Simply the Best: Ustad Amanat Ali Khan

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Ustad Amanat Ali Khan of Patiala gharana is in my estimation the greatest Pakistani male singer of the last 50 years.  Fully trained in the classical art of khyal singing, he and his brother Fateh Ali set the Hindustani music world alight as young children.  They continued a highly praised classical partnership throughout their lives, until Amanat Ali passed away very prematurely in 1974.

Sadly, although classical music has deep roots in the territory of what is now known as the country of Pakistan, after Independence most traditional arts fell on hard times as patrons (often wealthy Hindu landlords who moved east to India) abandoned the scene.  The young government of Pakistan had few resources (and, it seems little real desire) to support a lively arts community. Many artists in many fields struggled with the decision to stay in Pakistan or return to India.  The mighty Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan moved between Lahore and Bombay, eventually opting for India. The sarangi maestro Bundoo Khan migrated to Pakistan but often lamented his decision.  Others, such as Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hassan and Iqbal Bano thrived in Pakistan but not as classical singers.

Amanat Ali’s brother Fateh Ali told an interviewer in 1997: “In the 1950s when I was visiting Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali in Bombay with my brother Amanat, he urged us to leave Pakistan and move to India. ‘There are only qawwali listeners in Pakistan, and classical musicians like you will be frustrated because nobody is going to take care of you,” he told us. We didn’t heed his advice. Sometimes, I wish we had.

For me, the Partition was a painful experience. It was a historic compulsion, really, and we went through the motions. Amanat and I were born and bred in the legendary Patiala gharana of Punjab. We soon followed in the footsteps of our forefathers and when I was 10 I was performing in the court of the Maharaja of Patiala along with my father Ali Bakhash Jarnail. We were always secure in the thought that the Maharaja would take care of us, but when Sikh goondas attacked us one day, my father decided to troop westwards.

Amanat and I came to Lahore sitting atop a train. Even now, when I travel by train, I always look at the roof and bitter memories come back to haunt me. For someone who had been brought up in considerable comfort, the journey was a nightmare. What I didn’t realise was that there was more horror in store.

More than us, it was our father who was shocked with the treatment we were meted out in a country we thought would be a refuge. Our father, who was so used to performing in a king’s court, now had to go door-to-door give tuitions to feed the family. We helped him along, but I think, he suffered the most because of the Partition. Initially, the whole family subsisted on a paltry Rs. 45 that we earned for each performance on Radio Pakistan. Gradually, as we settled down, we started getting invites from India. This gave us some breathing space. With television’s arrival and thanks to the relatively liberal policies of Gen. Ayub Khan, we had some good times. But after the war we stopped receiving offers from India too, which spelt the doom for our classical art, our music, the only thing we had been trained at as a child.

With the mounting tension between the two states, the struggle for survival intensified. It became difficult for an artist like me to make music in the politically volatile Pakistan of the post-’71 war. I began looking outside Pakistan to keep the rich music tradition of my family alive. Today, I have dozens of pupils spread all over the world and I hold occasional concerts in Europe and North America. Just to keep me going.

I am 64. And I live in one of Lahore’s poor suburbs. Only my god and I know what I have suffered through the years.” Outlook

I love Pakistan, Pakistani people and culture and it is not my intention in this blog to run down any country or person. I share this because even those like myself who studied South Asian History know all about the ‘Partition’ in 1947 but rarely do we get an appreciation for the difficulties normal people, including artists had to face. How their loyalties were torn apart and life made more difficult by the act of Partition.

In any case, both Amanat and Fateh Ali, went on to be embraced not just by audiences in Pakistan but all around South Asia and the world.  And to survive, Amanat took to singing ghazals, thumris and dadras, for TV, radio and film.  His beautiful tenor, tuned to the sophistication of classical singing, set him instantly above most of his peers.  He chose the finest poets to interpret and often decorated his singing with the taans of the true khyal singer.

The songs of this collection were recorded in the 1960s and 70s, when Amanat sahib was at the top of not just his game but of the entire singing game.

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Track Listing:

01 Mora Jiya Na Lage

02 Pyar Nahin Hai Sur Se

03 Dil Mein Meethe Meethe

04 Aalam-O-Masaib Se

05 Piya Nahin Aaye

06 Chup Dhawen Te

07 Mah-E-Nau Ko Kya Pata

08 Piya Deekhan Ko

09 Mujhe Dil Ki Khata Per

10 Kabhi Jo Nikhate Gul

11 Data Tore Dwar

12 Kab Aao Ge

∞

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