Punjab, the land of five (panch) rivers (ab) was usually the first stretch of Hindustan that raiders came to after clamouring down the passes of the Hindu Kush. It was in Punjab that Taxila one of ancient India’s most glorious and refined civilizations integrated Greek influences into Indian art. Greek Bactrian kings ruled from Taxila and the modern city of Sialkot. Buddhist stupas and the ruins of monastaries are still accessible from the main highway that runs through the Swat Valley. Persians, Afghans, Arabs, Central Asian Turks, Sikhs and the English have all conquered and subdued the fertile lands of Punjab.
It should come as no surprise then that the art and culture of Punjab, especially the folk culture, is as rich and fertile as the top soil of this historic breadbasket of the subcontinent. This is not to say that other parts of Pakistan and India do not have a rich folk tradition; most do. But few regions, by virtue of their geography, can claim to have quite so many different streams of music, art, philosophy and language flowing into the mighty river of Punjabi saqafat (culture).
One of the more unexpected, and pleasant, developments in 21st century India has been the entrepreneurial flair by which several small record labels have set about capturing the musical heritage of Punjab. Amarrass Records, De Kulture Music and Beats of India all are actively touring the villages of northwest India making exciting raw field recordings and setting up music festivals where traditional village musicians occupy center (and every) stage. It is simply wonderful. Long may they run.
Tonight we share a collection of Punjabi folk music Wah Ranjiya put out by the Beats of India crowd. Three artists, two of whom are mother and son, contribute tales of rural Punjab. Punjab’s economy is primarily agricultural and these songs reflect the life and thinking of non-urban Punjabis. There is no bhangra here (though that particular form is very much a folk, rural tradition). This is simple music played with a harmonium, a pair of tabla, and perhaps a chimta. The voices of all three artists are untrained and natural. But full of expression and passion. Noora Swarn, is an elderly woman whose husband was a traditional travelling singer and qawwal. Originally from the eastern parts of Punjab, now Pakistan, she lives in Jalandhar and is gaining a small but very avid international fan base. Her son, Dilbahar, is also featured as is the owner of the lovely name Mehar Chand Mastana.
Where would you hear this sort of music? Not in the clubs of Amritsar or Delhi. Possibly on All India Radio (unlikely). Rather, under a banyan tree where a tattered shamiana (tent) has been erected for a local fair, or the anniversary of a sufi saint’s death, or perhaps a politicians’ visit. This is music that speaks to simple (in lifestyle, not intellect) people. The namak-e-dharti (salt of the earth) who work hard in the fields all day and prefer live music under the stars to MTV and Bollywood hits.
01 Aaja Ve Mahiya [Meher Chand Mastana]
02 Wah Rangiya Tere Rang [Dilbahar]
03 Challa Dede Adiye [Noora Swarn]
04 Jagga Jamya Te Milan Vadhiyan [Dilbahar]
05 Mirza [Meher Chand Mastana]
06 Challa [Dilbahar]
07 Chad Meri Banh [Noora Swarn]
08 Jugni [Meher Chand Mastana]