Friday, June 3, 2011

Music Pakistan: Malika-e-Tarunnam the Great Nur Jehan

Among life’s more pleasant recent twists has been the globalization of the music that my subconscious absorbed from the moment of my birth. I speak of the singing of Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and especially, Asha Bhosle.  With the explosion of ‘Bollywood’ culture into the mainstream of modern life, Western music lovers are now aware of who these talented, versatile and prolific singers are. Asha has recorded with everyone from REM to the Kronos Quartet and had a major international hit (Brimful of Asha) named after her.  Every few months enterprising music producers issue another souped up compilation of Indian film playback music, many of which (like the Bombay Connection series) are targeted at listeners in Belgium or Denmark rather than Belgaum or Dehra Dun but exceedingly fun.

Nur Jehan
Much less familiar to international listeners are the household names of the Pakistan film industry. To date the Washerman’s Dog is aware of only one slick re-packaging of funky film music from that country, Finder’s Keeper’s stunning 2009 release, The Sound of Wonder! Rare electronic pop from the Lollywood vaults 1973-1980.  That collection focuses on the very groovy mid-late 1970s ‘pop’ music coming of the studios of Lahore, and especially the music of Mohammad Ashraf and the singing of Nahid Akhar and Ahmed Rushdi.  But as good as they were The Sound of Wonder! virtually passes over the greatest playback singer Pakistan, and some would say, India as well, ever produced: Nur Jehan.

Madam, as she was referred to with love (and not a little trembling), held a truly Himalayan position in the cultural life of Pakistan. When she died in 2000 the country mourned in the same way Egypt grieved with the passing of Oum Kulsum and France with the death of Edith Piaf.  It is easy to draw parallels with Lata Mangeshkar in that they both stood several heads and shoulders above their competition while redefining and almost single handedly controlling their chosen profession.  But listen to what Lata had to say about her Pakistani counterpart: Everyone has role models. And I have no qualms in admitting that Noor Jehan was mine. We listened to Noor Jehan in childhood and grew with her notes in mind. Noor Jehan had a mastery over Sur and her voice had no vibration in any sort of crescendos. She was nice and blessed by Allah. Noor Jehan's death has created a vacuum in the music of the Subcontinent. She treated me as her younger sister and whenever we met she always hugged me… Her death has created a vacuum in the world of music, which cannot be filled.
Nur Jehan and her biggest fan, Lata Mangeshkar

Born into a family of professional musicians in the Punjabi city of Kasur (home to so many great singers) in 1926, Nur Jehan (birth name Allah Wasai) spent time under the tutelage of such greats as Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Ghulam Hussain. Her first experience of public singing was as a young girl, singing songs with her two sisters before and in the intermissions of movies in Lahore. 

In order to give their children greater opportunities the family moved to Calcutta in the1930s where they met the great female singer Mukthar Begum who provided the sisters with  introductions to film producers and directors.  Soon the girls were given stage names and Allah Wasai debuted as Baby Nur Jehan, At this stage the young girl was more interested in being an actress and landed several roles, in which she often sang as well.  In 1938 she returned to the Lahore film world for a few years before finally making the critical move to Bombay.

In 1942 Baby was dropped from her name as she moved from juvenile to her first leading lady role in the hit Khandaan. Around this time she sang the songs for another actress and got her first taste of playback singing. In 1945, Nur Jehan acted in a film with two young fresh actresses who would quickly grow to idolize her: Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. Throughout the 1940s she continued to make hit films while gaining an equally strong reputation for her classically –influenced singing style.  She was beautiful, young and one of the biggest stars in India.

Then came Independence and the creation of Pakistan.  Her last movie made in Bombay was Mirza Sahiban in 1947 after which she returned to Lahore.  The decision to move to the new country was less difficult for her, than it was for others like Ustad Bundu Khan, as Kasur, her hometown was included in Pakistani territory.

Back in Lahore Nur Jehan got married and divorced and married again, all the time still acting as a lead and singing.  At last in 1963 she could no longer keep all the balls in the air and retired from acting and focused on playback singing.  Her clear tone and expressive coloring quickly earned her awards, including the Pride of Performance (1966). Perhaps more precious was the title Malika-e-Tarannum (Queen of Melody) given her by the people and by which she is referred to even in death.
Lahore film studio

Tonight’s post includes a fantastic introduction to Nur Jehan’s Pakistan film songs. As you listen it will be hard not to get up and do the bhangra. In addition to singing with great control and expression, the Queen of Melody knew how to have fun and impart it to her listeners. This is especially true of those sung in Punjabi which virtually snap and bop out of the speakers.

Volume 1
01 Tun Kaunsi Badli Mein Hain
02 Kis Tarah Bhoolega Dil
03 Tere nal nal Way Main
04 Aj Khushiyan Day Naal
05 Pyar Jo Hoya Nal Teray
06 Kali Kali Mandlaye
07 Dang Piyar Da Seenay
08 Jadon Holi Jayee
09 Kya Jane Kya Arman Lekar
10 Arey o'be murawwat
11 Teri Khatir Jal Rahay Hain
12 Ja Apni Hasraton Pe
13 Haye-o-Rabba Shakki
14 Dil Diyan Lagiyan Janay
15 Way Too Qarar Mera
16 Beete Dinon Ki
17 Mahi Way Sanu Bhul
18 Phikki Pey Gaee
19 Wadi Karkay Mukray

Listen here

Volume 2
01 Sun Way Bilori Aakh
02 Sun Wanjli Di Mithri
03 Jawan hai Mohabbat
04 Baithi Hoon Teri Yaad
05 Chandni Rataein
06 Sanjay Dil Walay Boay
07 Chand Hunsay
08 Main ne Tujhse
09 Meri Chichi da Challa
10 Akh Larri Bado Badi
11 Tery Sadqay Way
12 Ja Ja Way Choothiya
13 Laut ao Mere Pardesi
14 Humse Badal Gaya
15 Kya Khabar Thi Teri
16 Sanu Naher Walay
17 Lay Aai Phir Kahan Pe
18 Chalo Achha Huwa
19 Kahan Hai Tera Pyar
20 Lat Uljhi Suljha Ja

Listen here


bolingo69 said...

Marvellous post! Lovely presentation!

Thank you very much!

ajnabi said...

Thank you. Glad it tickled your fancy.

Anonymous said...

Wow, amazing to find this music, I wonder why she isn't more widely known...anyway, many thanks, great background info too!

ajnabi said...

Glad you enjoyed it and hope she brings you listening pleasure for years to come.