Singing Is Nothing But Joy: An Appreciation of Mallikarjun Mansur

The first time I heard the music of Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur was in 1978, very early in my study of Hindustani music. I’d taken a survey course on Indian music at the Harvard Extension, and the professor gave me an assortment of vocal music that included Mansur’s rendition of a beautiful rainy-season raga, Gaud Malhar.

It was strikingly different from the other music on the tape. More than any of the other singers represented, this vocalist really seemed to be enjoying himself. There was a rhythmic playfulness that spoke to my jazz-loving self, integrated with the serene aesthetic flow that characterizes Hindustani music. His voice was a high, slightly raspy tenor; his range was relatively narrow; his breath control preternatural.

I asked other people about Mansur. This was the late 1970s, and most of the people I knew in the Indian music community had never heard of him; as it turns out, he had not been performing widely for decades and had only recently returned to the notice of the concertgoing public in India. Over the next few years I gradually acquired tape recordings of his LP records, whetting my appetite for more of this remarkable singer’s remarkable music. Nobody I knew on the Indian tape-trading network had any concert recordings, and the Internets hadn’t been invented yet.

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Kesarbai Kerkar’s Music Is, In Fact, Out Of This World.

One of the greatest voices of the twentieth century belonged to Kesarbai Kerkar, the legendary singer of Jaipur-Atrauli tradition, who bestrode the narrow concert platforms of India like a colossus until a few years before her death in 1977. To listen to Kesarbai is to experience intellectual, emotional and artistic depth in a way that can hardly be matched anywhere else.

Nat Kamod

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And because it’s so beautiful…

…and we DO need to be reminded why this crazy human chain is worth preserving: Mallikarjun Mansur, singing Raga Shuddh Nat.