Under the Neem Tree: Tina Sani

Neem Tree

Neem Tree

This old cassette is a personal favourite. An album I fell in love with from the first time I heard it. Its come back into my possession again after too many years absence and like most outstanding records, my mind flooded with memories of the first time I discovered it.

It was 1990. The Soviets (remember them?) had pulled out of Afghanistan with their Imperial tail between their legs, a mere 24 months earlier.  That other great entity, The International Community, was sharp on their heels. Now that the Cold War was near an end, the victors were moving on to other battles and other fields of conflict. Afghanistan, the IC reasoned, was once again what it had always been, a wasted and rocky bit of real estate wedged between Freedom and Communism and Dangerous Islam.

Afghans who had lived in Pakistan for the better part of a generation were advised that their assistance would cease and they must move back ‘home’.  To help them on their way, the UN had been instructed to give each refugee who could provide a valid ration card, 100 Kgs of wheat, a spade and hoe and the equivalent of 300 American dollars.  For a month near the end of 1990, I led a small team of Pakistanis and Afghans, in this repatriation exercise.

There wasn’t much uptake of the International Community’s offer. So our days were rather short. A couple of hours in the morning and then lunch. A long nap, some afternoon cricket or Scrabble.  And lots of reading, thinking, and (in my case) smoking of hashish.

In those technologically challenged days of cassettes I had but 6 or seven to keep me going the whole month. And Tina Sani’s album, Sukhan ke Naam was one of a trio that I played almost non stop.

Tina Sani

Tina Sani

Tina Sani was one of Pakistan’s contingent of Bengali stars.  Before Bangladesh, when Pakistan was still one, a whole host of artists, singers, directors and musicians from the Eastern wing of the country worked in the then vibrant film and music industries.  Classical singers like Roshanara Begum, film composer Robin Ghosh and pop stars Alamgir and Runa Laila as well as ghazal singer Munni Begum were all Bengalis.  Tina Sani’s family was well off and like many business people, gravitated to the country’s commercial capital, Karachi.

The family moved to Kabul for a few years, where her father, Nasir Sani, worked for an oil company, before moving to Karachi. Tina graduated from the Karachi American School, then went on to study commercial art. She was trained in classical music by Ustad Nizamuddin Khan, son of Ustad Ramzan Khan of Dehli gharana and Ustad Chand Amrohvi. She also received special training from ghazal maestro Mehdi Hassan.

Her musical career began in 1980 with quick success on TV.  Over the next 10-15 years her ghazals, especially of Faiz Ahmed Faiz made her a very popular and critically acclaimed artist.  Her voice is smooth and imbued with a jazz-like phrasing  and slight swing which makes her sound unique and probably more instantly appealing to Western ears.

On this cassette Tina covers mostly folk songs, such as the standouts Khadi Neem ke Neeche and Mahi Mahi.  I bring attention to those two only because they are my favourite but there is not a dud track on this excellent tape.  I know you will love this one.

Sukhan Ke Naam

Track Listing:

  1. Khadi Neem ke Neeche
  2. Ishq Tamam Ishq Taman
  3. Akhan Cham Cham
  4. Mahi Mahi
  5. See ke Lab
  6. Karen a Kajley
  7. Sach Bol Mathe Diye
  8. Badal Aa Re
  9. Yaar Sajan Firaq
  10. Tedhe Dil Naal Mein
  11. Muhanjo Meharo
  12. Khadi Neem ke Neeche



5 thoughts on “Under the Neem Tree: Tina Sani

  1. Lovely. What were the other two in the trio that you kept with you?

    In 1980-81 I worked on an exploration crew in Saudi Arabia. I had a first generation Walkman (steel case) and 10 cassettes for a two month hitch. I had 8 carefully prepared mix tapes, a Clash cassette, and a reggae cassette containing “The Harder They Come” and “Countryman” soundtracks. After six weeks, only the Clash and the reggae cassette were still listenable. Everything else became incredibly stale. ;^)

  2. Barron, the other two were a Champion Jack Dupree and a Memphis Slim. Listened the hell out of those too!

    Wow, Saudi! A bit of a mystery man you are! Makes a bit more sense of some of your FB posts!

  3. Her voice ahs a Bengali flavour to it. Probably because many of them begin their musical journey learning classical and folk Bengal songs. In India classical Bengali would include Rabindra sangeet I guess.

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