Today’s expert Hindustani Classical Singer Soumita Saha selected Raga Kaafi for this week. She had this to say about the raga, “Raga Kaafi is sung during the first half of the night. The raga is one of the most cardinal ragas of Hindustani classical music. This raga corresponds to Raga Kharaharapriya in Carnatic music. This raga is a prominent member of the Hindustan pantheon of ragas. Vocal compositions in this raga have existed in various forms like dhamaar, thumri, dadra and tappa. Similarly, instrumental renditions of Raga Kaafi also seem to be more inclined towards connotations of such compositions. The best thing about this raga is it is close to the soil.”
On her personal equation with this raga, she said, “Other than every unique aspect of this raga, I must say I have a strong emotional attachment and memories deeply related to this particular raga. Raga Kaafi is the raga whose bandish I learnt just by listening. Bandish is the lyrical part of the raga that a singer performs. I was 3½-year-old then. My mother once heard me singing the bandish of Raga Kaafi. All I can say is that it was nothing more than a child’s play. Eventually, everybody was relishing fact that I had learnt the bandish and I still remember my family members saying Kaafi seekh liya, which definitely had a deeper meaning.
History: According to Pandit Bhatkhande, the name of the raga first appears in the Raga Tarangini of Lochana Pandit, who lived in the Mithila district around the 15th Century CE. Raga Kaafi has a direct lineage with the folk music of India. This unique raga bridges the gap between songs of soil and exclusive music of elite gharana. Folk music in Tappa, Hori, Dadra, Kirtan and Bhajans from different parts of India have been composed in this raga.
Nuances of Raga Kaafi: Nowadays, quite a few variations of Raga Kaafi exist. Contamination with vivadi swaras is judiciously being used to increase the listening pleasure. I would like to refrain from calling it contamination, let us call it beauty blending instead. This mellifluous blending has given rise to Mishra Kaafi. Hence, a pure form of Kaafi is seldom heard in recent performances. All notes other than the third and seventh notes are natural, with the fifth note or Pa and the second note or Re, acting as the primary and secondary tonal centers, respectively. The natural varieties of the third or Ga and the seventh or Ni are used occasionally to add color to the main melodic framework, but this is considered a deviation from the formal structure of the raga. In fact, there are other ragas that are closely related to Kaafi, which allow for such a usage.
Bollywood and Raga Kaafi: Many Bollywood songs exist, which are based on Raga Kaafi. The best thing about a Bollywood song based on a particular raga is that it provides various opportunities for exclusive experimentation. When some composer is actually trying to execute some refined experiment and ends up being successful it is one of the most prodigious things. I am being brutally honest, if you compare the number of Bollywood listeners with authentic Indian Classical Music audience, the ratio is disheartening. Therefore, once a raga is used in some Bollywood song, it reaches mass irrespective of any barrier. The scope of experimentation that I was talking about is clearly visible in some Bollywood numbers. If we talk about the song Kaali ghodi dwar khadi… from the movie Chashm-e-Baddoor, there is one thing unique about the song. The song is totally composed on Punjabi Theka (Sitarkhani), which is a rare number not only in Bollywood compositions but also in the whole music industry. This adds the ultimate grace to the challan (flow) of the raga and makes the song amazing. When a Bollywood song is strongly based on a raga the meandering motion of the song, called harqaat, becomes absolutely as smooth as icing. Needless to say, the song is based on Raga Kaafi but it is still a Bollywood number and the strict rule of staying loyal to the time of performance barely exists.
Soumita took the trouble to select the following songs that represent Raga Kaafi:
Hori khelat Nandlal Biraj mein… Godaan (1963)
Ghayal hiraniya… Munimji (1955)
Ishq ki garmi-e-jazabaat kise pesh karun… Ghazal (1964)
Jalte hain arman mera dil roota hai… Anarkali (1958)
Kaali ghodi dwar khadi… Chashm-e-Buddoor (1981)
Kaise kahun man ki baat… Dhool Ka Phool (1959)