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February 06 2019
The Revolver Club
Written By The Revolver Club - February 06 2019
The Gauhar Jaan story is one hell of a tale. Probably my favourite on music.
It’s a story of a feisty young woman who emerged as our first bonafide Diva. It’s a story of a person well ahead of their time; being the very first to exploit recording technology. It’s the story of a genius that faithfully - and repeatedly - distilled expansive music traditions into the two and half minute playing time the new shellac record permitted. It’s a story of a person with every human failing possible - amplified by a fortune made and lost. A story with a regulation sad ending. It is the story of possibly our greatest superstar – who has all but disappeared from collective memory.
Listening to Gauhar Jaan’s first recordings fires your imagination. Her voice confidently rising over the hiss and crackle of shellac takes you back to her times and life. Its signature ending - “My name is Gauhar Jaan” in English - leaves you intrigued.
There has never been anyone like Gauhar Jaan. Truly there hasn’t.
One of the first Gaurhar Jaan recordings on 78 RPM records manufactured by The Gramophone Company Limited, on display at The Revolver Club.
Gauhar Jaan debuted commercial recording in India with a Khayal sung in Raag Jogiya at a makeshift recording studio on 2nd November, 1902 in Calcutta. The recording engineer, Fred Gaisberg, had been looking for a promising Indian artist to commercially release on records. She was the second person he recorded – the first didn’t quite make the mark. There were greater singers who refused - or were unable - to reduce the essence of a raag to two and half minutes. Recordings weren’t easy. The singer had to sing rather loudly into a funnel leading to the cutting needle. The accompanying musicians would huddle close to make it onto the recoding.
Gauhar Jaan released over 600 records in Bengali, Hindi Gujarati, Tamil, and Marathi. Arabic, Persian, Pushto, French and English in a prolific recording career spanning 18 years. Her recordings were in great demand and distributed widely making her a household name at the time. She popularised the Thumri, Dadra, Kajri and Tarana during the period.
She was also a character. At the peak of her career she rode a 6-horse carriage in Calcutta, an honour permitted only to the Viceroy and royalty – by paying an enormous fine every month. She dressed extravagantly at all times and never seemed to repeat her jewelry.
Gauhar Jaan was born Angelina Yeoward on 26th June 1873 to William Robert Yeoward, an Armenian and an Indian born Victoria Hemmings. She died on 17th January 1930. This story is worth discovering.
Discover the Gauhar Jaan story through the links below: You owe it to yourself.
Or better still read My name is Gauhar Jaan by Vikram Sampath. Link: Click Here
Gauhar Jaan has been immortalised in a play by the Primetime Theatre Company – written by Mahesh Dattani and directed by Lillette Dubey. Page Link: https://www.facebook.com/gauhartheplay/
Scroll Article: In a rare recording Kolkata’s Gauhar Jaan sings of her love for Bombay.Click Here to read more
India’s first ever commercial recording. Khayal in Raag Jogiya. 1902.
Thumri by Gauhar Jaan recorded in 1905
A history of Azamgarh (Gauhar Jaan) by Dr. Shariq Ahmed Khan
Written by Manu Trivedi