"When we went to hear Kesarbai, we went to learn something". This was the sitar maestro, Ustad Vilayat Khan's observation about Kesarbai. In a male-dominated era, no female vocalist, either before her or after, has obliged her male colleagues to acknowledge her as an "Ustad". Kesarbai (1890-1977) was the only contemporary of Ustad Faiyyaz Khan (1886-1950) to command a concert fee on par with his. But, there was a difference. Kesarbai cultivated a small, but fanatical, following largely of connoisseurs. Faiyyaz Khan, on the other hand, accumulated a huge, and equally committed, following cutting across levels of aesthetic cultivation.
The arduous journey to the top
Kesarbai was born in Keri, a small village in Goa. She showed an aptitude for singing in early childhood. When she was eight years old, her family moved to Kolhapur, where she was placed under the tutelage of the Kirana doyen, Ustad Abdul Kareem Khan. This training ended in ten months when her family moved back to Goa. Three years went by without any training, before she started learning from Ramakrishna Vaze, the Gwalior trained maestro, who visited Goa periodically. The intermittent grooming under Vaze Buwa ended after eight or ten years, when her family moved to Bombay.
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