Yad: A South Asian Folk Mixtape

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I am in the United States for a few days to tend to final arrangements around my father who passed away in early August.   As I spend time with my family and reflect on his life and impact I am naturally overcome with memories.

Yad, is the Hindi/Urdu word for memory or remembrance. And as I was preparing some material for the service later this week I searched my system for some appropriate music to listen to.  Almost as if by design, I came across this mixtape I made a long time ago, which I had given the name Yad.

It is a good one. Beyond a diverse survey of ghazal, qawwali, bhajan, and geet I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this collection includes a number of poignant selections, not just the lovely title track by Rajasthani group, Musafir.

Track 5, Kiski Avaz Hai Ye Kaun Hai, Track 3, Ab Dekh Ke Ji Ghabrata, and Track 22, Koi Sunta Hai Gurgyani have got me feeling the significance of this moment.

But that’s just me. Those particular tracks, like all twenty-two, (more than 2 hours of wonderful music!) are not morbid or mournful songs. Rather they are expressions of the lively vibrancy of life as well as the the joy and zest of being alive that South Asian music encapsulates so dramatically.

Selected artists are both widely known as well as rather obscure. They hail from Afghanistan, India, Bengal and Nepal and as I mentioned above, cover the bases from the spiritual to secular (even military) sides of life!

Enjoy. I know I am!

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Track Listing:

01 Yad [Musafir]

02 Heer Te Ranjhe Di Mulaqaat [Alam Lohar]

03 Ab Dekh Ke Ji Ghabrata [Attaullah Khan Niazi]

04 Dard dil [Jaipur Kawa Brass Band]

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

06 Chor poreche babur bagane [Purna Chandra Das Baul & Ensemble]

07 Mahi Fouji [Mundri Lal]

08 Agaya Tu Phool Banke [Swarn Yamla Jatt]

09 Kya Haal Suranwan [Suraiya Multanikar]

10 Govinda Bhajan [J Mevandy]

11 Choon Nay Ba Nawa Amad [Nashenas]

12 Bhapang [Sama Khan, Natih Ram and Group]

13 Kis Cheez Ki Kami Hai Maula Teri Gali Mein [Sodhal Faqir Laghari]

14 Shaikh Ayaz Kalam [Jiji Zarina Baloch]

15 Mustang [Sur Sudha]

16 Jagga Jameya Thay Milan Vadhaiyan [Master Dilbahar]

17 Punal Paindi Thee Wal (Baba Ghulam Farid) [Zahida Parveen]

18 Zolrawar Bagh [Hakkam Khan]

19 Jugni [Swarn Noora]

21 Hum Jo Tareek Rahon Mein [Zia Mohyeddin]

22 Koi Sunta Hai Gurgyani [Prahlad Singh Tipanya]

YAD

 

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Hidden Jewel: Rupa Biswas

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There is probably no more ridiculous development in the history of and writing about music than the notion of ‘labels’. Taking a piece of music and categorising it into a single ‘genre’ or ‘style’ is an exercise in futility.  Oft quoted but eternally ignored, Duke Ellington’s saw that there is only ‘good music and the other kind’ remains all there needs to be said about the problem.

 

Yet, for those of us who think possessing massive music libraries is an important thing, the issue is a practical one. Whether you have walls and walls of LPs, racks of CDs or hard discs full of digital files, having everything labelled simply ‘good’ or ‘other’ is not particularly helpful.  And unless you know every album or track in your collection intimately and can find it easily, most of the time you’re going to find labels and tags and categories a necessary, if silly, evil.

 

In recent years these labels and genres have proliferated like so many psychedelic rabbits. I’m forever amused by the new labels people come up with for their music: shoegazer, bedwetter, garage punk, bubbletrance, aggrotech, crustpunk, deep psychobilly, fidget house etc. etc.   What the delicate idiosyncrasies of each category are, are beyond me and probably to those who listen to them as well, but it is fun that’s for sure.  My own practice is to keep it simple. Pop, World, Jazz, Reggae, Country, Blues, R&B, Classical and a few other old fashioned labels I picked up from the record stores I used to haunt suit me just fine.

 

But the challenges keep popping up.

 

Take today’s share for example.  The album is called Disco Jazz, which sounds like the producers couldn’t be bothered to think of anything interesting. Slap a couple labels on it and see if it sells. The Indian Canadian production from the early 80s certainly (in some parts) qualifies as disco-esque. But definitely not jazz. Unless by jazz you mean slang for ‘stuff’.  On the internet the album is labelled, ‘funk, soul, disco’ and even ‘Bollywood funk’.  Not so much misleading as plain irrelevant. There is nothing funky here that James Brown or the boys from Cymande would recognise and, as for soul, well, that’s just another planet.  So, how does one label this music?

 

For my money this is non-film Indian pop music sung in Bengali.  The singer is a mysterious sukhi roti– looking college girl named Rupa Biswas. Not a spectacular voice by Indian standards but given its focus on getting people on the dance floor, adequate to the task.  What is really interesting about this record is the music.

 

India was introduced to the concept of disco music in the early 80s through (what else) the movies. Though it wasn’t the first, Firoz Khan’s 1980 blockbuster Qurbani (Sacrifice) used the sound of upbeat, semi-electronic synth and bass, disco lights and scantily clad women instrumentalists (prefiguring Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love by half a decade)  to mesmerise a nation.

Aap Jaisa Koi  was India’s first massive disco hit and led to the creation of a new sound that infiltrated the movies for the next ten years. The most famous names in Indian disco were larger-than-life musical director Bappi Lahiri and composer/arranger/performer Babla. Though both men produced some interesting work that has found new audiences in recent years, they never ventured too far from the Qurbani sound.

Disco Jazz on the other hand is in an entirely different realm. Biswas is backed by a crack group of Indian and Canadian musicians led by none other than Ustad Aashish Khan, one of India’s outstanding living musicians on sarodKhan has long collaborated with Western pop and jazz musicians, led so called ‘fusion’ groups [Shringar, Wonderwall, Shanti] promoted Indian classical music through his educational efforts and scored or participated in the soundtracks for films such The Man Who Would Be King, Gandhi and a number of Satyajit Ray’s films.

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Ustad Aashish Khan

He’s supported by the amazing guitarist Don Pope, who with Khansahib creates the energy and drive and excitement of this record.

Popeand Khan trade solos and jugalbandi back and forth throughout this set daring the rest of the band that includes renown jazz drummer Robin Tufts, bassist John Johnston, tablasaaz and accompanist of Ali Akbar Khan and others, Pranesh Khan, keyboardist Geoff Ball, synthesizer Rhonda Padmos, and percussionist Frank Lockwood to keep pace. Pope’s guitar playing is fluid, gliding effortlessly between jazzy textures and hot dancefloor strumming.  As for the sarod, Aashish Khan makes it sound as if he’s playing a mandolin or bazouki in a back street rembetika outfit.

This disco is about as far away from Bappi Lahiriand Qurbani as you can get.  It is tough, serious, masterful but still immense fun.

Whatever became of Rupa Biswas?  Of all the principals, she is the hardest to track down.  One of the tracks from Disco Jazz, Moja Bhari Moja,was included in the 2012 ‘art’ film Miss Lovely but the only other reference I’ve been able to track down to a Rupa Biswas is of a Bengali woman purported to be Rupa, lip syncing and dancing.  Not sure if this is THE Rupa or if it is a completely different Ms. Biswas altogether.  But it sounds a bit disco-y so my bet is Rupa is still out there somewhere.

 

Disco Jazz is a rare jewel. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

Track Listing:

  1. Moja Bhari Moja
  2. East West Shuffle
  3. Aaj Shanibar
  4. Aaye Morshume Be-Reham Duniya

DISCO

Born to Sing: Panditya Tripti Mukherjee

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Tripti Mukherjee

I don’t think I will get much push back when I say, one of greatest pleasures of life is the discovery of new music and new artists.   My latest discovery (stumble upon, really) is the stunning Bengali classical singer Tripti Mukherjee.

shishya (pupil) of the mighty Pandit JasrajMukherjee is a flag bearer of the Mewati gharana which rose to prominence in the second half of the last century, primarily through the singing of Pandit Jasraj.

In addition to managing a full schedule of singing and recording Mukherjee spent the first part of her career establishing a number of Indian classical music academies across the United States.  Here is a lovely interview (in English) with Panditya in which she discusses her early life, her relationship with her guru, her role in setting up the academies and of course, her music.

Pandita Tripti Mukherjee, Hindustani classical vocalist and illustrious disciple of Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj, stands bright among the generation of musicians carrying forth the music from great masters of Panditji’s generation. Triptiji is blessed with a mellifluous, divine voice, and with her tremendous passion and dedication, has honed musical skills, which are a seamless blend of somber and rich elements. Triptiji’s vocal renditions are characterized by delicate, refined and intricate qualities, with a tremendous depth in the power and conviction of her delivery. This balance is Triptiji’s unique forte.
Perhaps more unique to Triptiji is her monumental commitment over the past 14 years to spreading India’s rich culture and heritage in their purest forms throughout America. Although Indian classical arts had found recognition in the U.S. in the form of dance or instrumental music, the pure tradition of vocal classical music was not prevalent in America over a decade ago. Realizing this disparity, Triptiji ventured to establish the first institute for vocal Indian classical music in the U.S., in the name of her guru, the Pandit Jasraj Institute for Music Research, Artistry and Appreciationthe Mewati Gurukul. Today the Institute has branches in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In addition, the Institute reaches the community at large through a magazine called JasRangi, which publishes comprehensive articles written by students of PJIM, on history and theory of Indian classical music in a current cultural context. Through her tireless efforts, Triptiji continues to pioneer ways of establishing Indian classical arts in America, providing an invaluable service to the Indian community.
Triptiji has never left behind her primary identity as a performing artiste, carrying forward a musical tradition sculpted by her several gurus: Mrs. Bharatikar Choudhary, Mr. Sunil Das, Mr. Prasun Banerjee, Mrs. Sipra Bose, and of course Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj. Triptiji has been a Grade-A artiste on the All India Radio and National Television, having performed on the national programme. In addition, Triptiji has received great recognition for her stellar performances at the annual Pandit Motiram Pandit Maniram Sangeet Samaroh in Hyderabad, the Hari Vallabh Sangeet Samaroh in Jalandhar, the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival in Pune and the Dover Lane Music Festival in Kolkata – India’s prime music festivals. Besides her many performances in numerous cities in India and the U.S., her concert sites have included Carnegie Hall (New York), Tagore center (Berlin), Nairobi (Kenya), Bahrain Arts Performing Center, and Queen Elizabeth Hall (London).
Triptiji’s major awards include the Amir Khan Memorial Award, the Pandit Jasraj Gaurav Puraskar, the ‘Pandita’ award from a University of Karnataka and the ‘Acharya Shiromani ‘ award from the music students in USA. Most recently, Triptiji was invited to perform at the 2007 Diwali Festival held at the White House in Washington D.C., making her the first Indian musician to ever perform there.
Pandit Jasraj has said of her:
Tripti’s dedication to her art and her gurubhakti is unparalleled. I feel extremely fortunate to have her as my disciple. Her monumental efforts in setting up the Pandit Jasraj Institute for Music Research, Artistry and Appreciation – the Mewati Gurukul in USA and her ongoing contributions to it are a testimony to her devotion and commitment. She has further ennobled the name of the Mewati Gharana … Her voice is soothing yet powerful and so laden with emotion, that it moves even the greatest of kalakars to tears…Most of all, she is a wonderful human being – an epitome of grace and modesty .

I have not much more to say about this wonderful singer.  I’m just excited about her coming into my consciousness and want to share this collection of Bengali semi-classical songs.

Light Classical Bengali Songs

Track Listing:

  1. Rajoneer Shesh Batiyar, Addha
  2. Jago Jago Lalit,
  3. Baisakh Holo Virndabani Sarang
  4. Ami Eke Bageshree, Dadra
  5. Aa Ji Kushmita Basani, Addha
  6. Koyelia Dake Bhirha Shadaj, Dadra
  7. Nishuti Rate Shivranjani, Addha
  8. Klanto Ganer Bhairavi, Kaharba

Mewati Gharana

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.

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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