It has been forty years since the death of the legendary Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. To celebrate his music, the Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Yaadgaar Sabha is organising a tribute concert today. In a gesture of generosity, the organisation has invited Jayateerth Mevundi to perform. It is heartening that Mevundi, who is from the Kirana Gharana, will be singing in memory of the maestro from the Patiala Gharana. More the Gharana prejudices ebb, better for listeners. Another vocalist, Devaki Pandit, will also be performing at the same event.
Last year, the Dover Lane Music Conference in Kolkata was witness to a rare event. Mevundi was invited to sing at the festival for the second year in a row. Apart from top maestros, almost no other artiste is afforded this opportunity that the organisers of Dover Lane reserved for this young man from the Hubli-Dharwad region of Karnataka. And they did not have to regret their decision: Pandit Jasraj attended especially to listen to Mevundi and, when the youngster completed his first rendition (Raga Puriya Kalyan), he gave him a standing ovation.
But Mevundi is accustomed to special attention. His life had looked pretty dreary in the early nineties: his singing career was not taking off and he was finding it hard to make ends meets in Hubli. Eventually, he took a job as a tanpura player with All India Radio, Goa, and left his hometown. It was while he was in Goa that he received the phone call that changed the course of his life. The station director sent for him to say that there was a call for him from Pune. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was on the line. The great man wanted him to perform at the Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsava that year (a festival that Joshi organised in memory of his guru, Pandit Sawai Gandharva). Jayateerth was given a forty-minute slot, in which time he floored the audience with a Yaman. They would not let him go and shouted for more. He sang Bahar, but they wanted more still. Joshi then requested him to sing a Kannada bhajan — a trademark of Hubli-Dharwad, their common place of birth. Later, Joshi said on several occasions that the future of the Kirana Gharana was safe in Mevundi’s hands.
Mevundi has more than lived up to that expectation. He is the foremost young representative of the Kirana Gharana. In fact, he could well be described as the leading male vocalist of his generation. He has quit his AIR job and is back at Hubli. “I find a lot of peace here,” he says, “there is no better place to focus on my music and do my riyaz.” He has no intentions of moving out. He has no reason to. Organisers from across the country are chasing him; his decision to remain there has not come at a professional price. He has regular recitals in Delhi and in Kolkata. And as for Maharashtra and northern Karnataka, he has a recital almost everyday in peak season.