A reason to go back to school: Shaukat Ali

shaukat ali

I first heard Shaukat Ali’s voice while watching an Urdu movie from the 1970s. It was a pretty dreary affair about a spoiled Pakistani playboy living a semi-scandalous lifestyle in London. At one point fairly early on the film the playboy is hosting a party at his flat. Hippies and Sikhs are in attendance.  The playboy’s best buddy from back in Pakistan has come to fetch him back.  To get the party started this chubby friend sings a song about the experience of ‘going foreign’ (overseas).

The dance was slapstick but the song was a cracker. I wrote about it in another blog and you can hear it here. The singer’s voice (which I later found out belonged to Shaukat sahib) contradicted everything about the fat comedian. It was strong, masculine and real.  Like a Punjabi Kishore Kumar the tone locked in between tenor and baritone and brooked no argument.

Shaukat Ali was born and raised in the small city of Malakwal about 200 kms southeast of Islamabad. He got a break singing for a Punjabi film in 1963 and as mentioned above contributed playback services to movies throughout his career.  He even sang in the 2009 Indian hit film Love Aaj Kal.  

But Shaukat Ali’s first and enduring love in the folk music of his native Punjab. He’s made his reputation as a classy singer of Punjab’s rich folk song repetoire and especially as an interpreter of such classics as Waris Shah’s Heer and the Sufi epic, Saif ul Malook.

In this wonderful double disc released by Pakistan’s national Folk Heritage institute, Lok Virsa, Shaukat Ali, is in impeccable form. He sings with gusto, feeling and nuance, mixing well known numbers as well as less familiar numbers (at least to me).  Punjabi folk music is full of a quality I call dildaari (a stout, exhilarating sense of discovery, fun and reverence). Accompaniment is always lively: tablas sound like locomotives on a fast track and the harmonium dances and bounces around the vocals.  Singing is full throated. On the softer numbers Shaukat may calm things down but there remains always a visceral, vital authenticity.

You can have fun but you never bullshit.

I love these discs and thank my dear Californian friend, Hanif, for sharing them with me.  It’s the sort of music that has me surfing the web for ‘Teach Yourself Punjabi’ courses!


Track Listing (Disc 1)

1-01 Interview

1-02 Tur Gaya Mera Hani

1-03 Choti Ummreh Pyaar Kari Naa

1-04 Jalliya Dilla

1-05 Oh Kannu Pyar Te Karobaar

1-06 Lag Gai Nain

1-07 Assein Ite Te Dhol Sada

1-08 Ho Jagga Jamiya

1-09 Pindi Peya Vee Nai

1-10 Assein Ite Te Dhol Sada

1-11 Sass Kapathi Eh

Vol 1

Track Listing (Disc 2)

2-01 Ho Rabba Sohnaya Nu Kaid Kara De

2-02 Wah Rangeeya Nu Kaid Kara De

2-03 Loki Anwey Te Nahi…

2-04 Kyon Door Rehnde O

2-05 Aap Jedeh Wasday

2-06 Dendi Phira Mein

2-07 Sanu Patha Nahi Vichoda Kinu Kehende

2-08 Oh Mahi Meriya

2-09 Maa Janat Da Parchanwa (Kaanwan)

2-10 Saif-Ul-Malook Kalaam

Vol. 2


Celebrate a Milestone: Lokgeet (Folksongs)

Mirasi minstrels. Moradabad. 1870

Mirasi minstrels. Moradabad. 1870

The fourth instalment is all about folk songs (lok geet). Herein you will find instrumental music from western India, chants from the Himalayas, bhajans sung by southerners and beautiful contemporary Bengali folk music. Pakistani genius Hamid Ali Bela appears in a special a cappella performance of a traditional sufi hymn and the Shyam Brass Band takes time off from its busy wedding season to give us a fine rendition of another folk song as old as the desert dunes of Rajasthan.

Hope you enjoy it!



Track Listing:

01 Laili and Madjnun- Ballad from Kunduz [Saadullah Kunduzi] Afghanistan

02 Bhajana [Banarsi Vocal Group] India

03 Dilruba – Thief Of The Heart [Amandeep sing] India

04 Mere To Girdhar Gopal [M.S. Subbulakshmi] India

05 Tambu tamaji  jamarja [Ustad Manzoor Ali Khan] Pakistan

06 Such Hai Hamein [Iqbal Bano] Pakistan

07 Wah Rangiya Tere Rang [Master Dilbara] India

08 Hum Mein Hi Thi Na Koi Baat [Jagjit and Chitra Singh] India

09 Balam Ji Mharo (Traditional Love Song) [Hakum Khan Manganiyar] India

10 Rabba Mere Haal Da Mehram {Shah Hussain} [Hamid Ali Bela] Pakistan

11 Rimjhim Barse Re [Sucharita Gupta] India

12 Lehariyo [Shyam Brass Band] India

13 Milarepa poem and a mantra [Wandering Bhutanese Ascetic] Bhutan

14 Satara [Unknown] India

15 Shah Latif Ke Kafi [Alla Bachayo Khoso] Pakistan

16 Teri Photo Bolegi [Akram Rahi] Pakistan

17 Pagla Haoar Badal Dine [Mita Huq] Bangladesh

18 Mahiya Ve Mahiya [Arif Lohar] Pakistan

19 Pashto Song in Kesturi [Amir Jan Herawi] Afghanistan


Frozen in Time: ‘Jet’ Shri Krishna

indo fiji

The Harmonium Music Blog is entirely dedicated to promoting the music of South Asians; those who live between Afghanistan and Bangladesh and between the high Himalayas and the warm seas of the Indian Ocean.  The Blog is also very interested in the music made by musicians of South Asian origin who live outside the subcontinent.


In the Fiji Islands of the South Pacific  there is a large population of subcontinentals who must almost certainly qualify for the title of ‘Farthest Flung’ Indians in the world.  Whenever I visit Fiji, as I did recently, my interest is pricked to find out more about how the community came about, lives and thinks.


The first bunch of Indians arrived in Fiji in 1879 on a ship sailing from the French Reunion Islands where the Indians had served for some time as indentured laborers.  English cane planters had approached the government of India since the early 1870s for permission to import coolies but had been informed this would not be possible unless and until Fiji became a British colony.  As soon as this imperial event took place, Indians from all up and down the eastern coast of India began being recruited as girmityas (indentured workers). Calcutta, Madras and even Karachi and Bombay became embarkation ports for Indians of many castes and faiths, headed for a new life across the ‘black waters’.


Life in Fiji was not happy. It was hell, in fact.  Conditions were extremely tough and wages just above subsistence. Suicide rates were high. When the indenture period was complete, the British gave the Indians the right to return home on the condition they paid their own passage.  Most were unable to put the fare together and so never returned. Others took the opportunity to set up small businesses or work their own plots. Some married with indigenous islanders. Between 1879 and 1916 over 60,000 Indians were transported to the islands and today they number nearly 400,000 or nearly 40% of Fiji’s population.


Much of the Fijian economy is controlled or managed by Indians, including recent immigrants from Gujarat and Punjab, while the indigenous population jealously guards its control of the political system.  Since 1987 when the first of two major military coups ousted what were perceived to be a ‘pro-Indian’ governments, many Indo-Fijians have emigrated to North America, New Zealand and Australia.


Though the Indian community comes from many parts of India, few have retained fluency in their original tongues. While most Indians speak English the community’s unifying language is Fiji-Hindi.  Most Indo-Fijians have never been to the land of their father’s and if my conversations with taxi drivers and colleagues are anything to go by, most are only vaguely interested. Some have suggested they are possessed by a deep unconscious anger against their homeland for having in some way abandoned them.  Other scholars have pointed out that as the generations pile up, a diaspora’s links to the ancestral lands grow weaker.  They may inhabit a cultural space that has strong and numerous attributes of their original ‘home’—language, food, social relations—but they remain firmly rooted in their ‘new world’.


Indo-Fijian culture in certain respects seems to me, an infrequent and distant observer, to be frozen in time.  Fiji-Hindi and the way in which it is spoken, strikes me as a rather simplified version of the language you hear in India. I hear the same accents and rhythms of Bhojpuri speakers from Eastern UP or Garhwali speakers from the northern hills of India as they try to speak shudh (pure) Hindi. And considering that a significant percentage of Indo-Fijians originated in non-Hindi speaking parts of India this is not surprising.


And the music we share tonight, some lokgeet (folk songs), has a rawness that seems to be completely unaware of the development of modern ways of singing and playing.  It is not at all difficult to imagine these songs, sung with great gusto by one ‘Jet’ Shri Krishna, being sung exactly the same way in the mid-19th century.  That the name of the album is subtitled, ‘Modern Modern Samadhi’ seems to indicate a deliberate sense of ironic humour on Shri Krishna’s part.  Check out the position of his hand and the slight smile on his face.


Unlike the Indian diaspora in the Caribbean that has given the world the completely unique chutney music, Indo-Fijians seem to relish taking comfort in the security of the familiarity of the traditions of their grandfathers.  They used to say that the Anglo-Indians of India were more English then the English themselves.  And in this lively homespun music from the little Fiji islands, you can hear a gritty folk sensibility that is rarely heard even in India.



Jet Shri Krishna Jet Shri Krishna_0001

Track Listing:

01 Sumiro Devi Maiya Aap Ka

02 Mitti Khodan Chale Shakiya

03 Hardi Lagi Hai Aaj

04 Lawa bhuja Bahiniya Re

05 Raja Dasrat Lekar Barat

06 Raja Janak ki Pyari

07 Jalso Bada Nek Lage

08 Maiya ke Godiya

09 Modern Modern Samdhi

10 Samidhi Tor Bahini

11 Samidhi Aave Kahe (feat. Rakesh Chand Bobby)