Before bidding farewell to Pakistan for the Christmas season I invite you to join me in a tremendous concert with the Queen of Ghazal Farida Khanum.
Up until the middle part of the last century Indian music, whether classical or tawwaif (courtesan), was performed mostly privately. Wealthy, aristocratic or royal patrons sought out and employed the subcontinent’s greatest singers and musicians as necessary adornments of their glittering courts. Musicians served these patrons loyally and the same family remained part of the wider court community for generations.
The advent of recorded music in the form of phonographs and more particularly the radio started to break this system down. Musicians on the make or those who saw opportunities in the ‘market’ rather than in the court travelled the length and breadth of India to perform for public admission-paying audiences. After 1947 and the horrific upheaval created by the Partition of British India into two independent countries, the patron-performer system took a very serious beating. Many, indeed, most of the most prominent musicians were Muslim. They migrated to Pakistan in great numbers. At the same time, many of the richest patrons were Hindus and Sikhs. Those who lived in Lahore and the other centres of what became Pakistan moved to India.
In the 1950s musicians found themselves orphaned while patrons bemoaned the loss of their talent. The intimacy that had once nurtured Indian music was never fully restored.
But it didn’t completely die either.
In Pakistan, more than in India, the private mehfil (concert) continues to be a common and much loved way to enjoy music. The patrons are no longer princes and nawabs but bureaucrats, dentists and retired generals. And the patronage is not long term or permanent but for a night or two. Often weddings, homecomings and births are celebrated by a feast and an evening of music by one of the country’s biggest musical stars. The audience may number no more than 50 or up to several hundred but they are there by invitation only and the atmosphere is always intimate and special.
Tonight’s selection, an old cassette I picked up when I first landed in Islamabad over 20 years ago, is a real gem. The Calcutta born Farida Khanum gives her small audience a performance that is electrifying on the Punjabi folk numbers (Balle Balle, Mungawa de Jhumka) and exquisitely accomplished on some outstanding Urdu ghazals (Dono Jahan Tere, Gulon ki Baat Karo). She opens with her signature Woh Ishq jo Ham se Rooth Gaya and moves quickly into a rousing Punjabi folk rocker with some out of this world drumming. If you’re blood doesn’t run faster in this one, please call your doctor immediately.
The fact that you can hear tea cups clinking against saucers and some dinner conversation in the background makes this tape one of my favorite Live performances of all time.
01 Voh Ishq Jo Hum Se
02 Mangwa de Jhumka
03 Voh Mujhse Huwe
04 Tere Bajray Di
05 Balle Balle
06 Dono Jahan Tere
07 Gulon Ki Baat Karo
08 Yad-E-Gizal Chashma
09 Nachunni Lay