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: Various Artists

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Hope everyone had a good rest over Christmas Day.  Even those who don’t consider themselves Christian, for Christmas these days in a universal day of rest in most countries of the world.  And signals the winding down of 12 months of what inevitably is always a mix of busyness, surprises, achievements, let downs, joy and stress.

So first of all Peace to everyone.

We are nearing the end of this series of Kabir bhajans. And here today is another collection performed by some of India’s elite voices:  M.S. Subbalakshmi, Pandit Kumar Gandharava and Lata Mangeshkar.

Again, the context here is a classical musicians singing songs of praise and wisdom. The singing (especially Kumar Gandharava and Lata’s haunting rendition of Jheene Jheene Beeni Chadariya) is stellar and I ‘m sure will be a good companion for the rest of this year and far into the future.

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Track Listing:

01 Bhajo Re Bhaiya (M.S. Subbalakhsmi)

02 Darshan De Tarh Darbaar (Haimanti Shukla)

03 Avdhoota Yugan Yugan Ham Yogi (Pt. Kumar Gandharava and Vasundhara Komkali)

04 Kaun Thagva Nagariya Loot Layo (Pt. Kumar Gandharava and Vasundhara Komkali)

05 Jheene Jheene Beeni Chadariya (Lata Mangeshkar)

06 Nirbay Nirgun Re Gaoonga (Pt. Kumar Gandharava and Vasundhara Komkali)

07 Tohi Mohi Lagan Lagaye Re (Lata Mangeshkar)

08 Arre Dil Mere Mann (Lata Mangeshkar)

09 Avdhoot Ganga Ghata (Pt. Kumar Gandharava)

BestofKabir

Dravidian Queen: K.S Chithra

t368930681-b1343688348_s400 Mumbai’s film industry is so visible and influential that the ugly term ‘Bollywood’ has become shorthand for Indian popular cinema.  This is not only inaccurate for northern Indian cinema itself, which uses Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Bengali as it’s main languages but it totally misrepresents the films of southern India.

Several hundred kilometres south of Mumbai is the city of Chennai, formerly known as Madras. In this city in 1917, just four (or five, depending on how you’re counting) years after the first Indian feature film was released, an importer of American cars, Mr. Nagaraj Mudaliar, was infected by the movie bug too. Being rich enough to damn the torpedos Mr Mudaliar arranged for a few lessons on the film cameras of the day and was so impressed by his own aptitude he set up South India’s first film studio in the quiet suburb of Puruswalkam.

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Nataraja Mudaliar

His first film and indeed, the first South Indian feature was a retelling of a story from the Vedic epic Mahabharata about a military commander who is so besotted by the beautiful Draupadi that he through a series of means, fair and foul, manages a rendezvous. Unfortunately, he is met by the even mightier warrior Bhima who slaughters him and ends the episode.  The movie was called Keechaka Vadham  (The Extermination of Keechaka) and was a smash hit, netting Mr Mudaliar even more riches.

In his footsteps over the subsequent years Madrasi film makers became famous around the world for their films, many of which were in the religious costume drama mode of Keechaka Vadham. And while I daren’t even think of getting into the history of South Indian film making here, suffice it to say, that films coming out of Madras and later Trivandrum and Hyderabad have been ground breaking, innovative and completely unreliant upon whatever was happening up in Bombay.

And it is especially in the area of music that the Tamil film industry has consistently held its own, and often, superseded ‘Bollywood’.  As eclectic in its inspirations as the northern film industry the Madras-based music directors always brought a more urgent, jagged and exploring edge to their music. Using hiphop, jazz, electronic keyboards and other trends before or more vigorously then their counterparts in the north.

Just listen to some of A.R. Rahman‘s music, especially before he became an international phenom, to get a taste. Of even better, go to the music of his guru, Illayraja or the work of Vijay Anand to really wig out.

It is some of Illayraja’s compositions that we share today.  All of the songs are sung by Krishnan Nair Shantakumari Chithraaka K.S. Chithra South India’s answer to Lata Mangeshkar.  Again, that’s an unfair and inaccurate description. Both are women, yes. Both have made hits too numerous to count by singing in the film industry, yes.  But the differences are more remarkable.

200Chithra is a classically trained singer in the South Indian carnatic tradition and has established an equally hailed and glorious career as a singer of classical/light classical music.  Lata, for her part has released a number of religious (bhajan) recordings but her reputation is firmly based upon her incredible run as the predominant female popular singer of the last two generations. Hear the name Lata and you know you’re going to get a film song.  But if, like me, you hear the name K.S. Chithra you’re probably, like me, going to think first of a ragini or thumri or bhajan.

At the same time where Lata’s vocal register is in the upper end (to say the least) Chithra has a voice that is to my reckoning more nuanced, supple and well rounded. More like Lata‘s sister Asha Bhosle.

I’m unable to speak Tamil so can’t vouch for the lyrical content of these songs but you don’t need to be a linguist to enjoy them.  The endlessly inventive arrangements that see styles and sound elements from any number of genres (from 80s synths to 60s lounge trumpets to slap bass and electronic squelches) popping up in each track, keep things bubbling along and are as interesting as the vocals. That’s why the title of the album has the subtitle “With Illayraja”.  This is a joint effort. A great singer interpreting the work of another great artiste and composer.

Enjoy!

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Track Listing:

01 Indha Vennila

02 Yaaro Sonnaangalaam

03 Vandadhe

04 Chitthirai Maasatthu

05 Manjai Ndhi

06 Kaiyodu Ennai

07 Vaa Veliye

08 Oh My Love

09 Sikkunnu

10 Hey Maina

11 Rathiri Thookkam

12 Oru Pooncholai

13 Pon Maaney

14 Poojaikettha

15 Nethu Oruthara

16 Kankaliley

17 Velli Kizhamai

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More from the Archives: Links Restored

mWPIVofPGHbhNPV1dF9cvSwFrom January 2012: Bengali baul music and folk music from Bangladesh

From January 2012: Mystical Music from Malwa: Kabir and Meera

From January 2014: Sitar Music from Poonchwaley and Bannerjee

 

Just a Harmonium Player: Naushad

Naushad

 

We regularly speak of Bollywood music as if it was a single sort of thing.  Far too often, the phrase is a coded reference for the big-name playback singers, Saigal, Lata, Noor Jehan, Rafi and Mukesh.  And in the popular imagination (certainly in my own naïve one) the beautiful hits of Bombay’s Golden Era have (wrongly) become almost exclusively associated with the singers who brought them to life for the actors and scenes on screen.

 

But before Rafi or Lata or Shamshad Begum got to the studio the song had been conceived, composed, scored and lyrics written by others.  These men (sadly few women have found space in this particular arena) were known as the Music Directors and as far as the film producers were concerned they were as important, if not more so, than the playback singers. Their names came up in the credits before the singers and usually in bigger letters.  The Music Directors had their favourite poets and writers whom they tapped for lyrics to match the melodies. Indeed, by the 1950s, after the first generation of Indian talkies had passed, several composer-writer teams emerged who worked exclusively together: Shankar-Jaikishan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji being the most popular.

 

Today we tell the story of Naushad Ali, one of the truly great men not just of Hindi cinema but of Indian popular culture.  Though not the first important composer of film music–Ghulam Haider,  Pankaj Mullick and others composed the first great music of South Asian film–Naushad is regarded as standing head and shoulders above his peers during the peak of his creative life.

 

A Muslim boy from Lucknow, Naushad had a family that did not support his love of music. To find relief he ran away to the local equivalent of the circus, the nautanki. A popular form of travelling folk theatre that mixed bawdy song, folk tales and religious guidance, nautanki was until the near total domination of culture by cinema, village India’s main form of entertainment.

 

During this informal apprenticeship, he honed his skills on the harmonium (which he also repaired for additional income) and other instruments.  During his time in Lucknow he watched small teams of musicians compose the ‘soundtrack’ to silent films at the Royal Theatre an experience that proved invaluable to the development of his own career as a composer. The musicians would watch the film through, talking to themselves and making notes about what instruments and sounds would work in which scene. Then when the audience came in they would play their ideas live as the reels rolled!

 

The young Naushad set up his own company, the Windsor Entertainers (he liked the ring of the English name) and after some formal training with a local maestro was confident enough to hang out his shingle as a composer.  But Lucknow was an inhospitable place to make a career given his family’s opposition. So, like so many others seeking Lady Fortune’s hand, he made his way to Bombay.

 

It was not easy. He slept on the streets for months, composing music that was rejected by the studios or that failed to make an impression on the public. He earned little more than Rs.50 a month. Yet, he managed to compose for nearly a dozen films and even had the backing of the successful composer Khemchand Prakash but the ‘hit’ eluded him.  In 1944 the Lady smiled.  With the film Rattan Naushad’s music for the songs Akhiyan Milake and Milke bicchad gayi akhiyan smashed through.  He now charged Rs25,000 a film!  The film had cost just Rs. 75,000 to make but the record of the music itself grossed Rs. 3 million! And this is time when record players and recorded music was accessible to the very  thinnest slice of Indians.

 

Naushad Ali, the harmonium repair man from Lucknow, was now a star.  But when he returned home to get married, he was unable to tell his father and uncles that the music blasting from the loudspeakers was in fact his handiwork.

 

Naushad’s music is steeped in Hindustani classical traditions; many of his great hits are based on ragas.  His years as a travelling musician had taken him all across the plains of northern India where his acute ear had picked up folk rhythms and melodies. Like his Lahori peer, Ghulam Haider, he filled his music with these folk elements, giving his music its distinctive feel.  And though he was steeped in the traditions of north Indian music he was not averse to experimenting with western instruments. It is to Naushad that credit is given for introducing the accordion and clarinet to Hindi film music.

 

Naushad and Rafi

Naushad and Rafi

Naushad not only had an ear for a good folky riff but was an outstanding assessor of talent. His ‘discovery’ of the singer Suraiyya in the 1940s shot her to fame.  And though he worked with everyone from Ameerbai, Shamshad Begum and Noor Jehan, his most memorable work was reserved for the voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi, who were launched to the dizzy heights of all India fame on the back of Naushad’s music.

 

The number of iconic films Naushad scored is staggering: Mother India, Mughal-e-Azam, Baiju Bawra, Andaaz, Deedar, Ganga Jumna to name just a few.  The massive success of Baiju Bawra marked the pinnacle of his folk-music phase, henceforth, his music would be known for its elegant and rich classical undertone and nuances.

 

The Age of Naushad stretches from 1944-1960 a sixteen-year period when no one could come close to his accomplishments. Yet as the 60s brought new sensibilities and a fresh generation of composer willing and eager to introduce western dance, baila, jazz and even rock music into the mix, Naushad was increasingly marginalised.  And though his star faded and was completely extinguished in 2006, his reputation and contribution to the development of what we now all refer to as Bollywood music is universally acknowledged and praised.

 

Enjoy this slice of early Bollywood music from the masterful Naushad.

 Naushad Naushad_0001

            Track Listing;

AAJ KI RAAT MERE DIL KI SALAMI LELE

AAJ PURANI RAAHON SE

AAJA MERI BARBAD MOHABBAT KE SAHARE

AAYE NA BALAM WADA KARKE

AYE HUSN ZARA JAAG TUJHE ISHQ

BETAAB HAI DIL

DHOONDO DHOONDO RE SAJNA

DIL KI MEHFIL SAJI HAI CHALE AAIYE

DIL-E-BETAB KO SEENE SE LAGANA

DO HANSON KA JODA

DO SITARON KA ZAMEEN PAR

DUKH BHARE DIN BEETE RE BHAIYA

DUNIYA NE TERI DUNIYA WALE

GAAYE JA GEET MILAN KE

GIN GIN TARE

HAMEEN SE MUHABBAT

INSAAF KA MANDIR HAI YEH

JAB USNE GESU BIKHRAYE

KAL KE SAPNE AAJ BHI AANA

KOI MERE DIL MEIN

KOI SAGAR DIL KO BAHLATA NAHIN

KYUN UNHEN DIL DIYA

MAIN DIL MEIN DARD BASA LAAI

MARNA TERI GALI MEIN

MERE JEEVAN SAATHI

MERI KAHANI BHOOLNE WALE

MIL MIL KE GAAYENGE

MORE SAIYAN JI UTRENGE PAAR

PANCHHI BAN MEIN

TARARI TARARI

TASVEER BANATA HOON TERI

TERE SADKE BALAM

TERI MEHFIL MEIN KISMAT AZMAKAR

TU GANGA KI MAUJ

TU MERA CHAND

TUJHE KHO DIYA HUMNE PANE KE BAAD

TUMHARE SANG NAIN BHI CHALOONGI

YEH GOTEY DAR LAHENGA

ZINDAGI AAJ MERE NAAM SE

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