Stephen O’Malley


Posted: Feb 4, 2008

The Just Alap Raga Ensemble

Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan Sahib & Ustad Hafizullah Khan

Two Concerts in the MELA Dream House
Friday evenings, February 8 and 15, 2008, 9 pm

La Monte Young, voice
Marian Zazeela, voice
Jung Hee Choi, voice
Da'ud Constant, voice
Jon Catler, fretless sustainer guitar
Naren Budhkar, tabla
The Tamburas of Pandit Pran Nath from the Just Dreams CD

MELA Foundation Dream House
275 Church Street, 3rd Floor, between Franklin & White Streets in Tribeca
Friday evenings, February 8 and 15, 2008, 9 pm
Admission $24. MELA Members, Seniors, Student ID, $18.
Limited seating. Advance reservations recommended.
Info and reservations: 212-219-3019;

Two Concerts of Evening Ragas in the contemporary Kirana Gharana (Style) of North Indian Classical Music will be performed by La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela with The Just Alap Raga Ensemble on Friday evenings, February 8 and 15, 2008, at 9 pm in the MELA Foundation Dream House light environment, 275 Church Street, 3rd Floor. The concerts are a memorial tribute honoring two pillars of the Kirana gharana: Pandit Pran Nath’s Guru, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan Sahib (c. 1879-1949), the greatest master of the tradition during his lifetime, and Wahid Khan Sahib's son, master sarangi player, Ustad Hafizullah Khan (1946-2002), the late Khalifa of the gharana.

La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela will be accompanied by Jung Hee Choi and Da'ud Constant, voices, Jon Catler, fretless sustainer guitar, Naren Budhkar, tabla, and The Tamburas of Pandit Pran Nath from the Just Dreams CD. The Just Alap ensemble will perform a composition by La Monte Young featuring extended alap sections and sustained vocal drones in just intonation over tamburas.

Pandit Pran Nath has said, "Alap is the essence of Raga. When the drut [faster tempo] begins, the Raga is finished." With the Just Alap Raga Ensemble, La Monte Young applies his own compositional approach to traditional raga performance, form and technique: a pranam (bow) of gratitude in reciprocation for the influence on his music, since the mid-fifties, of the unique, slow, unmetered timeless alap, and for one of the most ancient and evolved vocal traditions extant today. Featuring extended alap sections and sustained vocal drones in just intonation over tamburas, Young and Zazeela premiered this ensemble on August 22, 2002 in a memorial tribute marking the passing of Ustad Hafizullah Khan.

Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan’s revival of the khayal at the turn of the 19th century stands, in itself, as a virtually unparalleled contribution in the recent history of Indian classical music. Although a youthful prodigy of the Kolhapur court, remaining unchallenged after his public debut there at the age of 18, he had not the inclination to spend time singing in the courts. Instead, he lived a devout, reclusive life, singing in the presence of holy men and at the tombs of Sufi saints, and only occasionally sang in public. His command of the art was of such stature that no other musician ever performed in his presence. Requiring rigorous discipline and fierce devotion, he took very few disciples; among them Pran Nath became the most important through his ceaseless practice, natural talent, and extraordinary ability to serve his teacher.

In The Hindustan Times (2003), Shanta Serbjeet Singh wrote:

“[Young and Zazeela] would create works like the “Just Alap Raga Ensemble” which would amaze musicians of the caliber of Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj or the Gundecha brothers were they to hear it. In fact I wish they would hear it and savour their own legacy of Indian classical music in two new ways, one, by way of the Youngs’ immense sadhna and two, by way of the fact that today the great art of Hindustani Shastriya sangeet has actually become so much a part of the world of music. Did not the ancients say: Vasudeva Kumutbhakam—the world is a family? A work like “Just Alap Raga Ensemble” actually proves it.”

In the 2005 article, “TALES OF EXEMPLARY GURU BHAKTI / PRAN NATH, LA MONTE YOUNG AND MARIAN ZAZEELA,” SPIC MACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth) quarterly magazine "The Eye," it is noted:

“He [Young] is a master of Hindustani classical music. ... La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, founders of the MELA Foundation Dream House in New York are responsible for having single-handedly introduced vocal Hindustani classical music to America. In 1970 when they brought renowned master vocalist Pandit Pran Nath of the Kirana Gharana to the U.S. and became his first Western disciples, studying with him for twenty-six years in the traditional gurukula manner of living with the guru, Americans and Westeners only had a nodding acquaintance with Indian music, that too, only instrumental music through the performing tours of Pandit Ravi Shankar. Also some introduction to Indian rhythm techniques through the charismatic playing of Pandit Chatur Lal, the tabla player who always accompanied Ravi Shankar through the sixties. But the deep, unfathomable intricacies of Khayal Gayaki and of the whole cosmos of Alap were totally unknown to them. Indeed, as his many American shishyas, most of them practicing musicians themselves, would say later, even unimaginable. ... Young and Zazeela, who taught the Kirana style and performed with Pandit Pran Nath since 1970 in hundreds of concerts in India, Iran, Europe and the United States, have continued their Guru’s work in the most exemplary manner. In June 2002, shortly before he died, Khalifa Hafizullah Khan Sahib, Ustad Wahid Khan Sahib’s son and a great sarangi master, conferred on Young the title of Khan Sahib.”

Pandit Pran Nath's 1971 morning performance at Town Hall, New York City, was the first concert of morning ragas to be presented in the U.S. Subsequently, he introduced and elaborated to Western audiences the concept of performing ragas at the proper time of day by scheduling entire series of concerts at special hours. Many students and professional musicians came to him in America to learn about the vast system of raga and to improve their musicianship. In 1972, Pran Nath established his own school in New York City under the direction of his disciples La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, the Kirana Center for Indian Classical Music, now a project of MELA Foundation. Over the years Pran Nath performed hundreds of concerts in the West, scores of them in New York City, and in Fall 1993, he inaugurated the MELA Foundation Dream House with three Raga Cycle concerts. He continued to perform here annually during his remaining years and on May 12 and 17, 1996, his two concerts of Afternoon and Evening Ragas in the Dream House were his last public performances before he passed away on June 13, 1996.

Pran Nath's majestic expositions of the slow alap sections of ragas combined with his emphasis on perfect intonation and the clear evocation of mood had a profound impact on Western contemporary composers and performers. Following Young and Zazeela, minimalist music composer Terry Riley became one of his first American disciples. Fourth-world trumpeter Jon Hassell, jazz all‑stars Don Cherry and Lee Konitz, composers Jon Gibson, Yoshimasa Wada, Rhys Chatham, Michael Harrison and Allaudin Mathieu, Sufi Pir Shabda Kahn, mathematician and composer Christer Hennix, concept artist and violinist Henry Flynt, dancer Simone Forti, and many others took the opportunity to study with the master.

In 1994, violinist Rose Okada became a disciple of Pandit Pran Nath and he suggested she also become a disciple of Khalifa Hafizullah Khan and study sarangi. Since Hafizullah Khan Sahib's father died when he was very young, Pandit Pran Nath was like an elder brother to him and they became very close. Rose brought Ustad Hafizullah Khan to the West on two tours in 2000 and 2002. Khan Sahib’s performance at the MELA Dream House in New York on June 13, 2002 was dedicated to the memory of Pandit Pran Nath. During his two week residency at the Dream House, Hafizullah Khan Sahib, Young and Zazeela developed a strong musical relationship. Sadly, only two months later at the age of 56, Khalifa Hafizullah Khan's health failed and he passed away in New Delhi.

Admission is $24 / $18 MELA members; seniors; students with ID. Limited seating. Advance reservations recommended. For further information and reservations 212-219-3019, email or visit

MELA's programs are made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency and generous contributions from individuals and MELA Members.

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