“Hazrat kay samnay pesh karthay huay hum bohoth darthay hain …”
[We feel terribly afraid to sing before the revered one].
This was Fareed’s first reaction I asked him to sing at Abba’s chambers at the Sind club for this performance.
This concert was held in February 2005, to commemorate Abba’s 90th birthday. It was held one month after the Abba’s actual birthday. In January of that year, a birthday bash was held at the Club, organized by his many friends and admirers. I could not make it to Karachi for the party, since the obligations of profession and work intervened, keeping me in Vienna or maybe on the road to another country. So I came to Karachi as soon as I could and this concert was organized by way of atonement….
I was somewhat surprised at Fareed’s remark. Truly, Abba had a keen ear and knowledge of music, surpassed by few. However he was the kindest, most non-judgmental of people and invariably sought the good in others rather than dwell upon their weaknesses. He dealt with the meek and the mighty with equivalent humility, gentleness and attentiveness. This characteristic was reflected in his comport as musical audience .
Two beloved friends in a state of hypnosis. The Late Mehdi Hasnain Sahib and the Late Bilal Dallenbach
This was the first session we held after Munshi Raziuddin’s passage in 2003. His absence created a large void, and I suppose Fareed and Abu Mohammad felt some apprehension at attempting to satisfy Abba’s discerning taste without their father’s guidance and stewardship of the performance, as had been the case thus far.
The setting was simple, informal and intimate with a few close friends, family, and the qawwals in Abba’s room. Fareed and Abu Mohammad presented the recital with virtuosity that reflected firm resolve to preserve and build upon the rich legacy of knowledge and training bequeathed to them by their father.
I really do not know how to describe the performance … the atmosphere was marked by a creative tension that is palpable throughout the performance. The tension is borne from the discipline exercised to stay in the classical form, at least for the first hour or so of the performance. Despite the studied expose of the raga, the first three pieces are neither conventional Khyaal nor are they rendered as “conventional” Qawwali. They have not sung some of the pieces like this (to my awareness) before or since …
The tenor of the music is marked by Darbari, the Raaga with which Fareed opens the recital, and they go on to sing several variations and bandishes of Malkauns for the first part. Some of these pieces have attained considerable popularity since they have sung them in various episodes of the Pakistani Coke Studio series of musical programmes that were brilliantly developed and orchestrated by Rohail Hayat.
Returning to the performance, Fareed’s apprehensions were quite dispelled. Abba and the rest of the audience were mesmerized by the shear uniqueness and the mastery of the classical rendition by Abu Mohammad and him. The singers were matched by the audience in the concentration in exploring and grasping the soul of the music
While the listener is familiar with Fareed and Abu Mohammad’s classical qawwali, this session, veering towards Khyaal, represents their musical foundation. Looking back at this session, I am so impressed by Fareed’s range, Abu Mohammad’s sweetness of voice and of the alto voices of the younger ones in the ensemble. The careful, detailed expose and vocalization of the earlier pieces are a joy.
1. Bandish in Darbari
2. Taraana Biya Biya
3. Bandish in Malkauns
4. Manqabat: Mun Kunto Malua
5. Raag Maru Bihag / Ay Dil Bageer e Daaman e Sultan e Auliya / Tarana
6. Ghazal in Anandi: Ay Sarv e Nazaneen e Mun
7. Chaap Tilak / Padaro Maro / Paiyan Paroon Gi / Aao Piya Darron Main Tope
8. Baro Ghee Kay Diye Na / Haryala Bana / Phool Rahi Sarson
 On reflection I must correct myself as there was an exception. We were once at a concert, at a cousin’s house, where Nusrat Fateh Ali was featured. This was when Nusrat was well on his ascent to becoming a world-class superstar. Nusrat was getting particularly gymnastic in this performance so, in the break, Abba leaned over to him and in his usual soft manner said, “Yaar, yeh kyaa tamaasha ho raha hai? Sur ka satyanaas keeya ja raha hay!” Despite the obvious humorous twinkle in Abba’s eye, Nusrat was a bit shell-shocked and at a loss for words. He took this admonishment seriously, singing some nice semi-classical pieces thereafter, culminating with a long recitation of the marsiyah “Shah ast Hussayn, Badshah ast Hussayn” that evolved into something resembling a sung Muharram majlis…recollection of this incident still inspires a fond chuckle. Nusrat’s music was a constant companion in the weekend drives to Abba’s farm in Sujawal, as Abba always carried a number of his cassettes in the glove box of the beaten up VW Passat station wagon that was his faithful and unflinching means of transport.