Noor Jehan is Pakistan’s most well known and certainly most loved popular singer. With a career that began in pre-Partition India, Madam Noor Jehan is widely considered, not only the best popular singer Pakistan has ever produced, but perhaps the greatest female voice from the entire sub-continent. She migrated ‘back home’ to what had become Pakistan, in 1948, where she ruled the roost without having to fend off any serious challenge to her undisputed status as Malika-e-Tarunnum (Empress of Melody) until her death in 2000.
A confluence of politics, economic priorities and feudal dismissiveness saw the once strong Lahore and Karachi based film industries steadily weaken in the years following Independence. It didn’t have to be this way. On Pakistan’s very first day as an Independent nation, the celebrations in Karachi marking the occasion were headed up by one of Bombay’s hottest jazz band leaders, Ken Mac, who was flown in especially to set the right tone! In attendance at the hot dance party was none other than Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, the prickly Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The mind simply boggles, from this historic remove! Read about this very cool ‘birth of Pakistan’ at Naresh Fernandes’ fabulous website.
With Bollywood now a global brand it is too easy to relegate the Pakistani film industry (Lollywood) to a history that holds, ‘it was never any good’. Barring Noor Jehan, and even then very few beyond the northern parts of the sub-continent would know her name or music, Lollywood has been unable to make a dent in the world’s popular consciousness.
Tonight’s post is a small attempt to set the record straight(er). Ahmed Rushdi was born in Hyderabad (Deccan, not Sindh) into an un-musical, religiously observant family. Though his father was censorious of such worthless activities as popular music, his son persisted in listening to the radio and dreaming. An older man in the neighbourhood convinced the family to enrol Ahmed in a local music school in Hyderabad, but unlike most of his contemporaries and peers, Rushdi never had formal instruction from a classical singer. He was about as natural and self-taught as one could be.
In 1951, Ahmed, it is claimed by most (but also disputed by others) got his first break in the Hindi film Ibrat, in which his brother Arsalan, also starred. Whatever the truth, in 1954 we find him in Pakistan where he has migrated with his family. Within 12 months he was auditioning at Radio Pakistan and several months later had a huge hit with a reworking of a tune made popular by Lata Mangeshkar in the 1951 film Hum Log: Bahe ankhiyon se dhaar, jia mora beqara.
Rushdi, took the basic tune of Lata’s song, added a catchy galloping sound and took his listeners on a tour of Karachi city. The song Bander Road se Kemari (From Bandar Road to Kemari) was a massive hit and has become an icon of Pakistani popular culture. Rushdi sings the song from the viewpoint of a tongawala (horse carriage driver) who is obviously very proud of this great modern city and relishes pointing out all the sights to his passengers.
Film work soon followed and Ahmed Rushdi quickly rose to be king of the playback scene. Throughout the 60s and through most of the 70’s his was the male voice of the film industry. The 1966 film Armaan, had Rushdi doing a jazzy guitar driven pop number, Ko Ko Kareena, which sounds as if Johnny Cash has woken up in Karachi after a night of heavy hash smoking. In fact, the song is again a re-working of a popular Goan song of the same name, sans, of course the film-specific Urdu lyrics. Ardent fans claim Ko Ko Kareena was the first ‘pop’ song in South Asia, which is not entirely credible. But it certainly is an early and very strong example of the genre that both film industries would, over the years, come to perfect. (Watch the scene from Armaan below)
Rushdi has a voice that sits somewhere between that of Kishore Kumar’s and Mohammad Rafi’s. It is melodic and sweet but (to judge from this collection) he does not have the vocal or emotional range of Rafi. Ahmed Rushdi’s improbable place at the top of a nation’s pop charts finally came to an end with the arrival of a true pop singer Alamgir and the emergence of the ghazal as the musical lingua franca of the middle class.
This collection is called Meri Pasand (My Choice) and represents, presumably, Rushdi’s personal favorites. It is a fantastic selection for sure, not just because of the ground-breaking Ko Ko Kareena but because it includes such gems as Gol Gappey Wala Aaya, Salaam-e-Mohabbat and Ek Uran Khatola from the delightfully titled action film, Jane Bond: 008 Operation Karachi.
Ahmed Rushdi may have been royalty in a minor kingdom but one can’t help but wonder had to remained in India, would his name be mentioned in the same breath as that of Rafi and Kishore?
01 Liye Aankhon Mein Ghuroor (Jaise Jante Nahin)
02 Ko Ko Koreena (Armaan)
03 Kabhi to Tumko Yaad (Chakori)
04 Kisi Chaman Mein Raho (Aanchal)
05 Salaam-E-Mohabbat (Salaam-e- Mohabbat)
06 Aisi Raat Allah (Jaise Jante Nahin)
07 Akele Na Jana (Armaan)
08 Gol Gappay Wala Aaya (Mehtab)
09 Jane Tamanna Khat Hai Tumhara (Chand aur Chandni)
10 Yadash Bakhair (Anjuman)
11 Gori Ke Sar Pe Sajke (Tum Mile Pyar Mila)
12 Kuch Log Rooth Kar Bhi (Andleeb)
13 Ek Uran Khatola (Jane Bond 008 Operation Karachi)
14 Bekal Raat Beetai (Endhan)
15 Ae Abar-E-Karam Aaj Itna (Naseeb Apna Apna)
16 Gudiya Japani (Khamosh Nigahiyan)
17 Bander Road Se Keamari (Extra Track)