Kamal Sabri demonstrates the sarangi, a bowed instrument from North India renowned for its ability to capture the expressive flexibility of the human voice.
Kamal Sabri carries his family’s musical tradition forward to a seventh generation. He absorbed the rich Senia sarangi gharana from his father, esteemed Moradabad master Sabri Khan, and rigorous early training saw him gain respect for mature accompaniment slots with eminent Hindustani singers. He has represented the sarangi in the ‘Art of the Bow’ Festival in Geneva, as well as recording for the BBC and working with varied musicians including Zakir Hussain and as saxophonist Jan Garbarek.
The sarangi is sometimes described as the ‘Indian violin’. But while both are bowed, fretless instruments, it sounds little like its Western counterpart. It has a brightly resonant, almost horn-like tone, thickened with an array of up to 37 sympathetic strings. Performers fret the underside of the strings with the tops of their fingers, sliding to blur the boundaries of a melody. Thought to have evolved from Rajasthani folk instruments, the modern sarangi is carved from a single block of red cedar wood. Its three resonating chambers are named after parts of the body - pet [stomach], chhaati [chest], and magaj [brain].
The word sarangi translates to ‘one hundred colours’, said to reflect its expressive range. Often considered to be the most adept of all instruments at capturing the nuances of vocal music, it has been used to accompany singers for centuries. But the advent of the easier and cheaper harmonium has gradually eroded the sarangi’s popularity in recent years, a trend many lament - the harmonium cannot slur notes or access sruti [microtones]. But singers continue to hold it in high regard, saying that sarangists have an unparalleled understanding of the vocalist’s mind.
Recorded by Darbar at Ram Bagh Palace, Amritsar, India:
Kamal Sabri (sarangi)