Hymn for Bangladesh: Ali Akbar Khan

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A short and very sweet recording issued originally in 1972 in the wake of the Bangladesh freedom movement.

Assigning countries and labels to musicians is a waste of time in South Asia.  The land that stretches from Peshawar in the western part of Pakistan to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh was for many centuries part of an imagined cultural space which was once called Hindustan.  Yes, Pathans were different from Punjabis who were different from Biharis and Bengalis but uniting these many language groups was an ethos and a sophisticated cultural mode of expression.

It could be detected in certain rules of living and ruling. As well as in a language that if not spoken fluently or even frequently was familiar to people all across this region. And though there existed (and still do) countless styles of folk music in northern India the classical tradition was at home as much in muggy Dhaka as it was in arid Peshawar.

So to call Ali Akbar Khan an Indian musician is really just silly.  He was born into one of the most illustrious classical music households in Hindustan but in what is now called Bangladesh.  He lived and taught in the US for decades and has been awarded high honors by the Indian government.  His followers and fans are legion in Pakistan and he has made some of the most enduring ‘jazz/fusion’ recordings.

Ali Akbar Khan is a great maestro of the sarod, a son of Hindustan and a citizen of the world.

But in 1971 things were hot on the subcontinent. Bazaar garam tha, as they say. And it is not surprising that in times of intense conflict and suffering people remember their roots and pray for loved ones.  This album is Khan sahib’s prayer.

The first raga, Bhimpalasi, is an afternoon raga and is full of the artist’s longing for home. Bhimpalasi expresses the ‘Suppressed longing of a lover, but [is] serene, with dignity, and yet throbbing with deep emotion. Sung or played from late afternoon to sunset, Bhimpalasi is poignant and passionate, filled with yearning.’

The second selection is raga Sivaranjani a piece that glimmers with sadness.  In the words of one commentator “Sivaranjini is a hauntingly melancholic raga usually sung from late evening to midnight (9 PM to 12 AM). The meaning of the raga name is interpreted as Shiva-the Lord + Ranjini-to please. [Thus, this is] the raga sung to please the fearsome Lord Shiva.

Longing and melancholy in a hymn to a shattered homeland.

[CS 2042] front Track Listing:

  1. Bhimpalasi
  2. Sivaranjani

Ali Akbar Khan

The Voice of the Golden Age: Noor Jehan

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1971 was not a very good year for Pakistan. Fighting their third war with India, the Generals, who had grabbed power more than a decade earlier, managed to lose half of the country’s territory and nearly half its population in a matter of a few weeks.

 

1971, on the other hand, was a very good year for the fledging country that emerged out of the debacle, Bangladesh.

 

Away from the battlefields and political humiliation that saw the military pushed back to the barracks and the capture of tens of thousands of prisoners of war, the Pakistani cinema industry had been enjoying a pretty neat run.

 

Indian films had been banned several years earlier which, regardless of your views on such policies, had enlivened the local, Lahore and Karachi based industry. A Golden Age had dawned. Between 1968 and 1971 the country was releasing over a hundred films a year, many of them of a comparable quality to those produced in Mumbai.

 

Fans had a whole galaxy of stars to admire. Directors were innovating and pushing the envelope with ventures into science fiction and horror. A more liberal, capitalist oriented economy allowed the music studios access to new instruments and better equipment than their socialism-constrained peers in India.

 

But then the war came along.

 

Many of the top creative minds (directors, critics, actors, singers, music composers) were Bengali and in a dramatic repeat of 1947, they were forced to choose sides: stay on in Lahore or help build a new industry in Dhaka.

 

The blow was huge. But the story of Lollywood is as much one of resilience as it is of art. Losing half the market was a challenge but not fatal. Much of Bengali talent continued on, though moving now between the two countries.

 

The Golden Age of Pakistani films continued for half a decade or more and was eventually ended by a combine of economic and political factors that included the re-emergence of the military into affairs of State.

 

Today the skies over Lollywood are brighter. Fine films are again being produced and the audience is slowly coming back to the cinemas. This is reason for excitement!

 

The album we share today was released in 1971, that Fateful Year. It captures Pakistan’s greatest, most beloved popular artist in her full glory singing hits from films the Golden Age.

 

Noor Jehan, of whom much has been written, was not Pakistan’s pride and joy alone. In a career that had all the characteristics of a rocket shooting toward the highest heavens, Noor Jehan was on track to be one of the biggest actor/singers in Indian cinema. But with the Partition, she opted to return home to Punjab. Without doubt, her decision to do so provided the devastated Lahore film industry with just the artistic gravitas it required to recover. As an actor, director, singer and icon her presence and commitment to film making inspired others to keep going and allowed the Golden Age to emerge.

 

This is a wonderful collection of hits from films released between the mid-1960s and 1970. Noor Jehan was by this stage only a singer. Her acting career had been ended by dictat of her second husband. And it really is for her voice that Madam is most loved and revered.

 

There are so many nuggets of joy in here. Kutch Log Rooth Kar, Abhi Dhoondh hi Rahi and Mujhe Chand se Dar are my favorites. The lively musical arrangements of Mujhe Chand are simply delightful. Madam’s voice is at its peak. The record company proclaims 12 moods. That may be so, but each performance is commanding and assured.

 

Enjoy this slice of Golden light.

noor-jehan-front

noor-jehan-back

Track Listing:

01 Kutch Log Rooth Kar [Andaleeb]

02 Bay Iman Rasiya [Jalwa]

03 Khath Par ke Ab Dil [Insaan aur Aadmi]

04 Aey Kash Mere Lab Pe [Head Constable]

05 Bain Kare Mera Pyar [Lakhon Mein Ek]

06 Abhi Dhoondh hi Rahi [Bewafa]

07 Mujhe Chand se Dar [Qatal ke Bad]

08 Kahan Ratiyan [Aurat]

09 Main ne Ek Aashiyan [Rim Jhim]

10 Man Mandir ke Devta [Lakhon Mein Ek]

11 Gunghunati Huvee [Naya Savera]

12 Lat Uljhee Suljha [Sawal]

NoorJ

Sunday Best

old womn 49

 

For several years now I have been privileged to write a weekly column for India’s premier online newspaper, Scroll.in. The column is called Sunday Sounds. I consider myself privileged for a couple of reasons:

  • I have been given a very wide and liberal brief. Essentially, I can write and share music of any genre, type, style or artist so long as it has some connection with South Asia.
  • As I’ve prepared for each week’s column I find myself researching and learning and discovering ever more about the incredible diversity and abundance of South Asian musical talent.
  • As a result of the column I’ve created a small following of fans many of whom are connected with the arts and culture communities of South Asia. In turn and through their good graces I’ve been able to begin other creative projects, such as writing books.

So to all the people at Scroll.in, especially its incredible editor Naresh Fernandes I say thank you.

There have been the more than 100 editions of Sunday Sounds thus far. To share my gratitude and joy I have put a small collection of just 25 tracks in a double ‘disc’ which I hope you will enjoy. If you’re already a fan of Sunday Sounds, you can look forward to more columns and fascinating music. If you’re a newbie, I hope you’ll log in to Scroll every Sunday and enjoy the stupendous and endlessly pleasing world of South Asian sangeet/musiqui.

This is diverse collection and reflects the Sunday Sounds mandate perfectly. You’ll discover South Indian rock fusion and fresh Pakistani qawwali. You’ll also find some English pop songs from the Beatles and Sam Roberts. Of course, there is quite a bit of South Asian folk music (one of my favourite genres), some ragas (both traditional and funked-up) and contributions from the South Asian diaspora in South and North America. In other words, quite a bit to keep a smile on your face for several hours!

Sunday sounds v1

Track Listing (pt. 1)

01 Panivizhum Malarvanam [Karthik and Bennet and Band]

02 Limbo Jazz [Wynton Marsalis and Sachal Ensemble]

03 Akhan cham cham wassiyan [Tina Sani]

04 NSA vs USA [Shahid Buttar]

05 Mustt Mustt [Brookly Qawwali Party]

06 Love, Love, Love [Shaukat Ali].

07 Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child/ Mai Ni [Madeleine Peyroux and Sachal Ensemble]

08 Hai Sharmaon Kis Kis Ko Bataon [Tabla for Two]

09 People Power in the Disco Hour [Clinton]

10 Jokerman [Divana]

11 Light My Fire [Ananda Shankar]

12 Dear Prudence [The Beatles]

 

V1

Track Listing (pt.2)

13 Sialkot [Sunny Jain Collective]

14 Idhar Zindagi ka Janaaza Uthega [Attaluah Khan Niazi]

15 Taj Mahal [Sam Roberts]

16 Raag Megh [Zohaib Hassan Khan]

17 Charkha [Ustad Ameer Ali Khan]

18 Blues For Yusef [Lionel Pillay]

19 Soul Raga [Abbas Mehrpouya]

20 Api Sanasille [Wayo]

21 Raat ke sapna (Raatein Sapna) [Ramdew Chaitoe]

22 Hippie Hindustani [Bonnie Remedios]

23 Hello madam disco [Nahid Akhtar]

24 Sri Jimi [Prasanna]

25 Mere Ghar Aaja [Blind Boy Raju]

V2

Majmuah-e-Musiqi: Folk Music Mixtape

Cover Art Majmuah

Well it is time again for another mix tape. I apologize to all those who don’t like these and prefer to have complete albums by one particular artist. My own thinking at the moment is there is just so much excellent music that I want you all to hear and enjoy as much as I do, that if I waited for the time to post the complete album of each of these artists I’d be nigh unto my 100th year.

This mixer is a folky flavored affair with instrumental and singing from the far reaches of the Hindu Kush to the lush Ganges delta of Bangladesh. If you want information on any of the artists or styles let me know and I’ll do my best to satisfy your curiosity.

Allah khair!

Track Listing (pt 1)

01 Jab Pukara Hai Tujhay [Mehdi Hassan]

02 Yad [Musafir]

03 Heer Te Ranjhe Di Mulaqaat [Alam Lohar]

04 Zolrawar Bagh [Haakam Khan]

05 Munjho Saah Singharan [Mai Bhaggi]

06 [Ghazal] Kiski Avaz Hai Ye Kaun Hai [Jafar Hussain Khan Badayuni Qawwal]

07 Choon Nay Ba Nawa Amad [Nashenas]

08 Jagga Jameya Thay Milan Vadhaiyan [Master Dilbahar]

09 Laili and Madjnun, (Ballad from Kunduz) [Sadullah Kunduzi]

10 Govinda Bhajan [J.Mevandy]

11 Kya Haal Suranwan [Suraiya Multanikar]

12 Bhapang [Sama Khan, Natih Ram and Group]

V1

Track Listing (pt 2):

13 Ab Dekh Ke Ji Ghabrata [Attaullah Khan Niazi]

14 Hum Jo Tareek Rahon Mein [Zia Mohiyddin]

15 Untitle Pashto Song [ Rahim Mehyar]

16 Mahi Fouji [Mundri Lal]

17 Kis Cheez Ki Kami Hai Maula Teri Gali Mein [Sodha Faqir Laghari]

18 Dard dil [Jaipur Kawa Brass Band]

19 Chor poreche babur bagane [Purna Chandra Das Baul]

20 Mustang [Sur Sadha]

21 Agaya Tu Phool Banke Swarn Yamla Jatt]

22 Jugni [Swarn Noora]

V2

Down Memory (and Technology) Lane: Runa Laila

1970s poster child Runa Laila

1970s poster child
Runa Laila

Between the late 1960s and early 1980s, Runa Laila was one of the most popular voices in Pakistan. A Bengali by birth like so many other great Pakistani film and pop stars, she is claimed by both countries and loved in many more. Runa sang film songs often as the female half of a duo with the iconic Ahmed Rushdi, but also sang ghazals and even folk music.

As this tape demonstrates, a playback singer, though much maligned in some people’s minds, has to be very talented. Runa is able to voice the playful naughtiness of a dancing girl, the broken heart of ‘every girl’ and the raw rural brilliance of the village cowherdess. And do so convincingly.

I picked up this tape only a few weeks ago, believe it or not. I was in Karachi and in the hotel book-shop there were several cassettes. I bought most of them and for the most part they are in good working order. A bit less pleasant is that many of them are ‘jhankar’ tapes. This is a musical genre that came into vogue in the late-80s and really dominated the tape industry in the early 90s.

Thoroughly modern and gorgeous.

Thoroughly modern and gorgeous.

Jhankar is an Urdu term meaning ‘clang, ping, twang’. With the advent of access to electronic keyboards and mixing boards many small studios began remixing film songs, ghazals, qawwali and virtually any sort of music (bar classical) they could get their hands on and overlay it with electronic beats. In my opinion it was unnecessary tinkering and clearly a marketing strategy to make money off of dusty back catalogues. On the other hand, if you ever have taken a 12 hour bus trip across the plains of Pakistan you quickly appreciate the music. In the case of jhankar it was the only sort of music you could hear about the rattle and clatter of a poorly made bus on a bumpy road.

I commend this tape to you, despite its being jhankarized, because Runa is always good to listen to and for the most part the IT boffin that added the pings and clangs to this was pretty restrained. The stand out tracks are #1, #3 and #8 but for a trip down memory lane (both culturally and technologically) all the tracks are worth owning.

Shabaash.

Runa Laila Vol 45. Part 1 (Special Jhankar)

Track Listing:

01 Dil Dharkey Main Tum Se

02 Mian Ji ke Bannon Se

03 Dinwa Dinwa Main Ginoon

04 Naina Taras ke Rah Gai

05 Na Jane Kis Liye Hum Par

06 Takalluf Ber Taraf Hum To

07 Sathi Sath Nibhana Rey

08 Meri Marzi Main Gaaoongi

09 Aap Farmain Kya Khareedain

10 Champa Chambeli Yeh Kaliyan

11 Aap Dil ki Anjuman Main

12 Mera Babu Chall Chabila

Runa Baby