The Doyenne: Mukhtar Begum

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Thanks for your enduring patience and deep indulgence for putting up with such infrequent posts on Harmonium. Though I may be absent far more than I’d like from here, I am busily writing in other venues which keeps me more than busy.

I’ve just begun a second column, this one on photography, for Scroll.in, the Indian online newspaper, and so will probably have even less time to share music here.

But humans are tough. We forge on and so do I.

Tonight we share a collection of ghazals from Mukhtar Begum, the doyenne of Pakistani female singers, and sister of the equally fantastic Farida. This particular collection comes out of the amazing 57-CD box set Music Pakistan which curated some incredible archival material from the vaults of Radio Pakistan. The bio the follows is an excellent summary of this amazing singer. [One note of interest: in some of the tracks Begum sahiba is accompanied by a clarinet. A wonderful little detail which makes me think that perhaps it was none other than Sadiq Ali Khan Mando, one of my favourite but most unsung Pakistani musical geniuses].

Mukhtar Begum, the elder sister of Farida Khanum (subject of yesterday’s post), was already a highly regarded singer and artist in the 1930s and 40s. Alert readers of the Dog may recall that she was also the musical idol of Pakistan’s (and indeed, India’s) greatest film playback singer, Nur Jehan and the one whose shafarish (introductions) got the young Kasur girl her initial break in the world of the studios. Though she herself starred in a few films it was her singing of thumris, ghazals and dadras that made her one of the sub-continent’s iconic artists.

Mukhtar Begum was born in Amritsar. Trained initially by Mian Mehrban Khan in Music, Mukhtar then underwent a long apprenticeship under Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan of Patiala gharana. Her intense training equipped her well to practise different genres of classical music – Thumri, Dadra and Ghazal. Soon her fame as a melody queen spread far and wide in undivided Punjab. The elite sections of the society invited her to perform mujras at their havelis and mansions. Her melodic skills were also witnessed in the courts of Nawabs and Maharajas in different regions of India.

After some time, Mukhtar Begum shifted to Calcutta, which was then the hub of theatre and films. It was there that she played a lead role in many stage plays, scripted by Agha Hashar. During her stay in Calcutta, Madam Nur Jehan (then Allah Wasai) met her ideal singer Mukhtar Begum. The latter encouraged her and recommended Allah Wasai to her husband’s Maidan Theatre and here she got the name of “Baby Nurjehan”.

A ravishing beauty Mukhtar Begum was a famous stage dancer in 1930s. She came in contact with Agha Hashar during a theatre performance. His patronage took her fame to almost celestial heights. Subsequently, the two decided to marry. After partition she decided to leave India and settled in Lahore. She continued to sing as long as her health permitted.

She also broadcast her music from All India Radio. Mukhtar Begum participated in a number of music conferences organised in pre-partition India. Towards the fag end of her illustrious career, she recorded several ghazals, including many ghazals of Agha Hashar. Her thumri-accented ghazals of classical Urdu poets recorded for the gramophone companies and radio became her identity and also a hallmark of her personality. According to M Sayeed Malik, a music connoisseur, “There was a certain uniqueness and vivacity in her vocals, which distinguished her from her contemporaries”. Mukhtar Begum always chose Punjabi ang style of thumri, though she was not averse to Poorbi style.

After partition she decided to leave India and settled in Lahore. She continued to sing as long as her health permitted. Her illustrious students, to whom she imparted training in music and performing skills included her sister Farida Khanum, Playback singer Naseem Begum and film star Rani. In her last years she lived in Karachi, where she passed away on February 25, 1982.[Chiloka]

Music Pakistan  - Ghazal

Track Listing:

01 Chori Kaheen Khuley Na

02 Mere Qaboo Main Na

03 Rota Hai Dil

04 Be Mehr Iltemas-E-Tamanna

05 Yaad Main Teri Jahan Ko

06 Laagi Nahin Chootey Raja (Dadra)

07 Nanandya Kahey Marey Bol (Thumri Peeloo)

08 Jo Main Tosey Nahin Boloon (Thumri Bhairveen).mp3

09 Kaisey Bedardi Key Paaley Parrey (Dadra Khamach)

Mukhtar

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