Unheard: Punjab

dear hat

One of the best collection of north Indian (mainly Punjabi, Rajasthani and Gujarati) music to have been released in recent years is from the Jaipur-based company Dekulture.

The series of 20+ CDs are beautifully recorded and for the most part field recordings that capture the very much living (but under threat) folk music culture of north western India.  The CDs themselves are gorgeous ornaments in their own right. Beautiful photographs, sparse but informative text and in many cases cloth covers that must make these some of the unusual CDs ever marketed.

All of this should have made them massive hits for collectors of world folk music but alas it seems Dekulture has stopped producing them and very few have ever been sold.  Or at least much fewer than is deserved.

Today we share a collection of Punjabi folk music called UNHEARD PUNJAB.

This album presents authentic music from across Punjab that is unheard of and unknown to the wider audience. Some rare songs belong to traditions that are on the verge of extinction and others belong to new evolving genres and styles that may go on to be popular in the future.

‘Unheard Punjab’ features some of the most accomplished artists of Punjab such as Raza Khan, Sharif Idu, Gurmej Raja, Saida Begum, Shaadi Ram, Hardev Singh and more. Each artist featrued in this album have their own individualistic style belonging to genres such as Sufi and Sikh dhadi, Sufi kalam, qawwali, kafi, jangam, kavishiri and folk musiic. The dialects used in the songs are Malwi, Majhi, Doaba, Pwadhi and Hindi spoken in various parts of the region. Legendary love stories, Sufi kalam, devotional, narration and celebration songs also forms a repertory of this album. (Liner Notes)

There is some truly amazing music here. My favorite is track 6 Lakh Lakh Vadai by Gurumukh.  After some singing comes a truly stunning half-shouted conversation between two men which is full of the same passions you hear in the preaching of African American preachers in the deep south of the United States! A genuinely fascinating interlude! Love it!


Unheard Punjab

Unheard Punjab_0002

Unheard Punjab_0001

Track Listing:

01 Mirza – A Love Story /Sharif Idu

02 Ajnajami/Gurmej Raja

03 Gam Hai Ya Khushi/Raza Khan

04 Ja Ve Ja Jutheyan/Saida Begum

05 Vaar/Dhadhi Jathan

06 Lakh Lakh Vadai/Gurmukh

07 Shiv Parivar Ki Aradhna/Rajendra

08 Puran Bhagat Ki Kahani/Shaadi Ram

09 Na Khandya Noo Jarde/Hardev Singh



Spiritual Love: Tragic Love Songs of Punjab


Sohni crossing the river to Mahiwal

At  the center of Punjabi cultural identity lay the tradition of what are often called ‘tragic love stories‘. These stories of star-crossed (not to mention caste and creed segregated and gender discriminated) lovers are embedded in the psyche, the art, the faiths and the languages of Punjab in a way that very few other stories or traditions in other parts of the subcontinent or indeed, world are.

It is difficult to really separate Punjabi identity from the characters-and all the things they have made to represent-of these stories. This is cultural DNA stuff, the stream from which so much else takes life.

There are many wonderful books and rich articles by the likes of Prof. Christopher Shackle (SOAS)and Farina Mir, just to name two scholars with whose work I’m somewhat familiar, that trace the origins and histories of these stories. Or in the case of Ms. Mir, how Heer Ranjha, perhaps the most popular of the tragic love stories, was used in multiple ways to promote diverse agendas in later 19th century/early 20th century Punjab.   Like all good tales these stories are open to many different readings: political, social, religious, spiritual, feminist, conservative and radical.

And of course all of them have rich musical traditions as well.  People have been singing about these great lovers and their travails for centuries.  And today we share a fantastic collection of songs curated by the good folks of DeKulture (Jaipur) that references several of these folk tales.

The album covers a number of musical styles from dhadhi, qawwali and kafi and spotlights the artistry of a handful of lesser known (by amazing) Indian singers and musicians.

Roohani Ishq

Roohani Ishq_0002

Roohani Ishq_0001

Track Listing:

01. Dhola Maru (Vishan Das and Group)

02. Sohni Mahiwal (Sharif Idu)

03. Sohni da Ghadha (Shaukat Ali Matoie)

04. Kyon Hoon Dad Vatdayen (Gurmej Raja)

05. Tera Pyar Menu (Saida Begum)

06.  Laila Majnu (Shaadi Ram)*

07. Heer Jogi (Narata Ram)

08. Mera Ranjha (Akhtar Ali)

Roohani Ishq

*slight distortion at beginning

Gharanon ki Gayaki: Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan


Ustad Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan

Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan was a fearless and adventrous singer brought up in Kasur, Punjab.  He was born in 1910 at Kasur in a family of professional musicians. He studied music with Ustad Chhajju Khan (later his father-in-law) and Ustad Mian Buddhay Khan Beenkar (a disciple of the Delhi-based Qawwal Bacha clan) and other elders of what was then already being called the Kasur Gharana of singing. Chhotay Ghulam Ali began to sing on the radio-mike soon after its advent in the subcontinent. No music conference was complete without him in those years. And what a sensation he proved to be: a Kasuri lad roaming the whole of undivided India, conquering it wherever he went: Amritsar, Lahore, Delhi, Banares, Calcutta, Bombay. In singing competitions he defeated Ustad Amanat (nephew of Ustad Rajab Ali of Devas state), matched the legendary Ustad Amir Khan of Indore, and became the first and only vocalist from Punjab to take on the untamed Ustad Tawakkal Hussein, the man whose musical genius lives on in Pakistan in the hundreds of melodies composed by his great disciple, the music director Khawaja Khursheed Anwar[read the rest of this very interesting article on Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan]

The Qawwal Bachon gharana as its name (children of the qawwals) suggests is a specialist gharana associated with qawwali. Having said that, it does not follow that all music produced by this group of singers is strictly qawwali, the Sufi-influenced devotional music of South Asia.  Here is a lovely, intimate history of the gharana as told by an insider.

Track Listing:

ghar 13

01 Sohni

02 Deskar

03 Tilak Kamod

04 Naiki


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


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.


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




Field Recordings: Sufi Songs from Sindh and Punjab


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]