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Celebrating sur

Caravan’s three-day music festival brings together an eclectic array of classical musicians

Celebrating sur
Ghulam Abbas performing at the festival.

Caravan has been organising festivals of music but this time round they also included a component of literature in their three-day event at the Alhamra, and Open Air Theatre Bagh-e-Jinnah Lahore.

The highlight of the festival remained, nevertheless, the last evening which was devoted to classical music. But unfortunately the proceedings were repeatedly interrupted by rain in the Open Air Theatre. Many of the exponents had gathered to perform like Shafqat Ali Khan, Rustam Fateh Ali, Faheem Mazhar, Chand Khan, Suraj Khan, Muslim Shaggan, Ali Raza and Nayab Ali Khan. Farhan Khan had come especially from Karachi for his sitar recital but the interruptions during the event did not let the performances build on each others’ sequences to leave a cumulative effect — as should have been the case. The performances were shifted to the hall in the premises but could not leave the same impact as the venue was small and it had become suffocating due to humidity and crowd. The sound system too could not be properly adjusted for the smaller venue in that short a time.

Farhan Ali is now a sitar player in his own right. For years, he played with his father Ustad Raees Khan (as has been the wont) and as he picked the finer aspects of playing in the traditional ustad-shagird manner but now feels confident to perform on his own to larger and diverse audiences. It is a little difficult to monitor the effect this diversity has on musical output.

The wider section of the population is not that initiated into music, and expects the sitar player to strum popular music which could be a sitar rendering of a film or folk number, while a smaller section is wanting to judge the sitar player on the most strict rules of classical sitar playing. For the sitar player to strike a compromise is difficult. In India when sitar-playing became a popular or acceptable concert item immediately after independence, the greater sitar players, unstatedly though, divided their performances into two sections — the first concentrated on raagdari in all its manifestations, while the second section was devoted to either the thumri or what became more popular nomenclature, the dhun. Some popular folk composition was played mostly from the Bengal because Ravi Shankar was a Bengali, and Ustad Vilayat Khan lived in Bengal and had greater number of his fans hailing from that part of India. In other areas including Pakistan, the sitar player wound up his performance with bhairveen which gradually from the thumri ang veered over time more towards the geet ang. Like some composition here in that raag or in raag tilang, the players stressed on variations particular to the Punjab.

From among the performers who sang the ghazal, the foremost was Ghulam Abbas, and then it was heartening to hear the sons of Aqeel Manzoor — Salman Aqeel and Ehsaan Aqeel.

There is one section which was of youngsters that wants to sing and perform these days. Needless to say, the great majority was from the schools/ colleges in the Lahore and its vicinity; it proved to be a good initiation for them and opened another venue which would give them more encouragement and an opportunity to improve their skills.

From among the performers who sang the ghazal, the foremost was Ghulam Abbas, and then it was heartening to hear the sons of Aqeel Manzoor — Salman Aqeel and Ehsaan Aqeel. Aqeel Manzoor was a very good ghazal/kaafi vocalist who passed away about two years ago. That his sons have picked up the gauntlet is a good sign and it is expected that they will take this seriously rather than simply conforming to the societal expectation of the son following the father’s profession.

Aqeel Manzoor belonged to a family of musicians and opened his eyes in that environment which lured him towards learning the art of vocal music. His father, Ustad Manzoor Hussain was a great harmonium player and used to perform in musical gatherings. Aqeel Manzoor was auditioned on Radio Pakistan Karachi by music luminaries like Ustad Nazr-e-Hussain, Ustad Umrao Bundu Khan, Nihal Abdullah and Lal Muhammad Iqbal and then he came under the formal tutelage of Ustad Nazar-e-Hussain. Aqeel Manzoor was also hugely impressed by Ustad Salamat Ali Khan of Sham Chaurasia gharana. It was because of the influence of his Ustad that he started singing kaafi in that style and was appreciated. Others who sang ghazals included Muslim Shaggan, Afshan Begum, Arshad Ali, and Sahira. Sons of Shafqat Salamat Ali Khan Faizaan and Nadir Ali sang raags on the last night of the event.

Run by Afaq Hussain, an indefatigable roadrunner of the cause of classical and other serious forms of music in the country, Caravan has been doing its bit for the promotion of music. On the occasion, he also read an informed article on the raag pahari and identified the film songs composed in it. The patron of the organisation, Ashfaq Hussain has one of the largest collections of music, particularly classical music, both instrumental and vocal in the country, and is very well-versed with the various intricacies and finer aspects of the various forms.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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