Friday, November 25, 2011

Favorite Musical Masterpieces: Thankgiving Edition (D.V. Paluskar, Faiyyaz Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali/ Barkat Ali, Salamat Ali Khan)

Ustad Faiyyaz Khan
Here in the United States this is the week of the Thanksgiving holiday. It is one of the more relaxing times of the year and with a four day weekend, I have had plenty of time to re-listen to some great Hindustani classical music. Since its been a while that I posted the sublime Jhinjhoti thumri by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan here are a few more gems that will surely accompany me to the proverbial desert island. Some may notice that these are all by male singers but a post is brewing in my head which will focus on some favorite pieces by female classical singers (Begum Akhtar, Kajjan Begum, Roshan Ara Begum, Girija Devi).
First up is D.V. Paluskar. I have always loved the purity of D.V. Paluskar's sur and the clarity of his singing. What a tragedy that this extraordinary talent died in 1955 when he was only 34. His father, Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar was a singer and teacher of some renown and founded the premier classical music institute called "Gandharva Mahavidyalaya" in Lahore in 1901.

Here is D.V. Paluskar singing "Piyu Palan Laage More AkhiyaN" in Raga Gaud Sarang:

Next is a little nugget from the emperor of the Agra Gharana, Ustad Faiyyaz Khan. Known as Aftab-e-Mauseeqi (a title given to him by the Maharaja of Mysore), Faiyyaz Khan's mastery and his distinctive, booming voice leaves one mesmerized. Faiyyaz Khan was a towering figure of his time; a court musician for the Maharaja of Baroda for many years, a close friend of the Sarangi-maestro Ustad Bundu Khan and a much sought after "Mehfil ka Baadshah" for musical concerts and conferences. Professor Daud Rahbar (Zia Mohyeddin's first cousin) has written a charming book about music called "Kuchh BateiN Sureeli See" which is dedicated to Ustad Faiyyaz Khan ("Jinn kay gaane meiN mohabbat aur himmat kee goonj thhee").

This is Ustad Faiyyaz Khan's "Pawan Chalat" in Raga Chhayanat:

Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and his brother Ustad Barkat Ali Khan were great exponents of the Patiala Gharana. Their long association with Lahore makes me think of them even more fondly. Barkat Ali Khan (1908 - 1963) was born and died in Lahore and is buried in the Miani Sahib cemetery. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan moved to India a couple of years after partition but learned much of his music in Lahore with Akhtar Hussain Khan and Aashiq Ali Khan. All these Patiala scions practiced and performed often at "Takia MeerasiaN" near Gawalmandi bazaar.

The two pieces I have selected here are in Raga Pahari so one can contrast the singing of the two brothers side by side in similar light genre performances. Barkat Ali Khan had a gentler voice more suited to semi-classical singing but Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had greater range. His resonant voice and vocal mastery felt equally at home in Thumri/Daadra or Khayaal.

Barkat Ali Khan sings his famous maahiya,"BaaghoN MeiN Parre Jhoole"(written by Chiragh Hasan Hasrat): (unfortunately there is a bit of background crackling noise in this version)

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan sings "Qurbaan So Maariye".

When I reflect on the Hindustani classical music tradition and its evolution, there is no doubt in my mind that it is now a shadow of its former self. Pakistan inherited the likes of Salamat Ali/ Nazakat Ali, Fateh Ali/Amanat Ali, Ghulam Hassan Shaggan and Aashiq Ali Khan but the art form died quickly in the culturally hostile terrain despite the best effort of those greats. Their disciples kept up somewhat but almost entirely abandoned the more demanding, long classical forms like Khayaal. Even in India, where there is a much more robust music education infrastructure and far greater number of organized public concerts, the quality of the performers is generally mediocre. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, Omkarnath Thakur or D.V. Paluskar are in a different league but amongst under-50 performers one would be hard pressed to find more than a few that are of even Ustad Rashid Khan's quality. The genuinely first rate, even in India, have either passed away or are quite aged (Kishori Amonkar, Girija Devi).

Lastly, we have a heavenly performance by Ustad Salamat Ali Khan with a bandish that seems particuarly apt as one remembers all these vocalists who are no longer with us.

Salamat Ali Khan sings "Daiyya, KahaN Gaye Woh Log" in Raga Allahiya Bilawal.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

A Vanished Cultural Landscape - A Reverie Inspired by Alamgir

Flipping channels this morning I stumbled on to a live phone interview with the 80's pop icon Alamgir on Pakistan's Hum TV channel. Listening to the conversation with him took me down a nostalgic spiral into the Pakistani music of my teens. He sang his signature toe-tapping and melodious numbers like "MeiN Ne Tumhari Gaagar Se" and "Dekha Na Tha". He was the bridge between the lively film music singers like Ahmed Rushdi and the future pop phenomenon of Nazia and Zoheb Hasan. Alamgir's Urdu pop songs with their western beats are justly considered the progenitors of Pakistani pop music. I have always particularly loved an enchanting Bengali song which he first sang on PTV in the mid-80's in a benefit concert raising money for typhoon victims in Bangladesh. I was watching that concert at the time and immediately fell in love with "Aamay Bhashaili Rey, Aamay Dubaili Rey".

Then surfing on YouTube I found this gem "Soona Soona Jeevan Apna":

This is Alamgir singing as a guest star on Anwar Maqsood's late 80's television drama serial "Aangan Terha". I have watched this video many times since the morning and find it unbearably sad for it represents a cultural landscape that has likely vanished forever. Surrounding Alamgir you see a group of actors, who in retrospect seem to me the last survivors of the disintegrating urbane old world of the shurafaa of U.P.

Transplanted to their new abode in Karachi after partition, the migrants couldn't help but bring a slice of U.P. (and Delhi, Hyderabad, Bihar and Bhopal) to this alien commercial city far from their ancestral imaginations. (Na woh saawan, na woh hariyaali, na woh jhoola, na woh sakhiyaan, na woh maanjhe ka jora, na woh thumri, na woh kabootar-bazi, na woh mushaira, na woh soz-khwani!). As they settled down, they naturally kept the flame of old traditions alive and enriched their adopted home. If you want to experience some sublime echoes of the Karachi phase of these traditions of the Urdu heartland, here are some personal favorites:
- Album of wedding songs called "Yeh Hari Hari Chooriyan" released in 1978
- Zehra Nigah's tarannum renditions of Faiz ("Jis Roz Qaza Aayegi") and Nasir Kazmi ("Gaye DinoN Ka Suragh Le Kar Kidhar Se Aaya Kidhar Gaya Woh"),
- Kajjan Begum's divine thumris "Sanwari Sooratiya Pe MeiN JaaooN Waari" and "Meherwa Ras Boondan Barse" and a Moharram Noha ("Run MeiN Jab Bano-e-Bekas Ki Sawaari Aayee")
- Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi's uncategorizable masterpiece "Aab-e-Gum". (Yusufi Sahib is Urdu's greatest living writer in my opinion. How I wish he would publish something more. It has been almost 22 years.) "Haveli", the first essay in the book is one of the best pieces of writing chronicling the manners and mores of that old Muslim U.P.(in this instance Kanpur) which in 1947 was already being upended by the steady march of time but whose demise was virtually assured by the consequences of partition. The phrase "Yeh chhorr kar aaye haiN" at the end so poignantly illustrates the grand tragedy of human existence on a miniature scale that it is hard to choke back tears whenever I read it.

But this long-winded reverie orginated with Alamgir's song and the actors in the video. It is because several of the actors in this clip like Shakeel, Mahmood Ali and Salim Nasir along with playrights like Anwar Maqsood were amongst those who familiarized the rest of Pakistan to that old country Urdu-speaking culture. To a child like me sitting in Lahore, turning the television set on and watching the Karachi dramas of Haseena Moin, Fatima Surayya Bajia, Anwar Maqsood, Khawaja Moinuddin and Athar Shah Khan opened the window to another world of refined culture, proper diction and humor steeped in an almost impossible command of spoken literary idiom. Even the street patois of the less literate characters seemed somehow more sweet. Today, when I picture Qurban Jilani, Jamshed Ansari or Azra Sherwani in Uncle Urfi, Salim Nasir in Aangan Terha, Mahmood Ali in Taleem-e-BaalighaN and Shakeel and Neelofer Aleem in Shehzori I imagine them as the last unknowing flag-bearers of the Muslim Urdu culture of Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Aligarh and countless smaller U.P. cities that produced their own leading lights. Both Salim Nasir and Mahmood Ali have passed away. So have Subhani BaYounas, Jamshed Ansari, Azra Sherwani, Ishrat Hashmi, Arsh-e-Munir, Qurban Jilani and Begum Khurshid Mirza. Shakeel, Talat Hussain and Qazi Wajid continue to work along with some of the writers like Anwar Maqsood and occasionally Haseena Moin. But in Karachi too, once the original generation of Urdu-speaking migrants passes from the scene we will increasingly look back at the golden period of PTV dramas from the late 60's to the late 80's as the dying flicker of a culture that has long ceased to exist in the Indian cities of its birth but was not able to take root in its new home either.

Perhaps that was never a realistic expectation but many children and grandchildren of the U.P. migrants are barely aware of what has been lost and the state's general deterioration will ensure that the original legacy will almost completely peter out in another generation. Even though as an ethnic Punjabi I am not a direct cultural descendant of the Urdu-speaking Muslims, no one interested in the cultural history of Urdu and of Muslims in India can be indifferent to this tragic loss.