Saturday, March 28, 2020

Bob Dylan's "Murder Most Foul" - Greatness Uninterrupted

This year on the 24th of May, Bob Dylan, the greatest singer songwriter of all times turns 79!
It was 58 years ago, in 1962, when his debut album, "Bob Dylan", consisting mostly of folk songs was released. The man has demonstrated an astounding combination of vision, talent, versatility, hard work and stamina. I have been fortunate to see Dylan in concert twice; the first time on July 28th, 2007 in Kelseyville, CA at the Konocti Harbor Resort Amphitheater (Setlist) and then last year on October 14th, 2019 at the Frost Amphitheater at Stanford University (Setlist). 

Though I return to listen to Dylan regularly, true to his unpredictable self, Dylan dropped a wonderful new track this week in the middle of the Covid-19 madness. Not only did this new track, "Murder Most Foul" give his fans an unexpected gift, its gives everyone another reason to revisit his legendary songbook. The new track, released at midnight on March 27th, is a 17 minute marvel in the mould of classic Dylan. It is the longest song in his discography, to date. The song revolves around the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination and takes off in many different directions, dropping a mind-boggling array of popular culture references that highlight the permanent impact of this seminal event in American history. 1963 was also a pivotal year in Dylan's own career with the release of "The Freewheeling' Bob Dylan", his first Platinum Album. So in some ways Dylan's life and career run parallel to American history in the wake of the Kennedy assasination.

Complete Lyrics: (courtesy:

[Verse 1]
It was a dark day in Dallas, November '63
A day that will live on in infamy
President Kennedy was a-ridin' high
Good day to be livin' and a good day to die
Being led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb
He said, "Wait a minute, boys, you know who I am?"
"Of course we do, we know who you are!"
Then they blew off his head while he was still in the car
Shot down like a dog in broad daylight
Was a matter of timing and the timing was right
You got unpaid debts, we've come to collect
We're gonna kill you with hatred, without any respect
We'll mock you and shock you and we'll put it in your face
We've already got someone here to take your place
The day they blew out the brains of the king
Thousands were watching, no one saw a thing
It happened so quickly, so quick, by surprise
Right there in front of everyone's eyes
Greatest magic trick ever under the sun
Perfectly executed, skillfully done
Wolfman, oh Wolfman, oh Wolfman, howl
Rub-a-dub-dub, it's a murder most foul

[Verse 2]
Hush, little children, you'll understand
The Beatles are comin', they're gonna hold your hand
Slide down the banister, go get your coat
Ferry 'cross the Mersey and go for the throat
There's three bums comin' all dressed in rags
Pick up the pieces and lower the flags
I'm goin' to Woodstock, it's the Aquarian Age
Then I'll go over to Altamont and sit near the stage
Put your head out the window, let the good times roll
There's a party going on behind the Grassy Knoll
Stack up the bricks, pour the cement
Don't say Dallas don't love you, Mr. President
Put your foot in the tank and then step on the gas
Try to make it to the triple underpass
Blackface singer, whiteface clown
Better not show your faces after the sun goes down
Up in the red light district, they've got cop on the beat
Living in a nightmare on Elm Street
When you're down on Deep Ellum, put your money in your shoe
Don't ask what your country can do for you
Cash on the barrelhead, money to burn
Dealey Plaza, make a left-hand turn
I'm going down to the crossroads, gonna flag a ride
The place where faith, hope, and charity died
Shoot him while he runs, boy, shoot him while you can
See if you can shoot the invisible man
Goodbye, Charlie! Goodbye, Uncle Sam!
Frankly, Miss Scarlett, I don't give a damn
What is the truth, and where did it go?
Ask Oswald and Ruby, they oughta know
"Shut your mouth," said a wise old owl
Business is business, and it's a murder most foul

[Verse 3]
Tommy, can you hear me? I'm the Acid Queen
I'm riding in a long, black Lincoln limousine
Ridin' in the back seat next to my wife
Headed straight on in to the afterlife
I'm leaning to the left, I got my head in her lap
Hold on, I've been led into some kind of a trap
Where we ask no quarter, and no quarter do we give
We're right down the street, from the street where you live
They mutilated his body and they took out his brain
What more could they do? They piled on the pain
But his soul was not there where it was supposed to be at
For the last fifty years they've been searchin' for that
Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me
I hate to tell you, mister, but only dead men are free
Send me some lovin', then tell me no lie
Throw the gun in the gutter and walk on by
Wake up, little Susie, let's go for a drive
Cross the Trinity River, let's keep hope alive
Turn the radio on, don't touch the dials
Parkland Hospital, only six more miles
You got me dizzy, Miss Lizzy, you filled me with lead
That magic bullet of yours has gone to my head
I'm just a patsy like Patsy Cline
Never shot anyone from in front or behind
I've blood in my eye, got blood in my ear
I'm never gonna make it to the new frontier
Zapruder's film I seen night before
Seen it thirty-three times, maybe more
It's vile and deceitful, it's cruel and it's mean
Ugliest thing that you ever have seen
They killed him once and they killed him twice
Killed him like a human sacrifice
The day that they killed him, someone said to me, "Son
The age of the Antichrist has just only begun"
Air Force One comin' in through the gate
Johnson sworn in at 2:38
Let me know when you decide to throw in the towel
It is what it is, and it's murder most foul

[Verse 4]
What's new, pussycat? What'd I say?
I said the soul of a nation been torn away
And it's beginning to go into a slow decay
And that it's thirty-six hours past Judgment Day
Wolfman Jack, he's speaking in tongues
He's going on and on at the top of his lungs
Play me a song, Mr. Wolfman Jack
Play it for me in my long Cadillac
Play me that "Only the Good Die Young"
Take me to the place Tom Dooley was hung
Play "St. James Infirmary" and the Court of King James
If you want to remember, you better write down the names
Play Etta James, too, play "I'd Rather Go Blind"
Play it for the man with the telepathic mind
Play John Lee Hooker, play "Scratch My Back"
Play it for that strip club owner named Jack
Guitar Slim going down slow
Play it for me and for Marilyn Monroe

[Verse 5]
Play "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
Play it for the First Lady, she ain't feeling any good
Play Don Henleyplay Glenn Frey
Take it to the limit and let it go by
Play it for Carl Wilson, too
Looking far, far away down Gower Avenue
Play tragedy, play "Twilight Time"
Take me back to Tulsa to the scene of the crime
Play another one and "Another One Bites the Dust"
Play "The Old Rugged Cross" and "In God We Trust"
Ride the pink horse down that long, lonesome road
Stand there and wait for his head to explode
Play "Mystery Train" for Mr. Mystery
The man who fell down dead like a rootless tree
Play it for the reverend, play it for the pastor
Play it for the dog that got no master
Play Oscar Peterson, play Stan Getz
Play "Blue Sky," play Dickey Betts
Play Art Pepper, Thelonious Monk
Charlie Parker and all that junk
All that junk and "All That Jazz"
Play something for the Birdman of Alcatraz
Play Buster Keaton, play Harold Lloyd
Play Bugsy Siegel, play Pretty Boy Floyd
Play the numbers, play the odds
Play "Cry Me a River" for the Lord of the gods
Play Number nine, play Number six
Play it for Lindsey and Stevie Nicks
Play Nat King Cole, play "Nature Boy"
Play "Down in the Boondocks" for Terry Malloy
Play "It Happened One Night" and "One Night of Sin"
There's twelve million souls that are listening in
Play "Merchant of Venice", play "Merchants of Death"
Play "Stella by Starlight" for Lady Macbeth
Don't worry, Mr. President, help's on the way
Your brothers are comin', there'll be hell to pay
Brothers? What brothers? What's this about hell?
Tell them, "We're waiting, keep coming," we'll get them as well
Love Field is where his plane touched down
But it never did get back up off the ground
Was a hard act to follow, second to none
They killed him on the altar of the rising sun
Play "Misty" for me and "That Old Devil Moon"
Play "Anything Goes" and "Memphis in June"
Play "Lonely at the Top" and "Lonely Are the Brave"
Play it for Houdini spinning around in his grave
Play Jelly Roll Morton, play "Lucille"
Play "Deep in a Dream", and play "Driving Wheel"
Play "Moonlight Sonata" in F-sharp
And "A Key to the Highway" for the king on the harp
Play "Marching Through Georgia" and "Dumbarton's Drums"
Play darkness and death will come when it comes
Play "Love Me or Leave Me" by the great Bud Powell
Play "The Blood-Stained Banner", play "Murder Most Foul"


On Spotify, I have my personal favorite "Dylan Songbook" that ranges from the tribute in his 1962 debut album to Woody Guthrie, "Song to Woody", all the way to "Early Roman Kings" from the 2012 album, "Tempest". If you can listen to only a few beyond the universally known "Blowin' in the Wind" stuff, try listening to "Visions of Johanna", "Every Grain of Sand", "Chimes of Freedom", "Desolation Row", "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", "Simple Twist of Fate" and "When I Paint my Masterpiece".  

("My Dylan Songbook" on Spotify)

Sunday, November 17, 2019

"The Quotations Project" - Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt & Virginia Woolf

Walter Benjamin

Ever since I first read Hannah Arendt's introduction to "Illuminations", the great German-Jewish intellectual Walter Benjamin's collection of essays and reflections, something seemingly minor in that original New Yorker piece has stuck with me.

Hannah Arendt
Arendt writes, "From the Goethe essay on, quotations are at the center of every work of Benjamin's. ... Benjamin's ideal of producing a work consisting entirely of quotations, one that was mounted so masterfully that it could dispense with any accompanying text, may strike one as whimsical in the extreme ...". But as a reader, that ideal did not strike me as whimsical. I have often thought the same thing as I have read and suddenly found myself vigorously nodding in approval or scribbling notes of agreement in the margins. In these moments it has seemed to me that an artful arrangement of quotes would be far more representative of my mind and a better work of creation than anything I could inarticulately say about myself. The sources, as much as the words, would tell something of a story of my thoughts, reflections and preoccupations. Even if my personal thoughts are not all that interesting to anyone, whoever reads these quotations will bring their own meaning and interpretation to those words.      

Later in that same paragraph Arendt goes on to quote Walter Benjamin again:
"No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener". 

To me, Benjamin's words mean that no work of art can be concerned with how it will be read, seen or listened to. People, with their disparate ideas, personalities and experiences will imbue the work with their own meaning, often bearing little resemblance to any original intent.

Towards the end of her book on Montaigne, "How to Live", Sarah Bakewell comments on all the readers of "Essays" over the centuries and how they have been in a continuous dialogue with Montaigne and his words. She then alludes to Virginia Woolf's wonderful vision of generations talking to each other through the words of others.

"Over the centuries, this interpretation and reinterpretation creates a long chain connecting a writer to all future readers - who frequently read each other as well as the original. Virginia Woolf had a beautiful vision of generations interlinked in this way: of how 'minds are threaded together - how any live mind is of the very same stuff as Plato's and Euripides . . . It is this common mind that binds the whole world together; & all the world is mind.' This capacity for living on through readers' inner worlds over long periods of history is what makes a book like the Essays a true classic. As it is reborn differently in each mind, it also brings those minds together."
("How to Live - or - A life of Montaigne" - pg. 315)

With these thoughts in mind, I plan to share quotes from my readings more frequently in the future. The quotes I share will have somehow struck a chord in me but I will avoid commentary "so as not to ruin everything with explanations that seek to provide a ... connection". Hopefully the quotations can create another small community of "minds threaded together".  In homage to Benjamin and his "Arcades Project", I will name this series of assembling the creations of others, "The Quotations Project".   

Saturday, November 02, 2019

The Pleasures of Raga Shuddh Kalyan

In my many years of loving Hindustani classical music, I have noticed my clear and strong affinity for certain Ragas and Raga families (called "Thaats") over others. Listening to great masters perform khayal in "bara" ragas like Asavari, MiyaN ki Todi or Multani, I can certainly appreciate the craft and structural beauty. But, the music doesn't viscerally knock me over in the way performances of Yaman, Bhupali, Allahiya Bilawal, Khamaj, Tilak Kamod, Desh, Kedar, Durga and Pahari do. Other than realizing that many of the latter ragas take more of their inspiration from folk music I don't have a good explanation for why I love the ragas that I do.

A raga I love is Shuddh Kalyan and one of my favorite YouTube channels is "The Dream Journey". A couple of years ago a few friends of Pakistani origin decided to undertake a journey all across Pakistan to discover, listen to, record and then share performances by classical and qawwali musicians from across the country. The result is a video catalog of some wonderful mehfils and artists, captured for posterity, and made available for lovers of South Asian music everywhere.

Tarana in Shuddh Kalyan by Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan is a short but lovely little performance by this representative of the Sham Chaurasi gharana. I wish this was a longer performance as it ends too soon before one fully loses oneself in the elaboration of the Shuddh Kalyan melody.

Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan is inspired by Ustad Amir Khan of Indore and in this video above, he mentions and praises the wonderful performance of this very Tarana by the Indore maestro. Here is Ustad Amir Khan's heavenly version:

Shuddh Kalyan was a favorite of the Kirana Gharana and it was a key part of their repertoire. All the leading lights starting with the founder, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, have left great recordings of this raga. His children Hirabai Barodekar, Sureshbabu Mane and Saraswati Rane regularly performed the raga as did Roshan Ara Begum, Gangubai Hangal and Bhimsen Joshi. Arguably one of the most popular bandish in this raga is Sadarang's "Baju re mondar". I have a scratchy recording of Abdul Karim Khan sahib's version but probably the most familiar recent recording is Saraswati Rane singing it for the 1977 Shyam Benegal film, "Bhumika".

And here to end this post is a majestic version of "Baju re Mondar" by the pride of Pakistani classical music, Roshan Ara Begum!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"BaaghoN mein paray jhoolay" - Ustad Barkat Ali Khan & Chiragh Hasan Hasrat

Ustad Barkat Ali Khan (1906 - 1963), born in Kasur, was a great vocalist of the Patiala gharana. By all accounts he was as talented a musician as his older brother Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. But the older brother's post-partition move to India where there were bigger, more appreciative audiences, his stentorian voice well-suited to Khayal singing and his larger than life personality combined to overshadow his younger brother.

Ustad Barkat Ali Khan (left) with Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan with Madam Noor Jehan in the background) 
Ustad Barkat Ali Khan made a virtue out of necessity in Pakistan where he switched almost entirely to the more popular semi-classical forms. Thumri, Dadra, Kafi, Ghazal and even Geet became his focus. Before Mehdi Hassan became a by-word for classical ghazal singing, Barkat Ali Khan had virtually created that genre with Begum Akhtar. His soft, mellifluous voice and effortless vocals infused his semi-classical pieces with immense feeling. Ustad Barkat Ali Khan's legacy includes training some excellent non-gharana musicians like the ghazal singer Ghulam Ali.

There are few Barkat Ali Khan gems better known than "BaaghoN meiN paray jhoolay" in Raga Pahari. This form of poetry is called a "mahiya"; a poem of 3 verse stanzas where the first and third verse rhyme. The great journalist Chiragh Hasan Hasrat (1904 - 1955) penned this mahiya and it is reputed to be the first piece of poetry sung in this form.

This is a brilliant rendition and despite a bit of crackling in this recording, the mastery of Ustad Barkat Ali Khan is evident.

Chiragh Hasan Hasrat
Every time I listen to this beautiful version it makes me nostalgic for Lahore and the golden era of its cultural prime. Both Barkat Ali Khan and Chiragh Hasan Hasrat lived, worked and died in Lahore and rubbed shoulders with some of the city's greatest literary and cultural icons. In this one recording I hear the echoes of Gowalmandi's "Takiya MeerasiyaN" (where classical musicians stayed and performed), the clanking of printing presses churning out Maulana Zafar Ali Khan's newspaper "Zameendar" and the endless parade of "cups of chai" at the Arab Hotel fueling the local writers and intellectuals (Pitras Bukhari, Sufi Tabassum, M.D. Taseer, Hafeez Jallandhari, Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Imtiaz Ali Taj etc.) striving to get Lahore the same literary recognition as Delhi and Lucknow.

The Lahori nostalgia is accentuated by that quintessential verse that could only have been written on the banks of River Ravi:

Ravi ka kinara ho
Har mauj kay hontoN par
Afsana hamara ho

Here are the rest of the verses:

BaghoN meiN paray jhoolay
Tum bhool gaye hum ko
Hum tum ko nahiN bhoolay

Yeh raqs sitaaroN ka
Sun lo kabhi afsana
Taqdeer kay maaroN ka

Saawan ka maheena hai
Saajan say judaa reh kar
Jeena koi jeena hai

Dil meiN haiN tamannaiN
Dar hai keh kaheen hum tum
Badnaam na ho jayeN

Ab aur na tarpao
Ya hum ko bula bhejo
Ya app chalay aao

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Faiz & Nayyara Noor - "Jab Teri Samandar AankhoN maiN"

"Jab Teri Samandar AankhoN maiN" is a "geet" by the poet Faiz, better known by its first three words, "Yeh Dhoop Kinara". The phrase "Dhoop Kinaray" was made famous by the classic 1980's TV drama of that name directed by the talented Sahira Kazmi, starring Marina Khan and Sahira's debonair husband Rahat Kazmi. (Rahat Kazmi, incidentally went to Government College Lahore which I attended briefly before coming to the U.S. as an undergraduate. Rahat later received his Master's in English Literature from Punjab University. My father was also a Government College alumnus, then taught Urdu there for one year in 1963 before spending the rest of his academic career at Punjab University.)

Sahira Kazmi in a PTV play. Rahat Kazmi (right) & Shafi Mohammed are in the background
A little digression here that may be of interest to some readers. Sahira Kazmi was born to a Muslim woman, "Taji" Mumtaz Qureshi and a Hindu father, Indian film actor Shyam who was famous in the pre-partition era. Sundar Shyam Chadha, born in Sialkot in 1920 grew up in Rawalpindi but is now known mostly (if at all) as one of writer Saadat Hasan Manto's best friends. Shyam died in 1951 (only 31 years old) when he fell off a horse during the shooting of "Shabistan", a film in which he was starring opposite "Paree-Chehra" Naseem Banu. Both Shyam and Naseem Banu, friends of Manto in Bombay, were immortalized by him in two separate sketch essays he wrote about them. The one on Shyam is titled "Murali kee dhun". These essays were later published in his collection, "Ganjay Farishtay", and later translated and published by the late Khalid Hasan in a volume titled "Stars from Another Sky". Naseem Banu also happens to be the mother of actress Saira Banu and was the legendary actor Dilip Kumar's mother-in-law.

Now back to "Yeh dhoop kinaray". Here is Nayyara Noor in 1990 singing a lovely composition of Faiz's geet.

Unlike Faiz's very popular, overtly political poetry, in my opinion, this is an example of Faiz at his finest. This is an elegiac romantic poem set late in the day as the shadows are lengthening. Its neither day nor night and time momentarily seems still, but with an aching recognition in the poet's mind that it will all be over in a moment. (Pal bhar ko amar, pal bhar maiN dhuaN - "for a moment it is eternal but in a moment it will vanish like smoke") 
Faiz Sahib with Nayyara Noor. Faiz's daughter and artist, Salima Hashmi (foreground) and holding a glass is former PTV producer, Tanveer Masood

Jab Teri Samandar AankhoN MaiN 
Faiz Ahmad Faiz
Yay dhoop kinara, shaam dhalay
Miltay haiN donoN waqt jahaN
Jo raat na din, jo aaj na kal
Pal bhar ko amar, pal bhar maiN dhuaN
Iss dhoop kinaray, pal do pal
HontoN kee lapak
BaahoN kee chanak
Yeh male hamara, jhoot na sach
KyuN zaar karo, kyuN dosh dharo
Kis kaaran jhooti baat karo
Jab teri samandar aankhoN maiN
Iss shaam ka suraj doobay ga
Sukh soyeN gay ghar dar waalay
Aur raahi apnee raah lay ga
London (1963) - From the collection "Dast-e-tah-e-sang"

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Sampling of Bengal's Soulful Music

Rabindranath Tagore
In addition to Punjab, Sindh and U.P's folk music, the other sub-continental musical tradition I love is Bengali. Bengal's music is sweet, melodious and distinctive. It is the music of a fertile landscape, abundant rivers and hard-working boatmen. It is the music of political consciousness and is significantly more elegiac than other desi folk traditions. 
Whether you listen to Ravi Shankar's haunting background score for Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (listen to this joyful sitar riff from the movie), hear the influence of Bengal on S.D. Burman's Hindi film music (Sachin Da singing "Sun O Meray Bandhu Ray" from the 1959 film "Sujata"), experience Abdul Halim Chowdhry's "Bhatiali" (the River Boatmen's song) from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) or sample the compositions of Tagore, Bengal's art and music have a beautifully mournful quality.

Here's one of my favorites by Tagore called "Ekla Chalo Re" (Walk Alone). There is a version by Kishore Kumar but I quite like Shreya Ghoshal's rendition as well.
Kishore Kumar:

And here is Shreya Ghoshal:

Bengali lyrics with English translation:
Jodi tor dak sune keu na ashe,
Tobe ekla cholo, ekla chalo, aekla chalo re,
Aikla cholo re,
If no one answers your call,
Then walk alone,
(be not afraid) walk alone my friend.
Jodi kue kotha na koe,
ore o re o obaghaga, keu kotha na koe
Jodi sobai thake muhk phirae , sobai kore bhoye,
Tobe poran khule,
O tui, mukh phute tor moner kotha,
Ekla bolo re
If no one talks to you,
O my unlucky friend, if no one speaks to you,
If everyone looks the other way and everyone is afraid,
Then bare your soul and let out what is in your mind,
(be not afraid) Speak alone my friend.
Jab kali ghata chaye,
Ore o re o andhera sach ko nigal jaye
Jab duniya sari, dar ke age sar apna jhukaye,
Tu shola banja, Wo shola banja, Jo khud jal ke jahan raushan karde,
Ekla jalo re.
When dark clouds cover the sky, When darkness engulfs the truth,
When the world cowers and bows before fear,
You be the flame, The flame that burns you and banishes darkness from the world,
(be not afraid) Burn alone my friend.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Folk Music & the Punjabi Culture that was

Part of the soundtrack of my childhood and adolescence was the rustic notes of Punjabi film and folk music. The great influence here was my mother who hailed from a proudly rural Punjabi Jaat background (from a village near Sialkot). She loved all kinds of popular music including ghazals and Indo-Pak film songs but had a more visceral emotional attachment to the Punjabi folk music that she had heard growing up. It reminded her of her carefree youth and of her days in "Kotli Bhutta" with her mother and her older sisters. My father enjoyed this music as well but his was a slightly more detached appreciation.

Until I started kindergarten at the Sacred Heart School, the only language I spoke was Punjabi. This was quite unusual in the Lahori urban middle class, to which my family belonged. Even when parents spoke to each other in Punjabi, they almost always insisted that their kids speak only in Urdu. Urdu was the respectable language of the educated classes. Punjabi was its crass cousin, fit only for the unwashed masses. After I started school, I switched quickly to Urdu and almost never spoke in Punjabi with my family again. But fortunately for me, given my childhood proficiency, I never lost my natural comfort with the Punjabi language and music continued to re-inforce an otherwise weak link to that neglected native culture.  

My father's record collection (and later tapes) included lots of Punjabi music. I have many favorites from that time by Noor Jehan, Tufail Niazi, Alam Lohar, Reshma, Hamid Ali Bela and others but I particularly love the partition-era folk music of the Lahore-born sisters, Surinder and Prakash Kaur. The language is pure, the melodies beautiful and they represent a Punjabi culture that persisted for hundreds of years before the intrusion of modernity changed it forever in the last half century.

Many common Punjabi words in those folk songs have disappeared from the Urdu-ized Punjabi vocabulary of modern Lahoris. Some of my fondest memories are asking my mother about words I didn't understand and her detailed explanations which often harked back to the stories she had heard from her own mother. Those stories and explanations connected me as a child to an entirely different era of spinning wheels, water wells, milking buffalos, crop seasons, irrigation terminology and the complex web of loving and jealous relationships (daraNiaN, jathaNiaN!) that kept joint families together and tore them apart. It seems astonishing to me that the rural world described in these timeless folk songs, a world that had existed unaltered for countless generations, vanished so quickly in the last half century.

Yesterday, after a long time, I listened again to a song by Tassawur Khanum called "Bari thaani charhya". I remember hearing this song in the 80's and loving it but I don't recall that it struck me as particularly poignant. But listening to it again 30+ years later made me realize that it describes a simple and beautiful rural world that no longer exists. Yes, this is rather clearly a man's world and even the very sweet romanticism has a strong whiff of patriarchy (the last verse in particular galls me), but it has an old-fashioned charm. Today, the innocence and charm are gone but the patriarchy persists.

Now, lets turn to the actual music and words of "Baari thaani charhya". The lyrics and composition are by Mian Shehryar.

Punjabi Lyrics:

Baari thaani charhya
NawaN din arraya
HuN bohti daer na kareeN
Chaiti muR aaweeN gharee

Dudh wee na rirkaN
Sabhna nuN chirkaaN
Duur hoya dil jaaniye
Layee nukray madhaaNiye

KaaN wee nahiN bol da
Dil mera dol da
JeRa wassay watnoN paray
Rab odhi khair karay

KannaN diyaN waaliyaN
Laah kay sambhaliyaN
JadoN mera maahi aaway ga
Aa kay meri kanni paaway ga

Charkha nahiN kat dee
Raah tera tak dee
Jind meri dadhi suk gayee
Charkhay dee nuk muk gayee

VangaN naheeN charohniyaN
GallaN naheeN karoniyaN
Teray baajhoN sunjha vehRa aye
Hor meinooN gham keRa aye

Dupatta vee nahiN rangeya
Sara din langeya
Teri meiN ghulam hoyee
Aaja ghar shaam hoyee

Many of the words and the rhythms of Punjabi life in these lyrics have virtually disappeared. There are almost no 'charkhas' and 'madhanis' anymore and words like 'vangaN' or 'sunjha' or 'jind' have mostly been replaced with their Urdu equivalents.

This piece would be incomplete without sharing two of my favorite pieces by the above-mentioned Surinder and Parkash Kaur. I can never listen to these two songs without thinking of my mother. She still weeps every time she hears these songs as they inevitably remind her of 'ammaN jee", of her 'veers' and a time that is no more. May she live a long, happy and healthy life.

The first song "MaavaN te DhiyaN" is sung by both Surinder and her older sister Parkash. This was the first commercially released duet by the sisters in 1943, and made them overnight stars in the Indian sub-continent.
"KaNkaN lammiaN dhiyaN kyuN jammiaN nee maay"

The second song is "MadhaniyaN" with its plaintive lyrics; "Hai oh meray daadhia rabba kinnaN jammiyaN kinnaN nay lai janiaN". These lyrics are full of long forgotten cultural allusions ("ayna sakkiaN bhaabhiaN nay dola tor kay kachcha dudh peeta") that the vast majority of Punjabis today would find mystifying and there are almost no sources that could help them comprehend a society and culture that existed just a few decades ago.

And here is "MadhaniyaaN": 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

"Horace and Pete" - The Wonderful New Series by Louis C.K.

I just watched the excellent first episode of "Horace and Pete", a new series by Louis C.K., released on his website yesterday without any warning or publicity.
Here's the NY Times review by James Poniewozik  
Louis C.K is a genius. As a fan of his stand-up comedy and his un-categorizable FX series, "Louie", I have come to expect an element of surprise in everything he does. His writing and his comedy is hard to pin down. Like great art, it may entertain you at times, but the primary emotions it evokes are discomfort and a visceral sense of life's tragic absurdity.    
"Horace and Pete" is a dysfunctional family saga that feels like a theatrical production. Alan Alda is brilliant as the foul-mouthed, world weary Uncle Pete and overshadows excellent performances by Jessica Lange, Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco and Louis himself. Amazingly, the episode seems to have been filmed a couple of days ago with references to Donald Trump skipping the most recent Iowa Republican debate. The closing credits with the Paul Simon song, written for the series, is a perfect bookend.
Pay $5 and see it. Can't wait for the second episode. Who knows when the unpredictable Louis will drop it on his fans.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

"Araj Suno" & The Brief Origins of Sufi Music

The shrine of Hazrat Amir Khusrau in Delhi's Nizamuddin quarters
Random musical discoveries have often been the trigger for these posts. The other day I caught Tahira Syed singing a beautifully composed kalam, "Araj suno be-gun kee Khawaja" on Yusuf Salahuddin's PTV show, Virsa. The quintessential Lahori, Salahuddin is poet Allama Iqbal's grandson. To the city "elite" (or what in modern Pakistan passes for it), his walled city home, "Haveli Baroodkhana" is a familiar venue for private musical and cultural events.

Here is Tahira Syed singing "Araj suno". Ustad Nazar Hussain is the composer.

Araj suno be-gun kee Khawaja
(be-gun: "one who does not have any qualities or skills")
Kar do Khawaja hamray kaaj
(hamray kaaj: literally "our work")

Araj suno be-gun kee Khawaja

Mujh aajiz par nazr-e-karam ho
Tumro naam gareeb nawaj
("gareeb nawaj" is a commoner's pronunciation of "ghareeb nawaz" meaning "one who gives generously to the poor")

Araj suno be-gun kee Khawaja

"Araj Suno" are the words of supplication, of imploring, of begging to be heard. The words themselves simply mean "listen to my pleading", but they have a larger sense of also asking for relief. They are a cry of anguish and a plea for help.

The language of this poetry is a street Hindustani patois, not a high aristocratic Urdu (Urdu-e-mualla). Arabic and Persian alphabets like "z'wad", "zay" and "gh'ain" become Hindi sounds like "ja" and "ga". It is meant to represent the sentiments of the common people.

Tahira Syed unconvincingly attributed the lyrics to the 14th century sufi poet and musician Hazrat Amir Khusrau (1253 - 1325 CE). Lots of traditional sufi kalaam is erroneously credited to the legendary Khusrau.

Qawwali music and its lyrical tradition originates with the Chishtiya Sufi order and its South Asian founder Hazrat Khawaja Mueenuddin Chishti Ajmeri (also know as Ghareeb Nawaz). Mueenuddin Chishti was followed by his disciple, Qutb-uddin Bakhtiar Kaaki (also buried in Delhi), who in turn was succeeded by Hazrat Faridiuddin Masud Ganjshakar (buried in Pak Pattan in Pakistan). After Baba Farid, the order split into the Chishti-Nizami and Chishti-Sabiri factions. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya was the disciple of Baba Farid and Amir Khusrau was Nizamuddin's disciple.

Amir Khusrau is considered the patron saint of Indian-Pakistani sufi and qawwali music. Credited with inventing the tabla, he is also said to have founded the sufi music troupe known as "Qawwal bachoN ka gharana". Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, known to younger audiences through their performances in Coke Studio Pakistan, are from this gharana. Khusrau was an accomplished musician, poet and scholar but most "Hindavi" poetry attributed to him was written much after his death. He is buried near Nizamuddin Auliya's shrine in Delhi.

The influence of this poetry and music is visible in many different places in the sub-continent's culture. Here's perhaps one of the most familiar recent efforts. This is Tina Sani singing the start of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's "Mori araj suno". She then shifts to sing a completely different Punjabi poem by Faiz titled "Rabba Sachheya". Later Arieb Azhar recites the original poem in its entirety.

"Mori Araj Suno" - Faiz Ahmed Faiz (from "Sham-e-shehr-e-yaaraN")

Tina Sani sings:

Mori araj suno, dastagir pir  (O my lord, pay heed to my appeal)

Mairee kahun kaa say mein apnay jiya ki pir  (to whom do describe the anguish of my soul) Arieb Azhar recites: Iss surat seh  (With this grimace) Arz sunatay  (Pleading) Dard batatay  (Sharing the pain) Nayya khaitay  (Rowing the boat) Minnat kartay  (Asking for his blessings) Rasta taktay  (Waiting expectantly) Kitni sadiyaan beet gai hain  (Countless centuries have passed by) Ab jakar yeh bhaid khulla hai  (Only now has it been revealed) Jis koh tum ne arz guzari  (The one who you had appealed to) Jo tha haat pakarnay waala  (The one who held your hand and guided you) Jis jaag laagi nao tumhaari  (Where your boat had docked) Jis say dukh ka daaroo manga  (From whom you had asked for a panacea for your pain) Toray mandir may joh nahin aaya  (The one who did not visit your temple) Woh tau tum heen thay  (It was you only) Woh tau tum heen thay  (It was you only)

(translation: Syed Obaid Hasan Raza on a YouTube comment)

And finally here's Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing "Araj suno mori piya" in Raga Kaunsi Kanhra.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Eliza Doolittle & My Idea of the Good Life

Just the other day I was watching Stephen Colbert and Matthew Broderick sing Julie Andrew's famous "My Fair Lady" song "Loverly" live on Colbert's late night show. I sat there on my couch captivated by the melody and for the first time really paying attention to the lyrics. And the more I listened, the happier I felt, drawn to the simple dreams of Eliza Doolittle's life.

All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly?

Lots of chocolate for me to eat,
Lots of coal makin' lots of heat.
Warm face, warm hands, warm feet
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly?

Oh, so lovely sittin' abso-bloomin'-lutely still
I would never budge till spring
Crept over me window sill

Someone's head restin' on my knee
Warm and tender as he can be
Who takes good care of me
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly
Loverly, loverly, loverly, loverly...

As I listened to the original song repeatedly over the next couple of days it struck me how closely Eliza's words matched my own idea of a good life: basic comforts, simple pleasures and love. If I could add just one line to the original lyrics, this song would become my life's anthem:

All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly?

Lots of chocolate for me to eat,
{Lots of books for me to read},
Lots of coal makin' lots of heat.

Someone's head restin' on my knee
Warm and tender as he can be
Who takes good care of me
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly

And here's the beautiful Julie Andrews singing in the original stage version.
(The stills of Julie Andrews in this video are superb)

The role of Eliza Doolittle in the movie was played by Audrey Hepburn but it was still Julie's voice.