Lingering a bit too long over the washing: Attalluah Khan Niazi ‘Issakhelvi’

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The meme that fronts this post sums up the music and the artistic persona of Attaullah Khan Niazi ‘Issakelvi’ beautifully.  Khan is shown guiding a motor-rickshaw of the sort found in large numbers in Pakistan’s small to middling towns.  He’s looking for fares in the backlanes, known as galiyan in Punjabi, of one of these towns. Could be Okhara, or Jhang, or his own native Mianwali. The narrow brick streets are (unbelieveably) depicted vacant of all other human and animal life. [Its as if the Prime Minister is expected for a local visit the place is so spic and span.] But these are the home neighborhoods of millions of Pakistani workers and urban migrants who exist in the category sociologists like to call ‘working class’ or ‘lower middle class’ or ‘proletariat’.  Just ahead of him a beautiful Punjabi housewife lingers a bit longer than necessary with the day’s washing, waiting for the handsome Issakhelvi’ to perhaps chat her up. Maybe he will try to give her a ‘lift’.

Attaullah Khan, more than any other singer of his generation, holds a special place in the heart of working class Pakistani Punjabis. His songs of love (lost, wanted, faithful, ideal and betrayed) have given men courage and women hope for nearly nearly 40 years now. He sings (or did before the likes of the movies, VCDs and Coke Studio got hold of him) with a fully open heart and voice. Why his audience love him is, he is as authentic as hard day’s work and plays no games. What you see is what you get. And as millions of his fans know, there is a helluva a lot of get from this truly unique Pakistani folk singer.

Meri Pasand, the title of this collection originally issued on cassette,  means ‘my choice’.  And whether indeed it is true that Khan selected these tracks or, whether some narrow-tied junior executive in Karachi did the honours,  it does not matter.  If you are in the market for the ‘essential’ short collection of Issakhelvi’s magic then this is it.  There are many songs that don’t make this edition and there are more comprehensive box sets out there, but if you could have but one single album of his in your library then this is the one to get.

The sound quality is very high thanks to the boys at EMI Pakistan and the track list captures Khan during his most powerful and influential 1980s phase. He sings in Punjabi, Urdu and his native Seraiki and amply demonstrates his ability to sing in a variety of styles and induce multiple emotions.

This is pure gold. And definitely worth hanging out in the galiyan waiting for him to pass by.

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Track Listing:

01 Chan Kithan Guzari

02 Dil Lagaya Tha

03 We Bol Sanun

04 Balo Batyan

05 Donon Ko Aasaki Na

06 Lalai Tun Mundri

07 Bannu Dee Mehndi

08 Ni Uthan Waley

09 Kherey Heer Nun

10 Be Dard Dhola

AKNI

 

 

Field Recordings: Sufi Songs from Sindh and Punjab

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I see its been quite a while since the last post. Indeed, my posts have become as infrequent as Halleys Comet over the past many months, not due to any slackening of interest or desire in music but rather through a necessary focus on a whole bag of other projects and issues. But in the past few weeks I’ve come into possession of some excellent South Asian music which I’m looking forward to sharing.

First off the rank is a small collection of field recordings from Sindh and Pakistani Punjab. Billed as ‘Sufi music’ this majmua’h is more accurately a sampler of folk music from those ancient fabled lands. The performers are all relatively unknown beyond the districts in which they live or wander and their performances are completely natural, raw and uninhibited. As the singer Fatah Daudpoto says in his introduction to Aa Mil Yaara (Track 4) ‘I’m a folk singer and folk music is direct. Not mechanical or digital.’ Which is similar to the adamant statement (and album title) of the old blues guitarist Mississippi Fred McDowell ‘I do not play no rock n roll’.

These recordings are made on site, live and several of the tracks include ambient sounds and whisperings from those in the crowd.  In many instances, especially tracks like #9 and #6, I am reminded of the soundtrack to the wonderful film Latcho Drom, about gypsies and their music. These songs have that same electric ‘chaos barely under control’ feeling.  My only complaint is that most of the tracks are too short which clearly is a decision made by the producers of the album and not the artists themselves who were barely allowed to pick up a head of steam.

Still, a wonderful little collection to add to your collection of South Asian/ Pakistani/ Punjabi/Sindhi folk music.

Ishq ke Maare_ Sufi Songs from Sindh and Punjab

Track Listing

1 Intro – Damadam Mast Qalandar [Ustad Aacher and Party]

2 Jo Tera Gham Na Ho [Kalyam Sharif Qawwali Troupe]

3 Aahe Arman Ajeebon [Meeh Wasaiyo]

4 Aa Mil Yaara [Fatah Daudpoto]

5 Sur Rano [Latif Sarkar]

6 Sehra [Basheer Haidari and Nazira Bano]

7 Aarfana Kalaam [Shazia Tarannum]

8 Mahi Yaar Di Gharoli Bhardi – Raag Jog [Babu]

9  Shah Jo Raag [Sain Juman Shah and Fakirs]

10 Ayman Kalyan Raag [Ghulam Arshad]

11 Kalaam of Bulle Shah [Unknown]

SUFI

Jogi Man: Ram Narata

 

Ram Narata Jogi

It would be hard to find more basic music than this.  A man with a voice of limited range and no smoothness playing a one-stringed homemade instrument accompanied by a friend or two on hand drums.

Ram Narata is (possibly, was) a jogi. A wandering spiritual seeker, probably mystical in his understanding but Hindu in his vocabulary, he was more than 90 when he made this recording.

The songs he sings cover the bases from tragic love stories (Sassi Pannu and Sohni Mahiwal) to earthy spirit melodies.

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bandeya-back

Track Listing:

01 Changa

02 Tara Rani

03 Kaula

04 Ishq Nu Chhed Na Bethi

05 Puttar Ka Vardan

06 Duniya De Mele

07 Sassi Puno – Jogi

08 Sohni Mahiwal – Jogi

 

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The (very recent) Roots of Bhangra: Jagat Ram Lalka

Bhangra: Punjab's essential traditional dance

Bhangra: Punjab’s essential traditional dance

Ram Jagat Lalka whose work we feature this evening is a proud exponent of the musical tradition of the Bazigar people of northern India (mainly Punjab). By traditional we should not assume that this is a stagnant form of museum piece music that has been passed down from time immemorial. Rather, I use the term traditional in reference to the Bazigar people and the way in which they have adopted and adapted their culture to circumstances (many of them traumatic) while remaining broadly true to their original tribal roots.

Jagat Ram Lalka. The turban does not signify adherence to Sikhism but rather is a cultural expression of Bazigar identity.

Jagat Ram Lalka. The turban does not signify adherence to Sikhism but rather is a cultural expression of Bazigar identity.

The Bazigars are a group of originally nomadic, gypsy like people who congregated in the northern and central parts of Punjab in districts that were included in Pakistan in 1947. When that fateful line in the sand was drawn and loyalties were forced upon people, the Bazigars, who broadly identified as Hindu/Sikh even though their spiritual beliefs included elements of Islam as well, felt compelled to move eastward. Today they live mainly in and around Chandigarh and Patiala and have been forced to abandon their itinerant lifestyle in favor of a more settled existence.

Bazi is a Persian term for ‘play’. Gar is the Persian suffix that denotes a ‘do-er’. Bazigar is a common Hindi/Urdu/Punjabi word which loosely translates to acrobat or jester, clown or contortionist. And in that way carries a derogatory connotation.   The Bazigar people themselves, however call themselves Goaar and trace their lineage back to the late 18th century. They speak their own dialect as well as a ‘secret’ language (that hits the ‘suspicious’ button of outsiders) which they refer to as Parsi or Pashto, but which in fact is neither.

Historically the Goaars claim to be high born people but have lived and earned their living on the edges of ‘respectable’ society. Mainly as nomadic herders and seasonal agricultural workers they supplemented their income as dancers, musicians (especially dhol players and singers), magicians and acrobats. Like other communities across India and Pakistan that provide specialized ‘cultural’ services to others, the Bazigar/Gooar performed at weddings and celebrations and were sought out as master drummers.

Originating, most scholars believe, in the western deserts of Rajasthan, they moved freely and frequently across what are now the border districts of Pakistan and India but were compelled to settle down in ‘colonies’ when access to their ancestral homes around Sahiwal, Faisalabad, Gujrat and Sialkot (all in Pakistan) was blocked after the departure of the British. In Independent India they continued to pursue their varied livelihoods but eventually merged into the ‘mainstream’ as farmers, small shopkeepers and other professions.

India, like most de-colonized countries, made a concerted effort in the first decades after Independence, to create a public consciousness about what it meant to be Indian. And perhaps a bit surprisingly, part of that agenda stressed the diversity of India’s many regions. Each year in January in the capital, dance and music troupes from all across India swarmed to New Delhi to perform as part of the celebration of this new nation. From Punjab, the organizers and cultural barons recruited Bazigars as dancers and drummers to represent ‘traditional’ rural Punjabi society. Pleased for the gig Goaars eagerly agreed and put together snippets of various dances and musical styles they remembered from the former days back in the west.   Initially these were presented blandly as “Male dance from Punjab” or “Ladies Marriage Dance”, but by the late 60s were being referred to as bhangra. And of course, if there is a single Indian folk dance style that is known around the world it is bhangra. I am one of those who assumed that this colourful harvest dance was as ancient as the Siwalik mountains. But like so much about India, I have been surprised: this phenomenon now almost synonymous with Punjab and Sikhs is but 50 years old!

Jagat Ram Lalka

Jagat Ram Lalka

Jagat Ram Lalka was born in 1952 and has maintained his identify and secured his living as a performer. In this collection put out by the great label De Kulture (Jaipur) he provides a glimpse into several musical styles of his people: ghidda, sammi (originally a wedding dance exclusively for women) and dostango all accompanied with amazing rhythms from the dhol and tumbi.

For an in-depth article on the Goaar click the link. It is a fascinating insight into a small corner of Indian folk culture.

Zindabad!

Made In Punjab

Track Listing:

01 Jaimal Fatta – Ambala

02 Mirza Ki Vaar

03 Vir Jodh

04 Pir Muradia

05 Sassi

06 Dhol Sammi

07 Kahan Marke Rona Malki

08 Ranjhu

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Words of Worship: Devotional Music of the Sikhs

Shabad Devotional Music of Sikhs_0003

Shabad is a term that comes from the Sanskrit, shabd, which means ‘word’. Shabad has become the name of a special genre of devotional music particularly of the Sikhs, and is often used translated into English as ‘hymn’.

 

In Sikhism the term shabad has two primary meanings. The first context of the term is to refer to a hymn or paragraph or sections of the Holy Text that appears in Guru Granth Sahib. The main holy scripture of the Sikhs is Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS.) Guru Granth Sahib Ji is organised by chapters of Ragas, with each chapter containing many shabads of that Raga. The first Shabad in Guru Granth Sahib is the Mool Mantar. The script used for the Shabad is Gurmukhi. The second use of the term Shabad within Sikhism is for the holy name of God, Waheguru. (Wikipedia)

Shabad Devotional Music of Sikhs_0002Shabad Devotional Music of Sikhs_0004 Shabad Devotional Music of Sikhs_0005

Tonight we share a wonderfully soothing set of Sikh shabad, performed (lead vocal) by Dr. Gurnam Singh. These hymns seem to be structured with the intention of preparing the singer and listener’s heart and spirit for meditation and spiritual reflection.  The effect is reassuring. If you’ve ever entered a gurdwara a Sikh temple of worship this is the sort of sound you will hear. Simple but moving.

Shabad Devotional Music of Sikhs Shabad Devotional Music of Sikhs_0001

Track Listing:

01 Sodat Ki Chowki

02 Aasa Raag- Partal

03 Aasa Raag – Kabir Vaani

04 Sri Raag

 

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