Rag Kafi Zila

*For a roundup of posts on raga, with a general introduction, click here!*


Kafi, ragamala:
“Holding a delightful rasna-flower and wearing a garland of flowers,
she is a beautiful lady who enjoys the fanning. She has a celestial voice.
Such is Kafi ragini, who enters fully into the exploits of a hero.”

From the late 60s, at a time when it was hardly possible to be amazed by the riches of Chinese traditional music, I was devoted to Indian music—which then meant mainly the solo “classical” traditions, as it mainly still does in the popular image.

If Heart of Glass reminded me fleetingly, impertinently, of rāg Marwa and Nikhil Banerjee, I still treasure his lyrical rendition of rāg Kafi Zila, which appeared magically on BBC Radio 3 in the early 1970s.

It’s an entrancing raga, for the second quarter of the night. Within its basic minor scale with flat 3rd and 7th, it sometimes features the major 3rd degree. Here’s the introduction to rāg Kafi in The raga guide:

Kafi RG 1

Kafi RG 2

The suave BBC announcer’s introduction (citing Alain Daniélou) remains etched in my heart:

Of shining whiteness,
Kafi, who inspires lust,
tenderly sits on the lap of her playmate in the royal palace.
Fond of parrots,
she is dressed in blue
and decked with jewels.
She is the image of sensuousness.
In the Lotus of my heart
I cherish her,
lovelier than Lakshmi
the goddess of Fortune.

Of course, as with Bach, I’m just reporting my own infatuation, which is merely a product of a particular place, social milieu, and time—far from the responses of indigenous audiences of various types.

Here’s one of several exquisite versions by Nikhil Banerjee, with Anindo Chaterjee on tabla:

And here he explores Mishra Kafi for over an hour:

Click here for a sarod version by Amjad Ali Khan.

Here’s a relatively light, but always entrancing, vocal rendition by the Dagar brothers:

As I observed here, training in Indian sargam solfeggio is a basic grounding in monophonic musics—far from a mere conceptual exercise, it draws us towards the heart of the music.

12 thoughts on “Rag Kafi Zila

  1. What do you think of Jan Garbarek’s Ragas and Sagas? Or John McLaughlin’s work with Indian musicians? John Mayer and Joe Harriot?


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