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Architect of the kheyal

Classical music maestro Ustad Salamat Ali Khan’s barsi passes quietly this year

Architect of the kheyal

The barsi of one of the greatest classical maestros of Pakistan, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, was not held this year. He passed away sixteen years ago in 2001. Some efforts had been made in the past for organising his barsi as awards of sorts were also instituted and given to deserving recipients on the occasion. Unfortunately, this year, it all went unnoticed as July10 passed with no music tribute offered to the late Ustad for his immense contribution.

Belonging to the famous Sham Chaurasi Ghrana, these two brothers, ustads Nazakat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan were the actual architects of their own gharana of kheyal gaiki. These professional musicians with proper lineage in the Punjab were dhurpad singers. Of the four major schools of dhurpad in the Punjab — Talwandi, Haryana, Sham Chaurasi and Kapurthala — their grandfather, Mian Karim Buksh was a great dhurpad singer and the flag bearer of the Sham Chaurasi gaiki, but the grandsons, Nazakat Ali and Salamat Ali chose to switch to kheyal gaiki.

They did not formally submit themselves to any ustad but their influences were many and the most profound were that of Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan and Ustad Barrey Ghulam Ali Khan — the two giants of the Patiala Gharana who dominated music, with Tawakkel Hussain Khan, one of the most virtuosos of singers.

Classical music forms by nature are conservative, not quick on the draw of latching onto the new innovations and experiments in other popular music forms. It is generally considered kosher if the children of an ustad or the gharana continue with the practice which has been instituted, either by an elder or the gharana in its most general terms, and it was and probably still is looked down upon if the children or the progeny begin to drift away and start to practice a form that is not the due bailiwick of the gharana. The word which is next to an insult is to be be-ustada (without a teacher), which implies that music has been poached upon and not acquired through a legitimate channel that is through an ustad.

These days with many sources freely available with advances in technology, many of the youngsters receive their inspiration and instruction from the various sites and networks. The human element has been deleted and replaced by a machine.

Classical music forms by nature are conservative, not quick on the draw of latching onto the new innovations and experiments in other popular music forms.

Another expression which is also used and rightly so is ‘reet ke gaiki’, probably expressing the continuity in musical tradition. It may defy an adequate explanation but it also means that the style or the ang is being preserved and more value is probably been added to it. It also implies a subtle change while appearing to be paying enough deference to tradition. There has been no bar on experimentation in the classical forms as many people tend to believe but the experiment has to be within the confines of a tradition, in the sense it should be properly assimilated and integrated in the style or it should appear to be inclusive, and as if becoming one by augmenting the traditional forms.

These days experimentation as a term is highly valued, in everything including music. Since all the experimentation is not made inclusive, it remains eclectic and appears to be a patchwork. Probably this is how the postmodernist critics view art — not as a continuation of a tradition but a departure from it, drawing its strengths and motivations from all possible sources, some very diverse, without paying undue emphasis to the virtue of unity or proper assimilation. Perhaps, that is not even aimed at in this new approach, and is supposed to be a flaw.

Usually, the children of musicians begin to drift away when they realise their music does not have many takers and they do attempt to switch over into the more popular domain and try to resonate with the contemporary sonic taste. The cases which may be rarer but more authentic, the switch-over may be the need of the musical requirement of the practitioner himself. The switch-over is necessitated by the music and the need for a genuine expression resonating the times that he/she lives in.

It has been noticed in the history of music that the switch over as a result or consequence of a genuine compulsion by the musicians for an authentic expression does yield marvellous results. The change is driven by an inner necessity of the artist, always desirable and should be applauded.

Obviously, to many detractors, this little rebellion from tradition where a formal ustad-shagirdy nexus assumed a mystical tradition was sacrilege, but these two brothers Nazakat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan silenced the critics with their lightening progress in this genre. They were driven to perform at a very early age due to their promise, and also because of poverty. The family just could not bear to see them not become earning members to salvage a near-desperate situation at home. They got their early training from their father Vilayat Ali Khan, probably also benefited from the tutelage of Mubarak Ali Khan, the Jallandhari qawwal. And proceeded on the path of ‘dikhiya, sikhiya and parikhiya’ (to see, to learn and to creatively assimilate) with a great deal of success.

Salamat Ali Khan Music Circle Award (SMC), as mentioned earlier, had been awarded to various deserving recipients. Usually, barsis are considered to be the proper stage for paying homage to an ustad by his contemporaries, his shagirds and his extended family. These days, awards and titles are dished out aplenty so as to dramatise and create enough material for breaking news, a kind of a recognition that usual accolades cannot compete with.

Keeping in tenor with the time, there is no harm in giving awards but then it should be made sure these are given on a regular basis and by becoming an annual event anticipated eagerly by the music lovers as it is the with many prestigious awards all over the world.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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