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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The Sound: Jagjit and Chitra Singh

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Chitra and Jagjit Singh

Some artists sing songs that become classics  and live on for eternity. Others are loved for the special charisma they bring to their live performances. Some artists sell millions of records (or CDs or downloads) and grow rich. But few truly change the course of popular music or establish a sound that is instantly identifiable with them.

Jagjit Singh and his wife and singing partner Chitraare in that rarest of rare categories that can claim to have accomplished all of the above.

It is Sunday morning here in Melbourne, the first day of spring. The skies are overcast and a brisk breeze is gusting off Port Philip Bay. As I start the day I’m overcome with a strong desire to hear some ghazals by this wonderful duo, and so I turn to Black Magic an album that seems to date from the mid-late 1980s.

At once I am touched.  The warmth of Jagjit’s unhurried and honeyed voice calms the many mini storms inside of me. I’m drawn completely into a world of spiritual doubt and unrequited love the territory Jagjit and Chitra have claimed as their own since they burst onto the scene nearly 40 years ago.  Jagjit’s voice is iconic in the same way as Johnny Cash‘s: strong, manly, deep and assured.  A creative energy that is able to make you stop, sit up and pay attention.  But where Cash made you tremble, Jagjit makes you glow.

For her part Chitra embodies the reticient but passionate beloved. Her voice is delicate, nearly brittle at times but always full of melody and spirit. Like Jagjit her style is deliberate and precise like she is telling a story to a dear friend.

Black Magic is a wonderful example of the Jagjit and Chitra sound. Essentially acoustic, it relied on simple combination of flute, guitar, tabla (always in the background, never driving), santoor and violin. They rarely sang anything other ballads and this aural environment is distinctively theirs. You hear an intro and you know whose voices will soon come in.

This could become boring and tiresome but it doesn’t. At least not for me, yet. And I’ve been listening for 35 years. You don’t look to Jagjit and Chitra for experimentation. You go to them because you can rest assured you’ll always be welcomed into their gentle and elegant embrace

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Track List:

01 Patthar Ke Khuda Patthar Ke Sanam

02 Jab Bhi Tanhai Se Ghabra Ke

03 Jawani Ke Heelay Haya Ke Bahne

04 Yeh Kaya Jane Mein Jana Hai

05 Mai Pilkar Aap Ka Kaya Jayega

06 Hai Ikhtiar Mein Tere

07 Yeh Bhi Kya Ehsaan Kum Hai

08 Agar Hum Kahen Aur Woh Muskraden

Black Magic

Bury Me with This Record: Jagjit and Chitra Singh

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Chitra and Jagjit Singh

This album is a desert island disc. A record I would take on my flight to Saturn or want buried with me when I pass on.   Every track is a thing of beauty and grace.

What follows is a remembrance from my old blog on the occasion of Jagjit’s death nearly 5 years ago.

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I discovered Jagjit Singh’s music when I returned home to Allahabad for a brief visit in the winter of 1983. This was the beginning of the cassette revolution in Indian music. A revolution that shook up the music industry lock, stock and barrel and broke the iron grip of a handful of record companies who seemed to think there were only two types of music: classical and Bombay filmi songs.

I was amazed to find small shops on every corner of Allahabad’s posh Civil Lines district selling hundreds of cassette tapes of a staggering array of musical styles: devotional music (qawwali, bhajans, kirtans) salacious pop music in local dialects and a few European/American pop bands. But by far the most popular form of music was something the shop keepers crudely called, ‘ghajal’ substituting the Sanskrit ‘j’ for the Arabic ‘z’.

From one shop came two of the most mellifluous voices I’d ever heard. They drew me inside instantly. In response to my question about who the voices belonged to I was handed several cassettes. On the cover were photos of what looked like a boring middle class couple called Jagjit and Chitra Singh. I bought all four and commenced one of the deepest love affairs of my life.

Ghazals like Us Mor Se Shuru Karein Phir yeh Zindagi (Let’s Begin Life Again from That Turning), Uski Baatein Bahaar ki Baatein (His Words are the Words of Spring), Kaun Kahta Hain (Who Says So?) and especially, Woh Kaghaz ki Kashti (That Paper Boat) became the soundtrack of my inner world. I sang them to myself daily. The tapes were constantly in my Walkman and I used each ghazal to improve my Urdu vocabulary, which as a graduate student in South Asian studies was a high priority.

Without a doubt the greatest thing about Jagjit Singh was his voice. It exuded calm, assurance and safety.  Like a father’s words of comfort, it delivered a totally unexpected gift–peace.  This is a rare quality in a singer. Sure the arrangements and instrumentation were tasteful, never outlandish or exotic, and that added to the restful aura of their music. But above all it was Jagjit’s voice that cut through whatever stress, whatever anxiety I was feeling and gently grazed my heart.

Jagjit and Chitra were probably the most famous Indian singing act in the 1980s and 1990s. They travelled the globe and sold millions of cassettes and records. Their leading contribution to the democratisation of the Indian music scene cannot be overstated. And without them elevation of the ghazal to the status of India’s most popular musical genre (after Bollywood) would have not happened.

In the mid 1990’s Chitra stopped singing publicly after the accidental death of her son. How, we all wondered, could Jagjit carry on without her? We all loved their intimate, intuitive and absolutely in-sync way of singing. I always felt that their love lyrics were sung to each other. Jagjit just wouldn’t be the same without ethereal Chitra. But he carried on and continued to find new fans and enthral us old ones.  He sang for films and in the later years experimented with some very modern studio-derived doodlings. But whatever he did he did with taste and integrity. And that warm soothing voice.

As I write I’m listening to one of my favourite J&C ghazals Manzil Na De Charagh Na De /Hosla to De (Give me not the destination nor the lamp/ Just give me courage).

Giving courage. That was the vocal legacy of the great Jagjit Singh.

Jagjit Chitra front

jagjit chitra back

Track Listing:

01 Ham To Yun

02 Kiya Hai Pyar Jise

03 Woh Dil Hi Kya

04 Sirf Shabnamhi

05 Uski Baten Bahar ki Baten

06 Mujhse Milne Ke

07 Chale Bhi Ao

08 Kaun Kahta Hai

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