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A diphthong is anti-onomatopoetic--it does not sound like itself. It is not a staccato sputter akin to Conan O'Brien's Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation, but a smooth glissando from one vowel sound into another.
Rarely have diphthongs been so magisterial as those emanating from the diaphragm of Ustad Rashid Khan last Sunday afternoon at the OEC Auditorium on the University of St. Thomas campus in St. Paul. Through most of the single 90-minute song that was the concert's opening set, the Hindustani vocal master's wordless, stentorian tone rose and fell like a beguiling sine wave, lapping against the trancelike empathy of Sri Jyoti Goho's harmonium, with Pandi Bandopadhyay's tabla as punctuation.
Though Ustad Khan is just 39 years old, his thick thatch of hair is already a brilliant silver, adding further luster to his designation as a guru-in-waiting, having undergone rigorous vocal training beginning at age six with his grand-uncle, a maestro of the ur-Sahaswan Gharana tradition. His arrival in St. Paul was a cultural event, sponsored by the Indian Music Society of Minnesota, yet the august formality of the occasion was charmingly undercut at intermission, as patrons in gorgeous saris patiently queued up for free grocery-store cookies.
The hour-long second set was evenly cleaved by three songs. Khan displayed more of his robust Taans--quicksilver, scatlike passages that raced the tabla in a blurring blizzard of beats. During a trance-inducing moment of relative quiet, a burst of thunder boomed offstage, signaling the end of our 90-degree marathon. God's applause for the guru-in-waiting.
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