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.
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 Ranjha, Sohni Mahinwal, Sassi 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)
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 (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.
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