From Mehdi Hasan (clockwise) to Madam Noor Jehan, Roshan Ara Begum and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Paksitan has had voices to be proud of. - Photos: Dawn Archives
From Mehdi Hasan (clockwise) to Madam Noor Jehan, Roshan Ara Begum and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Paksitan has had voices to be proud of. - Photos: Dawn Archives

SOUTH Asia has a rich musical tradition that stretches back over a thousand years. The subcontinent’s musicians have played an important role in the overall cultural development of the region.

The music of Pakistan evolved out of the broader musical traditions of the northern parts of South Asia, a region that runs from Afghanistan in the west to Bengal in the east and includes parts of central India, such as Gwalior and Indore. A closer look at these older musical traditions provides key insights into the origins of Pakistani music.

Long before Partition, there were several important centres of artistic activity in the subcontinent that fostered the development of distinct musical traditions. Several of the princely states during the colonial era, for example, enjoyed a degree of political and cultural autonomy and their rulers were known for taking pride in the conservation of their musical heritage. They consequently supported local musicians by providing them with the facilities they needed to further develop their skills. Furthermore, they organised grand baithaks at their residences and invited renowned ustads to regale select audiences with their talent.

Musical performances in the pre-Partition era frequently gravitated towards princely courts, the shrines of Sufi saints, seasonal festivals, marriage ceremonies and vocational activities. Events such as these provided artists exposure to large audiences as well as opportunities to earn income. Furthermore, the prospect of financial reward and added fame gave future generations an incentive to work within and build on the musical traditions of their forebears. Musical knowledge was almost invariably passed down within families and shagirds of a renowned musician — gharanas — and the process of retention and enrichment of tradition continued down from one generation to another.

ARSHAD MAHMOOD discusses the evolution of Pakistani music over seven decades and how, following the migration of classical gharanas to Pakistan, the new film industry, and subsequently state-sponsored radio and TV, helped generate a major demand for Pakistani music.

At times annual festivals or music conferences were organised where performances were staged over several days. One such festival was the Hari Vallabh Sangeet Festival in the city of Jalandhar, which was initiated 147 years ago and continues to date.

Gharanas grow new roots

The existence of an environment conducive to the development of music in the pre-Partition era ensured that once Pakistan was created, there was a sizeable pool of artists who moved to the new country and laid the foundations for the enrichment of music here. The champions of some of the prominent gharanas who moved to Pakistan were from Patiala, Sham Chaurasi, Gwalior, Kirana, and ‘Qawwal Bachon ka Gharana’, or the Delhi gharana. Many artists practising semi-classical, qawwali and folk music also chose to stay on in or migrate to Pakistan.

It is widely acknowledged that it was gernail Ali Baksh Khan and karnail Fateh Ali Khan who popularised the Patiala tradition of classical gaiki and brought it acclaim across the subcontinent. Ustad Ali Baksh was the grandfather of Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and Hamid Ali Khan. The younger members of the family are still engaged within the musical profession.

The founding of the Gwalior gharana in Pakistan was due to the efforts of Ustad Banney Khan whose disciples travelled across the subcontinent, and even further afield to Afghanistan. Ustad’s son Piyare Khan was the grandfather of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and Hameed Ali Khan, the prominent classical vocalists from Hyderabad. Ustad Piyare Khan was drawn to Sindh due to the landowning elite’s predisposition towards classical music and due to the enthusiastic response from aspiring shagirds in Sindh who were clustered around him.

The Sham Chaurasi gharana was represented in Pakistan by an outstanding performer, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, and his elder brother, Ustad Nazakat Ali Khan. The first classical programme of the two brothers was broadcast on All-India Radio in 1942 when Salamat Ali Khan was aged only eight. The sons of Salamat and Nazakat continue to create music today.

Malika-i-Mousiqi Roshan Ara Begum learnt her craft from Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, a widely respected guru who was the leading proponent of the Kirana gharana. Roshan Ara Begum excelled in her craft as a classical vocalist. Whichever ragas she chose to perform were invariably considered definitive renditions, inviting respect and acclaim from her peers and by leading musicologists on both sides of the border.

The Delhi gharana is believed to have been formed by Hazrat Ameer Khusrau in the 13th century when he galvanised the new khayal gaiki and qawwali. Almost all the gharanas renowned for the dhrupad style of classical singing were, according to oral traditions over several generations, introduced to khayal gaiki by an ustad from the Delhi gharana. The classical vocalist Ustad Ramzan Khan, the renowned sarangi player Bundu Khan, and more recently Ustad Sami, also a classical vocalist, represented the gharana in Pakistan. Additionally, almost all the prominent qawwals in Pakistan today belong to the Delhi gharana, including Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ghulam Farid and Maqbool Sabri, Farid Ayaz and Abu Mohammad, to name a few.

Unfortunately, classical music has been to wane in Pakistan over the last several decades since the holding of musical performances and classical baithaks has declined sharply. There remain, however, two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that have played an important role in the promotion of classical music: the All Pakistan Music Conference and the Tehzeeb Foundation. However, this can hardly be considered adequate if classical music is to survive in the country.

As a first step towards revitalising the culture, the state should sponsor at least two concerts a month in order to promote classical music and its remaining practitioners. This is a somewhat modest demand, considering that symphony orchestras all around the world survive largely because of governments that consider the preservation of classical traditions as an imperative for the intellectual and aesthetic survival of their cultures.

Qawwali has fared significantly better in the last few years compared to classical music, with new groups emerging, thanks largely to the way in which qawwali groups have harnessed the power of social media.

The filmi scene

In the late 19th and early 20th century, a new channel for popularising classical music emerged in the world of theatre. Agha Hashr Kashmiri’s plays, for example, required the inclusion of an accomplished music ensemble as part of his theatrical group. All actors selected for parts in a play were expected to be proficient in singing — especially the lead actors. This unique structure of Agha Hashr’s plays was to be adopted by filmmakers in the 20th century as a widely accepted standard format for the flourishing film industry. Such a structure guaranteed a significant role for music; there were at least eight songs featured in every film produced. This led to the creation of new musical forms that continued to dominate the musical landscape for years to come.

For almost three decades after Partition, outstanding melodies were created in Pakistan, many of which continue to resonate in the minds of the people. In fact, a highly popular musical platform recently initiated by a well-known beverage company attests to the resonance of the music produced between the 1950s and the 1970s as a vast part of their popular repertoire originates in this period.

Some of the prominent composers from this era include Master Ghulam Haider, Khwaja Khursheed Anwar, Feroze Nizami, Rashid Attre, Master Inayat, and Nisar Bazmi. The group of female singers who recorded those great melodies was led by Madam Noor Jehan and included Nasim Begum, Munawar Sultana, Zubaida Khanum and Naheed Niazi. The male singers included Salim Raza, Muneer Hussain, Ahmed Rushdi, Mujeeb Alam and of course the remarkable maestro, Mehdi Hasan.

The decade of the 1980s that followed also produced some great film music, but this period is also remembered as the twilight of the film industry of Pakistan and consequently of film music. New films are being released even today, but with nowhere near the frequency of the 1960s and the 1970s. The format of the films has also significantly moved away from the one first formulated by Agha Hashr, and this shift has resulted in the relegation of music to a secondary position. Film music seldom appeals strongly to discerning listeners. The 1980s also witnessed a new emphasis on the creation of non-film music.

Role of Radio Pakistan, PTV

The launch of All-India Radio in 1936 had facilitated new commercial opportunities for musicians. Similarly, from 1947 onwards, Radio Pakistan played a substantive role in providing a livelihood for accomplished musicians. Music occupied a larger part of Radio Pakistan’s programming than even news and current affairs. Apart from radio plays, Radio Pakistan broadcast other forms of storytelling formats often interspersed with songs titled geeton bhari kahani. Radio also institutionalised the creation of new musical content by setting up a special department referred to as the Central Production Unit (CPU), which employed musicians as part of in-house ensembles.

The CPU, mainly in Lahore and Karachi, is credited with the production of exceptional music, including popular ghazals by Mehdi Hasan, such as Gulon mein rang bharey, and the music of Reshma, Farida Khanum, Iqbal Bano and several other significant singers, which is now an integral part of our cultural heritage. One such example is Bandar Road se Keamari by Ahmed Rushdi, who launched his career at the Karachi CPU.

The launch of Pakistan Television (PTV) in the mid-1960s witnessed the creation of another institution that made a monumental contribution to the development of Pakistani music. The contribution of television is praiseworthy for the space it provided to regional music. Dozens of major musical artists were featured in its programmes, and among the voices introduced were Nayyara Noor and the pop sensation Alamgir.

One other institution contributed hugely to the development and promotion of music. This was a multinational music publishing company, EMI which was led by Syed Mansoor Bokhari. The efforts of his team, of which I was lucky enough to be a part, did serious work in the early 1980s to compensate for the progressive deterioration of film music. The new wave of music that emerged from EMI included Nazia & Zoheb’s Disco Deewane, Western-style rock bands Vital Signs, Junoon and Strings as well as Sajjad Ali and Ali Haider. Many of these performers became household names and their music particularly resonated with younger listeners who had no memory of old-fashioned film music.

One of the outstanding contributions of EMI was to document and record the major remaining classical vocalists in the late 1970s as part of a path-breaking series of 30 albums, titled Ahang-i-Khusravi. This ambitious anthology of our classical tradition was conceived in two parts. The first part contained 20 albums and was titled Gharanon ke Gaiki, while the second part contained 10 albums titled Raag Mala, which explained the structure and vocalisation of 99 different ragas, with commentary by the famed musical composer Khwaja Khurshid Anwar.

The basic concept of this remarkable collection of music was discussed between Sahib and the leading poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. According to Syed Mansoor Bokhari, he received a call from Faiz, in which the latter insisted that this work “needs to be done”, and that was how it all began. Ahang-i-Khusravi remains an important reference point for future generations of musicians in Pakistan who wish to pursue classical music.

I strongly feel that the excellent work Radio Pakistan and PTV initiated in the earlier decades is not fully appreciated, or even understood, today. Their contribution to the development and promotion of Pakistan’s music and culture cannot be overstated.

As part of the Ministry of Information, these organisations have apparently failed to meet their originally designed ‘core’ objectives, and have now been limited largely to the dissemination of political messaging.

I end the narrative with a couplet from Allama Iqbal:

(Once again, at the dead of night, I hear grieving voices cry out.
O Traveller, pause and reflect. We live in difficult times.)

The writer is a famed music composer.

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