Gharanon ki Gayaki: Roshan Ara Begum

Roshan Ara Begum

Roshan Ara Begum

The girl who would one day be known as Roshan Ara Begum was born in Calcutta, the great cultural capital of Bengal, in or around 1916. Her real name was Wahid-un-Nissa. Her mother Chanda Begum was in those days a well-known singer, who early on spotted in her daughter the singing talent. Consequently, the young Wahid-un-Nissa was sent to one Mumtaz Hussein and then to one Laddan Khan for vocal training. The child was precocious, but even then it took 10 full years of rigorous practice before she was ready for the stage.

 

In those days Calcutta was the center of artistic life in North India, owing to its status as the first British-colonial city in the land. This is where some of the first Indian films were made; this is also where HMV’s first recordings of Indian vocalists took place. (The first Indian singer ever to be recorded was a famous courtesan by the name of Gauhar Jaan Calcutta-wali.)

 

It was in this busy and bustling Calcutta that the young Roshan Ara Begum made her singing debut. At once she was noticed: her incredible command of raags and the lightning-fast speed with which she rendered them marked her out as a discernibly accomplished singer. And at such a young age! Instantly she began to tour the country, lighting up mehfils in Bihar and Bengal. In those days she was singing everything: raags as well as thumris, ghazals and geets, and was recording at all the big radio stations of India. Her name was announced on the radio as ‘Bombay-wali Roshan Ara Begum’ because she had married a Punjabi police officer who was stationed in those days at Bombay. (It is said that they lived in a large colonial bungalow.)

Abdul Karim Khan

Khansahib Abdul Karim Khan

 

It is around this time, in the early 1930s, that the great Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, a singular and eccentric genius of his generation of singers, heard the young woman’s rendition of Raag Multani and decided to take her under his wing. So, at the peak of her career, Roshan Ara  humbly submitted herself to the ageing Ustad’s mentorship. She learned from him for just a few years, but it was enough to give her the golden polish of the Kirana Gharana’s style of singing, in which sur or ‘truth of intonation’ stands above every other aim.

 

In the 1940s Roshan Ara  was singing for radio as well as film. Just before Partition, she had scored a hit with her song ‘Des ki pur kaif rangin si fizaaein’, which was part of the score for film ‘Jugnu’, in which the young Noor Jehan had acted. (Noor Jehan was insanely jealous of Roshan Ara ’s singing abilities. But her jealousy is said to have vanished on the day she met Roshan Ara, who was unusually sweet and generous in appearance as well as demeanour.)

 

The Partition of the Indian subcontinent flung Roshan Ara far away from her cosmopolitan life. She ended up residing with her husband at Lalamusa, a small, nondescript town in West Punjab. It was here that Roshan Ara spent the rest of her life. A citizen now of Pakistan, she would come down to Lahore to participate in concerts. In Pakistan too she was widely accepted as the best and brightest of singers. Her renditions in particular of the raags Shankara, Shuddh Kalyan, Maru Bihag and Kedara were awe-inspiring. [All are captured in these volumes]

 

nat02In fact, if there was any comparison to be made with a contemporary of hers, it was with Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. I remember one occasion on which the two great singers happened to share a stage. It was one of Radio Lahore’s annual Jashn-e-Baharan festivals of the 1950s, and it spanned over 7 days. On the first day Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan rendered his favourite Raag Malkauns with full vigour and strength, and after him Roshan Ara  sang her own favourite Raag Shankara with zeal and aplomb. The audience was riveted by both performances; there was no agreement about whose song was superior. The next evening Roshan Ara was scheduled to sing first, and she picked Raag Basant. Now it was the month of March, and Lahore was drenched in the smells and colors of spring. Roshan Ara ’s rendition of the taunting-joyous raag seemed to dance with the elements, and was so enchanting that the audience threw flowers on her while she was singing. Next up was Bade Ghulam Ali, and though he tried his very best to continue in that vein of delicacy and enchantment with an accomplished rendition of Raag Kafi Kanra, he could not even enter, let alone break, the spell cast by his magical predecessor. In the end the great Ustad was compelled to praise and bless Roshan Ara Begum before the audience; and she stooped to his knees in a gesture of humility and graciousness.

 

Unlike other famous women singers of the time, Roshan Ara Begum was not physically beautiful. She was short, dark and fat, and had a large nose. But everyone agreed that when she began to sing, her voice, which had in it the essence of womanhood, would issue from her mouth like a sacred light and transform her whole appearance, giving her a luster that can only be described as queenly. That she was eventually bestowed with the title of ‘Malika-e-Mauseeqi’ (Empress of Music) is a testament not only to her singing talent but also to the effect it had on her audiences, who became her subjects of sorts.

 

Towards the end of her life Roshan Ara Begum spent more and more time in Lalamusa. The dark age of General Zia-ul-Haq had begun, and musicians of all kinds were adversely affected by the new religious-minded agenda that was being peddled on radio and television. At home Roshan Ara spent time with birds, cats and all the other animals that she kept as pets. In a TV interview from that time, when asked to comment on the potential of young singers in Pakistan, she replied that the new generation was too impatient and distracted to pursue the musical tradition. And indeed she was right: when she died in 1984, a whole era of superior singing came to an end, not just in Pakistan but in the whole of the Indian subcontinent. [from Friday Times]

 

Kirana Gharana

 

The origin of the Kirana gharana is shrouded in an air of mystery and, to some extent, controversy. It is generally believed that Gopal Nayak, a contemporary of Amir Khusrau, is the fountainhead of the gharana. He lived on the banks of the Jumna River in a town called Dutai. Later, when Dutai was ravaged by floods he moved inland to Kirana, a small town in the Muzaffarnagar district. He is believed to have embraced Islam. Four different offshoots of the Kirana dynasty are claimed to have descended from him. One of the branches boasts of great names like Ustad Azim Baksh, Maula Baksh and Abdul Ghani Khan. The second branch is studded with names like Ustad Bande Ali Khan, Nanne Khan, Kale Khan and the legendary Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. Yet another offshoot includes in its Kirana lineage the names of Gafoor Khan, Abdul Wahid Khan, Shakoor Khan, Mashkoor Ali and Mubarak Ali. Finally, the distinguished family tradition of Mehboob Baksh, Rehman Khan, Abdul Majid Khan, Abdul Hamid Khan, Abdul Bashir Khan, followed by his sons Niaz Ahmed and Fayyaz Ahmed Khan, express their allegiance to the Kirana tradition.

 

G_Hangal_500

Gangubai Hangal

The precise roots of the gharana are lost in antiquity and shrouded with controversy. There are some who believe that Ustad Abdul Karim Khan is the true fountainhead of Sawai Gandharva, Roshanara Begum, Balkhshnabuva Kapileshwari, Behrebuva, Sureshbabu Mane and Hirabai Barodekar. From this mainstream of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, in turn, came Pandit Sawai Gandharva whose centenary was recently celebrated with great fete in Bombay, and the ranks of the gharana have swelled, majestically. The leading lights include Gangubai Hangal, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Feroze Dastoor, Dr Prabha Atre and Pandit Sangame-shwar Gaurav. Among their disciples, Krishna Hangal Shrikant Deshpande, Madhav Gudi, Narayanrao Deshpande, Ramkrishna Patwardhan, Milind Chittal and Alka Joglekar have already made their mark and ensured the continued popularity of the gharana.

 

This phenomenal popularity has been achieved through the characteristic expansive alapchari which unfolds the raga note by note with tantalising languor. The induction of sargams was another alankar which Abdul Karim Khan inducted into Hindustani music with a Carnatic flair. Admittedly, the gharana has undergone a vigorous transformation with the vibrant personality of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who has brought into play his own stylistic nuances. It is obvious that the Kirana gharana is riding the wave of popularity. the gharana and the lineage that emanates from him is the main stream of the gharana, while the rest are tributaries. Be that as it may, it is an incontrovertible fact that the Kirana gharana remains the most popular and prolific in the sheer number of its practitioners on the contemporary scene. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan ushered in a new era of romanticism in the rendition of Hindustani classical music which was captivating because it was at once sweet, soothing, serene and sensuous. Although the Ustad’s own singing seemed to lack fullbodied masculine sonorousness, his romanticism won for the Kirana gharana a strong following which included names that have become legends. (Saxonian Folkways)

ghar 5

Track Listing Vol 5:

01 Bhibhas

02 Jaunpuri

03 Basant

04 Bahar

GkGv5RABegum

ghar 6

Track Listing Vol 6:

01 Lalit

02 Bhatiyar

03 Maru Behag

04 Adana

GkGv6RABegum

ghar 7

Track Listing Vol. 7:

01 Kamod

02 Shudh Kalyan

03 Kalavati

04 Anandi

GkGv7RABegum

ghar 8 

Track Listing Vol 8:

01 Des

02 Shankara

03 Nai Ki Kanra

04 Jhinjhoti

GvGv8RABegum

 

 

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A (Genuinely) Rare Treasure: Links to Music Pakistan box set

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In 2006 the semi-government private Pakistani company Shalimar Recording Company issued a boxset of 57 compact discs titled simply Music Pakistan.  Not marketed very well, if at all, it soon disappeared from view without making much of a ripple.   More the pity because this hefty chunk of digitised music is a massive contribution to the documentation and preservation of global musics.

Pakistan embodies a contradictory position as far as music goes.  It’s many regions, language groups and cultures are the source of some of the most profound and rich folk traditions on the planet.  And not just folk.  Pakistani classical musicians, though less well known than their Indian counterparts, are among the best in South Asia’s gharana-based music. And yet, the official music industry (which includes private companies, government and private broadcasters and government policy-makers) of Pakistan has demonstrated only the most cursory interest in preserving and promoting this unique heritage.

A commercial bias toward film music and passive aggressive stance towards classical music which was often dismissed as too much influenced by Hindu cultural antecedents was almost completely ignored. Folk music, always popular outside middle class living rooms, was left to its own devices, thriving or shrivelling depending on circumstances and shifting audiences.

Institutions like Lok Virsa Folk Heritage Institute in Islamabad tried heroically to bring to folk artists and their music to a national and international audience but always struggled to cope with  restrictive budgets, internal politics and a gargantuan task.  In the past decade or so private citizens have made fantastic contributions to reviving classical music by providing venues, events and recording opportunities for the elders as well as a small handful of up-and-comers. The work of Tehzeeb Foundation has been recognised for its quality not just among Pakistani music circles but on the international stage as well. And of course, the efforts of Sachal Studios and the TV hit show Coke Studio to resurrect the careers of Lahore film studio musicians and make folk music palatable to the Millennial Generation respectively are other high points in the revival of interest in Pakistan’s musical heritage.

But so much remains forgotten, undiscovered or simply ignored. The vaults of Pakistan TV and Radio,  recording companies EMI and Polydor not to mention private collections and archives controlled by various provincial governments  are surely bursting with hours and hours of wonderful music. Will it ever be released? My advice is, do not hold your breath.

Within this context then the Music Pakistan Boxset assumes huge significance.  Taken from the vaults of Radio Pakistan, the music on this vast collection covers classical, folk, spiritual (Sufiana), light classical and film music.  With some recordings stretching back to pre-Independence its focus is clearly on the 50s-80s.  Recent pop music, film music beyond Noor Jehan’s singing, qawwali and music from the smaller ethnic groups are sadly not even touched.   Documentation on individual artists is very minimal, the art work lack lustre and information about the tracks (in some instances) less than accurate and inconsistent.

But production values aside the history that is captured in these performances is simply and without exaggeration priceless.  In certain cases, the recordings are extremely rare.  For anyone with an interest at all in Punjabi, Pakistani, Sindhi, South Asian folk and classical music this collection is absolutely indispensable.  One particularly pleasing element of Music Pakistan is the large place given to female singers including: Zahida Parveen, Farida Khanum, Kajjan Begum, Mehnaz, Noor Jehan, Samar Iqbal, Iqbal Bano, Khurshid Begum, Mussarat Nazir and others.    Among the rare recordings are some early post-Independence performances by Ustad Bundoo Khan (sarangi) and Nazakhat and Salamat Ali Khan as young boys.

Sadly, some of the CDs (such as the Nazakhat/Salamat one referred to above) were poorly produced and unplayable! That frustrating inattention to quality and details that characterises bureaucracies with little interest in the work they are charged to carry out!

I was given a copy of the box set soon after it was released by a dear friend and over several years and several blogs have shared them with the wider world.  Throughout this process I have never once felt guilty about doing so, rather have viewed my efforts as altruistic: promoting and keeping alive a rich and diverse tradition of folk and classical music.  You might be able to find some of these CDs elsewhere on the internet but you’re unlikely to find so many in one place.  And while there are outlets that claim they will sell you the full boxset, I’ve not yet found place that actually will.  You will receive either an ‘Out of Stock’ message or be met with total silence.

Of the 57 original CDs I’ve managed to digitise 46.  I’ve made a 47th out of several stray tracks from original CDs that were poorly produced.  Sadly, that leaves 10 of the original, including ghazals by Barkat Ali Khan, light classical performances by Amanat Ali Kasuri and several others by artists I’ve lost track of.  [Confession: it took me a couple years before I understood exactly what I held in my hands and in that time I tossed out CDs that didn’t work! Fool that I am!]

I am trying, through my contacts to get hold of the outstanding 10 CDs and of course will share them if and when I do. But again: do not hold your breath.

Rather than lament on what is missing I invite you to drink deeply of what IS available.

Here are links to all 47 plus 1 CDs.

I have given each a serial number that does NOT correspond to the original.  That is for personal reasons of no particular consequence.  Simply my way of keeping track of this vast and amazing collection.

  1. Ustad Umeed Ali Khan [Raga Kafi Kannada and Raga Emen]
  2. Mohammad Tufail Niazi [Punjabi Folk Songs]
  3. Salamat Ali [Urdu Ghazals]
  4. Ustad Mohammad Sharif Poonchwaley [Classical Sitar] Vol. 1
  5. Sadiq Ali Khan Mando and Master Sohni Khan [Classical Clarinet]
  6. Roshan Ara Begum [Raga Mian ki Malhar, Raga Neki Kannara and Raga Maru Sarang]
  7. Mai Bhaggi [Thar Folk Songs]
  8. Ustad Amanat Ali Khan [Urdu Ghazals]
  9. Ustad Nathoo Khan [Classical Sarangi]
  10. Hamid Ali Bela [Punjabi Sufi Kalam]
  11. Alam Lohar [Punjabi Folk Songs]
  12. Ustad Nazakhat Ali Khan and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan [Raga Abhogi Kanhra and Raga Kamod]
  13. Ustad Bundoo Khan [Classical Sarangi]
  14. Musarrat Nazir [Punjabi Folk and Pop]
  15. Noor Jehan [Film Hits Vol. 1] and [Vol. 2]
  16. Saeen Ditta Qadri [Classical Flute/Bansuri]
  17. Ijaz Hussain Hazarvi [Punjabi Ghazals]
  18. Farida Khanum [Urdu Ghazals Vol. 1]
  19. Farida Khanum [Urdu Ghazals Vol. 2]
  20. Mukhtar Begum [Ghazals, Dadra and Thumri]
  21. Saeen Marna and Munir Sarhady [Iktara and Sarinda]
  22. Mohammad Jumman and Allan Faqir [Punjabi Folk]
  23. Reshma [Thar Folk Songs]
  24. Ustad Munawar Ali Khan [Classical Vocal]
  25. Iqbal Bano [Thumris]
  26. Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and Ustad Fateh Ali Khan [Raga Bageshri, Raga Multani, Raga Gujri Todi and Raga Pooria]
  27. Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and Ustad Fateh Ali Khan [Raga Des, Raga Barbari, Raga Megh, Raga Malkauns and Raga Kedara]
  28. Iqbal Bano [Urdu Ghazals Vol.1]
  29. Iqbal Bano [Urdu Ghazals Vol.2]
  30. Abida Parveen [Sufi Kalam]
  31. Pathane Khan [Punjabi Sufi Kalam]
  32. Ustad Mohammad Sharif Khan Poonchwaley [Classical Sitar Vol. 2]
  33. Faiz Mohammad Baloch [Balochi Folk Songs]
  34. Mehnaz and Kajjan Begum [Folk Songs]
  35. Suriaya Multanikar [Punjabi Folk Songs]
  36. Kheyal Mohammad [Pashto Folk Songs]
  37. Ustad Misri Khan Jamali [Alghoza Folk]
  38. Hamid Ali Khan [Urdu Ghazals]
  39. Ghulam Ali [Urdu Ghazals Vol. 1]
  40. Ghulam Ali [Urdu Ghazals Vol.2]
  41. Mehnaz Begum [Urdu Ghazals]
  42. Mehdi Hassan [Urdu Ghazals Vol. 1]
  43. Mehdi Hassan [Urdu Ghazals Vol.2]
  44. Ustad Habib Ali Khan [Classical Been]
  45. Various Artists [Folk Sampler]
  46. Zahida Parveen [Sufi Kalam]
  47. Miscellany [Ustad Amanat Ali Khan Kasuri; Roshan Ara Begum; Bashir Ali Mahi]
  48. Ustad Barkat Ali Khan [Urdu Ghazals]
  49. Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan [Classical Tabla]
  50. Various Artists [Classical & Light Classical Vocal]
  51. Bashir Ali Mahi [Light Classical Vocal/ thumri]
  52. Various Artists [Rare Classical Recordings]
  53. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan [Classical Vocal]
  54. Ustad Nazakhat Ali Khan and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan [Classical Vocal]
  55. Roshanara Begum [Classical Vocal]
  56. Various Artists [Classical Vocal]

 

NOTE: AS AND WHEN THE 10 MISSING DISCS ARE DISCOVERED THEY WILL BE ADDED TO THIS LIST. IF ANYONE IS ABLE TO TRACE ANY OF THEM PLEASE LET ME KNOW.

From the Archives: Roshan Ara Begum and Mai Bhaggi

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A reader contacted me recently and requested that all the old links to the Music Pakistan CD box set (57 of them!) be reactivated in the name ‘of promoting the heritage’.   While the task is somewhat daunting I will do as many of them as I can and today we start with two wonderful female singers, one classical and the other pure folk.

The first, Roshan Ara Begum, was born in Calcutta and pursued a career in the fine art of Hindustani khayal and over her life achieved international acclaim as the maliqa-e-musiqi (Queen of Music).  Today she is remembered as one of great classical vocalists of the Indian subcontinent and indeed, the Queen of Pakistani classical music.

The second woman, Mai Bhaggi, was in many ways the obverse of Roshan Ara Begum. Born on the other side of the country (as both were born before India became three) in the deserts of Tharpakar that straddle northern Sindh and southern Punjab, Mai Bhaggi, was completely untrained. She sang ancient folk songs and poetry of the Sufi saints that she’d learned from her small community and at the many melas (fairs) held at sacred sites throughout the desert. She never travelled abroad and never lost her rustic style. (original post with links)

Enjoy, once again or perhaps for the first time this wonderful music.

From the Archives: Roshan Ara Begum and Mai Bhaggi

imagesApologies for the repeated dips into the back catalogue so to speak with another feature from 2011.  Life is ultra busy at the moment and I’ve no time to post new material but will get around to it soon. In the meantime, enjoy some sublime classical singing from Roshan Ara Begum and hearty raw folk music from Pakistan’s Tharparkar desert.

***^^