Dikkat mein Aaram: Music in a time of Coronarvirus

Microscopic view of Coronavirus, a pathogen that attacks the respiratory tract. Analysis and test, experimentation. Sars

Such beautiful specimens. Such disruptive little buggers. Here we go folks, Australia is heading toward lockdown and who knows when I’ll return to the office. Or the kids to their classrooms. Our holidays are cancelled. The local shop’s shelves are empty of the essentials (apparently even Oreos and Spicy Japanese Mayo are essential to human survial). And I’m getting ready for a long bout of cabin fever.

Perhaps you too will be feeling the pain of isolation. Loss of social life. Uncertainty about the health and wellbeing of your loved ones. Maybe you’re already there (in Europe, or China or South Korea) and are ready to punch someone in the face.

In such situations the only solution is not to stay calm and listen to Trump and Macron and Boris and Modi and Imran. They’re as nervous and uncertain as you. Except more. They have whole nations to hold up and hold together.

No, the solution, as is almost always the case, music.

And so dear friends, as you head off into the uncertain future of the next few months (and I pray you and I all come out of it in one piece at the other end) here is a swag of records to keep you compnay. A bit of Pakistani, India, Bangladeshi and diaspora sounds you can use to inspire you when you’re sitting all alone and blue and nervous. And Fed up.

Number 1: Magic Carpet (Magic Carpet)

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Magic Carpet was a pioneering British psychedelic folk band of musicians that first appeared in the early 1970s.

The band members were Clem Alford, sitar; Alisha Sufit, voice and guitar; Jim Moyes, guitar; and Keshav Sathe, Indian tabla percussion. In 1972 the band released an eponymous album, Magic Carpet, on the Mushroom (UK) label that has since become a sought-after item in the international collectors’ vinyl market.

The Magic Carpet album has been described as ‘a jewelled crown in the treasure trove of psyche-tinged folk music’ Magic Carpet being one of the very first bands to truly combine Indian and western instrumentation. After a launch at the 100 Club, London, UK, the Magic Carpet band performed at Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth’s Wavendon, enjoyed airplay on Pete Drummond’s Sounds of the Seventies on BBC Radio, plus made several club and festival appearances. However, this novel collective split up shortly after the first album was released. It was only after a lapse of some fifteen years that recognition followed.

Widely and more positively reviewed, the original Magic Carpet album was reissued on CD and vinyl by the UK Magic Carpet Records label.

Seven of the vocal tracks written by Sufit employ modal tunings in the guitar accompaniment. These ‘open’ guitar tunings, first introduced and popularized by musicians such as Davey Graham and Joni Mitchell, are supremely compatible with the modal tuning of the sitar, allowing a true integration of sounds. Sufit’s vocals feature on nine of the twelve tracks, the remaining three being purely instrumental.

Track Listing:

01 The Magic Carpet

02 The Phoenix

03 Black Cat

04 Alan’s Christmas Card

05 Harvest Song

06 Do You Hear The Worlds

07 Father Time

08 La La

09 Peace Song

10 Take Away Kesh

11 High Street

12 The Dream

13 Raga (Bonus)

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Number 2: Live in Concert: The Famous Qawwal of Lucknow Afsar Hussein Khan (Afsar Hussein Khan)

Some fine Lucknavi qawwali from Afsar sahib. In a space that lies between commercial and art, the work of Afsar Hussein Khan is weightless but not light weight and spiritual but not over spiritual.  Perfect when you feel the only solution to your boredom (asoodgi) and viral news is divine intervention.

download Afsar Husain Khan & Party - back

Ttack Listing:

01. Aaj Racho Hai Basant

02. Bekhud Kiye Dete Hain Andaz-e-Hijabana

03.Ye Hai Maikada Yahan Rind Hain

04. Sukoon-e-Dil Ke Liye Kuchh To Ehtaman Karoon

05.Asoodgi Se Ishq-e-Jawan Ko Bachaiye

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Number 3: Mirza Ghalib: A Portrait of a Genius (Various Artists)

A really fine collection of poems by the one and only Mirza Ghalib of Delhi. Short snippets (way to short by my reckoning) read by the sonorous Gulzar followed by elegant renditions by Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Begum Akhtar, Mahendra Kapoor, C.H. Atma and hubby and wife Jagjit and Chitra Singh (separately, not together).  Thanks to long time reader of this blog Swarint for this collection!

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Track Listing:

01 Zikr Us Parivash Ka (Mohammad Rafi)

02 Ye Na Thi Hamari Qismat (Begum Akhtar)

03 Muddat Hui Hui (Mohammad Rafi)

04 Ae Taaza Vaaridan-E-Bisat-E-Huwa-E-Dil (Mohammad Rafi)

05 Qad-O-Gaysoo (Mohammad Rafi)

06 Sab Kahan (Begum Akhtar)

07 Bus Ke Dushwar Hai (Mohammad Rafi)

08 Nukta Chin Hai (Mohammad Rafi)

09 Bazeecha-E-Atfaal Hai (Mohammad Rafi)

10 Hazaron Khwahishen Aesi Ke Har Par Dam Nikle (Lata Mangeshkar)

11 Na Hui Gar Mere Marne Se Tasalli Na Suhi (Mukesh)

12 Kabhi Neke Bhi Uske Jee Mein Gar Aaj Aye Hai Mujse (Asha Bhosle)

13 Hairan Hoon Dil Ko Roun Ke Peeton Jigar Ko Main (C.H. Atma)

14 Main Hoon Mushtaq-E-Jafa Mujh Pe Jafa Aur Sahi (Mahendra Kapoor)

15 Kab Se Hoon Kya Bataoon Jahan-E-Kharab Mein (Chitra Singh)

16 Phir Kuchh Is Dil Ko Beqarri Hai (Jagjit Singh)

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Number 4: Bright Moments (Mehnaz)

Mehnaz. Carving a career \out in the shadow of an international icon is never an enviable task. But this chubby cheeked Karachi girl was not only up the task but in the reckoning of many of her peers, she succeeded so eminently and hers  is a talent second only to the majestic Noor Jehan. Or indeed, her own mother

Mehnaz was the daughter of a superstar, Kajjan Begum a ghazal singer and early pioneer of film music who in her lifetime was beloved all across the Indian sub-continent.  It was inevitable that she would follow in her mother’s footsteps and take up a career as a singer. But that she was able to make her own independent, revered and respected mark as an artist and overcome the comparisons and legacy of two of the greatest singers in Indo-Pak culture is something to pause and reflect upon.

In a time before Spotify, when artists like Mehnaz actually recorded albums, Mehnaz lent her name to a collection of her filmi hits entitled Bright Moments. In South Asian music this sort of record, one that was not tied to a specific film soundtrack, was called a ‘private’ record.  Bright Moments seems to be a semi-private album. Made up of film songs but marketed to a non-filmi audience who simply wanted to listen to Mehnaz’s lovely voice.  The title even suggests it was targetted at an English speaking middle class category of consumer.

Anyway, strip away the packaging, and what awaits you are several solid popular film songs by one of Pakistan’s most beloved voices.

Mehnaz Bright Moments

Track Listing:

01 Ik Gunah Aur Sahi

02 La De Re La De Re

03 Payalya Nighori Sataye

04 Pyar Karen Ge Pal Pal

05 Renan Jagaye

06 Sonay Do Raat Ke Ho Gaye Ponay Do

07 Wadah Hai Dil Tujh Ko Doon Gi

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Number 5.  Bangladesh – Chants de Lalon Shah (Farida Parveen)

Mrs. Farida Parveen, one of the top singers in Bangladesh, has given new life to traditional Bengali religious music, ‘Baul songs’. She has performed on numerous occasions on TV and in films, and has been very active on the international stage.

Mrs. Farida was born in Natore in the western part of present Bangladesh in 1954, and was brought up in Kushtia. She learned the Sargam (Indian musical scale) in her early childhood. At the age of 6, she became a pupil of a famous music master, the great Ustad Ibrahim, to learn classical music. When she became 13, she started to sing for Rajshahi radio station. In the Bengal region, mystic teachings about union between humanity and divinity have had a powerful influence on local daily life for centuries, and ‘Bauls’ ? mystic devotees who present these teachings in song as wandering minstrels – have played an important role. Among them, Fakir Lalon Shah was regarded as the most outstanding baul of the 18th and 19th centuries, and Rabindranath Tagore was strongly influenced by him. In Kushtia, where Lalon was mainly based, a festival dedicated to him has been held annually. Mrs. Farida’s encounter with Lalon’s songs there led her to collect and classify a great many songs of his at the same time she started her singing career.

When she was at Rajshahi University reading Bangla literature, she established the foundation of her career by becoming a nationally popular singer with patriotic songs and songs of the Liberation War as well as Lalon’s songs. She produced LP records, and sang for TV programs and films. In 1987, she received the Ekushey Padak (one of the highest civilian awards in Bangladesh), and in 1993, was given the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer. The high reputation that she has won has established her as one of the most prestigious singers in Bangladesh. She has performed in many different countries, including France, the U.S., and Japan (2002), to introduce Baul songs to the world.

With a solid foundation in Indian classical music, Mrs. Farida has rendered remarkable services to raise the artistic standing of traditional Bangladeshi religious music, Baul song, and to have this listed as one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Her contribution to raising the status of Baul song and to its international promotion has been immense, and therefore, she is truly worthy of the Arts and Culture Prize of the Fukuoka Prize

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Track Listing:

01 Pare loye jao amay

02 Khanchar bhitor ochin pakhi

03 Teen pagole holo mela

04 Rup kather ei nauka khani

05 Barir kache arshi-nagar

06 Lalon koy jaatir kee roop

07 Ekta bod hawa

08 O shey bajay bansi

09 Milon hobe koto dine

10 Shomoy gele shadhon hobe na

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Kabir Mela: Abida Parveen

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This is a famous and popular album, combining as it does the poetry of Kabir, the voice of Abida Parveen and the compositional flare of Gulzar.  The very definition of “triple threat”.

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Abida Parveen needs no introduction. In a rough analysis she could be considered the female counterweight of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The Empress to his Emperor.  A huge figure with a massive ecstatic voice that towers/ed above all rivals and peers. Their dedication to singing the kalam of Sindh’s (Abida) and Punjab’s (Nusrat) many Sufi poet philosophers unequalled over the past 30 years. I have written in other places of what an impression she created on me the only time I saw her live (at a semi private function at Islamabad’s old Marriott Hotel) and won’t go over that again.  Though a friend contacted me the other day to wonder if I’d be interested in seeing her when she’s in Melbourne early next year!

 

Gulzar, one of India’s cinematic icon’s (his lyrics, including for Jai Ho, and music as well as scripts and direction are universally lauded) was born in Jhelum district in present-day Pakistan. One of the thousands of figures who made their careers and names in ‘Bollywood’ after the 1947 Partition of British India and who hailed originally from what is now Pakistan, Gulzar has been a champion of cross-border amity his entire life.

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Gulzar

He conceived of this album and of Abida singing the dohe of Kabir. He selected the verses and composed the music.  Kabir’s writings have a special place in the Sikh religion, into which Gulzar was born in the mid-1930s.  Many of  Kabir’s sayings have been incorporated into the spiritual music as well as the scriptural writings of the Sikhs. So this is material that Gulzar has been exposed to since his childhood.

His deep voice opens each of the four tracks with a few words of praise, delivered in the crisp diction and efficient concision of the writer for both the poet and the singer. And as such these pithy introductions add their own nasha (intoxication) to the album.

Like the first album of Kabir’s music I shared, this one opens with his famous doha

Mann laago mero yaar fakiri mein
Mann laago mero yaar gareebi mein

Oh friend, my mind has
taken to living free!

This lyric speaks the joy of poverty, and the beauty of simplicity. [Here’s a nice explication of this bhajan if you’re interested.]

My personal favourite, however, is track 3:

Saahib mera ek hai, duja kaha na jaaye,
Duja Saahib jo kahun, saahib khada rachaaye.

My Lord is One, without a second,
If I see multiplicity, it is also my Lord’s play.

Maali aavat dekh ke, kaliyaan kare pukar,
Phool phool chun liye, kaal hamari baar.
Seeing the Master Gardener, the buds whisper to each other:
Fully blossomed ones are plucked away, our appointed day is near.
Chhah gayi chinta miti, manva beparvah
Jinko kachu na chaiye, woh hi Shahenshah.
If cravings are dissolved, worries go, mind becomes free,
He who wants nothing is surely the king of all kings.
Het preet sun jo mile, ta ko miliye dhaaye
Antar raakhe jo mile, taase mile balaaye.
You hasten to meet the ones who meet You with love,
Those who meet You with a pure heart, have indeed found a Friend unmatched.
Kabira te nar andh hai, guru ko kehte aur,
Har roothe Guru chhod hain, Guru roothe nahi chhod.
Kabir says, blinds are they who realize not the value of a true Master.
One may seek the shelter of God after displeasing God,
But there is no refuge after one is refused at the door of a Master.
Karta tha to kyun raha, ab kahe pachhtaye,
Bove pe babool ka, aam kahan se hoye.
Heedless I committed innumerable wrongs, now I suffer,
Nurturing the thistles of a barren tree, can one expect mango?
Sab Dharti kaagad karun, lekhan sab ban raaye,
Saat samand ki muss karun, Guru gun likha na jaye.
If the entire earth is a writing tablet, all the forest be its pen,
all waters of seven seas be its ink – even then the Lord’s praises remain unfinished.
Ab guru dil mein dekheya, gaavan ko kachhu naahin,
Kabira jab tum gaavate, tab jana Guru nahi.
Once the Lord is recognized within the heart, there is nothing left to be told,
Kabir, whenever you tried to utter the mysteries, the knowledge of your Master vanishes.
Main laaga uss ek se, ek bhaya sab maahin,
Sab mera main saban ka, tihan doosara naahin.
I am attached with that One, the One who is with all,
When everyone is mine, and I am everyone’s, there ends all duality.
Ja marne se jag dare, mere man anand,
Kab mar hun kab paahun, puran parmanand.
The world trembles at the thought of death, but its a matter of joy for me,
When shall I die, when shall I find the perfect joy (of the vision of the Beloved)?
Sab ban to chandan nahi, shoore ke dal nahi,
sab samundra moti nahi yun Sadhu jag mahi.
Neither all forests are of sandalwoods, nor all teams are full of valiant warriors,
nor all seas are filled with pearls; likewise the real gnostics of God are truly rare.
Jab hum jag mein pag dharyo, sab hanse hum roye,
Kabira ab aisi kar chalo, paache hansi na hoye.
When you came to this mortal world, everyone around you were happy to see you
and you were the only one weeping.
Kabir, now be in this world such that none laugh at your behind
but you yourself depart the world laughing, leaving all weeping, mourning.
Agun kiye to bahu kiye, karat na mani haar,
Bhaven banda bhakshe, bhaaven gardan maar.
Tirelessly so many misdeeds have been committed,
Now that I’ve realized O Lord, do as You please.
Sadhu bhukha bhaav ka, dhan ka bhookha naahin,
Dhan ka bhookha jo phire, so to Saadhu nahi.
Having no appetite for material wealth, true saints are hungry only for love,
Those who thirst after material wealth are not saintly at all.
Saahib sun sab hott hai, bande te kachhu naahin,
Rai te parbat kare, parbat rai mahi.
Listen friend! This world has nothing for you, vanity of vanities.
Seriously narrow is the passage to salvation, smaller even than the mustard seed.
Jyun til mahi tel hai, jyun chakmak mein aag,
Tera Sain tujh mein base, jaag sake to jaag.
Oil is found Inside the sesame seed, inside flinstone is fire, like that
Your Lord is within, now awaken to That truth if you dare!
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Track Listing:
 01. Man Laago Yaar Fakiri Mein
02. Souun to Sapne Milun
03. Sahib Mera Ek Hai
04. Bhala Hua Meri Matki Phut Gayi