Too much loss: Ustad Bade Fateh Ali Khan



Eighty two years ago Fateh Ali Khan was born into a family of courtly singers in the Indian princely state of Patiala. His father and grandfather had established themselves as prized royal servants and indeed, had been instrumental in founding an entirely new gharana of classical Indian music.


The young boy grew up learning the intricacies of khyal and the ancient mode of singing, dhrupad. He was an excellent student. He would sit at the side of his elder brother Amanat Ali to perform for the maharaja who quickly promoted the lads to official positions in the court.


The brothers travelled across India to sing at the major music festivals and ‘conferences’ where they wowed the staid and serious audiences. In the rarified world of north Indian classical music, Amanat and his younger brother, Fateh were as close to superstars as you could get.


Though they were blessed with golden voices (Fateh specialized in the lower registers, balancing the elegiac tenor of his brother) they shared a curse with an entire generation of Indians.


In 1947 their country was divided. A sort of inchoate whirlwind swept up Indians from all across the northern tier of the country and dropped them to earth, crushing families, livelihoods and dreams by the million.


Like countless other Muslims, Fateh’s family made its way to a new place called Pakistan, the Land of the Pure, hoping and praying it would a mini paradise on earth.   Whatever the country eventually became, in those early years, Pakistan was in chaos. The country needed administrators, soldiers, judges and teachers. Classical musicians, no matter how gifted, were completely ignored.


The family scraped together a meagre living, teaching and performing from time to time. There were offers and invitations from fellow musicians to return to India where at least some musical structures existed. Where audiences still existed. Where patronage still existed.


But Fateh and Amanat declined. They stayed loyal to Pakistan and eventually garnered a name for themselves. Radio and then TV welcomed them. Private mehfils were still few and far between but at least they were singing and recording.


Disaster struck again in 1974 when Amanat by now one of Pakistan’s most loved and accomplished voices, passed. Fateh sank into despair. In a grand gesture he refused to sing for several years, and when he at last took the stage again, tears stained his cheeks.


Yesterday, Fateh Ali Khan himself passed away. His life was bittersweet and touched repeatedly by death. His nephew, Amanat’s son, Asad, himself a master singer passed away at a young age. Despite his lineage, accomplishments and talent, Fateh was never able to make much money as a singer. The old patronage system had died in 1947. The only regular support he could count on was state TV and radio. Hardly enough to raise a family on.


He did find audiences outside of Pakistan, not just in India but in Europe, Japan and North America, too. Teaming up with his younger brother, Hamid or his son, Shafqat, Fateh Ali continued to make impressive music for many years.   But a certain sadness accompanied him throughout his life. In his eyes, voice and words there was always the tinge of regret and loss. As if all things irreplaceable had been snatched from him before their time.


We will miss you Ustadji.


Track Listing:

01 Raga Bageshri

02 Raga Naraini

03 Raga Madhmad Sarang

04 Raga Multani

05 Raga Bheemplasi

Ustad FAK

The Three Friends: Call of the Valley


Among the handful of Indian records that have found a significant audience in the ‘west’, Call of the Valley is undoubtedly the most loved. Listeners gush when they talk about it, indulging in multiple superlatives and 5 star ratings. It’s no surprise that George Harrison, the quiet and Hindu Beatle, loved the record. But when one considers that grumpy old Bob Dylan has given it a thumbs up as well, one does take notice.

The album, released nearly half a century ago in 1967, does deserve its reputation as a classic. Probably no other album of South Asian music has sold as many copies. The general consensus is if you only have room for a single Hindustani classical record in your collection, Call of the Valley must be it.

My first encounter with the album came in the 70s when a cassette came my way in wintery Minnesota. I missed India intensely and what I heard coming out of my Walkman transported me instantly back home.   This was musical magic. The sound was at once reassuringly familiar but entirely fresh. The musicians had managed to create such an evocative world with their instruments, the idea of needing any other record, be it classical or Indian or any other type, seemed redundant.

The musicians who conceived and performed this seminal music are now all highly respected, internationally renown superstars: Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Brijbhushan Kabra. But half a century ago, they were young musicians on the make. But a haughty traditional musical establishment was dead set against them. How dare they think they could bring their unusual instruments into the pure realm of classical music!

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma left home in Kashmir in the mid-1950s to seek his fortune in Bombay. Though his father disagreed with Sharma’s stubborn insistence not to pursue an ‘office job’ he gave his son Rs 500 to get him to the big city. The youngster sought work as an accompanist (he had been trained in tabla) but also never missed a chance to promote the instrument he’d brought with him: the santoor. The instrument may have had deep and ancient antecedents in India but until Sharma came along, it was regarded simply as a folk instrument from a minor region of the country.

By his own confession, Hariprasad Chaurasia, had been bewitched by the sound of the bamboo flute from his earliest years and prayed that one day he would have the chance to learn. But first, he too, had to resist his father’s career advice, which in this case was to take to the wrestling akhara. Though he did wrestle for a few years and got a government job at the age of 18 he never gave up on his dream and began an 8 year apprenticeship with Pt. Bholanath Prasanna.

Eventually, he too made his way to Bombay where he struggled for three years to get Annapurna Devi, daughter of the great Ustad Allaudin Khan, to agree to be his guru. Although Pt. Pannalal Ghosh had managed to break the bansuri into the classical orchestra the flute was still very much dismissed as a folk and peasant instrument.

The final maestro, Brijbhusan Kabra was headed for a sporting career when he discovered the sound of the Hawaiian guitar as a student in Calcutta. He returned to Rajasthan determined to master the instrument but (you guessed it) his father stood in the way. Eventually, the two reached a compromise—the guitar was OK as long as it played only Hindustani classical music. Becoming the shahgird of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Kabra single-handedly adopted the guitar to the demands of raga-based music blazing the trail for such latter day stars as Debashish Bhattacharya, Kabra’s most famous disciple.

By the middle 1960s the three Young Turks found themselves in Bombay. Each had achieved some status but was far from being a major artist. Sharma was approached by a record company to compose an album of ‘thematic’ music. Something in a classical mode but not entirely restricted to dhrupad-based ragas.

Immediately, his mind flew to the valleys of Kashmir and the name of the piece, Call of the Valley, came quickly. With his two friends, also armed with their non-establishment-approved instruments, the three met in a studio and laid down the tracks of what they all considered would be another small notch in their professional belts.

If not exactly an overnight sensation, Call of the Valley quickly caught the imagination of listeners from Bombay to Brooklyn. And the three friends who had endured so much to get their instruments and talents recognised, went on to become senior artistes of the sub continent.

This is an original copy of the first pressing of this illustrious record. Released by HMV/EMI, India in 1968 it’s sleeve notes are well worth reading as you listen to the fabulous intoxicating enriching sounds.

Call of valley front

call of valley back

Track Listing

01 Ahir Bhairav

02 Nat Bhairav – Ek Tala

03 Piloo – Teen Tala

04 Bhoop -Jhap Tala

05 Des – Dadra Tala





Sunday Best

old womn 49


For several years now I have been privileged to write a weekly column for India’s premier online newspaper, 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, 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]



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]


What Could He Not Do? Ravi Shankar


What is it that Ravi Shankar, India’s most famous ambassador of culture and good will, did not do? He played all over the world, including in the Kremlin and Woodstock! He made pioneering records with Western classical musicians and composed and recorded his own jazz album (a rare find on the internet).   He fathered two famous beautiful women (Anoushka and Norah) who have millions of fans worldwide

In tonight’s share, a double disc I picked up for a song a few years ago, we learn that he was also involved in films. Both mainstream Indian films of the sort that are today referred to as Bollywood, as well as India’s once upon a time thriving, ‘parallel’ cinema.

Disc 2 is an interesting set of music composed by Shankar for the globally acclaimed Bengali Apu Trilogy, which shot Satyajit Ray to fame in the 1950s. The music is not the main focus here rather the dialogue of some particularly important scenes. There is also a set of songs from the 1960 film Anuradha for which he worked with the lyricist Shailendra. Traditional commercial film music of that era. The film won a number of awards and though Shankar was not awarded for his music the songs all suggest he could have made an entire parallel career as musical director.




Disc 11-01 Raga Jog

1-01 Raga Jog

1-02 Raga Ahir Bhairav

1-03 Raga Simhendra Madhyaman


Disc 2:

2-01 Jaana Kaise Sapanon Main

2-02 Sanwarey, Sanwarey

2-03 Kaise Din Beete, Laise Beeti Ratiya

2-04 Bahut Din Huye

2-05 Haye Re Woh Din Kyun Na Aaye

2-06 The World Of Apu Pt 1

2-07 The World Of Apu, Pt. 2

2-08 The World Of Apu, Pt.3

2-09 The World Of Apu, Part 4

2-10 The World Of Apu, Pt.5