How long can a musician test the patience of their audience? Aside from experimental specials like John Cage’s 639-year magnum opus, the longest traditional symphony is under two hours long. John Coltrane claims a 65-minute jazz solo. A pop song anywhere in the world rarely breaks 10 minutes, “Thick as a Brick” notwithstanding.
In this recording, Sharafat Hussain Khan sings Darbari for 2 hours and 30 minutes, flat. The alap itself is 80 minutes. When they said his music will last forever, this is presumably not what they had in mind.
Of course stories of hoary ustads singing Yaman for four hours abound. One does not know how many listeners had fallen asleep or simply died of old age by the time the performance finished.
Yet the most remarkable thing about this recording is that it is not a sonorous sleeping pill. On the contrary, it is a tour de force of extended raga exposition, starting with a perfectly structured traditional Agra alap-jod that progresses through weighted, undulating aakar and nom-tom movements from the poorvang to the uttarang, slowly introducing a pulsing rhythm. At the 1 hour 20 minute mark, the first line of “hazrat turakmAn”, surely the greatest song written in Darbari, drumrolls onto the scene. For a performer of mercurial (and occasionally overdone) improvisatory wit, Sharafat is nevertheless in a mood of high seriousness in the vilambit. The last 20 minutes of drut are rather dodgy especially in the over-the-top and discordant layakari. (He was probably getting a kick out of giving Kishen Maharaj’s saath sangat a run for its money, and can I say I’m not a fan of KM’s drut accompaniment.) It’s nowhere as good as, say, his mamujaan’s late recording of the same bandish. This detracts little from the experience. It deserves a dark room, an excellent sound system, a glass of one’s favourite poison and, yes, at least two uninterrupted hours of your time.