|Sariki Man, Multan|
In a land where genuinely great musicians and singers seem to be too numerous to count, Pathane Khan was is in the very top tier. Adored in Pakistan, his singing of the kafian (poetry/songs) of Punjab’s mystic poets, especially Ghulam Farid, is simply some of the most spirituous by a ‘folk’ artist anywhere in the world. There is not one iota of artifice in Pathane’s performances. His singing style was completely natural and uninhibited. He meant every syllable and breath. And every pause seemed to be designed to allow him the opportunity to hear what the Spirit had to say.
Pathane Khan emerged out of the dry Saraiki heartland of southern Punjab known for its deep and ancient history. The Saraiki language is the culture’s acme of artistic expression and the mystical songs of the Sufi poets its ultimate achievement. He was first heard on Radio Pakistan Multan in the late 60s and for many years was known only to audiences in the southern Punjab northern Sindh region. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Pakistan’s first democratically elected (and horribly tragic) Prime Minister was said to have fallen under the spell of Pathane Khan and in particular the song Mehnda Ishq Vi Tu.
As television spread in the 70’s Pathane Khan was introduced to a national audience and in quick order he became an improbable star. Elderly, with a shock of white hair that fell on to his shoulders, Pathane by his own admission smoked copious amount of hashish and travelled everywhere with a male companion named Yaseen. While each of these attributes failed every test of the Official Approval Test of Celebrity there was no way you could argue when he sat behind a harmonium and began to sing. Nothing could stand before such searing sincerity and love.
The mystical hymn Mehnda Ishq Vi Tu is an excellent way into Pathane’s music and deeply held faith. When I first heard it on a bazaar cassette tape I very nearly cried even though I could only make out the outer edges of the language. This famous and gorgeous song opens tonight’s selection of music which he recorded for Radio Pakistan in the 1970s. The song is recorded live and Pathane unfolds the verses slowly and deliberately, as if pulling back yet another pardah (curtain) with each stanza.
Each of these devotional songs is a meditation on Love and the True Nature of Ultimate Reality.
A small detail that makes these renditions even sweeter is the regular soft tinging of hand cymbals throughout. Usually associated with Hindu bhajans and temple music the cymbals add a subtle but potent syncretic flavour to the music. While this would almost certainly be disallowed in today’s Pakistan it reflects not only the blending of faiths that for centuries distinguished this part of South Asia but also the dogged determination of Pathane Khan to walk the true path of his art.
01 Mendha Ishq Wi Toon
02 Aa Mil Maro Mar
03 Darshan Bin Akhyan
04 Cheenn En Chharinda Yaar
05 Main Wi Janan Jhook