Living legend wants state to preserve classical music

Published December 31, 2014
Ustaad Shafqat Ali Khan performing in Chakwal. —Dawn
Ustaad Shafqat Ali Khan performing in Chakwal. —Dawn

CHAKWAL: Whether Ustaad Shafqat Ali Khan’s skilled powerhouse vocals present the Raag Aimen or Khwaja Ghulam Farid’s Punjabi verses, listeners find themselves connecting with the depths of emotion.

When he travels to India, this legendary singer receives a warm welcome but here in his own country he is disappointed over the plight of classical music and its singers. This scion of the famous house of classical music, Shaam Chorasi, is the custodian of a four hundred year legacy. This line of musicians began with Mian Chand Ali Khan and Mian Suraj Ali Khan who used to quell the heart and soul of Mughal Emperor Akbar by singing for him.

Today he is recognised as one of the best classical musicians alive but he appears dejected over the callousness of the Pakistani state towards the promotion and preservation of classical music.

Talking to Dawn after a performance at a concert in Chakwal, Khan expresses dissatisfaction with the performance of government-run cultural institutions. “Men with a background in agriculture have been given the task of promoting and preserving culture,” he quipped.

The government awarded him with Pride of Performance in 2009 but he feels that in practical terms, nothing is ever done to truly promote classical music. “India has honoured my father and uncle by introducing the ‘Nazakat Salamat Award’ which is awarded annually on the occasion of ‘Nazakat Salamat Mela’ held in our native village Sham Chorasi in the Hoshiarpur district of India. Here in my own country, rulers remain apathetic towards singers like me,” he said.

Shafqat Ali Khan who trained in classical music with his legendary father Ustad Salamat Ali Khan travels all over the world to perform. “If classical singers do not go abroad to perform, they would die from hunger,” he said.

“I fail to understand where the funds given to art councils go as these councils are doing nothing for classical music and singers,” he said.

He said that in India there are reserved seats in parliament for artists but in Pakistan nothing is done for genuine artists. In India honorary doctorate degrees are awarded to artists but no such honour is bestowed in Pakistan,” he lamented.

“I was well-settled in United States but on my father’s order I returned to dedicate my life to classical music,” he said. “All classical singers and other persons related to this music should be given monthly stipends as you cannot earn enough through music as this music is not commercial,” he said.

“An artist is an ambassador of his country who presents a positive image of his country abroad but unfortunately our rulers are failing to cash in on this,” he added.

Khan proposes that musical concerts should be held in small towns. “I feel great pleasure when performing in Chakwal as people here have great respect for classical music,” he said.

Khan revealed that the upcoming Indian movie ‘Raqs’ by the famous director Muzaffar Ali features a duet sung by him and Shreya Ghoshal.

“I have also composed music for the film which is a remake of ‘Amrao Jan Ada’,” he disclosed. Khan calls for friendly relations between India and Pakistan.

“Our music, our culture and traditions are the same and they cannot be separated through boundaries. Only friendly relations between the two countries can guarantee prosperity and peace for people of both countries,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2014

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