Chhannulal Mishra: I first encountered this rather unusual name more than nine years ago, in a music review in India Today. Thanks to Google, here it is:
India Today, October 25, 1999
The Music Review
Krishna (From the Heart of Benaras) -- Pandit Chhannulal Mishra: (Ninaad; Rs 75). The first in a series on the theme of Krishna, this album covers a wide range of classical and light classical forms like the thumri and badhaiya. While Shyam bina chain na aaye is about the longing for Krishna, the rather more joyous Nand ghar baaje badhaiya proclaims his birth. The album also contains saint-poet Meera's composition Koi shyam manohar le lo. Soulful and evocative.
On my next visit to Music World I spent seventy-five rupees for a cassette of music by a singer whom I had never heard of before reading that tiny paragraph.
Money well spent. (And spent again and again. I bought this particular cassette for my parents, my brother, my uncle and a couple of friends at least. I subsequently bought myself the CD, gave it to a young singer who was visiting us, and promptly bought myself another copy).
Chhannulal Mishra has an amazing voice. It is a caressing, velvety voice with just a hint of gruffness. And the songs.....the songs evoke more emotion than you'd think possible. You may or may not worship Krishna, but if you have grown up in India you are very likely to have heard many stories about him, starting from the story of his birth, and subsequent transportation across the river Yamuna in full monsoon spate, to the home of his foster parents, Yashoda and Nand, his childhood exploits, and the love and longing the gopis had for him. All of these are perhaps part of our collective unconscious, and it is this deep seated cultural chord which is struck. For me, although each composition was new, it was part of a familiar cultural setting. One of the loveliest of the songs is the 'badhaiya'- the celebration of Baby Krishna's arrival at Nand's house. And such a wonderful celebration it is: with the music of twelve pairs of nagaada drums, sixteen pairs of shehnais, and a joyous Yashoda giving away gifts of money and grain! Young Krishna grows up into a mischievous child, who troubles the gopis by blocking their path (Roko na dagar ), and swinging them too hard on the jhula (Jhula dheere se jhulao). Holi is celebrated with Radha threatening to colour the dark Krishna red with gulal( Rang Darungi). A very poignant song is one in which the gopis plead with Krishna to stop playing his flute, which is bewitching them( Ab Na Bajao Shyam Bansuriya). The last song on this recording is one of the most beautiful Meera bhajans I have ever heard- "Koi Shyam Manohar le Lo'. The gopis are out with pots of curd on their heads to sell, but they are all so entranced by their love for Krishna that they forget what they are selling, and say 'buy Krishna' instead. What incredible devotion, what 'bhakti'! And it is sung so beautifully that it gives me goose flesh every time I hear it.
That was the first I heard of Channulal ji. I have yet to hear him live, but I have enjoyed many other recordings of his, including some excellent khayals and an amazing selection of Kabir bhajans. His forte, however, seems to be the light classical and folk idioms that are specialities of Benares- the hori,chaiti, kajri, saawan, jhula- all forms celebrating different seasons, and the ever popular thumris and dadras that are so characteristic of Benares, a city with a musical heritage all of its very own.
(Incidentally, the entire Ninaad Krishna series is an excellent one. They subsequently issued recordings by Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, Sanjeev Abhyankar, Raja Kale, Shruti Sadolikar and Mukul Shivputra- each of them wonderful, but Chhannulal's Krishna has a very special place in my heart).