Holding Court: Nazakat and Salamat Khan

My favorite khyal singers. The way their voice blend and dance together is absolutely out of this world.

Here is an ancient post (and another recording) about them. And here is a really good article on them by someone who knows far more than I.

And here is the album. Don’t cry as you listen.


More: Ghazals Galore

Nearly 12 months ago I posted a collection of ghazals. At that time the state where I live in Australia, Victoria, was emerging from several months of Covid lockdown. Here I am again, still in Victoria, and looking forward, again, to an easing of Covid lockdown restrictions this weekend. Though it will be several weeks yet till we who are vaccinated will be set free to roam the streets at will.

What a hellish two years these last 24 months have been. Australia, which prides itself on being a practical, decent and level headed country has completely ballsed-up the response to Covid. Where other countries have managed to start coming out the other end with high rates of vaccinations, we are stuck with a government that is ideological by reflex, corrupt by nature and incompetent in the extreme. Not enough vaccines for our population. Our most vulnerable still not vaccinated. And a country tearing itself apart in a nasty political and conspiratorial hothouse similar to the one unleashed by Herr Trumphf in USA.

So what better time, then, to sink deep into world of ghazalein?

This collection features a selection by artists both popular (Anup Jalota; Jagjit Singh) as well as highly sophisticated (Begum Akhtar; Farida Khanum), men as well as women and, Pakistani as well as Indian.

My favourite in this second volume is the title track, Yeh Arzoo Thi (I Wished) by Haidar Ali ‘Atish‘ and sung by the giant Amanat Ali Khan. The ghazal which was one of the most beloved of his repertoire is full of longing and regret and unrequited desire. The object of the singer’s words is ostensibly his beloved. But as in many such rhymes, the laments and pleadings are addressed also to that higher Love who controls everything and everyone in this world. And it is the following couplet which calls out to that higher Love that resonates most with me, at this time of ugliness and discomfort.

Na pooch *aalam-e-barghashta-taala’i ‘Aatish’
Barasti aag jo *baaraan ki arzoo karte

Don’t even ask about the ill fortune of “Aatish”
It rained fire when he wished for rain.

Track Listing:

01 Kisne Meri Qabr Par [Live] (Anup Jalota)

02 Yeh Dil Yeh Pagal Dil (Ghulam Ali)

03 Raat Kya Kya Mujhe (Salamat Ali)

04 Awwal-e-shub Ho (Tahira Syed)

05 Dil ka Muamla Jo (Salamat Ali)

06 Lutf Woh Ishq Mein (Farida Khanum)

07 Loota ke Rah-e-Mohabbat Mein (Anup Jalota)

08 Dil Hi to Hai (Jagjit Singh)

09 Zindagi Kya Hai (Jagjit Singh)

10 Ab ke Tajdeed-e-Wafa. (Mehnaz)

11 Yeh Arzoo Thi. (Amanat Ali Khan)

12 Kaise Kate Din Ratia Balam Bin (Begum Akhtar)

13 Na Kisi ke Aankh ka Noor (Ijaz Hussain Hazarvi)


Desert Sounds: The Music of the Langa and Manganiyar of Rajasthan

One of my shortest careers was that of international music festival promoter. It lasted a total of about 3 months in the latter half of 2012.

I was trying to get myself launched into the world of South Asian music through a tie up with a record label and events company out of Jaipur known as DeKulture. At the time, long before this weird pandemic age, DeKulture had produced an absolutely unique set of CDs–most, beautifully packaged in cloth with artfully reproduced photographs–of folk music from Punjab and Rajasthan.

I had just set up a very crude online store and music hub where I sold these and other CDs as a kind of commercial angle to this blog. But my lack of business and tech skills, and the need to provide the roti, kapada aur makaan [bread, clothes and rent] for my young family, meant that my brave new career fizzled out in the face of the cold hard facts of life.

But for a short, glorious flash of a moment I assisted DeKulture in arranging for the appearance of and managing a troupe of Rajasthani musicians at Melbourne’s  Australasian World Music Expo (AWME). The group was led by an extraordinary Langa singer from Rajasthan, Bachu Khan. [ An audio of their performance that night is here]. You can read my post from the time of the event, here. And you can listen to a recording of one of his former groups, Musafir, here.

DeKulture for a while (2013-15?) hosted the Blue Lotus Festival in Pushkar but has now found its niche as a homewares and lifestyle company. Its website still invites festivals and promoters to book artists but given the huge expense of moving large groups of artists around the world (even when that was possible) it appears music is a minor part of the DeKulture business these days.

Which is a pity. Because their CDs and the music they have captured is stunning. I would encourage everyone who has interest in South Asian music to purchase ALL of them. You will not regret it.

All of these memories came flooding back to me as I listened to a few albums of Rajasthani music recently. And so I’ve decided to share this exhilarating, passionate music today. Most of the pictures in this post as well as the text comes from a study/paper by Anjali Singhvi called, Social Mobility Through Rural – Urban Migration: A Case of Traditional ‘Manganiyar and Langa’ Desert Tribes of Rajasthan, India [March 2015].

Thousands of years ago, the present Rajasthan state in India was part of the Indus valley civilization in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent, comprising of major urban centers like Sindh, Punjab and Rajputana, which later on dissolved into present day Pakistan and India after the 1947 partition. These northwestern pre-partition bordering states were exceedingly rich in their own musical cultures and traditions. Consequently, there was cross-border migration of musical cultures, to which present-day Rajasthan owes its folk musical influence.

Belonging to this folk discipline of the Rajasthani music, are two communities of hereditary Muslim musicians called the “Manganiyar” and the “Langa”, whose ancestors have been instrumental in shaping the folk music of Rajasthan, as we know now. These musician tribes can be identified with the minority group and the scheduled caste/tribes of India. Ethnomusicologist Victoria Lindsay noted during her research in India that, in the hinterlands of the desert state of Rajasthan, Manganiyar musicians were the lowest of the low in the village hierarchy, despite being one of the two original ‘gharanas’ (musical classes) of Rajasthani folk music.

There is evidence that the marginalization of these professional Muslim musicians of Rajasthan (Manganiyar and Langa) is not something new and they’ve always been considered as one of the lower classes of the society and continue to be marginalized, at both economic and social levels, even 70 years after independence. This also speaks of the prevalence of the Caste system in India that divides groups of people based on the level of the social rank they were born into.

There is a popular saying in the rural parts of Rajasthan that for a true Rajasthani, the actual wealth is the wealth of tradition and not wealth in monetary terms. However, for the Manganiyar and Langa tribes, this unusual nature of wealth does not always help them improve their social status in the society and in fact, the traditional and orthodox values they so firmly believe in can prove rather damaging to their social mobility as seen in the case of Langas from Jodhpur. These musician communities, originally belonging to the rural part of the state first began to migrate from their villages to the urban areas about a hundred years ago, and have been migrating since, essentially as a means to earn money and improve their social status.

The state of Rajasthan in India is the largest by area, and consists of two distinct geographic areas: “the Thar Desert in the west and north, characterized by frequent famines, scanty rainfall, and sparse population; and the hilly, forested, fertile land to the south and east” (Arnold, 2000). Music is an essential part of the daily life of a Rajasthani, mostly used for “mundane entertainment, for sacred devotional offerings to the gods and ancestors, for welcoming seasonal changes” (Arnold, 2000).

According to the famous folklorist Komal Kothari who has worked very closely for over a decade with the Manganiyar, Langa and other musician tribes of Rajasthan, the reason for music being so integral to the people of Rajasthan is due to the long dry months of the harsh desert summer, where farmers don’t have enough farming work to do.

Many of the twenty-six districts making up modern-day Rajasthan were once princely states that provided the main source of patronage for the arts. The courts of the rajas of Bikaner, Jodhpur, and Udaipur were homes for many performers, but the most impressive and serious patrons were the rajas of Jaipur. For the several hundred years preceding India’s independence in 1947, these kings employed professional musicians of both sexes and from both Muslim and Hindu backgrounds in the famed Gunjikhana ‘Department of Virtuosos’ . Thus they supported generations of hereditary musicians, vocal artists, and dancers who were expected to perform in the court and in the adjoining temples as well as in royal processions.”

However, as the princely states dissolved and the rulers of Rajasthan lost their power, with it was lost the culture of the royal musical patronage.

“Rajasthan has an elaborate system of professional musician groups that pass down their traditions orally to younger generations within their own caste. Some of these communities are sedentary, receiving regular patronage for their services and performances from local nobility. The Manganihars, Langas, Dhadhis, and Dhols are four such performance communities in the western desert regions; in accordance with the jajmani system, they provide musical services to the feudal lords, usually Rajput families. Other entertainers are migratory, traveling from Marwar to the more affluent eastern regions in search of new patrons and performance opportunities.” (Arnold, 2000)

As mentioned above, Manganiyar and Langa have predominantly been migratory tribes mainly because of their music and because of their need for finding new patrons for their folk music. However, it is evident from the interviews conducted for this study that in modern India, more than looking for patronage, these tribes migrate to provide a better quality of life to their families and thus achieve a greater social status.

The Langa musician community is believed to have migrated from Sindh (now in Pakistan), and call themselves Sindhi Sipahi and is fluent in playing the instrument ‘Sindhi Sarangi’ and ‘Khartal’. The word Manganiyars, originates form the term “Manganihar”, literally meaning, “to beg”, and indicates low social status. The Manganiyar community plays the instrument ‘Rawanhathha’ and ‘Khartal’ .

The main difference between the Manganiyar and Langa tribes is that they both serve different patrons. The Manganiyars serve mainly Hindu patrons and the Langas serve the Muslims. However, it seems that this trend is now changing as both the communities perform for a vast audience regionally, nationally and even abroad. Both the tribes have similar singing styles, including devotional songs and improvised old Rajasthani folk songs.

While it is common knowledge that there is a clear distinction between folk and classical musical styles in Rajasthan, some musicians during this research have claimed that, “the classical music originated from the folk styles that they perform”. It is important to note here that there is an increasing bias for classical music being more superior for folk music in India, (Ayyagari, 2012), the reason that it requires more formal training. The Manganiyars in Jaisalmer have migrated from villages near Barmer district, and the Langas in Jodhpur have migrated from their village Barnawa in the Barmer district in Rajasthan.

The first recording is of a theatrical production that took international music festivals around the world by storm in the early years of last decade, The Manganiyar Seduction.

The second is a collection of Manganiyar songs by a Pakistani musician named Nazar Mohammad


Finally, a collection of Langa songs issued as part of the utterly fantabulous World Network series of music from around the world. This CD is number 34 in that series (and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, get your hand on as many of these CDs as you possibly can).

Track Listing:

01 Gorban Nakaralo [Mohamed Rafik]

02 Bana Reh Baga Meh [Sikandar Khan]

03 Itchky [Mohamed Rafik]

04 Karion [Sikandar Khan]

05 Solo for Karthal in Tritala [Kohinoor Langa Khan]

06 Mendi [Mohamed Rafik]

07 Rumal [Sikandar Khan]

08 Rajasthani Dhun [Safi Mohammad]

09 Kesaria Hazari [Sikandar Khan]

10 Pallo Latke [Mohamed Rafik]

11 Solo for Karthal in Tintala [Kohinoor Langa Khan]

12 Lehria [Mohamed Rafik]


Episode 4 is live.

See this guy? His name is NOT Sample Only. It is Jamshedji Framji Madan, India’s first movie industry mogul and a Parsi.

Learn all about him and how the tiny Parsi community of India had such an influence on the development of the Indian and (eventually) Pakistani film industry.

If you enjoy this podcast, or even it you hate podcasts and find them boring, I would appreciate your support in letting people know about it. Its an important and unique story and deserves to be told. So spread the news!

Thank you!

Stone Classic: Attaullah Khan Niazi Issakhelvi

You may know, if you’ve been following this blog for some time, that I am a huge fan to Attaullah Khan Niazi ‘Issakhelvi. I have shared lots of his music and will continue to do so. So, this time out, I’ll dispense with biographic detail of this giant of Pakistani music and say a few things about the album.

This is a recording of a live performance in October 1988 at the Lok Virsa campus in the forested suburbs of Islamabad. I returned to Pakistan in April 1988 after a year of study in ’86-’87 in Lahore. And In October I was living in a share house with three other young American men who, like me, had found work in the vibrant international NGO/ refugee assistance operations that were the ‘soft’ side of the West’s anti-USSR proxy war in Afghanistan.

I was just out of University and making (for the time and my status as a single man) a very good salary working for the UN. I loved my job (don’t we all love our first real jobs?) and had made lots of new friendships. One in particular, a guy named Peter, had a sophisticated appreciation for Pakistani music which made my own pretty basic understanding seem quite shallow and superficial. When he wasn’t working with the UN he did the sound for musical acts whenever they visited Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

“Attaullah Khan is coming to Lok Virsa in a couple weeks time,” Peter said one day. “My friend is doing the sound. I think I can get you in for free if you’re interested.” At the time I had several cassettes of his singing and really loved his energy and voice and so I made a note to try to get there.

On the day, I remember I had to work late and decided to blow the concert off. But something niggled at me and though I was tired, I did, in the end drive out Lok Virsa figuring I’d stay for just a few songs.

Well, as it so happened I spent a couple of hours there. It was a fantastic concert. Issakhelvi was in top form. I was mesmerised by his voice and his charisma that could take an audience to tipsy heights of exhilaration and then in the next number quiet them right down. i went home feeling warm and alive. Knowing that this had been a very special night.

I have thought often of that concert, even though over the years the memory has faded. So you can imagine my delighted surprise when I listened to these two CDs. The introductory comments by the MC, which declare the date of the concert as 6 October 1988 had me jumping out of my seat. “I was there! That was the concert I attended!”

I was (and still am) so excited to reconnect with that milestone in my appreciation of Pakistani music. And so it was a no brainer that I would share it with all of you!

Hope you enjoy this music as much as I do!

Track Listing

01 Interview

02 Asan Haan Yaar Pardesi

03 Balo Batian Vey Mahi

04 Ishq Mein Hum Tumhein Kya Bataye

05 Wah Wah Meriya Mahiya

06 Mat Poocho Kya Haal Huwa

07 Sachi Das Ve Dhola

08 Idhar Zindagi Ka Jinazaa

09 Untah Wallay Turr Jan Gay

10 Ve Bol Sanwall

11 Dil Lagaya Tha Dilaggi Ke Liye

12 Chimmta Taan Wajda

13 Chola Chickney Da

14 Tu Nahi Te Teriyan Yaadan Sahi

15 Yaari Gheran Pichay

16 Bairi Wala Ghar

17 Tumharay Sheher Ka Mausam

18 La Lai Mundri Tho