Too much loss: Ustad Bade Fateh Ali Khan

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Eighty two years ago Fateh Ali Khan was born into a family of courtly singers in the Indian princely state of Patiala. His father and grandfather had established themselves as prized royal servants and indeed, had been instrumental in founding an entirely new gharana of classical Indian music.

 

The young boy grew up learning the intricacies of khyal and the ancient mode of singing, dhrupad. He was an excellent student. He would sit at the side of his elder brother Amanat Ali to perform for the maharaja who quickly promoted the lads to official positions in the court.

 

The brothers travelled across India to sing at the major music festivals and ‘conferences’ where they wowed the staid and serious audiences. In the rarified world of north Indian classical music, Amanat and his younger brother, Fateh were as close to superstars as you could get.

 

Though they were blessed with golden voices (Fateh specialized in the lower registers, balancing the elegiac tenor of his brother) they shared a curse with an entire generation of Indians.

 

In 1947 their country was divided. A sort of inchoate whirlwind swept up Indians from all across the northern tier of the country and dropped them to earth, crushing families, livelihoods and dreams by the million.

 

Like countless other Muslims, Fateh’s family made its way to a new place called Pakistan, the Land of the Pure, hoping and praying it would a mini paradise on earth.   Whatever the country eventually became, in those early years, Pakistan was in chaos. The country needed administrators, soldiers, judges and teachers. Classical musicians, no matter how gifted, were completely ignored.

 

The family scraped together a meagre living, teaching and performing from time to time. There were offers and invitations from fellow musicians to return to India where at least some musical structures existed. Where audiences still existed. Where patronage still existed.

 

But Fateh and Amanat declined. They stayed loyal to Pakistan and eventually garnered a name for themselves. Radio and then TV welcomed them. Private mehfils were still few and far between but at least they were singing and recording.

 

Disaster struck again in 1974 when Amanat by now one of Pakistan’s most loved and accomplished voices, passed. Fateh sank into despair. In a grand gesture he refused to sing for several years, and when he at last took the stage again, tears stained his cheeks.

 

Yesterday, Fateh Ali Khan himself passed away. His life was bittersweet and touched repeatedly by death. His nephew, Amanat’s son, Asad, himself a master singer passed away at a young age. Despite his lineage, accomplishments and talent, Fateh was never able to make much money as a singer. The old patronage system had died in 1947. The only regular support he could count on was state TV and radio. Hardly enough to raise a family on.

 

He did find audiences outside of Pakistan, not just in India but in Europe, Japan and North America, too. Teaming up with his younger brother, Hamid or his son, Shafqat, Fateh Ali continued to make impressive music for many years.   But a certain sadness accompanied him throughout his life. In his eyes, voice and words there was always the tinge of regret and loss. As if all things irreplaceable had been snatched from him before their time.

 

We will miss you Ustadji.

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Track Listing:

01 Raga Bageshri

02 Raga Naraini

03 Raga Madhmad Sarang

04 Raga Multani

05 Raga Bheemplasi

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From the Archives: Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Ustad Nathoo Khan and Hamid Ali Bela

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Again from the archives of the asli Dhobi ka kuta (original Washerman’s Dog) comes three male artists fro Pakistna.  Two of them are my favorite of any genre or place in the world, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and Hamid Ali Bela.  Sarangi maestro Nathoo Khan (no slouch himself) joins to make this a truly must have post!

X marks the spot!

Simply the Best: Ustad Amanat Ali Khan

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Ustad Amanat Ali Khan of Patiala gharana is in my estimation the greatest Pakistani male singer of the last 50 years.  Fully trained in the classical art of khyal singing, he and his brother Fateh Ali set the Hindustani music world alight as young children.  They continued a highly praised classical partnership throughout their lives, until Amanat Ali passed away very prematurely in 1974.

Sadly, although classical music has deep roots in the territory of what is now known as the country of Pakistan, after Independence most traditional arts fell on hard times as patrons (often wealthy Hindu landlords who moved east to India) abandoned the scene.  The young government of Pakistan had few resources (and, it seems little real desire) to support a lively arts community. Many artists in many fields struggled with the decision to stay in Pakistan or return to India.  The mighty Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan moved between Lahore and Bombay, eventually opting for India. The sarangi maestro Bundoo Khan migrated to Pakistan but often lamented his decision.  Others, such as Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hassan and Iqbal Bano thrived in Pakistan but not as classical singers.

Amanat Ali’s brother Fateh Ali told an interviewer in 1997: “In the 1950s when I was visiting Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali in Bombay with my brother Amanat, he urged us to leave Pakistan and move to India. ‘There are only qawwali listeners in Pakistan, and classical musicians like you will be frustrated because nobody is going to take care of you,” he told us. We didn’t heed his advice. Sometimes, I wish we had.

For me, the Partition was a painful experience. It was a historic compulsion, really, and we went through the motions. Amanat and I were born and bred in the legendary Patiala gharana of Punjab. We soon followed in the footsteps of our forefathers and when I was 10 I was performing in the court of the Maharaja of Patiala along with my father Ali Bakhash Jarnail. We were always secure in the thought that the Maharaja would take care of us, but when Sikh goondas attacked us one day, my father decided to troop westwards.

Amanat and I came to Lahore sitting atop a train. Even now, when I travel by train, I always look at the roof and bitter memories come back to haunt me. For someone who had been brought up in considerable comfort, the journey was a nightmare. What I didn’t realise was that there was more horror in store.

More than us, it was our father who was shocked with the treatment we were meted out in a country we thought would be a refuge. Our father, who was so used to performing in a king’s court, now had to go door-to-door give tuitions to feed the family. We helped him along, but I think, he suffered the most because of the Partition. Initially, the whole family subsisted on a paltry Rs. 45 that we earned for each performance on Radio Pakistan. Gradually, as we settled down, we started getting invites from India. This gave us some breathing space. With television’s arrival and thanks to the relatively liberal policies of Gen. Ayub Khan, we had some good times. But after the war we stopped receiving offers from India too, which spelt the doom for our classical art, our music, the only thing we had been trained at as a child.

With the mounting tension between the two states, the struggle for survival intensified. It became difficult for an artist like me to make music in the politically volatile Pakistan of the post-’71 war. I began looking outside Pakistan to keep the rich music tradition of my family alive. Today, I have dozens of pupils spread all over the world and I hold occasional concerts in Europe and North America. Just to keep me going.

I am 64. And I live in one of Lahore’s poor suburbs. Only my god and I know what I have suffered through the years.” Outlook

I love Pakistan, Pakistani people and culture and it is not my intention in this blog to run down any country or person. I share this because even those like myself who studied South Asian History know all about the ‘Partition’ in 1947 but rarely do we get an appreciation for the difficulties normal people, including artists had to face. How their loyalties were torn apart and life made more difficult by the act of Partition.

In any case, both Amanat and Fateh Ali, went on to be embraced not just by audiences in Pakistan but all around South Asia and the world.  And to survive, Amanat took to singing ghazals, thumris and dadras, for TV, radio and film.  His beautiful tenor, tuned to the sophistication of classical singing, set him instantly above most of his peers.  He chose the finest poets to interpret and often decorated his singing with the taans of the true khyal singer.

The songs of this collection were recorded in the 1960s and 70s, when Amanat sahib was at the top of not just his game but of the entire singing game.

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Track Listing:

01 Mora Jiya Na Lage

02 Pyar Nahin Hai Sur Se

03 Dil Mein Meethe Meethe

04 Aalam-O-Masaib Se

05 Piya Nahin Aaye

06 Chup Dhawen Te

07 Mah-E-Nau Ko Kya Pata

08 Piya Deekhan Ko

09 Mujhe Dil Ki Khata Per

10 Kabhi Jo Nikhate Gul

11 Data Tore Dwar

12 Kab Aao Ge

∞