Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Scion and the Sychophant: Asad Amanat Ali Khan

Asad Amanat Ali Khan

Before going to bed I’ll share with you one of my favourite collections of ghazals. I picked this tape up in Aabpara, Islamabad at one of those cassette shops that sat between the open air butcher and the hardware store. I asked the dukandar for ‘best ghazals’ and without hesitation he pulled this out from a grimy glass case. “Yeh pakaro, janab,” he said. Get a hold of this.

A dear friend of mine had, a year or so earlier snapped me out of my Pankaj Udhas craze by introducing me to Ustad Amanat Ali Khan. A little while later another friend let me borrow his tape of Asad Amanant Ali Khan recorded live in a Karachi mehfil. Together, father and son, blew my mind and I immediately stopped buying Pankaj Udhas tapes.

So when the shopkeeper slipped me this collection sung by Asad Amanat Ali Khan I handed over my 30 rupees (or whatever the price was in 1990) and hurried from the store as if I had just made an illicit purchase.  I immediately fell in love with the tape and it has been with me now for more than 20 years. About 6 months after I bought it I found myself in Iraq driving around the mountains as part of a UN mission. My daily companion was a Danish poet. We spent most of each day bumping through the mountains along the Iranian border in a Nissan Patrol looking for humanitarian problems to solve. One day I popped this tape into the cassette deck and Anders (aforementioned Danish poet) freaked out. “What is that? What is he singing? This is amazing. I love this,” and so on. Over and over again.

That night he made me translate the words of Ghar Jab Wapas Aaoge  and made sure the tape was always in the glovebox.  So, let that be this tapes commendation: If a Scandinavian writer who has never been to Pakistan can fall in love with this music then anybody can.

As I said, Asad Amanat Ali Khan  was the son of the great doyen of the Patiala Gharana of khayal Ustad Amanat Ali Khan. With this noble man as his master and mentor, you can get an idea of the sort of singer we are talking about.  Asad was instructed in the art of classical and semi-classical singing and some of his earliest recordings were thumris. But his greatest renown and popularity came from his ghazals, many of which, such as Ghar jab wapas aaoge are considered among the finest contemporary examples of the art. He was a lively performer with a clear tenor voice that is impossible not to be love.

Like his father he was awarded the Pride of Performance Award for his contributions to music, in 2007. Sadly, like his father, he died prematurely, just two weeks after being honoured with the Award.
Altaf Gauhar

The ghazals of this collection were written by the controversial figure, Altaf Gauhar. A civil servant and some would say sycophant and loyal timeserver of a couple governments, he was also a journalist, editor, publisher of magazines that promoted developing world issues and a poet. He was jailed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and also edited Pakistan’s most prestigious broadsheet, Dawn. He later apologised publically for some of his more sycophantic acts and made some well received translations of the Koran. 

All up, this combination of writer and singer makes an intriguing collection. I hope you enjoy it.

Please note this a digitized tape and so several of the songs are on one track but I trust that is not a big issue for you. After all its about the music.

Track Listing
01 Ghar Wapas Jab Aaoge
02 Abhi Kaliyon Mein Çhatak
03 Jo Bhi Dil Kee Hai
04 Abhi Waha Cha Diya
05 Doob Gayan Sab
06 Gham Tera Ham Ne Pala
07 Ham Yeh Samajhkar
08 Dayar-e-Yaar-Gaya

Listen here.

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