|Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Munawwar Ali Khan|
Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the inspiration and namesake of Ghulam Ali, like many of India’s great vocalists (Ustad Amir Khan, springs quickly to mind) began life as a sarangiya (sarangi player). The sarangi was born in the mehfils of the courtesans (tawaif) in 19th century Hindustan. Late Mughal Delhi and the glorious regional centers of Lucknow, Rampur and Banaras were the historical milieu that gave rise to the singing, dancing and cultured courtesan, so often depicted in Indian films like Umrao Jaan and Pakeezah. And the sarangi came into its own.
By the early 20th century the entire world of music making had changed in India. Cultured patrons such as princes and large zamindars (landowners) were few and far between. The artistic center of gravity had moved from the countryside to the mushrooming colonial cities of Calcutta and Bombay. New audiences demanded new types of music and new modes of delivering them. And what had once been a well accepted stable social system of hereditary musical khandans (families) organised into close-knit groups who perfected and fiercely protected the ilm (knowledge) of their particular gharana (lit. of the home; style, school, family) was turned rather quickly into something a bit less secure.
Part of the change was a major social reconfiguration of instruments and performers. Sarangiyas have always been absolutely critical to the success of a north Indian vocal performance, but in an accompanying role. Now that the courtesan culture had been swept away and replaced by a publicly chaste Victorian ideal sarangi players were looked down upon. While singers and other instrumentalists, including tabla players were eventually able to recreate themselves as respected ‘high art’ performers, sarangiyas remained tainted with the brush of ‘the house of ill repute’.
Obviously, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and others who aspired to greatness realised their first and perhaps ‘natural’ instrument was not the vehicle to get them to where they wanted to be. In his early years (he was born in that great Punjabi musical markaz of Kasur) he found himself actually accompanying a tawaif on the sarangi in Banaras. But he soon began singing in public and after some time turned his attention to vocalising. It was probably with great relief that he said farewell to the sarangi.
In his lifetime Bade Ghulam Ali became one of the absolute icons of Indian music. His performance at the ‘durbar’ (court) of the Prince of Wales in the early 1920s marked his rise to fame. In subsequent years he travelled all across India and into Afghanistan and to the deep south where, unusually, he was appreciated by the upholders of the Carnatic vocal tradition.
A friendly, happy looking man of huge stature he was not only a great performer but a composer of many cheeza (songs) under the name of Sab Rang. After Partition he was one of the few musicians who though from what had been declared Pakistan remained in India where he died in 1968.
He left behind two sons, Karamat Ali Khan and Munawar Ali Khan, both of whom remained in Pakistan. Munawar Ali Khan, though he accompanied his father wherever he went, was not encouraged by the old man to become a solo performer. Was he jealous of his fame and cautious that his young heir could eclipse him in his dotage? Who knows but after the death of his father Munawar Ali Khan made some recordings which I post tonight with those of his great giant of a father. The singing is absolutely spectacular in both cases and I would hazard the view that Munawar’s pieces, are strong in their own right. He does not need to hide in the shadow of Bade Khan sahib. And listen to that the poorly regarded sarangiya clinging to Munawarji’s voice like white to rice.
So a jugalbandi post facto. Father and son. Patiala gharana at its most supreme.
Track Listing: (Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan)
01 Raga Shudha Sarang
02 Raga Megh Malhar
Track Listing: (Ustad Munawar Ali Khan)
01 Aalay Nabi Aulad-e-Ali
02 Data Gharib Nawaz
03 Aaj Rang Lagaya