Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What Could Have Bin: Sukhanwar and Ustad Habib Ali Khan

Lahori manuscript depicting nobleman with musicians


Tonight’s post highlights two sets of music from Pakistan and is inspired by two articles I’ve read in the last couple of days.

The first article is actually the most recent post on the blog that goes by the name Moments of Tranquility which is hosted by Fawad Zakhriya. In the post he poignantly expresses his sadness for a ‘vanished cultural  landscape’, namely that of fine vocal music sung in cultivated Urdu. He looks back to a time when Pakistani cultural life was filled with singers, actors and artists who hailed from the Urdu-speaking heartland of India and who set the bar of performance on television and radio.  It’s really a great post and I’d urge all with an interest in Pakistani culture to have a quick read.

Touched by Fawad’s post I dug out a record of Urdu songs sung by some of Pakistan’s most feted classical/semi-classical, ghazal and film singers for the Pakistan television program Sukhanwar (Poet).  In this record you’ll hear Farida Khanum, Tahira Syed, Iqbal Bano, Mehdi Hassan and many more singing ghazals and folk tunes.  My own favorite (as always) is Amanat Ali Khan who gets pride of place with two performances, one I’ve never heard before, Mausam Badla.  While not exactly what Fawad is referring to this album nevertheless is a nice slice of that cultural landscape that seems to be in fast retreat.



         Track Listing:
         01 Shaboon Mein Attar (Mehdi Hassan)
02 Do Nain Kanwal (Nahid Akhtar)
03 Bare Dosti Mein (Akhlaq Ahmed)
04 Tu Hai Ya Tera Saya (Tahira Syed)
05 Mausam Badla (Ustad Amanat Ali Khan)
06 Ae Mitwali Badli (Nahid Akhtar)
07 Ae Gizal-e-Shab (Nahid Niazi)
08 Bairi More Naina (Iqbal Bano)
09 Chand Hi Nikla (Farida Khanum)
10 Honton Pe Kabhi (Ustad Amanat Ali Khan)
Listen here

The second article is by a Delhi filmmaker Yousef Saeed. He traced the state of classical Hindustani music in post Partition Pakistan and like Fawad’s post, one is left lamenting the near extinction of this great art form. While one can point the usual fingers at bureaucrats and military governments who never appreciated the fine arts one of the more interesting factors in the decline of the music was the loss of patronage.  Most musicians were Muslim and when many of the big names left for Pakistan they left behind their (often royal) patrons.  And many of the largest patrons in Lahore and other cities of Pakistan were Sikh or Hindu who left for India. The end result, a group of musicians cut adrift from not only their homes but their mode and culture of making music.

But read the article, published in the fine online magazine Himal, and watch some of the clips of his film interviews with Pakistani musicians on YouTube.  Absolutely fascinating stuff.

So the second collection of music is Ustad Habib Ali Khan, binkar (bin player).  The only snippet of info I can find on him is from the back of this CD.  Ustad Habib Ali Khan (1898-1971) of the Delhi gharana was of the acknowledged greats among sarangi players of his time, a position he maintained until his death in 1971. A pupil of Ustad Ahmadi Khan, he served Radio Pakistan and the PIA Arts Academy both as an instrumentalist and a composer.

One assumes he played more than the sarangi for this collection of moving, sad music is played on the bin. The bin or been is also known as the rudra veena in India.  The bin has always been the instrument of Indian classical music and was traditionally studied by all dhrupad students until the 19th century.
Bin (Rudra Veena)

It is one of the oldest instruments in Indian music. Technically a stick zither, it consists of a fingerboard with two large gourd resonators at either end. The bin usually has four main playing strings, and two or three "chikari" strings used as rhythmic drones.

I would love to know more about Ustad Habib Ali Khan. If anyone can pass on more information about him I’d love to hear. In the meantime, enjoy this very evocative and moving music from a time not too long ago when the landscape was a bit brighter.




         Track Listing:
         01 Raga Hem
02 Raga Dhanasri
03 Raga Khem
04 Raga Multani
05 Maru Behag
06 Maligora

Listen here.

6 comments:

Tawfiq said...

Hi,
thank you for posting this, though you are not the first to post it.
His complete name was Ustad Faqir Habib Ali Khan Beenkar. He was the younger brother of Ustad Abdul Aziz Khan, the inventor or rediscoverer of the Vichitra Veena. In effect, both play the Vichitra Veena, not the Rudra Veena.
Both brothers started as Sarangi players and then switched to the Vichitra Veena. Habib Ali was "acknowlegded as the most knowledgeable theorist of Pakistani music", what probaly means that he had the deepest knowledge of Ragas, what one can easily hear: his music is very very subtle. Info partly taken from his only LP published by EMI Pakistan (ALPC.13)shortly after his passing away.
By the way, all Vichitra Veena players - in India and in Pakistan - go back either directly as students or indirectly to Abdul Aziz Khan. For example the well known Lalmani Mishra (see my blog: http://oriental-traditional-music.blogspot.com/search/label/Lal%20Mani%20Mishra)
switched from Sitar to Vichitra Veena after having heard a recital by Abdul Aziz Khan.
Best greretings

ajnabi said...

Tawfiq,
Wah! thank you very much for setting the record straight! Have you posted his album?

Tawfiq said...

Dear Ajnabi,
not yet. At the moment I stopped posting (just completed 100 posts)as I'm busy with other things. Maybe I will in the future, insha'Allah.
Best

Anonymous said...

Anjabi sahib, thanks for the kind comments about my post. I enjoyed the music you posted but it made me think of something else that hopefully I will do a post on at some point. That topic is the contribution of Punjab to Urdu culture and literature. I think Punjab has been the cradle of Urdu for a very long time even though it's not the birthplace of the language. Many of the best Urdu writers of the 20th century are Punjabi: Iqbal, Faiz, Manto, Rashid, Miraji, Majeed Amjad, Bedi, ashfaq Ahmed, Ahmad Nadeem qasmi and on and on. Also, most of the singers on your album are interestingly Punjabi. Only Iqbal Bano is from Delhi. Mehdi Hassan is from Rajasthan but then moved to Pakistani Punjab. Anyway, this is a digression. Thanks for all your posts.

Fawad

ajnabi said...

Fawad, That's an interesting point. When I was in University I and two friends did the first english translation of Siyah-Hashiye by Manto which remains an ultimate sort of cultural touch point for me. But I had no idea he was Punjabi. I think that's the interesting thing about Lahore and Lahoris. The culture rises above the landscape of Punjab but it is still a very Punjabi city. But also a truly Indian or Hindustani city.
I look forward to reading your thoughts when they get posted!

Dr.Bukhari said...

Plz Plz re-upload both Sukhanwar and Ustad Habib Albums.