Some years ago I had an extraordinary dream. It was not a nightmare and didn’t leave me frightened. But it definitely stirred me up. And even today, nearly a full decade removed for that place and time, I still leaves me unsettled.
I’ve put together a playlist/mixtape of some songs–all except 2 of which are from South Asia or the immediate surrounds. I certainly hope you will find them enjoyable. And should you listen to them all I think you would be able to get a sense of what the dream may have been about.
See this guy? His name is NOT Sample Only. It is Jamshedji Framji Madan, India’s first movie industry mogul and a Parsi.
Learn all about him and how the tiny Parsi community of India had such an influence on the development of the Indian and (eventually) Pakistani film industry.
If you enjoy this podcast, or even it you hate podcasts and find them boring, I would appreciate your support in letting people know about it. Its an important and unique story and deserves to be told. So spread the news!
Today’s post is not strictly to do with South Asia. The artists and the art originate from Iran–that ancient land known as Persia. But as we know those two things–modern day Iran and ancient Persia–are not exactly the same thing.
The Persian ‘world’ which definitely included at its heart the territory of modern Iran, extended at its peak in the 5th century BCE, from the rough frontiers of the Balkans to the very borders of contemporary India. Within this vast space that reached also into north Africa as well as most of Central Asia there existed a Persian-ate culture that informed all the many and diverse peoples who lived within it. They may have spoken their own languages but all of them were familiar with the Persian language which defined high culture and fine art. Persian literature complete with its characters, themes and poets made up the ‘canon’ for most educated people, be they Afghans in Balkh, Mughals in Agra, the imams of Samarkand, or the Caliph in Baghdad.
A world view that derived from Persian history and philosophy, and especially the dualistic imagining of the moral universe as articulated in Zoroastrianism and the teaching of its prophet Zarathustra, or Zardosht in Persian, informed politics and social relations all across the Persian-ate world.
The post I share today is an absolutely delightful telling of some of these stories by two Iranian artists, Khosro Shakibayi and the composer Karen Homayounfar .
Karen Homayounfar is an Iranian composer.
Khosro Sakhibayi is a prominent Iranian actor.
I don’t understand much Farsi, in fact just a few words. And so the pleasure I get from this recording is ‘spiritual’. There is no doubt that Persian is one of the most beautiful spoken languages ever invented by humans. When spoken or read by a native speaker it not so much flows as it does unveil itself. Like a woman revealing slowly the wonders of her curves, her valleys and peaks, her soft flesh and taut muscle, listening to Farsi is a sensual and thoroughly pleasurable experience. Within the strange, unfamiliar consonants and phrasing is a base softness and subtlety that invokes a shaded garden canopy. Easy to understand why Saadi chose the garden as his poetic metaphor.
This recording reminds me of the many readings of Urdu poetry by the dramatist Zia Mohiyedeen. You can’t help but be enthralled by the mere sounds of the human voice and its gentle tumbles and leaps. It matters little that the story remains a secret. But for those who do understand Farsi, wow! Even more exciting.
You may know, if you’ve been following this blog for some time, that I am a huge fan to Attaullah Khan Niazi ‘Issakhelvi‘. I have shared lots of his music and will continue to do so. So, this time out, I’ll dispense with biographic detail of this giant of Pakistani music and say a few things about the album.
This is a recording of a live performance in October 1988 at the Lok Virsa campus in the forested suburbs of Islamabad. I returned to Pakistan in April 1988 after a year of study in ’86-’87 in Lahore. And In October I was living in a share house with three other young American men who, like me, had found work in the vibrant international NGO/ refugee assistance operations that were the ‘soft’ side of the West’s anti-USSR proxy war in Afghanistan.
I was just out of University and making (for the time and my status as a single man) a very good salary working for the UN. I loved my job (don’t we all love our first real jobs?) and had made lots of new friendships. One in particular, a guy named Peter, had a sophisticated appreciation for Pakistani music which made my own pretty basic understanding seem quite shallow and superficial. When he wasn’t working with the UN he did the sound for musical acts whenever they visited Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
“Attaullah Khan is coming to Lok Virsa in a couple weeks time,” Peter said one day. “My friend is doing the sound. I think I can get you in for free if you’re interested.” At the time I had several cassettes of his singing and really loved his energy and voice and so I made a note to try to get there.
On the day, I remember I had to work late and decided to blow the concert off. But something niggled at me and though I was tired, I did, in the end drive out Lok Virsa figuring I’d stay for just a few songs.
Well, as it so happened I spent a couple of hours there. It was a fantastic concert. Issakhelvi was in top form. I was mesmerised by his voice and his charisma that could take an audience to tipsy heights of exhilaration and then in the next number quiet them right down. i went home feeling warm and alive. Knowing that this had been a very special night.
I have thought often of that concert, even though over the years the memory has faded. So you can imagine my delighted surprise when I listened to these two CDs. The introductory comments by the MC, which declare the date of the concert as 6 October 1988 had me jumping out of my seat. “I was there! That was the concert I attended!”
I was (and still am) so excited to reconnect with that milestone in my appreciation of Pakistani music. And so it was a no brainer that I would share it with all of you!
Episode 3, in which we explore the rise of the city of Bombay is now ready on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher and other podcast apps. But I would encourage you to go to my website where you can see the sources I used in my research.
I have been notified that Lollywood Tales is now trending #1 on Apple podcasts in Pakistan in the Film History Category and #4 in Australia!