Monday, April 2, 2018

Munshi Raziuddin, Naseeruddin Saami, Fareed Ayaz & Party - 1978

This month marks ten years since this Blog was launched.  This time a decade ago we felt that, at best, a couple of hundred people might be interested in the Blog and its music.  It is somewhat overwhelming to see that the Blog has enjoyed several thousand hits since it was launched, with visitors from about everywhere in the world!  Thank you all for stopping by and sharing our pleasure in the music that has been posted.

It seems apt to commemorate the decennial with a concert recorded in 1978, forty years ago.  This session was held at the Karachi home of Mr. Assad Ali, scion of the Wazir Ali family of Lahore.  The late Mr. Assad Ali was prominent among the circle of patrons of the Manzoor Qawwal party and later of Munshi Raziuddin.



Pakistani art in the turbulent decade

I suppose the 1970s were about the most turbulent and pivotal decade in Pakistan’s history.  In a space of ten years, the country experienced: its first ever democratic election; a conflict that broke it in half; a dramatic transition from military rule to its first democratically elected government; popular disaffection with that government; political chaos and the re-establishment of military rule; the execution of Pakistan’s first democratically elected prime minister; the beginnings of a Soviet incursion into Afghanistan and its impact on Pakistan; and the inauguration and imposition of a military dictator’s vision of Islam—a grim, and punitive affair which served little else but provide a cover for his cynical duplicity and the ruthless assertion of a vice like grip over the society and politics of the country.  And this unrelenting onslaught of tumultuous events occurred after a decade of the 60’s, with its apparent social stability and economic progress that seemed to be taken for granted at the time. 

It is a tribute to the spirit and resilience of Pakistanis that the turbulent ’70s were, paradoxically, the most fertile of times for the arts and cultural development.  The fine arts saw a crop of young artists break grounds hitherto unknown in the Pakistan fine arts scene.  The coming into stride of Pakistan Television (PTV) offered a platform for some brilliant television drama and satire, with several talented theater/TV actors, directors and writers assuming national prominence.  State patronage of folk arts allowed for the popularization of some wonderful folk artists and folk music.  And the poetry…aaaah the poetry!  Some of the finest political poetry was written at the time, inflaming the imagination.   Associated with the poetry was the coming of age of Pakistani ghazal performances.  The great ghazal singers of the post-independence era, as well as several brilliant new talents, found a public platform in television and the live performance of ghazals were now a matter of course as these talents became household presences.  In short, the cultural trajectory of current day Pakistan can trace its beginnings to this decade. 

The strife, chaos and pain of the 70’s seemed to inspire great art, I suppose, as an outlet for collective angst.  When thinking of the time, I am reminded of Graham Greene’s immortal lines, brilliantly delivered by Orson Wells in “The Third Man”:

You know what the fellow said—in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.  In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
[With all due apologies to my Swiss friends…]

Qawwali on the world stage

Qawwali was no exception to the creative effervescence of the time.  Qawwali emerged from the khankah, dargah, and the drawing room to the public platform, in the form of televised performances and then, consequently, in live stage events.  Perhaps the spearheads of this evolution were the Sabri Brothers—Ghulam Fareed and Maqbool Ahmad Sabri—who gave a powerful rhythmic flair and drama to their performances that captivated the popular mind in Pakistan.  Not only that, but they established new international horizons for Qawwali by holding packed performances in Carnegie Hall in 1975 and later in 1978.  I am told that these performances inspired the audiences into head-twirling ecstasy.  Whether or not their audiences were in a collective state of vajd (mystical ecstasy), their charismatic performances served to place Qawwali on the international musical scene.  Such was their unprecedented financial success that they once hired a school friend of mine, a UK-trained Chartered Accountant, to handle their business affairs and investments, putting their financial house in order!

The success of the Sabris paved the way for a phenomenon named Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.  Through the ’70s, Nusrat gained fame on the Pakistani Qawwali scene as the inheritor of the mantle of leader of the Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali group that hailed from the Punjab.  He burst upon the World Music Scene (some regard him as being one of those that were instrumental in creating the genre) with his performance at the WOMAD festival in 1985.  In the 12 years between the WOMAD festival and his untimely death in 1997, Nusrat dominated the Qawwali scene in Pakistan and internationally, becoming an icon of World Music and a folk hero in Pakistan.

Everyone seems to have a favourite recollection of Nusrat’s music and performances.  Mine goes back to the late ’80s.  Nusrat was invited for the inaugural concert for an international music festival in Vienna.  At the time Vienna was a bit of a backwater for international music due to its conservative musical audiences.  Not having heard Nusrat, I went to the concert, from sheer curiosity.  I was amazed to find that the concert hall was packed—there was not even standing room left.  Of all the performances in the one-week festival, only one had an additional unscheduled performance laid out due to huge demand, and that was Nusrat’s!  Such was his fame and following by the end of his stellar career that on his passage, I was told by a friend, a New York FM radio station paid him homage by playing his music nonstop for 24 hours… 

All these musical evolutions had bypassed Munshi Raziuddin.  Not willing to compromise with popular trend (dare I say modernity?), he spent the ’70s and ’80s in the shadows with a large family to support but with a meager income provided by a waning body of traditional patrons and the traditional recitals at dargahs.  On seeing his penurious state, one of his patrons, a corporate type, provided a contract for having him and Ustaad Manzoor Niazi sing an advertising jingle, composed as a Qawwali, for a TV commercial.  Needless to say, the result was awful and (mercifully) that avenue closed with that one effort!

Despite poverty knocking at his doorstep in those economically chaotic times, there was a grace and dignity in Razi Mian’s receiving the visitor, and it was evident that his spirit was not dampened, nor was he deterred in his pursuit and spreading of knowledge.  This composure, in addition to the learning and love he showered on me, could only be reciprocated by my love and admiration for him.

The music in this session

Back to the session presented here.  As earlier mentioned it was held at the Karachi home of an old patron.  It is rather unique, since it is one of the few recordings available where Munshi Raziuddin leads and his nephew and son-in-law Naseeruddin Sami, and his elder son Fareed Ayyaz, accompany him.  Their relative youth and freshness of the accompanists’ voices are combined with a virtuosity that Munshi Raziuddin’s tutelage imparted upon them.  Naseer would have been in his early 30s at the time, and Ayyaz in his mid 20s.

My father had retired from Government service a few years prior to the concert and the turbulence associated with a change in lifestyle was inevitable.  With the result that it had been a few years since he had participated in a Qawwali mehfil.  When Razi Mian saw my father enter the room there was a glow and smile of loving welcome.  He whispered something to his accompanists.  We later found out that he instructed them to change the start from the usual Qaul/Manqabat that initiates mehfils.  So they started with this lovely rendition of Alhaiya Bilawal and the bandish Aay Dayya, Kahan Gaey Veh Log? Abba had not heard the bandish for quite some time, and on seeing that it was obviously directed at him, he was reduced to tears at the wonderful sentiment conveyed … neither singers nor audience were left dry eyed, as the performance proceeded, I am told.  This raga and this bandish has become a regular feature of our sessions with Fareed Ayyaz, a refrain commemorating our meetings, which are few and far between these days.  On each occasion the plaintive emotion is accentuated as one tries to hold on to the memory of loved departed ones… Of all the numerous renditions, I love this rendition best.  It has a classical simplicity and sobriety to it, accentuating the mood.

Both the raga Alhaiya Bilawal and this bandish inspire a powerful nostalgic lump-in-the-throat feeling as conventionally recited in the Qawwali and Khyaal form.  The raga, however, is not forever condemned to be a tear jerker… listen to this early recording by Ustaad Vilayat Khansahib.  Here, a minor elevation of scale, an increase in tempo and the genius of Vilayat Khan transform the raga into a sweet lilting melody, a light-hearted contrast to what is done by convention!

Track 2 Namee Danam is particularly beautiful—a languid, deliberate expose of Hazrat Ameer’s classic composition.  This kalaam lends itself to dramatization, given its powerful imagery.  Here, instead, the kalaam is recited without histrionics being brought into it, and the result is hypnotic!

Track 4 Sajda Kar Ke Qadam-e-Yaar Pe Qurban Hona is a kalaam attributed variously to Wamiq Jaunpuri or to Syed Ayaz Waris Shah Warsi, the former being a 20th century laic poet, the latter a 20th century Sufi.  Whatever the authorship, the kalaam is fairly popular, being recited at various mehfil-i-samaa.  I find most performances to be rather weak.  Not so here, the chemistry of this performance elevates it to a majesty that I have not encountered since.

Similarly, Khwaja Piya Piya usually reduces itself to Dhamaal with heavy emphasis on rhythm and overpowering noise.  This rendition, recited as Track 5, is unique.  In the words of my nephew and collaborator, Hasnain, “… have to say this is a very special rendition...no hollering, pure rus and kalam, smooth, and some of the verses are rarely used underscoring its freshness ... ”

The penultimate track, Aaja Moray Nainon Mein Saajna, is a wonderful plaintive composition continuing the tone of yearning expressed in the opening piece.

The overall tenor of this Mehfil is of old style classicism, the kalaam is arifana (Sufiyana / Devotional).  The tempo of each piece is moderate, measured and constant, allowing the poetry and the recitation to be the focus of attention.   The raga of each piece is maintained throughout and the only embellishments are the alaaps/taans of the singers, which while powerful, do not detract from the main flow of the kalaam and recitation, instead they deviate as a rivulet does from the mainstream, only to rejoin it after following its course. 

Interestingly, when I first heard this recording, some 40 years ago, I felt it to be austere, if not dull.  The years of revisiting this have enhanced the appreciation of its beauty.  It has grown on me due precisely to its moderation, the discipline exercised in the recitation and the softness of its overall effect.

The uniqueness of the performance is due, in no small measure, to the thought that Munshi Raziuddin injected into his expose and the care and discipline exercised over his disciples/accompanists.  It is a testimony of the wealth of knowledge that he conveyed, as well as their hard efforts, that the two accompanists of this session have been treated kindly by the passage of time.  Ustaad Naseeruddin Sami is today one of Pakistan’s most respected Khyaaal singers, and Ustaad Fareed Ayaz, together with his brother Abu Mohammad, lead Pakistan’s leading living Qawwali group.

May Razi Mian’s blessings protect them and may they long flourish in the pursuit of the beauty of their art. —Asif Mamu

Playlist:
  1. Ay Daiya Kahan Gaey Veh Log (اے دایَہ کہاں گائے وے لوگ)
  2. Lagi Ri Mein Tau Charan Teharay (لاگی ری میں تو چرن تہارے)
  3. Nami Danam Che Manzil Bood ( نمی دانم چہ منزل بود)
  4. Ta Soorat-e-Paiwand Jahan Bood Ali Bood (تا صورت پیوند جهان بود علی بود)
  5. Sajda Kar Ke Qadam-e-Yaar Pe Qurban Hona (سجده کرکے قدمِ یار پہ قرباں)
  6. Khwaja Piya Piya / Chundri botay daar (خواجہ پیا پیا — چندری بوٹے دار)
  7. Baro Ghee Ke Diyena (بارو گہی کے دیے نا)
  8. Aaja Moray Nainon Mein Saajna (آج مورے نینوں میں ساجن)
  9. Khwaja Aan Pari Darbaar (خواجہ آن پڑی دربار)