Having grown up in Lahore in the 70's and 80's, the strains of lilting Punjabi melodies were always a warm and familiar presence. Even though in middle class upwardly mobile urban families Punjabi had sadly come to be associated with rural backwardness, Punjabi music with its deep cultural roots continued to exert an influence. Even in homes where children were discouraged from all things Punjabi lest they give off a whiff of the "paindu" lower classes, times of celebration such as mehndis remained incomplete without the girls on the dholki singing a repertoire of Punjabi wedding songs. Traditional melodies such as "Mathe Te Chamkan Waal", "Saada Chiriyan Da Chamba Ve", "Raat De BaaraN Wajje Aape Meri Neendar Khule", "Mehndi TaaN Sajdi Je Nache Munde Di MaaN" sung at these functions at least familiarized young boys and girls with the music of their native soil.
I was particularly fortunate to grow up in a family where I was amply exposed to both the Punjabi language and music but many years abroad had served to obscure many of those fond memories. It is only after the internet revolution that I have rediscovered much of that music. In this post (and in future posts) I want to share some of my favorite Punjabi singers and their music and provide a guide to some excellent sources for further enjoyment for those who may want to explore further. This is the first in a series of three planned posts and here I will focus on Punjabi Film Music.
Few now remember that until the 1970's Pakistan had a fairly thriving film industry based in Lahore. Noor Jehan's masterful voice so dominated Pakistan's film music singing that it overshadowed other unjustly forgotten talents. I am particularly fond of Zubaida Khanum's singing. Here's a wonderful song by her composed by "Baba" G.A. Chishti from the 1957 film "Yakke Wali" in which Musarrat Nazir played the title role. The song is "Resham Da Lacha Lak We". These old black & white films evoke a simpler, more innocent time and place. I feel that in many of these songs the Punjabi film heroines are portrayed as less demure figures than their contemporaries in Bombay's films of that era. Many of these women seem to exude a rugged self confidence even within the confines of their traditionally assigned roles.
Zubaida Khanum sang some of the most popular Punjabi film songs of the 50's and 60's. Some of my other Zubaida Khanum favorites include "AssaN Jaan Ke Meet Lai Akh Way" from the 1955 film "Heer" and "Bundey Chandi Dey" from the film "Chan Mahi".
Inayat Hussain Bhatti who hailed from Gujrat is another forgotten name today but many of his songs in the two decades after partition were enormously popular. A glance at his biography shows Bhatti's impressively versatile personality which bucks any stereotype of a Punjabi film hero. The video below is one of my favorite Inayat Hussain Bhatti songs called "Bhagan Waleo" from the 1953 film "Shehri Babu". This song was composed by Rashid Attrey (who along with Master Inayat Hussain and Khawaja Khurshid Anwar comprises the holy trinity of Pakistani music directors). Bhatti himself is the actor in this clip:
Some other of my Inayat Hussain Bhatti favorties include "Chan Mere Makhna" (popularized more recently by Shazia Manzoor) and a nice duet with Zubaida Khanum called "Goray Goray Hath Kali Wang Mundaya".
No post on Punjabi film music can be concluded without including a sampling from Noor Jehan's legendary career in Punjabi film singing. Many of her songs (courtesy of singing at Mehndis) are so deeply rooted in West Punjab's culture that they are intimately familiar even to those who have never set foot in a Pakistani cinema. Here is a personal favorite titled "Chan Mahi Aa" from the 1970 film "Heer Ranjha" composed by the master tunesmith Khurshid Anwar.
"Heer Ranjha" had a phenomenal soundtrack and virtually all the songs were superhits including "Mein Cham Cham NachaN", "Wanjhli Walarea", "Rabba Wekh Laya", "Kadi Aa Mil Ranjhan We" and Irene Parveen's lovely, chirpy number "TooN Chor Mein Teri Chori".
Here are some other Noor Jehan songs I like: "Weh Sonay Deya Kangna Sauda Iko Jaya", (a wonderful song in which Anjuman truly makes Noor Jehan's voice come alive), Tere Mukhre Da Kala Kala Til We", (with Noor Jehan herself in the lead role) "Jadon Holi Jai" and countless more.
Coming in Part 2: Punjabi Sufi & Folk Music