Thursday, March 31, 2011

Music Pakistan: Roshan Ara Begum and Mai Bhaggi (Fresh Links)

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.


Miguel said...

Thanks so much for the music you are posting!

Lets not forget these great artists!

Did not know: Mai Bhaggi...

now I do... thanks to U


ajnabi1957 said...

I'm glad you are discovring and enjoying! More to come soon. Please keep coming back.

Giri Mandi said...

Thank you very much, Ajnabi, it's the first time I am visiting you blog and found a handful of hidden gems! Roshan Ara Sahiba is one of my favourites, maybe after this Mian ki Malhar she is at the top.

And what about the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz? Wah!

The waherman's dog is the one not belonging to the ghats nor to the bazar?

ajnabi1957 said...

Giri, hello and welcome to The Dog. Yes, it is true, na ghar ka na ghat ka.
Nice to know there are others who appreciate this music and the poetry of Faiz.

Giri Mandi said...

Oh, yeah, sorry, home and not bazar... It was a caustic remark by Sauda to Hazrat Mirza Jan-e Janan ... actually I am totally and deeply on Hazrat Mirza's side, however Sauda was really brilliant!

Well, now I am a follower of your blog, but know that I can't read almost anything with those sci-fi fonts! A blind follower, I suppose!
Thanks again, adab-o-taslimat...

ajnabi1957 said...

don't like blind followers! look where the world is because of them~!
time to make a change in font-land perhaps!
bow wow

Anonymous said...

Unable to download Roshan Ara Begam. Mediafire says Invalid Key!

ajnabi1957 said...

I will try to reestablish the links soon.