Despite overwhelming odds, the fading light of classical music and dance in our country has managed to still glimmer due to the untiring efforts of a few committed individuals. The ninth outing of Tehzeeb Festival and Awards was heartening to see because it was co-organised by the Arts Council, Karachi, and the audience was also more discerning and genuinely interested in the performances.
The first day of the two-day festival featured budding and blossoming talent in the fields of vocal and instrumental classical and Sufi music. Opening with the young sitarist Turab Ali, accompanied on the tabla by the veteran Ustad Basheer Khan, the tone of the festival was set by the duo’s overall commendable performance.
Speaking at the launch of the book titled Celestial Star — on the life and work of the late sitar maestro Ustad Rais Khan — authors Sharif Awan and S.M. Shahid, along with Arts Council president Ahmed Shah, the late Ustad Rais Khan’s son Farhan Rais Khan and showbiz personality and satirist Anwar Maqsood provided insights into the personality of the late musician. Later, Farhan Rais Khan on the sitar displayed his dexterity on the instrument with Ustad Basheer Khan once again in accompaniment on the tabla. Young classical vocalists Ahsan Ali and Imran Ilyas Khan also mesmerised audiences with their soulful renditions.
The Tehzeeb Festival bravely forges ahead while promoting the cause of classical music and musicians
The interesting and informative session titled Urdu Ghazal Ka Safar curated by Sharif Awan traced the history of ghazal in Pakistan over the last 70 years. Bringing the session to an end were performances by Wahdat Rameez, Intezar Hussain and Ustad Shahid Hamid. However, it left one with the lingering feeling that the ghazal singers should have been given more time. Sufi Sounds — an almost experimental instrumental rendition by Ahsan Bari — brought the first day to a close.
The second day opened on a high note and with arguably the highlight of the two-day festival — a recital titled Taal Ang by the legendary kathak dancer Naheed Siddiqui and sitar player Ustad Nafees Ahmed Khan. I have to say that Naheed proved all her detractors wrong who had felt she may no longer be able to perform the way she could in her prime. Her three performances were spot on. The veteran classical dancer had chosen her themes well, dispensing with those that would require quick and intricate foot movements, and relying instead more on graceful hand movements to tell her story. She was accompanied by Ustad Nafees Khan on the sitar and even those who are not into kathak found the jugalbandi and her movements mesmerising.
For instance, her illustration of the fact that the sound of ghungroo (ankle bells) can be subtly portrayed in kathak, and doesn’t have to be demonstrated by stamping of the feet or loud music, kept everyone riveted to her performance. Another fact that had perhaps passed unnoticed by many in the audience, until Siddiqui pointed it out to their surprise, was that kathak is normally accompanied by the tabla, but the latter had been missing in her performances.
The second part of the evening was the Excellence Awards presented in three disciplines by the Sindh Governor who had shown up earlier with his entourage during Siddiqui’s performance. These went to Ali Abbas for Fine Arts for his paintings of the Thar Desert. The second went to Naheed Siddiqui for Classical Arts and it was also announced that Ahmed Shah has offered her space at the Arts Council for her studio and that Siddiqui had graciously accepted. It looks like we will see much more of this artist in Pakistan from now on. The third award went to Ustad Fateh Ali Khan for his contribution to the field of Classical Music.
The following segment of Rajasthani/Thari folk music saw musicians from Mithi and Umerkot performing separately and then together. It only goes to show how a neglected folk culture can suddenly come into prominence if the corporate world begins to showcase it. An energetic, colourful and boisterous session complete with accompanying dancers, the brilliant artists in the segment included Mithu Faqir, Hakim Faqir, Gulzar Faqir and Mai Jeni. The audience particularly enjoyed the session and the artists were requested for an encore.
The performance by young vocalist Muslim Shaggan was superb and his illustrations of how to use the jaw, chest and nose in creating sounds were especially very well-received by those present. While the performance by the brothers Nayab Ali Khan and Inam Ali Khan was also commendable, Wahdat Rameez — who had performed in the ghazal section the day before — was asked to perform again on popular demand.
Finally, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan performed alongside his four-year-old grandson. The latter’s voice, tenor and aptitude were no less than his cute, cherubic looks and he instantly won hearts in the audience.
The organisers of Tehzeeb, Sharif and Malahat Awan, have kept the intangible heritage of this country alive and continue to persevere year after year, making each year’s Tehzeeb Festival better than the last.
Published in Dawn, ICON, May 6th, 2018