'Spirit of India'
the-south-asian.com April 2001
Page 5 of 5
Music in Pakistan - The Story
of Five Decades
Khalid Manzoor Basra
Pakistan had a rich representation of all the musical gharanas at the time of partition and the radio had no dearth of talent in this regard. In years to come it arguably developed a musical culture blending elements from all these schools of musical practice.
A large number of major practitioners of various genres and instruments unfortunately died prior to the media boost and could not be properly recorded, preserved and appreciated. Amongst the instrument traditions of accompaniment, tabla and sarangi both have suffered very badly. Only one major sarangi player, Ustad Nazim Ali Khan is alive. In the period 1993- 96 the three major tabla players of the modern times, Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan, Ustad Talib Hussain Khan and Ustad Baba Tufail died. None of their calibre remains. Altaf Hussain Tafo could be termed their contemporary but he does not have a record of accompaniment and is mainly known for solo playing in his highly individual style and composing film music. Among the contemporary tabla-players the prominent are Bashir Ahmad, Abdus Sattar Tari, Khalifa Akhtar Jan-ul-Hassan Khan and Ghulam Abbas. Tari and Ghulam Abbas live in the U.S.A., visiting Pakistan occasionally.
The two great sitar players Ustad Sharif Khan and Ustad Fateh Ali Khan are survived by their sons and a few pupils. A number of non-family musicians of amateur background are also prominent in the field. Another major sitar player is Ustad Rais Khan who migrated from India to settle here after getting married to the film singer Bilquis Khanum. His active career, however, is in singing ghazals in which he is not very prominent but which is a more lucrative pursuit in financial terms.
The major classical singers include Roshan Ara Begum,Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Ustad Ghulam Hussain Shaggan, Hamid Ali Fateh Ali and Imtiaz Ali Riaz Ali.
The tenacity and strength of the classical music tradition of the country, the belief system of the practitioners and some of its genres are perhaps best embodied in the example of the Talwandi Gharana of dhrupad singers, the only known practitioners of the genre in Pakistan. A brief survey of their history would also show various important forces at work in the period under review.
At the time of Partition the family was headed by the great dhrupad singer Mohar-e-Mauseeqi Malikzada Mian Mehar Ali Khan. He was born in 1913 trained by his uncle and father in law, Mian Maula Bakhsh and migrated with him to the rich town of Lyallpur in his youth on the invitation of a wealthy Sikh patron. This was a smooth transition after the loss of princely patronage. Till the time of Partition the family performed in traditional settings before highly select audiences cultivating interest in the rich genres of alap and dhrupad.
Departure at the time of Partition to India of Sardar Harcharan Singh left the family of these great dhrupad singers to the vagaries of chance, and after the exhaustion of funds and savings had to turn to the official media with whom they had some success in early fifties due to the personal interest of the Director General Z.A.Bukhari. After Bukhari, the family was left without any support from the media and was mainly supported by the younger son's (Malikzada Muhammad Hafeez Khan) employment with government and private sector in non-musical capacities. The family however continued its daily practice of music and also taught pupils and performed whenever possible.
This resulted in the brothers Malikzada Muhammad Afzal Khan and Malikzada Muhammad Hafeez Khan springing into prominence. Their resurgence also coincides with the resurgence of interest in dhurpad the oldest extant genre of music in our tradition in the Indo-Pak sub continent. The duo has travelled and performed abroad, has evoked considerable research interest and despite all possible opposition from the official media and its attempts at artificial reinterpretation of cultural heritage to suit vested interest continues to flourish and transmit its rich knowledge of music to pupils in the family and outside the family. It also has attracted foreigners who are in training in Lahore where the family’s main proponent Malikzada Muhammad Hafeez Khan resides. The example adequately indicates that such strong forces cannot be diverted and manipulated easily. It also indicates that despite all the criticism levelled against the modern media (even by the orthodox musicians) it is a liberating force which has provided some support to even very esoteric art forms by the general liberation that it has injected in the patronage and propagation structures.
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