Unheard: Punjab

dear hat

One of the best collection of north Indian (mainly Punjabi, Rajasthani and Gujarati) music to have been released in recent years is from the Jaipur-based company Dekulture.

The series of 20+ CDs are beautifully recorded and for the most part field recordings that capture the very much living (but under threat) folk music culture of north western India.  The CDs themselves are gorgeous ornaments in their own right. Beautiful photographs, sparse but informative text and in many cases cloth covers that must make these some of the unusual CDs ever marketed.

All of this should have made them massive hits for collectors of world folk music but alas it seems Dekulture has stopped producing them and very few have ever been sold.  Or at least much fewer than is deserved.

Today we share a collection of Punjabi folk music called UNHEARD PUNJAB.

This album presents authentic music from across Punjab that is unheard of and unknown to the wider audience. Some rare songs belong to traditions that are on the verge of extinction and others belong to new evolving genres and styles that may go on to be popular in the future.

‘Unheard Punjab’ features some of the most accomplished artists of Punjab such as Raza Khan, Sharif Idu, Gurmej Raja, Saida Begum, Shaadi Ram, Hardev Singh and more. Each artist featrued in this album have their own individualistic style belonging to genres such as Sufi and Sikh dhadi, Sufi kalam, qawwali, kafi, jangam, kavishiri and folk musiic. The dialects used in the songs are Malwi, Majhi, Doaba, Pwadhi and Hindi spoken in various parts of the region. Legendary love stories, Sufi kalam, devotional, narration and celebration songs also forms a repertory of this album. (Liner Notes)

There is some truly amazing music here. My favorite is track 6 Lakh Lakh Vadai by Gurumukh.  After some singing comes a truly stunning half-shouted conversation between two men which is full of the same passions you hear in the preaching of African American preachers in the deep south of the United States! A genuinely fascinating interlude! Love it!

Enjoy!

Unheard Punjab

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Unheard Punjab_0001

Track Listing:

01 Mirza – A Love Story /Sharif Idu

02 Ajnajami/Gurmej Raja

03 Gam Hai Ya Khushi/Raza Khan

04 Ja Ve Ja Jutheyan/Saida Begum

05 Vaar/Dhadhi Jathan

06 Lakh Lakh Vadai/Gurmukh

07 Shiv Parivar Ki Aradhna/Rajendra

08 Puran Bhagat Ki Kahani/Shaadi Ram

09 Na Khandya Noo Jarde/Hardev Singh

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Spiritual Love: Tragic Love Songs of Punjab

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Sohni crossing the river to Mahiwal

At  the center of Punjabi cultural identity lay the tradition of what are often called ‘tragic love stories‘. These stories of star-crossed (not to mention caste and creed segregated and gender discriminated) lovers are embedded in the psyche, the art, the faiths and the languages of Punjab in a way that very few other stories or traditions in other parts of the subcontinent or indeed, world are.

It is difficult to really separate Punjabi identity from the characters-and all the things they have made to represent-of these stories. This is cultural DNA stuff, the stream from which so much else takes life.

There are many wonderful books and rich articles by the likes of Prof. Christopher Shackle (SOAS)and Farina Mir, just to name two scholars with whose work I’m somewhat familiar, that trace the origins and histories of these stories. Or in the case of Ms. Mir, how Heer Ranjha, perhaps the most popular of the tragic love stories, was used in multiple ways to promote diverse agendas in later 19th century/early 20th century Punjab.   Like all good tales these stories are open to many different readings: political, social, religious, spiritual, feminist, conservative and radical.

And of course all of them have rich musical traditions as well.  People have been singing about these great lovers and their travails for centuries.  And today we share a fantastic collection of songs curated by the good folks of DeKulture (Jaipur) that references several of these folk tales.

The album covers a number of musical styles from dhadhi, qawwali and kafi and spotlights the artistry of a handful of lesser known (by amazing) Indian singers and musicians.

Roohani Ishq

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Roohani Ishq_0001

Track Listing:

01. Dhola Maru (Vishan Das and Group)

02. Sohni Mahiwal (Sharif Idu)

03. Sohni da Ghadha (Shaukat Ali Matoie)

04. Kyon Hoon Dad Vatdayen (Gurmej Raja)

05. Tera Pyar Menu (Saida Begum)

06.  Laila Majnu (Shaadi Ram)*

07. Heer Jogi (Narata Ram)

08. Mera Ranjha (Akhtar Ali)

Roohani Ishq

*slight distortion at beginning

Kabir Mela: Rajasthani Folk

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Continuing with this series here is a collection compiled and recorded by the fantastic label De Kulture out of Jaipur.

Pure, unsanitised folk music from India’s western deserts.  Nothing more needs to be said. This is probably the closest you’ll get in terms of what singing Kabir’s poetry sounded like during his time.  Drum, tiny hand cymbals, drone and voice.  No guitars, no electronics, no overdubbing.  Straight. No chaser.

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Track Listing:

01 Bhakti daan Mohe Dijiye

02 Gaful Bhulo

03 Hansa Re Hans Hans

04 Is Bangle Ka

05 Mera Bhed Kisi Nai Paya

06 Mil Gayo Man Khario Nagina

07 Nij Ghar Alakh Jagaya

08 Sadguru Arji Sunlo

KAHEKABIRA

 

Unheard Rajasthani Music

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Rajasthan offers a melange of cultures, music and people. The album ‘Unheard Rajasthan’ is an effort to bring to the fore the sub-nation’s forgotten corners. The only common element that combines these corners is a heart that beats only to the rhythms of regional authentic songs.

Various cultural groups of Rajasthan in their own but multi-talented way create an atmosphere that smells of the sand of the desert.  The cultural groups such as Nayak, Meghwal, Manganiar, Langa, Meerasi, Brahmin, Khati, Jat, Harijan etc., are some of the communities whose distinctive music styles are rarely heard or exposed to the outside world. ‘Unheard Rajasthan’ is an attempt to capture the beauty of these cultures dipped in rural sensibility and bring the rare music genres such as Jangad, Chang Nritya, Pad, Bhajans etc. back into the cultural positioning of the country.

Traditionally, patronage has guided the music of this region that incorporates the sounds of folk instruments like Deru, Sarangi, Kamaycha, Tandoora, Chang, Bansuri, Chimta, Rawanhatta, Harmonium, Dholak, Khartal, Ghungroo and Manjeera amongst others.

This album is an effort to enrapture its listeners with melodies, rhythms capturing various human moods like devotional, festive, occupational and philosophical.

(Liner Notes)

Unheard Rajasthan

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Unheard Rajasthan back

Track Listing:

01 Dhomaldi

02Moomal

03 Nabh Kamal Vich

04 Bilyu Dhaam

05 Rasto De Shyam

06 Bagan Ka Bhawara

07 Helo Mharo Sambhlo

08 Jeera

URaj

The Balladeer: Sharif Idu

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Sharif Idu is probably the most widely known dhadhi singer in India. Of course, dhadhi is not a massively popular genre. Least of all in the urban, recorded-music consuming markets of India. So the word ‘widely’ needs to be tempered somewhat.

 

Dhadhi is a genre of traditional music performed mostly in Punjab and some border areas of Rajasthan and Haryana. Its natural audience lives and works in the agricultural villages and small towns of Punjab. While the recent folk music revival in India has given artists like Sharif Idu more ‘fame’ than they would normally enjoy, dhadhi, like so many other indigenous, local forms of singing and playing music is struggling to withstand the forces of digitally-consumed commercial popular music.

 

Punjab is blessed with an incredibly rich traditional/folk culture which includes a number of distinct styles of singing and playing music. While certain geographic areas of the State are ‘home’ to specific styles, most have been enjoyed widely by Punjabi speakers across India and Pakistan. The characteristic that distinguishes one genre from another is not geographic as much as the performance context.

 

There are songs that are performed to accompany major events and milestones in the life of a family: childbirth, marriage, death, business success. These are sung by amateur musicians, family members and neighbors and according to some scholars are the true ‘folk’ music.

 

Other genres are devotional. They are performed by professional musicians in a specific context of worship, spiritual ecstasy or reflection.

 

Still other styles, are secular and relate well known folk stories, tales of local heroes and pure entertainment. These are performed by specific classes of professional hereditary musicians at fairs, festivals, as part of travelling revues or in private functions.

 

In addition to various hereditary castes such as bazigars, mirasis and jogis, (to mention just three), who specialize in specific genres, each style is often associated with a particular instrument or combination of instruments. In the case of dhadhi, the sarangi and the dhadd, a small hand held hour glass shaped drum.

 

Greater Punjab is a huge area in northwestern India and eastern Pakistan. It is wealthy (based largely on agriculture) and has historically been a place of intercommunal harmony. Muslims have always been the most numerous but prior to Partition in 1947, large populations of Hindus and Sikhs lived all across the state. Since 1947, almost all Muslims moved west to what is now Pakistan and likewise, virtually the entire Hindu and Sikh populations moved east to Indian Punjab.

 

Prior to 1947, Punjabis of all faiths participated in and shared a common musical and artistic culture. Divisions between the three groups, while never irrelevant, were far less rigid than in other parts of India. Sikhs and Hindus intermarried. All three communities were familiar with the myths and legends of the other and often included elements of ritual from other religions in their daily practice. Indeed, Punjab’s most famous folk tales, what have been called the Tragic Love Stories, were ‘owned’ and appreciated by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs equally.

 

As part of this amicable arrangement several groups of hereditary Muslim musicians served the Sikh community. One of these groups, the rababi, were attached to the main Sikh gurdwaras, where they sang and recited the beautiful Sikh hymns known as shabad and gurbani.

 

The origins of the dhadhi have been traced back to the Sikh Gurus as well. Many of the gurus, including the first, Nanak, referred to themselves as dhadhi, or balladeers of God.   Though balladeers and minstrels had been a feature of rural Punjab much earlier, it was the deliberate patronage of Sikh gurus that catalyzed the dhadhi into a particular group of performers and style of singing.

 

The dhadhi’s main function was to inspire the Sikh community (then quite persecuted) to valour and courage as well as to sing the praises of the gurus. Very quickly a sub genre, var, developed that was focused on singing of the heroic (martial as well as spiritual) deeds of Sikh leaders.

 

At the same time, (1600-1650), dhadhis began putting the dramatic and emotional story of star-crossed lovers, Hir and Ranjha, into song. Hir Ranjha is just one, but probably the most revered and loved of Punjab’s tragic love stories. The first reference to dhadhis being integral to the performance of these secular epics is from the late 18th century.

 

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries dhadhis were attached to princely courts such as Patiala and Faridkot. Though all dhadhi are non-caste and within broader society considered unclean, within the context of their service to Sikh nobility and the religious hierarchy, they were accorded a certain respect and even material privilege.

 

With the collapse of the princely states by the early 1950s, dhadhis (and other musicians, including some of the biggest names in classical music) were cut loose to fend for themselves. For some years they were able to secure a subsistence living by performing at village fairs and festivals where their stage shows which often ran for three or more days, were a highlight of the annual calendar.

 

But first records, then cassettes and finally the humble mp3 and rapid change in musical tastes put the tradition on the ropes. When Sharif Idu was re-discovered he was working as a day labourer in Chandigarh.

 

Born in Patiala district around the time of the Partition, Sharif Idu’s father was a well known singer and so the boy was brought up in the environment of dhadhi. His reputation grew after singing in the wedding of a Punjabi movie star and with his eldest son and nephew on dhadd , and Idu himself on sarangi he formed his first dhadhi group. After his rediscovery, in 1986, he stole the show at a national performance in Delhi, receiving acknowledgement from the then Prime Minister himself for this powerful singing.

 

Sharif Idu’s repertoire is made up of qissa (secular folk tales) the most prominent of which is Hir Ranjha. Unlike other dhadhi who have begun to incorporate their own compositions into their shows, Idu is a faithful and powerful interpreter of historic material. He continues to perform with his three sons and this recording made by DeKulture (Jaipur) is a wonderful example of his talent and passion as well as a valuable cultural document.

 

Note: Tracks 1,2,3 and 5 relate specific episodes of tragic love stories Sassi and Punno; Hir and Ranjha; and Mirza and Sahiban. Track 4 is a telling of the story of a 16th century Punjabi hero who did battle with the Mughals. Track 6 is a kafi (spiritual poem/lyric) by the great Sufi, Bulleh Shah.

 

Enjoy!

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Track Listing

01 Sassi Punno

02 Heer Di Kafi

03 Mirza

04 Dulla Bhatti

05 Heer

06 Baba Bulleh Shah

Dhadhi