Saeen Ditta Qadri was a flute player, or as he would have been known in Urdu, bansuri nawaz. Tonight’s post is a collection of 5 ragas recorded for Radio Pakistan in the 1970s and 1980s. Like so many other fine Pakistani musicians, Saeen Ditta Qadri, was never able to make a living from playing classical music exclusively. He performed for private functions, recorded film soundtracks and played folk songs (an especially natural attribute of the bamboo bansuri) on television. Far and away the best flute player Pakistan has produced, this set of recordings is wonderfully meditative, moody and subtle. Indeed, so accomplished is his playing its hard to believe that he learned his instrument in that most popular of musical conglomerations, the wedding brass band. And since so little information is known about this great instrumentalist, the Washerman’s Dog has decided to scamper off to the land of the Indian wedding band to provide some context and colour to Qadri sahib’s mellifluous recordings.
The brass band was introduced into India by the English in the mid-19th century as one of the institutional accoutrements of the military. The bands played stirring music on important occasions but in the early years were confined to the military cantonments, and thus had little impact on Indian musicians or their repertoire. However, by the latter decades of the 19th century the police, which employed huge numbers of Indians in their ranks, and more importantly deployed them in the bazars and communities across India, began putting together their own marching bands. The shiny brass tubas, trumpets and trombones were something new and exciting, especially when played by men decked out in snazzy military-esque uniforms.
Very quickly the band became absolute laazmi (essential) at ‘native’ celebrations of all kinds, religious and secular, public and private, especially weddings. The baaraat, the procession of the groom and his party towards the home of the bride, is now announced and accompanied by the blarings of the brass and the thundering of drums. At night it is not uncommon to see the band accompanied by support staff who carry huge florescent lamps on their heads to guide the way through the dark streets.
Every town in India/Pakistan has its neighborhoods where the bands hang out. In Pakistan, Lahore has a particularly strong and old tradition of brass bands, and indeed it was with one of the master musicians of probably the most famous band, Babu Brass Band, that Saeen Ditta Qadri learned to play the bansuri. While many band members were multi-instrumentalist, and we know that Qadri also studied iktaar with the master Allah Ditta, the pride of place and always, the leader of the band played clarinet. Possibly because the Indian instrument the shenai is a close relation of the clarinet it won out over the trumpet which is usually the lead instrument in American marching bands, but which was altogether foreign to India.
Indeed, many of the subcontinent’s greatest clarinet players, such as Ustad Sadiq Ali Khan Mando and Master Sohni Khan (whose recordings featured in a previous post) were leaders of bazaar brass bands. Sohni Khan established his own band Sohni Band, in Lahore in 1932 and is still remembered for his outstanding musicianship as well as maintaining the sharp physical appearance of his uniformed band members.
I conclude this post with some photos taken over the years of brass bands across India and Pakistan which I hope you will enjoy as you listen to the fine music of Saeen Ditta Qadri.
The fast moving fingers of the leader of the Sanjay Brass Band of Katra bazaar, Allahabad.
Brass horns of some sort advertise the services of Band Master Gulzar Hussain in Rawalpindi.
Inside Gulzar Hussain’s shop front which looks down upon the part of Sadr bazaar where most bands set up shop.
Most bands go out after dark so the days are passed idly watching the passersby below.
A sharp looking band member confirms the next gig in Mumbai.
Sanjay Brass Band members practicing.
Trumpet and uniform await the next wedding party.
4. Mian ki todi