Too much loss: Ustad Bade Fateh Ali Khan

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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.

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Track Listing:

01 Raga Bageshri

02 Raga Naraini

03 Raga Madhmad Sarang

04 Raga Multani

05 Raga Bheemplasi

Ustad FAK

Grace and Flow: Mehdi Hassan

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A little New Year’s gift for all the dear followers of Harmonium.

 

This album claims to capture Mehdi Hassan live in concert in New York. I find that to be a somewhat dubious statement as each track has a very ‘studio’ feel to it. Clean, sonically level and with none of the rough edges and spoken asides that accompany all live performances.

 

But I’m happy to be proven wrong.

 

Regardless of the veracity of the album’s title, the music is top quality. Mehdi’s tenor is suave and unforced. He delivers each ghazal with the panache of the supremely accomplished, hardly breaking a sweat. That doesn’t mean he is simply running through the material passion-baghair. Rather, he is at the top of his game. In the flow and full of grace.

 

And that seems to be a good attitude to possess as one year ends and another is soon to begin.

 

Happy New Year 2017. Thank you for dropping by from time to time!

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Track Listing:

01 Fitrat ka wo Paimana Bata Yaad Hahin Hai

02 Kabhi Kaha na Kisi Se Tere Fasane Ko Na Jane Kaise Khabbar ho Gayi Zamane Ko

03 Haath Men le ke Jam-e-mai Aaj Wo Muskara Diya

04 Gulon ki Baat Karo

05 Ajab Janoon-e-mussafat Mein Ghar se Nikla Tha

06 Yoon to Pahle Bhi Hui Us Se Kayi Baar Juda

07 Sehar Hoi Bhi to Ham ne Deeye Bhujai Nahin

MHv5NY

Overlooked Gem: S.B. John

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S.B (Sunny Benjamin) John is known in Pakistan primarily for his hugely popular song Tu Jo Nahin Hain from the film Savera (1959). It is a wonderful song with lyrics by Fayyaz Hashmi The song introduced John to a national audience. Critically acclaimed as one of the all time classics of Pakistani film music, John almost missed his date with destiny.

 

He had been down with the flu and fever for several days and only went to the audition on the insistence of a friend.  He apologised to the infamously moody music director Master Manzoor, “I’ve got a fever so won’t be able to sing well,” but Manzoor cut him off and told him to get on with it. After his rendition, Manzoor sat back stunned and exclaimed, “Where have you been all these years?”

 

History was made and a new voice was discovered.

With the advent of television in the mid-1960s, John commenced singing Christian hymns and carols every Christmas Eve, a tradition that has been embraced by the country’s Christian community.  In 2010, John was awarded Pakistan’s highest cultural award, the President’s Prize of Performance, for his outstanding services to music.

 

That most famous of his songs does NOT appear on this short collection. But I’m sure you will enjoy the music nonetheless. Every one of these songs is plump with melody. And John’s innately honeyed voice gives them that extra layer of cream that turns them into things of luxury.

 

I am taken by the difference in the timbre of John’s voice in these songs and Tu Jo Nahin Hain. The latter has him floating somewhere close to the sound of K.L Saigal—dark and heavy. (Perhaps it is was his ill health on the day that was the X factor!)

 

On these songs, John’s voice is like his name, sunny. He delivers each with a gentle and light touch that really is quite unique. I’ve not been able to identify any other male playback singer who has such a voice. There is a quality of openness and simplicity in it, no frills. But very pleasing. I’ve been listening to nothing but these songs for the past couple of weeks. They keep delivering.

 

For those of you who love ghazals, geets and filmi songs but looking for a rare, very overlooked voice, I commend this collection to you.

 

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Track Listing

Dekha Unhain To Apni Tabiyat

Ik Khalish Ko Hasal Umre Rawan

Mehke Gaysoo Rangeen Anchal

Raaste Bandh Kiye Dete Ho

Sare Gilley Tamam Hooey

Saza E Jazbat Main

Soch Raha Hoon

SBJ

From the Archives: Maqbool Ahmad Sabri

 

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Maqbool Ahmad Sabri, of the famous Sabri Brothers qawwali group died in South Africa on September 21st, where he had gone to seek medical treatment. He was 70 years old and had not sung for several months.  It is sad and ironic that the demise of the mighty voice of qawwali came with the softest of whispers in the world press.

I first heard the Sabri Brothers when they visited the States in the mid 70s. They played at Carnegie Hall and are credited with being the ones who introduced western audiences to traditional qawwali.  I loved them because they had long hair and connected me with a land I missed. For years when you heard the word ‘qawwali’ you automatically said, Sabri Brothers. The two words were synonymous.

In their steps would come others like Aziz Mian that other great purveyor of traditional naat qawwali.  And following behind him the giant Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who popularised and blended qawwali with contemporary sounds and western sensibilities to raise the form to an internationally loved and lucrative style.  [Original post with goodies]

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