To get success in any mode of singing, it is necessary that the devotee should understand qualities of his voice and should keep in mind its limitations. The qualities of voice, after being refined, make the gayaki more expressive. Ustad Amir Khan also kept this fact in mind, while deciding about his style. After hearing many singers and having passed from different stages of experiments, he took up that style of vocalism, which most favored to his voice culture [kanth sanskar]. Even though being influenced by performers, who were like his gurus, he never tried to emulate the voice of any particular performer, but he molded those influences of gayaki to suit his voice. His devoted practice of merukhand also helped to increase the flexibility of his voice.
Despite of many qualities, there were certain limitations to his voice. It is necessary to consider the effect of these limitations in the context of his style. His voice was particularly embellished in bass octave with javari [resonance] and depth. So he applied this quality fully in improvisation. The secret of tranquility in his gayaki is that, he succeeded in creating background of raga in bass octave excellently. In treble octave, he felt difficulty in stabilizing swaras to their accurate pitch [shruti] and there was risk of committing mistake. Therefore, in alap, he never raised his voice to any swara, above tar gandhar. Looking to the gravity of his style, no necessity is felt for such a deed. Nevertheless, the tans used to move among the three octaves. The rapidity of his tans, made his voice competent to reach atitar shadj [eighth note of treble octave].
In later years, because of inconvenience in maintaining continuity of longer tans, he used to sing by dividing it in parts and by reposing on the main swaras in between, like alap. For example, see the tan performed by Khan Saheb in raga bhatiyar : -
Similarly, his tan of sargam is also impeded some times, and he joins the swara phrases ahead of it very artistically and peculiarly. For example in LP No.EASD-1357, while presenting raga malkauns, taking ascending sargam in middle octave from dhaivat to tar gandhar, he is impeded at dhaivat, and again starts next swara phrase of sargam from the same swara. The continuity of his breath remains constant, while singing bandish and alap in ativilambit laya. And because of this stamina, he could stabilize swaras and applied meend, in a refined manner, unto the last.
From the point of view of pitch, the voice of Ustad Amir Khan was of middle level, that is, it neither low and broad like that of Fayyaz Khan, nor conical like that of Abdul Karim Khan and Abdul Karim Khan. As per recorded collection available with the author, it appears that on an average, the shadja swara [keynote] of Ustad Amir Khan was equivalent to first black key [kali aik] of the harmonium.
At time of performance, he used the range of his voice culture, from mandra [bass] to tar [treble], to the extent that it was easy to maintain its natural characteristic. Although he had a complete hold over bass octave and he was competent enough to execute swaras of bass octave at every speed, still he never exhibited the resonance and javari of his voice by stabilizing on kharaj [shadja in bass octave]. In alap, his lower limit was confined to mandra rishabh [if confirming to the raga]. For example, in LP records, alap up to mandra rishabh is available in raga megha and marva. Simply a touch of mandra shadj can be heard some where in audio records. Similarly, while applying the tans up to atitar shadj, he did not show the acrobatics of stabilizing his voice on its climax [atitar shadj].
The way whereby he used his voice in bass octave, the bass effect of his voice got specially embellished through microphone and amplifier. He applied open and lofty voice between Madhya pancham and tar shadj, and application of swaras on the basis of pitch only, without increasing the magnitude of voice above tar shadj, was his own quality of voice culture.
Khan Saheb maintained continuity of voice and mutual linkage of swaras through kan, meend and gamak; due to which experts have compared his vocal chords with sarangi. For example, Acharya Brihaspati has called him a ‘speaking instrument’ [according to the information obtained from an article written by Mr. Madanlal Vyas].
About voice culture, the opinion of Khan Saheb himself and that of Dr. Prabha Atre is given below. Mr. Ravindra Visht writes: -
“Khan Saheb gave great emphasis on the quality of voice. One day, he said, ‘my gayaki is not ga pa ga ni, re ni ga pa [i.e. sargam of chhoot, tan etc], my gayaki is my voice. If you apply a vocal activity, it will be another thing, and if I apply the same, it will be different.’ Khan Saheb used to tell sarcastically, ‘people say that I knew the technique of singing on mike.’ People also say that his voice was naturally good. Both the comments are wrong. Actually, the fact is that, the voice of Khan Saheb was made by his hard work.”[i]
Dr. Prabha Atre writes in a book: -
“Comparatively the gayaki of Kirana gharana is of middle [Madhya] and treble [tar] octaves, whereas the gayaki of Khan Saheb is that of bass octave [kharaj]. On the whole, the part of kharaj is raw and rough, but Khan Saheb had made this kharaj soft like greenery, as much as that one would not like to come out of it. Therefore his gayaki had obtained three dimensional structures. In spite of adopting fine musical embellishment of this age, his gayaki does not appear to be of substandard due to kharaj. Serious, traditional, respected, grave, self rectifying, inward looking etc are many adjectives, which can be used for his gayaki. In fact, the voice of Khan Saheb was the reason for that. In it [voice], there was a touch of mysticism, and it had a resonance. Besides these natural qualities, he had ideas of his own.”[ii]
Among the qualities [guna] of singers described in the Shastras, shudha vani [accurate voice] and shudha mudra [accurate posture and gesture] have been considered very important. Among the modern singers, very few can be considered to be ideal in this respect. Among them, especially the performance of Ustad Amir Khan has been considered praiseworthy. If the accuracy of Amir Khan’s voice is tested on the basis of physiology, it had a peculiarity that all kinds of swara application were based on movements of vocal chords, with controlled breath. He did not produce voice seem to be artificial, with the help of organs, which could affect voice, like jaws, tongue, nose etc. For example, pronunciation of swara names in sargam, the natural position of lips and jaws in akar and keeping pronunciation of words quite similar to usual conversation in singing etc aesthetic elements were fine and inseparable parts of his vocalism. In gamak application, he never used jabaday ki tans [tans with movements of jaws]. Similarly, he never produced distortions, by changing the form of nasals in words, from rang, dhang, sang to raung, dhaung, saung respectively; which is done by others.
Dr. Ibrahim Ali
Asst. Prof. Music
Govt. Kalidas Girls College, Ujjain
Supervisor & Research Guide for doctoral thesis
For Vikram University, Ujjain
And Online Teacher of Indian Classical Music,
Address: 20 Khara Kuwa,
Ujjain [M.P.] 456006