Honouring art and artistes

August 30, 2020

Abida Parveen, the leading vocalist of the country for the last 30 years, has transitioned from a very Sindhi ang to one that is more standardized

Abida Parveen, Mahjabeen Qazilbash, Asif Ali Santoo, Ali Zafar, Fayyaz Khan Khaweshgi, Krishen Gee, Zulfiqar Ali Lund and instrument-maker Daryan Khan were picked for awards in the list announced on the Independence Day.

Abida Parveen gets a Nishan-i-Imtiaz for creating a style that brings the Sindhi kafi in synch with contemporary times. It is difficult to ascertain how the kafi was sung in Sindh in olden times. The contribution of the Ustad Banne Khan family to the genre is immense. He was probably invited by the court of Khairpur in the nineteenth century. Ustad Manzoor Ali Khan was the dominant figure in the later part of the twentieth century. His musical legacy could be heard in the gaiki of Muhammad Yousaf, Anwar Bistro, Gulzaar and Muhammad Jumman and is quite evident in Abida Parveen.

The singing ang of kafi varies as a continuum from central Punjab to its southern part, then upper Sindh and then the lower one. Though not properly placed in a chronology, it appears that Shah Hussain’s kafis were sung first. The text of Shah Hussain’s kafis has been discovered and reclaimed from Sindh. The same kafis had been transmitted orally from generation to generation in the Punjab. This must have been made possible by a large community of singers. However, many questions are still unanswered: who were the most outstanding singers of the kafi that made this transmission of musical expression possible and how was the kafi sung? This is a difficult question to answer yet again. Much later, in the nineteenth century, it is said that Khawaja Ghulam Fareed was greatly enamoured of the singing of Aliya Fhatoo, the duo of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and Ustad Ali Bakhsh, popularly known as Karnail and Jarnail, the founders of the Patiala Gharana. It is said that Ali Bakhsh, the father of Barre Ghulam Ali Khan, who was also a shagird of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, was a great exponent of the kafi. Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, too, was also a great kafi singer; as was Barre Ghulam Ali Khan.

Inayat Bai Dherowali was one of the most outstanding kafi singers of her time. In the recent past, Zahida Parveen was absolutely brilliant in her rendition. Ali Bakhsh Zahoor, too, was a great exponent of the kafi and so was Sain Akhter Hussain. Hussain Bakhsh Dhadhi, a shagird of Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, too, is an outstanding exponent of the kafi as was Tufail Niazi. Hamid Ali Bela is also quite evocative in his rendition of Shah Hussain.

Abida Parveen has now been acknowledged as the leading vocalist of the country for the last 30 odd years. During the time, her voice has transitioned from a very Sindhi ang to one that is more standardized. The two have their own virtues: the intensely local expression in music is highly valued and is supposed to be the essence of a culture. The takers of this kind of music are connoisseurs and purists; those that value the particularities of a culture and are fearful of outside influences totally neutralizing its peculiar sonic culture. On the other hand, the more standardized expression has a greater appeal for the major cross section of population or listening public and is more influenced by the extant trends popular at the time. Such popularity usually is based on a number of external influences.

The evaluation of this depends on our vantage point. Those wanting more Pakistani characteristics into a musical expression may welcome the more standardized version while those positioning local expression call it a compromise, a dilution or surrender to popular whims sacrificing the purity of music.

Ali Zafar has been the vocalist of the new generation. In a way he had revived the tradition of the singing star. In the theatre in the subcontinent, and later the talkies, the singing stars became heroes as well because the most important and critical dimension of the cinema back then was singing. Gradually acting became a highly skilled discipline, but the legacy of the singing star stretches beyond the limitations of technology. KL Saigal continued to sing after the introduction of playback for himself as did Suraiya, Khurshid, Kishore Kumar and above all Noor Jehan. Later, Noor Jehan and Kishore Kumar sang for others. Ali Zafar has acted in both in India and Pakistan and has a fan following that has given him the status where he can be awarded the Pride of Performance.

Muhammad Ai Shehki introduced a form of singing and a performance style that was then becoming popular in the West. There was plenty of movement in the way he performed and many thought that this was not be possible because singing and exaggerated moves on stage did not go well together for singing involves the holding of the breath. But with help from technological breakthroughs, it became easier for singers to prance about on stage while lip-synching the song. Thirty years ago, he was popular with youngsters who wanted to make a song into a physical performance as well.

Mahajabeen Qazilbash was a very popular vocalist and was brave enough to perform in her native language. In a conservative society performing artistes are always in the eye of the storm. If it is a woman, she is targeted for her gender as well as what she does. Even her personal life is on the edge.

It is heartening that an instrument-maker, too, has been recognised this time. Instrument makers are the unsung heroes of music. They create music by working very closely with renowned singers. The traditional instrument makers are particularly under threat because the technological innovations and computer generated sounds have changed intonation and the process of creating music is now different from earlier times. It is important to save the craft of making traditional instruments and the only way to do so is to save the craftsman.

Darya Khan has been assiduously pursuing his craft to ready it to be transformed into art in the hands of a master musician.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore

Honouring art and artistes