Thursday, March 31, 2011

Music Pakistan: Roshan Ara Begum and Mai Bhaggi

Today’s post honors two women. 

The first, Roshan Ara Begum, was born in Calcutta and pursued a career in the fine art of Hindustani khayal and over her life achieved international acclaim as the maliqa-e-musiqi (Queen of Music).  Today she is remembered as one of great classical vocalists of the Indian subcontinent and indeed, the Queen of Pakistani classical music.

The second woman, Mai Bhaggi, was in many ways the obverse of Roshan Ara Begum. Born on the other side of the country (as both were born before India became three) in the deserts of Tharpakar that straddle northern Sindh and southern Punjab, Mai Bhaggi, was completely untrained. She sang ancient folk songs and poetry of the Sufi saints that she’d learned from her small community and at the many melas (fairs) held at sacred sites throughout the desert. She never travelled abroad and never lost her rustic style.

Together like musical bookends in between whom sit a whole host of sensational women singers, Mai Bhaggi and Roshan Ara Begum represent the astounding achievement as well as the terrible neglect of culture in Pakistan.

Another way to make sense of these two giants is to consider them as the Dame Joan Sutherland and Ma Rainey of Pakistan.

Roshan Ara Begum visited Lahore, the music capital of Pakistan then, during her teens to participate in musical soirees held at the residences of affluent citizens and the aastana of Chun Peer in Mohalla Peer Gillaanian inside Mochi Gate. Another reason for her occasional visits to this city was to broadcast her songs from the then All India Radio Station, Lahore, and her name was announced as Bombaywali Roshan Ara Begum. She had acquired the popular nomenclature Bombaywali because she shifted to Bombay (now Mumbai) in the late 1930s from Calcutta, the place of her birth, to be near to Ustad Abdul Karim Khan from whom she took lessons in classical music for many years. At her performance at Chun Peer’s abode in early 1941, she pleasantly surprised local musical heavyweights and connoisseurs with her expertise in rendering classical compositions.

Possessing a rich, mature and mellifluous voice that could easily lend itself to the expression of a wide range of intricate classical asthai-antras, Roshan Ara employed her natural talent in the promotion of the art which requires a high degree of cultivation and training. Her singing was marked with a full-throated voice, short and delicate passages of sur (tones), lyricism, romantic appeal and swift taans. All these flourishes were combined in her unique style that reached its peak which was from 1947 to 1982. Her vigorous style of singing which was interspersed with bold strokes and perfect laykari, left no doubt that she was the greatest exponent of the Kirana gharana style of khayal singing after the demise of both her mentor Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and his equally talented cousin Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan.

Even before migrating to Pakistan, Roshan Ara Begum was acclaimed the best exponent of Kirana gharana style of khayal singing in the subcontinent. She embodied in her art all the exquisite tonal qualities and attributes of her mentor’s delicate style of classical vocalization. She was equally good at alap (step-by-step progression from one note to another) while delineating ragas, and also in taking breezy taans (flights) again in the strand of her ustad. She was very conscious of her dignity and status and never allowed herself to be emotionally swayed. But when the recording of her ustad’s music was played her eyes filled with tears.

An outstanding personality in the world of music, Roshan Ara Begum has aptly been called a phenomenon as her voice and its timbre, her creative musical intelligence and sensitivity had combined to produce perfect harmony. She had profound knowledge of the theory of classical music and practised this art for over 40 years. Roshan Ara Begum changed the course of Pakistani classical music by her masterly renditions and at the same time raised its status by endowing it with dignity, grace and glory.

Roshan Ara Begum
Migrating to Pakistan in 1948, Roshan Ara Begum settled in Lalamusa, a small town almost mid-way between Lahore and Rawalpindi, a place to which her husband originally belonged. Although far away from Lahore, the cultural centre of the country, she would shuttle back and forth to participate in music and radio programmes.

Thanks to audio and visual recording devices, the late Malika-i-Mauseeqi will always be remembered for the richness of her music, which often overflowed with tonal modulations, for its sweetness and delicacy of gammaks (trills), and for her slow progression of ragas. It is difficult to adequately describe in words the quality of her music. One can only say that it went straight to the hearts of both knowledgeable listeners and cultivated connoisseurs, in live concerts as well as through radio and television.

The electronic media can play an important role in keeping her music alive. However, Pakistan TV seems to have forgotten all about Roshan Ara Begum — a fact which is substantiated by its failure in not telecasting her music even on her death anniversaries. Classical music has long been relegated by PTV to the lowest rung in its priorities. The Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, however, is doing slightly better as once in a while it airs recorded music of Roshan Ara Begum from its second channel.
(Biographical notes thanks to

Track Listing:
1.     Mian Ki Malhar
2    2.     Neki Kaanra
3    3.     Maru Sarang

Listen here.

In 2007 Mai Bhaggi was posthumously awarded recognition by the Government of Sindh for contribution to Sindhi culture and music.  Her recordings were captured by Lok Virsa the National Folk Culture Institute which remains one of Pakistan’s outstanding institutions.  There is sadly little recorded  information about her life and yet she is one of Pakistan’s outstanding folk artists beloved for her powerful, unrestrained and earthy voice.    To compensate for the lack of information on Mai I include a few words about the music of the Thar desert region.
Mai Bhaggi

Thar is a cultural island in the middle of the Sindhi, Rajasthani  and Gujarati ocean of cultures. The Rajasthani culture overshadows the other two cultures. Thari music seems to be more inspired by  Rajasthani music traditions but with its own emotional rhythm and colours.
An old Thari musician believes that most of the Thari music is based on Mandh beat of Rajasthani imusic even the women on a death weep-n-cry in the same rhythm. Thari music is considered to be of vital importance in folk music of Pakistan. Often used as background music for TV plays and serials because of its simplicity of emotional expressions, oneness and oddity.
The Thari musicians are especially invited to all folk concerts and fairs all over Pakistan as they are considered as best in Kafi singing. Kafi is a kind of poetic expression with a blend of mysticism. Most of the kafis are written by the great sufis (mystics) of the Sindh province. They have their own regional and folk songs too what they sing on their weddings and other happy occasions like fairs and when the rain falls. Mostly the each verse of their folk songs are divided into four rhythmic beats but the frame of composition remains the same.  The folk music and dance are the living traditions of Thar. If asked to any woman or man  to dance or sing, they can. Pain, agony, solitude and deprivation are the basic components of Thari music, perhaps, because of their miserable life-style. Even their melodies are sung on sorrowing rhythmic beats. Thari male singers are commonly known as faqirs (the person devoted himself to saint’s tomb). Among the six popular singers from Thar five are men including Murad Faqir, Budhu Faqir, Kalu Faqir, Shaadi Faqir Dhadhi and Bhagru Bhel. Mai Bhagi was the only female singer who got recognized herself on national level. Her songs were recorded by radio and TV and later on released on cassettes.
Kamacha, sitar, tabla, sarinda, harmonium and shahnai are the main musical instruments of Thar. But Kamacha is the identity of Thar, it cannot be found anywhere else in the province. Playing Kamacha is not a joke, only a master musician with years of practice can.
Like other parts of Pakistan, Thar also has a few folk dances including dandan rand, mitco, chakar rand and rasooro. The dandan rand is performed by eight or ten men, having one small stick in one hand and silk handkerchief in the other one, on the dhol beat in a circle. The dhol player also sings the songs while rest of the men dance. The mitco is the solo performance by a male dancer. It is also performed by women in their houses on weddings of their sons alone. The chakar rand dance is the traditions Thari Muslims. The male dancer perform it holding a sword in his hand on dhol beat. The rasooro is a stick dance by women even dhol is played by women and some women also sing song on the dhol beat.
The festivals are a significant part of Thar's cultural life. Since the life of people is quite miserable and they feel starved for recreational activities, the festivals provide them a source of delight and joy. Mostly the Muslims’ festivals are arranged at the tombs of saints and sufis whereas Hindus’ at their temples. For both Muslims and Hindus, these festivals remain simple in nature as a few shops of sweets are erected, besides malakhra competition (a kind of wrestling) and some musical events. The popular Muslims’ festivals are Razi Shah Mela, Syed Misri Shah Mela, Mueen Shah Mela, Pir Aalam Shah Mela and Pir Hassan Ali Shah Mela while Par Barham Mela, Sho Mela, Ram Gabbar Mela and Malhan Mela are known Hindus’ festivals.

Track Listing:
01 Khardi Neem Ke Neeche
02 Suman Saeem
03 Murli Walay
04 Mooke Jogi
05 Bhit Ja Bhitaee
06 Merani Ja Mir
07 Asin Manhood Bhit Ja
08 Munjho Saah Singharan
09 Aail Ri Aulana
10 O Sohnal Tookhay Mehndi
11 Kala Waal Laisra
12 Sikandar Mein
13 Lorha Manjha Tarbandi
14 Na Moon Choreyo
15 Hoot Banwar Mein
Listen here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Music Pakistan: Ustad Sharif Khan Poonchwale and Ustad Sadiq Ali Khan Mando (Links Fresh)

Funny how we become entangled in much larger webs.

In September 1986 I  arrived in Lahore, Pakistan for a year of intensive Urdu language study.  As an eager recently graduated university student I made a point of meeting as many people who could introduce to me to that mythical beast the ‘real’ Pakistan.  How the connection was made I don’t recall but I do remember that I spent several days hanging out at the home of one Raza Kazim a left-leaning lawyer who had recently been released from jail. He had written a book of his experiences which included solitary confinement and torture.  He gifted me a copy which I used over the year as a text for my slowly improving Urdu. 

The year passed and I fell deeply in love with the great city of Lahore. I still have that thin memoir on my bookshelves somewhere but I’d not thought of Raza Kazim for many years.  As I did a bit of research for today’s post, I came across a reference to a Pakistani musician by the name of Noor Zehra Kazim. She was one of the headliners at a concert in Delhi and the blurb about the concert read as follows:

Noor Zehra, born in Lahore, has been learning Sitar and Veena from various ustads including Shareef Khan Poonchwale. She performs on Sagar-Veena, a unique instrument developed by her lawyer-musicologist father Raza Kazim, who has been working on this instrument for over 36 years, and aims to re-create a mode of emotional communication through this instrument. Sagar-Veena has been performed at various occasions in Pakistan, Japan and other countries. This is the first time it would be performed in India.

Raza Kazim
The blurb included the following link which opened to a treasure trove of information on Raza Kazim some of which I had forgotten and most of which I never knew.  A true Pakistani patriot and polymath, he is still active as a photographer, musicologist, philosopher and political thinker.

Ustad S.K. Poonchwale
Today’s post presents a second serving of the Music Pakistan collection and is connected to Raza Kazim through his daughter Noor Zehra who learned classical music at the feet of Pakistan’s greatest sitarist Ustad Sharif Khan Poonchwale.  Poonch is a district town in Pakistani (Azad) Kashmir and the great sitarist father was in fact a court musician to the Maharaja of Kashmir prior to Independence. Ustad Sharif was already acclaimed as a sitar player before Independence but rose to his greatest fame and adulation in the 1950s and 1960s.  He is regarded as one of the greatest Pakistani musicians and was equally loved and appreciated by critics and fans outside his country as within. He is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Vilayat Khan. Sharif Khan sahib was awarded the Pride of Performance Award in 1968 and passed away in 1980.

Track Listing:
2. Bhairvin
3. Gujri Todi
4. Pooriya
5. Jaijaiwanti

Listen here.

Ustad Sadiq Ali Khan Mando was a clarinet player who like so many musicians in the pre-Partition days made his living (or the better part of it) in the film industry. As the Lahore-based industry declined in the 50s his services were sponsored by Radio Pakistan, one of the few channels that kept classical music alive in Pakistan. I’ve not been able to locate a photo of Ustadji. In a way it doesn’t matter because this collection of ragas and classical tunes (accompanied by the great tabla player Shaukat Hussain) is one of the most mellifluous and serene recordings of Hindustani classical music I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. It’s as eloquent as Mozart’s clarinet concerto and as soulful as Coltrane.  In actuality, I do wish I had a picture of this great artist.  Any hints, leads or more details of his life from any reader would be most welcome.

Track Listing
1. Raga Rageshri
2. Raga Bahar
3. Raga Malkauns
4. Sohni
5. Jangla Bhairvin
6. Kalangra
7. Sindhi Bhairvin
8. Tilang

 Listen here.

This is music to listen to again and again.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Music Pakistan: Mohammad Tufail Niazi and Salamat Ali (fresh Links)

The musical heritage of Pakistan is incredibly rich. Readers of this blog know that that country is one of the Washerman’s Dog favorite places and that a big part of that love affair is based upon the music of Sindh, Punjab, Baluchistan and the Frontier. Whether it is folk tunes, the ghazal, Hindustani classical, qawwali or contemporary pop/dance music Pakistan is a little known and hugely underappreciated musical powerhouse.

A few years ago, a dear friend, Anwar Jahangir, the Managing Director of Shalimar Recording and Broadcasting Company, one of Pakistan’s biggest music labels, gifted me an amazing collection of recordings.  Titled rather blandly, Music Pakistan, the recordings were culled from the archives of the state Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation's extensive archives. The 57-CD collection represents the “first serious attempt to make the finest (Pakistani) music of the last 50 years available to listeners and home and abroad” and is an incredibly rich survey of this sad, and misunderstood country’s musical artistry.

This post offers an initial sample of the collection in the form of a pair of collections by two singers who are/were among the most accomplished in their chosen genre.

Mohammad Tufail Niazi  was born in 1916 in the only Muslim family in the Sikh village of Madairan in Jallandhar district. Madairan was only a short distance from Sham Chaurasi, famous birthplace of the musical gharana of that name (Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, arguably Pakistan’s finest classical vocalist, hailed from this gharana).

Tufail’s family and ancestors were “Pakhawajis”. (Pakhawaj is a tabla-like percussion instrument traditionally used as accompaniment in Dhrupad singing, the much older and temple-rooted form of Hindustani classical vocal music than the newer, more popular Mughal-era creation Khayal). Historically, some of his family members were “Rubabis” who sang Gurbanis (songs in praise of the gurus) in Gurdwaras. Tufail followed this family tradition and started singing Guru Nanak’s bani at the Gurdwara in the village of Pumba near Amritsar where his maternal grandfather was employed as a rubabi. After three years in Pumba he lost interest and his father, Haji Raheem Buksh took him to a Gaushala (house of cow protection) in Gondwal near the town of Taran Taaran. Here he joined the Gaushala singing party that went from village to village to spread the message of cow protection.

Heer Ranjha
Tufail lived in Gondwal for four years and would have likely moved sooner if it was not for the attraction of listening to great performers at the “chhota mela of Harballabh” held in that town every year (the main Harballabh Mela used to be in Jallandhar which attracted India’s greatest musicians). After leaving the Gaushala, Tufail first became a “Raasdhari,” street performers who just congregated impromptu audiences anywhere and performed an amalgam of theater, narrative and song often based on episodes of Lord Rama’s life (Ramlila). He then joined a traveling theater (“Nautanki”) and honed his theatrical and storytelling skills playing a hero in productions of famous Punjabi folktales like Heer RanjhaSohni MahinwalSassi Punnoon and Pooran Bhagat. Most of this pre-partition part of Tufail’s life today reads like a page not from 20th century history but a much older epoch that we can no longer even imagine.

At the time of partition, like all East Punjabi Muslims, Tufail too had to move from his ancestral lands and he ended up in Multan. To survive in this new unknown place where he hardly knew anybody, he opened up a milk shop. It was fortuitous that in 1949 a police inspector who had known him in East Punjab and had been a fan saw him and, on learning that Tufail had abandoned his music because he had no instruments and no other way to make a living, intervened. He got him instruments from the state coffers and organized a mehfil for Tufail introducing him to the people in Multan. It is unbearable to imagine that Tufail Niazi’s voice could have been lost forever were it not for the effort of an ordinary fan who saved him from potential obscurity.

Tufail soon became well known in the cultural circles of Multan after which there was no looking back. He started singing for Radio Pakistan and had the honor to be the first singer who performed on Pakistan Television, the day of its inauguration on November 26th, 1964. He sang his famous song “Laai beqadaran naal yaari te tut gai tarak kar ke” that day.

It was at that time that PTV’s senior producer Aslam Azhar gave him the name Tufail Niazi because Tufail had told him that his pir was Hazrat Pir Niaz Ali Shah. Before this he had been just Tufail, Master Tufail, Mian Tufail and lastly Tufail Multani. Later, under Uxi Mufti he worked with great dedication to help set up and sustain the National Institute of Folk Heritage (Lok Virsa) in Islamabad. He received the Presidential Pride of Performance Award in 1983 and died on September 21st, 1990. A stroke had left him debilitated and unable to perform and he died in poverty with a wounded sense of official and unofficial neglect which has been the lot of so many Pakistani artists. He is buried in the graveyard in Islamabad.

Tufail Niazi was a folk musician deeply influenced by classical forms and it is the mastery of his classically trained vocals combined with a soulfully melodic voice that mesmerized his audiences. The wonderful Punjabi sufi storytelling of his repertoire as he stood singing energetically in his lacha and a silk kurta created the total effect of a performer who was involved in something that was inseparable from the rest of his existence. His singing is often intensely moving as he sings about episodes in the lives of Punjabi epic lovers most notably Heer Ranjha richly evoking their anguish set in a beautifully sketched Punjabi rural social milieu.
            (Biography thanks to Fawad Zakhriya)

Track Listing:
        1.  Main Nai Jana Khrerriyan Day Naal
        2.  Ik Bota Kahiya Da
        3.  Tur Gaye Beli Menon Wisar Kay    
        4.  Sada Kalyan Da Ji Naeen Lagda
        5.  Lay Way Dhola Tera
        6.  Par Chana Tain Kiyun Dera da Laya
        7.  Phiran Dhoondhdi Ithey   
        8.  Main Wanjara
        9.  Menon Kuj WI Samajh Na Aaye    
      10. Tere Mere Pyar Diyan
      11. Jithe Dab Te Sarkara
      12. Naeen Bol Day
      13. Jind Muk Gayee Ae
      14. Ranjha Jogira Ban Aaya (Baba Bulleh Shah)
      15. Sada Chirrayan Da

Salamat Ali

Salamat Ali (not to be confused with Ustad Salamat Ali Khan) is one of the most consummate contemporary ghazal singers. A disciple of, Mehdi Hassan, perhaps the greatest modern Pakistani ghazal maestro, Salamat Ali is beloved for his vocal dexterity which has made him a masterful thumri singer in addition to the more popular ghazal.  His annunciation is as sharp as a knife and his voice smooth and strong.  If you like ghazals but are not familiar with Salamat Ali, this is the best place to expand your horizons.

Track Listing:
1.    Raat Kya Kya Mujhe
2.    Khwab Mein Mujhko
3.    Jaan Peh Khela Hoon
4.    Jo Guzri Mujh Pe
5.    Pamal Ho Chukay Hain
6.    Baat Phoolon Ki
7.    Dil Ka Muamla Jo
8.    Tamam Umr Tera
9.    Woh Sanam Jab Say
10. Yeh Umr Kab Tak
11. Is Tarah Cher Day
12. Khusha Woh Dil
13. Ji Ki Ji Main Hi
14. Bura Hay Shad Ko
15. Rait Pe Likh Kay