhrupadiya to perform in the United States in the
twenty-first century, which is an exciting idea! Most people
who are aware of dhrupad have heard your father and uncle, and
elder uncles [Moinuddin and Aminuddin Dagar] who were mostly
known for their jugalbandi - duet - style. You are now
performing alone; how do you deal with that aspect since you
began your career singing as part of a duo with your uncle
Wasifuddin: Actually when we
learn this art form, it's individual attention that we get
from the teacher. Everybody has their own problems; somebody
could be good in rhythms, somebody could be good in gamaks and
different patterns, longer patterns and smaller patterns. This
is up to the teacher how he develops it, how he makes you do
your best within your capacity. When we learn, it's never
together; it's always individual attention we get when we are
about to perform for the very first time. First they sang
separately - not in the big concerts, they performed in home
gatherings and such - and then they decided, because to sing
together is very tough. It's tough to sing alone also, but
it's even tougher when you sing with someone because you have
to understand a lot of things. You have to coordinate, you
have to understand, you have to adjust according to the mood
of you partner. But most of the time it happens that if one is
not in good mood the other could be in good mood, and after
some time he can inspire you so much that you come back in
good mood. In jugalbandi it's like that. So, in a nutshell, I
come back to the same thing, that when we learn it is always
alone. Our development is in the raag and the personality of
raag, how much you understand. With me when I was learning, it
was for my solo performances - who would have known that my
father would have died so soon? I was always being trained for
solo performance but after the death of my father there were
so many people who were curious about my uncle also - what
will happen to him? Of course, they had not heard me so much
at that time so they didn't know about the future, the next
generation, what is happening there. I had already given one
or two concerts but I was not in front of people yet - not in
Delhi or Bombay - it was in Bhopal that I gave my first
concert. Some people asked my uncle, "With whom now will
you sing?" He decided, "OK, Wasif will sing with
me." My first question to him was, "Can I sing with
you? Do you think so?" Haha! He said, "Yes, of
course you will sing." He was very encouraging. Then I
gave my first performance...
IL: When was that?
WD: It was the 25th of February
1989, just twelve or thirteen days after my father's death. We
decided this was a new combination of 'uncle-nephew' -
otherwise usually it was brothers.
IL: And you became known as 'Dagar
WD: Yes, some people called us
'Dagar Duo' - we were known as the Dagars. I had most of my
training from my uncle, Zahiruddin Dagarsab, and my father
IL: You said most of it; do you
consider that you had one guru or two gurus?
WD: I have more than two gurus.
Heheheh...It's very good to be born in a family of musicians!
After the death of my uncle and father, I can go and ask
questions to my elders and they give replies. One of my uncles
would say, "You can not receive blessings while begging.
You have to be deserving to get blessings." It will not
come just out of anywhere, from you elders or anyone - you
have to be honest, you have to be honest with your music, with
your notes and with yourself. You have to be nice with your
mannerisms and the etiquette of the family, and how to develop
as a musician, as a sincere musician. This how you can win the
hearts of your elders. Gurus do not give just by throwing
something, "Oh, take it!" You have to have proper
hands to take it. Right now I feel that most of my music is
from my uncle, and my father, but a few of the techniques of
Aminuddin Dagarsab, Fahimuddin Dagarsab and something of
Sayeeduddin Dagarsab. Of course, you know my voice resembles
my father's; the techniques are my uncle's. I feel that I am
under them; they are putting all the blessings on me when I'm
IL: You've combined the
qualities of your father and uncle in performance...
WD: Yes, of course, you do so
much of your practice that all the techniques become part of
your music and then it's up to your nature what you like more,
what you select.
IL: Did you begin training as a
very young child?
WD: Yes, but I was listening
before I was born! At three, four or five you can not teach
anything serious to children but you can give them a sort of
atmosphere. In the beginning, in the riyaaz we were given the
first note 'sa' and our brain is the fastest computer, our
mind is the fastest computer in the world because it can
'catch' things unconsciously also. With computers you have to
type, then only you say, "Yes, memory. Yes, I want
memory;" then it catches. But our brain catches
unconsciously. At that time of riyaaz, whether our mind was
there or not - pulling out the thread from the carpet or
anything, heheh - we were singing, "SA...." And if
the sa would waver, "No! Behave! Do it properly."
They are also checking us. Consciously or unconsciously, we
learn. If I can concentrate, I can visualize that - some of
those 'pictures which were clicked.' I can see my uncle and my
father; I was too young to remember Rahimuddin Dagarsab, but I
have a few glimpses of him, also - he died in 1975. I was
about five or six.
IL: So you were just constantly
surrounded by the sound of dhrupad. At some point when you
were old enough were you presented with the idea that now you
are going to seriously start practicing in the traditional
manner, and take this up and become a dhrupad singer?
WD: Yes, it was already
started. And what attracts a child most is rhythm - whenever
there was some fast composition I would really love to hear
that. And the second thing a child likes - to be the center of
attraction. My uncle taught me a few compositions, which were
recorded by some of his students also - I heard that. Whenever
there were some guests, "Yes, our son is also singing.
Come on let's hear something from you." And this is up to
the teacher how he molds the child; this is up to the parents
how they mold the child. Some protect their children so much
that in the winter if they take their hand out they catch
cold. Some people just say, "Oh, jump from here, no
problem. Just be free, carefree. Whatever you want to
do." This is up to the parents. Since then I was told,
"Oh, it's a very nice composition. Yes, you will do,
beta, you will do definitely. You will also sing like
us." So there was encouragement throughout. Some
interesting lessons were given which always inspired me to
wait for the lesson rather than being dragged to it. I used to
wait for the lesson; it used to be one hour or forty-five
minutes lesson in the beginning. After school and after
playing a little bit, I used to get a lesson in the evening,
and I used to wait for that lesson. It is up to the teacher
how he injects the interest to learn, the urge to learn more.
In this classical music you have to be very 'impatiently
patient' to learn. You have to be impatient to learn more but
you have to have patience to have the proper grasp of it.
IL: I would think so; just
about all the Indian musicians I've spoken with -
instrumentalists or kheyal singers - have a special reverence
for dhrupad. One of the things they've said is that dhrupad
requires an extraordinary amount of practice and learning.
They tend to give one the impression that this is even more so
than the other forms of classical music, and because of that
they imply that perhaps a lot of students are not up to the
level of work in the old traditional style. Many musicians are
getting popular, name and fame, that haven't done the kind of
work that dhrupad demands. What do you think about that?
WD: It takes a lot of...not
takes, it extracts a lot of energy out of you, and you have to
have a very decent understanding and you have to see the
notes, not only to admire but in a worshipping way. You have
to be honest...Yes, it's a difficult art form; I will not say
it's easy. But anything, if you want to do it properly, is not
easy. I'm so happy that they have kept dhrupad in such a high
place but at the same time they are also protesting that it
does not have the scope of improvisation; it doesn't not have
what they call 'ornamentations' and it's a very serious
IL: Sometimes we hear the word
'austere' which suggests the lack of ornamentation. 'Purity'
is another word used to describe dhrupad...
WD: Purity of the note is very
essential, and my viewpoint is, of course, music is an ocean.
Each and every note has the depth of an ocean if you really
want to see it with your microscopic eyes to judge the
microtones - the shrutis. But I'm always confused by
'ornamentations' - what do they mean? What are they putting -
some earrings, some necklace? I don't know what they mean by
ornamentations in kheyal because the badhat [detailed
improvisation in the alap] of the raag is the same. We are
singing the same raags; our viewpoints are different,
definitely our way of thinking, our way of approach is
different but we are also doing - if you want to say they are
decorating the notes, we are also decorating it. We also try
to bring out the different meaning of the same text. They have
the words - what they are elaborating with the help of notes -
but we are doing it without the words. It needs a lot of
understanding of the raag. In a raag you get a mukhara
[literally 'face;' the first part of any composition that is
used repeatedly] and then you improvise mukhara. Mukhara is
the first cycle, the first round of the raag. You elaborate,
always remembering the mukhara and you repeat that same thing
whereas in dhrupad you go in a lower octave, then you come to
middle octave, gradually you go up. We are also decorating it.
I really can't understand why they have used this word
'ornamentations.' What do they mean by 'ornamentations'?
"There is no ornamentation in dhrupad; there is
ornamentation in kheyal." Ornamentations are just because
of the words? Words are very feeble if there is no feeling
behind them; it's meaningless if there is no feeling behind
them. Feelings are much more important than the word - words
are important, I don't say that words are not important. And
at the same time the note you are singing does not have enough
strength to - it can not bear the weight of words, it's so
delicate. The note - the swara - is so delicate it can not
bear the weight of a word. When you have aamad [a skilled
entry, with an artistic phrase, into the orbit of sam] when
the sam comes in the time cycle - there is a way of presenting
it in which you see the sam coming from very far - that is
called aamad. It doesn't need a word, people understand it. If
you're aware of that because it is being repeated in front of
you so many times, then after some time you don't need to say
that, and you just present it in such a way that the listener
catches it. "Here; this is sam."
IL: The listener anticipates
WD: Yes, this is anticipation;
the right word for aamad is anticipation. We are singing the
same raag and of course dhrupad is difficult - so other forms
are also difficult. But just don't get away simply by saying,
IL: From what I can hear there is a slightly different
psychological or spiritual intention in your approach to
singing that's at the root of it...
WD: My singing, or Dagars' singing?
IL: The Dagars' singing. It's got a stronger devotional,
meditative quality than kheyal singing, a lot of which is
often closer to entertainment. I think that's perhaps what
some people may refer to because to have that state of mind is
not easy in this world now! The kind of devotional, peaceful,
inner approach - much of the music, especially from the West,
is very outer and very superficial. Isn't there a real
philosophy behind your music and its purpose in your family?
WD: In our family, we have as I told you, sincerity and
honesty towards the music, towards the note, towards your
guru, towards most things. The examples that we get from our
teachers are always towards God. If they would explain about
the singing of someone - I'm talking about at the beginning of
the century - Allabande Khansab, Zakhiruddin Khansab. In our
Indian ways of learning, we are not supposed to ask a lot of
questions. There is a story about the brothers of my
grandfather's generation - Nasiruddin Khansab, Rahimuddin
Khansab, Imamuddin Khansab, Hussainuddin Khansab. Their
father, Allabande Khansab, used to say that there was one
musician whose voice was so beautiful, his singing was so
nice; that's all, he would finish. Then after discussing with
all the brothers, the eldest one said, "You are often
talking about his singing but what kind of singing was it;
what kind of voice quality did he have?" So then he
replied that his voice was so nice and his approach to the
notes was so great that you would feel that the doors of the
temple are open. Because of the very nice approach and voice,
you feel like you are somewhere else - in a temple or shrine.
Our philosophy, our family's way of thinking has always been
meditative and spiritual and towards God - it's a prayer to
God. You do whatever you have to do, whatever you've been
given to do, whatever has come in front of you; just do that
and leave it to God whatever the result is. Whether there are
five people in front of you or fifty, or five thousand or
fifty thousand in front of you, it's no matter; you be honest
with yourself because it's not only them who are listening,
it's some greater thing behind it which will always support
you, which will always be there. So the approach had been,
"You are nothing; you can not do anything! It's only that
big Power which can do anything." You may become so big -
as big as a camel - but that is a mountain, as big, as tall as
a mountain! In the music Weld, even if you've become big, huge
or very well known, you are still a speck of dust in front of
that Power. You try, you are trying, you are trying to serve.
IL: Do you sing every day as a
personal devotion whether you are performing or not?
WD: Yes, there's practice which
goes on every day. It's not fixed - four or five hours,
nothing is fixed, one hour, two hours - it's up to the mood
how it develops. It's not that when you just sit for your
concert or anywhere, you start singing and you go into a
trance - it's a very, very rare thing which happens. It just
happens and you feel that it has happened. When you look at
your watch you just feel that it was just that much, and when
you look at your watch it's been four or five hours!
IL: There's definitely
something very hypnotic and trance inducing about listening to
the music, I'm sure performing and creating the sound is even
more powerful because your body itself is vibrating that way.
You are the closest to the sound.
WD: Oh, yes. What my uncle,
Zahiruddin Dagarsab, and my father would say, "How much
we enjoy, nobody else can enjoy that much!" When I said
that in Europe everybody said, "No, no, no, everybody
enjoys it; everybody can reach to that level." I said,
"Okay." What should I say? But how much we enjoy the
different techniques, and the sound, how it travels.
IL: In your very cells! The
cells and organs in your body are vibrating like that. It's
WD: Yes, yes, it is a yoga of
sound. I'm just telling that to you; I don't like to exhibit
what I feel so much. For instance, a few times I had an
experience of zero gravity, also. I would not say every time,
but it happened and I was holding myself, and it was during my
concert. I thought, "What is happening here, what is
this?" Heheheheh! That's something.
IL: I think any musician who
practices in this deep fashion is dealing with sound and
vibration, and can have extraordinary personal experiences.
It's an altered state of consciousness that you're working
with. That's what I mean about the difference between dhrupad
and other forms of music that don't necessarily have that type
of sadhana or Nada Yoga approach, starting in your own heart
and mind, the psychology of what you are doing. I think that's
one reason why there's a certain acceptance and receptivity in
the West. Also there are some people who have been exposed to
Indian culture for many years, and the side of Indian culture
which drew many people to India - the spiritual, mystical
experience - is still available in the dhrupad music.
WD: Often they say that dhrupad
is rigid, it's fixed. But it's continuous, it's regular,
constant. The same words; you see a half empty glass or a half
full glass. Rigid and fixed; they have projected the meaning
of the words as this, but it's continuous, regular, constant,
IL: How do you feel about your
first tour of the States so far in terms of the audience's
understanding of dhrupad, its receptivity?
WD: I enjoyed performing and
you can see that my second raag crossed the time limit.
Hahahah! Second raags are often half an hour but I kept
singing on and on! So the next time, in other places I was
told, "Please, the second raag is short, yes?"
Hahahah! Where you find good energy from the audience - they
might not be saying, "Wah, wah, wah! Shabash! Kaia baat
hai!" - but their eyes say so many things. Their blank
expressions can also say a lot of things; there is a quality
in so many different positions of blank expressions. Hahahah!
So far I have enjoyed, and I've gotten a good response all
over, touch wood. Most probably I will return very soon. I am
nothing, it's whatever has been handed over to me, I just want
to explain that. It's not rigid, it's constant, it's regular,
it's not fixed, it's flowing.
IL: You've got a great
tradition and legacy, and your enthusiasm and enjoyment make
it obvious that you really do want to share this with people.
This is really important and that's what people thrive on -
your own enjoyment which is probably greater than anyone
WD: When you see things are
moving how you want, it's fantastic, and that's the best time
when you don't have a sense of time. That's the best time of
your life when you don't have the sense of time, and you look
back and it's hours gone!
IL: Perhaps you could discuss a
bit about the raag Bihag which you performed, its mood, etc.
WD: It's one of the prachalit
raags, which are commonly performed by almost everyone. This
is an evening raag, you can say a late evening raag, sung
sometime between evening and night. The rasa [mood] of this
raag is towards pathos a little bit, but it has its different
way of presentation which brings it later to a joyous mood.
Its combination of both romance and yearning; it's the
viewpoints which make it different. The raag has a big
capacity; every note has a good area to discover because in
some raags you have to repeat a few notes again and again. Of
course, in every raag we repeat the notes again and again but
there are some raags whose notes have so much depth that you
can stay there like you are going on a big steamer. You are
going on a big ship and first you have a halt, like you
embarked from somewhere then you had a halt in Mauritius and
then in Saudi Arabia, and then you reached here. There are two
madhyams which makes it more special- tivra [sharp] and shuddh
[natural] - which makes for a floating way of coming down.
IL: What is the size of your
repertoire, the number of raags that you concentrate on, your
WD: There are sixty, seventy,
eighty raags that are absolutely common, and then there are a
few more...it's over 100, 120, something like that.
IL: That many within the Dagar
WD: I'm talking about mine -
eighty or ninety. These are mostly the prachalit raags but
some people have enormous numbers of raags, I don't have to
say anything for that. They have a lot of raags.
IL: There are theoretically
WD: The nayaks [leading
musicians] have found seven hundred, but with the combinations
of notes if you calculated seven ascending and seven
descending, and then 6/6, 5/5, 5/6, 5/7 or something like
this, it goes up to three hundred thousand or something like
IL: Practically speaking, you
have within your tradition certain raags which seem to be
favorites, ones that are concentrated on in the Dagar
WD: It's around fifty, sixty
raags, I would say. I'm the youngest one; one of my elders
might say, "How can you say that?" Right now I can
say sixty or so raags which are very prachalit with us. We
like to sing those raags whose every note has the identity
towards the raag.
IL: Certain raags that I've
heard seem to be real favorites within the Dagar style; one
that I think of immediately is Kamboji.
WD: Yes, Kamboji, Malkauns -
you will hear a lot of Malkauns from us - and Bihag, Desh,
IL: Could you perhaps briefly
explain what you would like your contribution to this art to
WD: First of all, I just want
to relax the spines of dhrupad listeners. When they come, when
they listen, when they talk about dhrupad it's a serious
matter, then they need an erect spine and they should be
proper. No! Music is music! It's not necessary that you
understand music to enjoy it. When you understand music then
you are always judging your understanding with the performance
which is happening. You are always clashing with your
knowledge and the person who is singing. If the note is good
it will come automatically, "Wah! Wah, wah." I want
to relax their spines. There is also a beauty in simplicity
and there are also ways of presenting how it can just flow in
a nice way. People should accept this form as a musical form.
It's not necessary that everybody will go in depth; they are
the rarest people who can go in depth. So enjoy the essence of
sound because the body is the vina which is made by God. It
can have a lot of different variations - it can have the
variation of wind instruments, of string instruments. I have
great love for these instruments - it's not that I'm
dishonoring them - I love these instruments so that's why I
try to bring out the different variations. I want to do things
for dhrupad. You know, there's not a single book about the
Dagar family! I really want somebody to come forward and write