A Great Tree Has Fallen: Asad Ali Khan, R.I.P.

This Tuesday, June 14, the world of music lost a great spirit.

Ustad Asad Ali Khan, one of the few remaining performers on the ancient Indian stringed instrument called the Rudra Veena, passed away after suffering a heart attack in the early hours of the morning.

He performed an austere and sober style of music, an instrumental version of the vocal style known as Dhrupad, which dates back to the 11th century or so. The Rudra Veena, or Been, is considered to be one of the oldest instruments of Indian tradition; it has its own origin myth, which states that the instrument sprang full-blown from the forehead of a meditating Lord Shiva. It is interesting that Asad Ali Khan, whose name makes his Muslim ancestry evident, saw no religious conflict in embracing this story; ecumenicism in Indian musical traditions is alive and well.

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Bhimsen Joshi, 1922-2011. R.I.P.

At 8 AM on Monday the great Hindustani vocalist Bhimsen Joshi died in Sayahadri Hospital in his home city of Pune. He was 89, and a few weeks shy of his 90th birthday.

One of the most celebrated musicians of the twentieth century, Pandit Joshi was known as an impassioned and technically brilliant singer whose voice could execute anything that came to his mercurial and visionary imagination. His renditions of the traditional ragas of Hindustani music were filled with unexpected twists and turns, and he excelled at the expression of emotional nuance; his uniquely recognizable voice seemed to have its own built-in echo chamber. His last public performance was in 2007, sixty-six years after his stage debut at age 19.

Originally from a small town in Karnataka state, he ran away from home at age eleven, searching for music. more »