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. Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan [Classical Vocal]
  51. Bashir Ali Mahi [Light Classical Vocal/ thumri]

 

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.

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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.

download

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

 

 

A Working Class Hero is Something to Be: Attaullah Khan Niazi ‘Issakhelvi’

Working Class Hero

Working Class Hero

I have written about Attaullah Khan Niazi ‘Issakhelvi’ in an earlier post. Since blasting out of the rural district of Mianwali (ancestral home of cricket king Imran Khan) in the 1970s and 80s, Attaullah Khan has lit up the Pakistani music scene like few before him.  His audience is distinctly South Asian, whether on the sub-continent, or in the diaspora.  More specifically, the Punjabi and Seraiki speaking communities adore this man’s music, which comes directly from the heart and plays on the holy trinity of themes of South Asian mohabbat  (love): intimate, lost and longed for.

 

Sher Shah Suri

Sher Shah Suri

The Niazis are a tribe of the larger ethnic group known as the Pathans.  Originally from the  Eastern regions of what is now Afghanistan over the centuries the Niazis, migrated eastward into what are now known as NWFP and Punjab provinces of Pakistan.  The history of the Niazis, is an interesting one. Related to the Afghan nobles, Sher Shah Suri and the house of the Lodhis, they trace their geneaology  to the grand patriarch of all Pathans, Qais Abdur Rashid, who in turn claimed direct descent from the Biblical Israelite King Saul.

 

Indeed, many Pathans, and many Niazis too, persist in a rather odd (considering contemporary global political realities) claim that they are one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel.

While historically dubious, elaborate histories have been constructed in an attempt to provide evidence of what assumes is regarded as a special and meritorious ancient identity.

 

Attaullah Khan Niazi

Attaullah Khan Niazi

Whether Attaullah Khan believes this legend or not, I don’t know. And who cares? I just thought it was interesting to mention by way of illustration of the unexpected twists and turns of history.  Essakhelvi himself was born (1951) with a love of music, though coming from a tough, martial tribe, ‘singer’ was not a career one spent much time talking about in public.  Indeed, the secret of his music lessons and practice eventually came to the knowledge of his family and he was disowned.  On his own, Attaullah had enough presence of mind though, to complete a basic education and graduate from high school.

 

When he was 21 he got a chance to sing on Radio Pakistan (Bahawalpur Center) and a popular TV variety show Neelam Ghar.  Though his family still refused to embrace him, he persisted, and in the late 70’s/early 80s was performing for homesick Punjabis in the UK.  Back in Pakistan his fame washed over the country, thanks to a new and affordable technology, the cassette tape.  His live shows, one of which I attended on a cold winter evening in Islamabad, were always very lively.  Khan’s approach to singing is straightforward: sing your bloody heart out and wear your emotions on your sleeve.  He eggs his audience on with sly turns of phrase and exaggerated moans and sighs and quickly heads to the very top of his vocal range where he remains for most of the song.  In combination, these ornaments have the effect of driving his audience, (mostly lower and middle class working men) towards ecstasy.

 

Having said all that, he does have a very nice voice and knows how to use it.  While he is best loved for his upbeat, jaunty numbers, when he turns his attention to a ghazal or a folky interpretation, his voice is just as expressive and moving.  

 

His FB page claims “He has recorded more than 40,000 songs in 7 different languages.”   For your listening pleasure I’ve selected just 13 of those songs and three languages to share with you today.  The selection covers some early folk songs (Balo Batiyaan Way Mahi) from Pakistan TV where he (and so many others) got his first mass exposure, through a couple of the big hits  (Ni Uthan Wale Tur,Aankh Mein Naqsh-e-Jannat), to a recent appearance on the famous and fabulous Coke Studio Show (Pyaar Naal). 

 

The title of the selection refers to the opening number Isa Khel Door te Nahin (Isa Khel is Not Far Away).  There was a period of about 20 years, before King MP3, when every long haul truck, every interstate bus, every local taxi, every wagon (mini-bus) that plied the roads of Pakistan had, not just one, but several tapes of Attaullah Khan Niazi, or simply, Issakhelvi, in the glove box. 

 

Get ready for it!

 Issakhelvi

Track Listing:

01 Isa Khel Door te Nahin

02 Nain Marjaane

03 Ni Uthan Wale Tur

04 Khol Surahi Pyare Saqi

05 Aankh Mein Naqsh-e-Jannat

06 Chimta Taan Wajda

07 Yeh Bahar ke Zamana

08 Dard to Rukhne ka Ab Naam Nahi Leta

09 Taud ke Dil Pachtana Kaisa

10 Pyaar Naal

11 Balo Batiyaan Way Mahi

12 Bismillah Karan

13 Tumhare Shehr ka Mausam

 

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