Pandit Pannalal Ghosh and Asad Amanat Ali Khan
Tonight the Washerman’s Dog celebrates one year on the mystical musical blogroll of life!
The past twelve months have been a total blast. My musical world has grown and I’ve made lots of new friends around the world. And as with most journeys in life it isn’t long into the trip before you discover how little you DON’T know about music. I’ve been amazed at the depth of knowledge (not to mention record collections) of other bloggers and fans of the Washerman’s Dog.
Over 186 posts the music of Pakistan and India has been the most widely and regularly appreciated. And that is where the Washerman’s Dog has spent most of the year. The number one most popular post was the collection of ghazals by Ustad Amanat Ali Khan.
But in the top ten also are some classic R&B, African selections and good old American blues. My few postings of gospel music have also been unexpectedly popular as has some jazz. Thanks to all those who drop by regularly for a chat. Thank you for your comments and kind words and even corrections!
To celebrate the Washerman’s Dog presents two personal favorites.
First, the music of the son of Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Asad Amanat Ali Khan. Live vol 1 was a cassette left by a friend on his bedside table. He was working for a short while with an aid agency in Peshawar. He had spent some time camping out on the floor of my house in Rawalpindi over the previous 12 months and I suppose it was his way of saying thank you.
There is so much to love about the music on this tape. The selection of songs is outstanding. Asad opens with a barnstorming piece of Sufi poetry by Ghulam Farid (1845-1901), Punjab’s great mystical poet. The song Umaran Lagiyan Paba Par runs for 18 minutes, is sung in Punjabi and has to be one of the finest vocal performances Asad or any contemporary Pakistani singer has ever produced. A mad tabla keeps biting at the singer’s heels never letting him slacken the passion, rather chasing his voice to the very peak of pleading, demanding ecstasy. As honest and brutal as John Donne. For this song alone the tape is worth your time.
Asad cools off with a gorgeous, gentle ghazal Meri dastaan-e-hasrat which while as long and as searching as the opening track, travels a much more subdued path. Asad’s phrasing is nearly jazz like. His singing as farouche to the same degree as it was bolshy on the opening track.
A bit of fun ensues next with a nice boppish ditty called Zara Zara in which Asad takes his audience on a mini tour of the world. This is followed next by two wonderful love poems Mein tujhe dil se pyar karta hun and Tum ne mujhe kho diya. In the first he declares his deep love and in the second he regrets that it was she who lost him.
Back to Punjabi for a song whose title appears to have been left off the cassette cover. And finally, the concert closes and the Volume 1 end prematurely mid-stream during another lovely Urdu ghazal, Hoton Pe Kuch Un ke Mera.
Unlike so many ‘live’ recordings with canned applause and ‘wah wahs’ from the audience, the banter between Asad and his accompanists and the audience is spontaneous and heart felt. He gracefully and with humor deflects the repeated requests for him to sing his father’s most popular song, Inshaji Utho.
The second selection is by the ultimate master of the bansuri (bamboo flute) Pandit Pannalal Ghosh. I first began listening to this record when I was probably less than 10 years old. My father bought it in Civil Lines, Allahabad. We played it a lot at home and is the reason why my favorite Hindustani classical instrument is the bansuri.
Born in Barisal, East Bengal (now Bangladesh) on July 31, 1911, Amulya Jyoti (nicknamed Pannalal) Ghosh was a child prodigy. He inherited his love of music and the bamboo flute (bansuri) from his grandfather, Hari Kumar Ghosh who played sitar, tabla, and pakhawaj and learned sitar from his father, Akshay Kumar Ghosh. He also learned music from his maternal uncle, Bhavaranjan Mazumdar who was a vocalist. The family first lived in the village of Amarnathganj and later moved to the town of Fatehpur.
Two apocryphal incidents happened to young Pannalal which had an influential bearing on his later life. First, at age 9 while looking for a stick, Pannalal found a flute floating in the river. He retrieved the instrument and so began his lifelong relationship with the bansuri. Two years later at age 11 Pannalal met a sadhu who held both a conch and a flute. The sadhu asked Pannalal if he could play the flute, and young Pannalal obliged. The sadhu gave him the flute and told the boy that music would be his salvation.
And indeed, it was so.
By 1939 Pannalal, who was already playing sitar, began to focus his attention on bansuri. Economic necessity drove him into performing music for the silent films in Calcutta. At an All India music competition he met music director and composer Anil Biswas and began to play in his musical productions. It was during one such production when Anil Biswas was directing music for a dramatization of a work by the renowned poet Kazi Nazrul Islam that Pannalal decided that he needed a bigger flute who's pitch and sonority would be more appropriate for both classical and light music. He met an old Muslim toy vendor who was also proficient in making flutes. With his help Pannalal experimented with various materials including metal and other types of wood, but decided bamboo was still the most suitable medium for a larger instrument. He finally settled on a bansuri which was thirty two inches long, with a sa (tonic) at kali doe (the second black key on the old harmonium scale). As a flute of this size was hitherto unknown, a rumor arose that Pannalal had had surgery to cut the webbing between his fingers to facilitate the large span required to cover the finger holes of the instrument. Of course, he had no such surgery, but through dedicated riyaz (practice), Pannalal invented and perfected the technique to play the large instrument. At this time he would get his bamboo to make flutes from discarded packing materials found at Diamond Harbor, the large port of Calcutta. Deforestation had not yet consumed the forest around Calcutta, and the bamboo was believed to have grown close to the city itself. He practiced hard and perfected the technique of vocal music on flute. At this time he realized the need for meend from madhyama swar to nishad or dhaivat shrutis in ragas like Bihag, Yaman, Bageshree and many others. He experimented and invented the seventh hole of madhyama. (http://adagio.calarts.edu/~bansuri/pannalal.html)
Pannalal Ghosh is credited with elevating the bansuri, an instrument mainly associated with folk and devotional music in India to a serious classical instrument. As such he is the guru of such better known contemporary players such as Hariprasad Chaurasia.
If you find Indian classical music somehow ‘hard’ to get into. Or you simply need help relaxing at the end of a long week, listen to Pannalal. All will become clear!
Asad Amanat Ali Khan
Live Vol 1
01. Umaran Lagiyan Paba Par
02. Meri Dastaan-e-Hasrat
03. Zara Zara
04. Mein Tujhe Dil Se Pyar Karta Hun
05. Tum ne Mujhe Kho Diya
06. Punjabi geet
07. Hoton pe Kuch Un Ke Mera
Listen here. (These are unusually large files. Apologies. Quality is high.)
01. Raga Yaman
02. Raga Shri