Lingering a bit too long over the washing: Attalluah Khan Niazi ‘Issakhelvi’

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The meme that fronts this post sums up the music and the artistic persona of Attaullah Khan Niazi ‘Issakelvi’ beautifully.  Khan is shown guiding a motor-rickshaw of the sort found in large numbers in Pakistan’s small to middling towns.  He’s looking for fares in the backlanes, known as galiyan in Punjabi, of one of these towns. Could be Okhara, or Jhang, or his own native Mianwali. The narrow brick streets are (unbelieveably) depicted vacant of all other human and animal life. [Its as if the Prime Minister is expected for a local visit the place is so spic and span.] But these are the home neighborhoods of millions of Pakistani workers and urban migrants who exist in the category sociologists like to call ‘working class’ or ‘lower middle class’ or ‘proletariat’.  Just ahead of him a beautiful Punjabi housewife lingers a bit longer than necessary with the day’s washing, waiting for the handsome Issakhelvi’ to perhaps chat her up. Maybe he will try to give her a ‘lift’.

Attaullah Khan, more than any other singer of his generation, holds a special place in the heart of working class Pakistani Punjabis. His songs of love (lost, wanted, faithful, ideal and betrayed) have given men courage and women hope for nearly nearly 40 years now. He sings (or did before the likes of the movies, VCDs and Coke Studio got hold of him) with a fully open heart and voice. Why his audience love him is, he is as authentic as hard day’s work and plays no games. What you see is what you get. And as millions of his fans know, there is a helluva a lot of get from this truly unique Pakistani folk singer.

Meri Pasand, the title of this collection originally issued on cassette,  means ‘my choice’.  And whether indeed it is true that Khan selected these tracks or, whether some narrow-tied junior executive in Karachi did the honours,  it does not matter.  If you are in the market for the ‘essential’ short collection of Issakhelvi’s magic then this is it.  There are many songs that don’t make this edition and there are more comprehensive box sets out there, but if you could have but one single album of his in your library then this is the one to get.

The sound quality is very high thanks to the boys at EMI Pakistan and the track list captures Khan during his most powerful and influential 1980s phase. He sings in Punjabi, Urdu and his native Seraiki and amply demonstrates his ability to sing in a variety of styles and induce multiple emotions.

This is pure gold. And definitely worth hanging out in the galiyan waiting for him to pass by.

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Track Listing:

01 Chan Kithan Guzari

02 Dil Lagaya Tha

03 We Bol Sanun

04 Balo Batyan

05 Donon Ko Aasaki Na

06 Lalai Tun Mundri

07 Bannu Dee Mehndi

08 Ni Uthan Waley

09 Kherey Heer Nun

10 Be Dard Dhola

AKNI

 

 

The Final Show: Ustad Amanat Ali Khan

Amanat Ali

When  I came to Amanat Ali Khan‘s music–in a time long long ago and land far far away-the first song that caught my attention was Inshaji Utho. I was completely overwhelmed with what I heard. The song seemed to have just dropped out of the sky complete and perfectly formed.  It was held together and driven by a subtle synergy between rhythm, lyric and spirit.  There is a world-weariness about the song. A man at the end of his journey giving in to the eternal and inevitable.

The song, I was told by everyone, had been sung in a concert just before ustadji passed away in 1974. This information heightened the drama of the song and it has been one of my favourite ghazals ever since.

Recently I came across a recording that purported to be Amanat Ali Khan‘s final concert. I quickly looked to see if Inshaji Utho was on it. Alas, it was not. But I picked up the album anyway and I share it here today.   It is an excellent recording of a master singer at the top of his game. While Inshaji is missing, there are renditions of many other wonderful ghazals such as Yeh Arzoo Thi, Mausam Badla and an epic interpretation of the thumri, Piya Tore.

Enjoy

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Track Listing:

  1. Yeh Arzoo Thi
  2. Kab Aao Ge
  3. Mausam Badla
  4. Piya Tore
  5. Tum re Daras

LASTCONCERT

 

Lion in Winter: Talat Mahmood

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Talat Mahmood, the gentle, silken voiced ghazal master passed away nearly 20 years ago but remains a much loved voice among South Asian film and music fans.  I wrote a piece on him several years ago which provides some basic biodata of this often overlooked playback singer.

Around the same time that I wrote that article I got my hands on this album but have hesitated to share it.  Though the back cover gives a date of 1966 these tracks were clearly recorded much later. Probably in the mid-late 1980s would be my guess.

Mahmood‘s soft voice with its incredible capacity to emote melody and melancholy is instantly recognisable.  Its a voice from a bygone era. But also gone is the strength and control.  Talat sahib‘s voice wavers frequently and he struggles to hit notes that once came so effortlessly.  From time to time he slips out of key.  And for this reason I kept this record buried deep in my collection.  I didn’t want to do a disservice to the once beautiful voice by sharing a record that was clearly far below the standard he himself set.

But perhaps because I have recently passed a certain chronological milestone myself I now think differently.  We are familiar with the ‘official’ portraits of Queens, Prime Ministers and dictators which show them in that airbrushed eternal moment when they were 40. No matter that they are now twice as old and decrepit, it is this image we are supposed to remember.

I have always found this ridiculous.

Several years before the end of his fabled life Johnny Cash released a couple albums made when he was under real physical and emotional stress. That thunderous trumpet of a voice was now a hesitant near whisper.  And yet if was full of power and conviction. And in its way a necessary part of his life’s work. When I listen to those last tracks I get a complete, honest picture of Cash. If I never moved beyond Folsom Prison Blues not only would I be missing out but I would be cheating Johnny himself.  He was not ashamed of his state and never thought he should censor his voice. Why should I?

And so with Talat. He never made an excuse for not liking the direction—disco, rock n roll, electronic beats–Hindi film took in the 1980s. He settled into semi retirement and seemed content not to partake in the film world again.  But as this record shows, he never gave up on the ghazal. 

This is touching and humane record. A labor of love by Talat and his dear friend and collaborator, the arranger Enoch Daniels. It is a final hurrah of a master who is well aware of his limitations and the dimming of the day.  But it also a triumph of passion. The much weakened but still vital roar of a lion in winter.  And I am pleased at long last to finally share this collection of fine ghazals that should be part of every genuine Talat-lover’s collection.

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Track Listing:

01 Kahin Sher-o-Nagma Ban ke

02 Har Ek Mod se Milta Hai Rasta Koi

03 Ghazal ke Saaz Uthao

04 Dil Hi To Hai Na Aaye Kyon

05 Main Nazar Se Piraha Hun

06 Jo Tu Nahin To

07 Gulshan Mein Leke Chal

08 Mere Saqiya Mere Dilruba

Lion

Ghazal Queen: Iqbal Bano

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Iqbal Bano

 

I read an amazing article this morning. It is an exposition on the ghazal, its dominant status in the world of serious Pakistani music and its sublime ability to express the deepest feelings of both the human and divine heart. The article includes a number of ghazalein that are interpreted by qawwals as well as ghazal singers and is definitely worth 20 minutes of your time. In fact, almost everything the writer Musab bin Noor does is worth reading.

 

As I listened to the ghazalein and reflected on the article (so full of information) my mind turned towards Iqbal Bano one of the subcontinent’s most accomplished singers who awed, excited and challenged her audience for half a century. This obituary from The Guardian provides an excellent summation of her life.

 

Indeed, with two outstanding pieces of writing like these there is little need for me to stumble around for words that do justice to the artistry of this important musical voice.

 

This selection of ghazalein is another of the gems from the treasure chest of Radio Pakistan archival material released in a massive 57 CD box set under the name Music Pakistan. If you’ve been following me around the net for the last several years you no doubt have heard of this collection. The more I listen to these CDs the more I appreciate just what a massive contribution to music they are.

 

A few years ago I wrote a piece on Iqbal Bano and shared another CD from this collection, of her singing thumris. If you’re interested I’ve updated the link there and you can enjoy that set as well!

Iqbal Bano vol 1 copy

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Track Listing

01 Hum baagh-e-tamanna mein

02 Ub kay hum bichhray

03 Jaaenge jeete ji

04 Tu bahar-e-naghma-e-nur

05 Mohabbat karne wale

06 Kitni taskin hai wabasta

07 Woh is ada se jo aaye

08 Ishq minnat kash-e-qarar nahin

09 Laayi hyat aaaye qaza10 Mujhe su bhula chuke hain

11 Diya hai dil agar us ko

12 Kab therega dard

13 Jis tarah tund hawa

14 Koi had nahin

Iqbal

Ragamala Vol. 7: Yaman/Kalyani

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This volume of variations on raga Yaman opens with a modern jazz-influenced rendition by the Neel Murgai Ensemble.  A New York based ‘chamber’ quartet led by sitarist Murgai, NME creates intricate, finely spiced musical atmospheres that draw on Indian classical, jazz, and gypsy music.

Also included is bansuri master Pannalal Ghosh‘s beloved Yaman, a couple of film songs from Umrao Jan Ada (1981) and Junglee (1961), Farida Khanum’s spectacular romantic ghazal Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah as well as interpretations in a Western classical and contemporary jazz setting.

Yaman, also known as Kalyani, is by Indian classical music standards a relatively un-ancient raga. It first emerged in the 16th century with some claiming it was a composition of Mian Tansen and that he based it upon a Persian structure known as ‘Ei Man’. In Pakistan and Afghanistan the raga is often referred to as Eeman (in many varied spellings) and I have concluded this collection with a wonderful Afghan take on the raga  by Ustad Mohammad Omar, the famous rubab player.

Yaman emerged from the parent musical style of Kalyan, itself a style of classical Carnatic musical tradition called thaat. Considered to be one of the most fundamental ragas in the Hindustani Classical tradition, it is thus often one of the first ragas taught to students. In the context of traditional standards of performance, Yaman ragas are considered suitable to play at any time of the day, but they are traditionally performed in the evening. (Wikipedia).

Given its close relationship to Carnatic music the centerpiece of this collection is a stunning live recital by South Indian/Sri Lankan violinist L. Subramaniam and shenai nawaz Ustad Bismillah Khan. Listen carefully to this piece and to the playfulness, mastery and virtuosity of both musicians as they play off each other. It delights and enshivers!

Rudresh Mahantappa‘s group Dakshina Ensemble which features South Indian saxophone innovator Kadri Gopalnath and Pakistani American guitar whiz Rez Abbasi also explores the Carnatic original in their massive track Kalyani.

I hope you enjoy this collection as much I do!

Yaman

Track Listing:

01 Evening In A_ Raga Yaman [Neel Murgai Ensemble]

02 Raga Yaman [Pannalal Ghosh]

03 Zindagi Jab Bhi [Talat Aziz]

04 Raga Yaman [L Subramaniam and Bismillah Khan]

05 Yaman Kalyan (Largo moderato)[ Zubin Mehta and Ravi Shankar]

06 Ehsan Tera Hoga Mujhpar [Mohmmad Rafi]

07 Raga Emen Kalyan [Pt. Pratap Narayan and Kankana Banerjee]

08 Kalyani [Rudresh Mahantappa and Dakshina Ensemble]

09 Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah [Farida Khanum]

10 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of Emen (Yaman) [Ustad Mohammad Omar]

YAMAN