A reference for Ustad Ghulam Hasan Shaggan was held at the Shakir Ali Museum Lahore under the auspices of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts.
Usually the great ustads and those who have made a significant contribution to music are remembered on the occasion of their death anniversaries. Called barsis, these are occasions for fellow musicians to come forth and pay homage to the dear departed with music. Musicians’ best homage to another musician can only be through what they do best — to express themselves musically. Urs of the various Sufis too is actually the death anniversary which is observed in a manner best suited to the contribution of the sage.
Those who were more into music, their urs became occasions for the congregation of musician and dancers as in the case of Lal Shahbaz Qalander in Sehwan, Shah Lateef in Bhitshah, Bullah Shah in Kasur and Shah Hussain in Lahore or venues of great gatherings of the qawwals in Pak Pattan Baba Fareed or Data Ganj Buksh in Lahore.
On the urs of Waris Shah in Jandiala Sher Khan, only Heer is recited throughout the three days that the urs is in progress. There is a great deal of diversity in the manner in which the urs are held, depending upon what the Sufi stood for and how he was perceived by his followers and descendants.
But a reference is usually held for well-known people to whom homage is paid through words. This reference was a combination of those who talked and those who sang paying tribute to the Ustad who stood out as the man who only sang the classical forms of music.
Those who sang on the occasion were Ustad Shafqat Salamat Ali Khan, Rifaqat Ali Khan, Abu Muslim, Qadir Shaggan, Mazhar Shaggan, Nayab Ali and Ayan Ali, and those who spoke were Pervez Paras, Shafqat Salamat Ali Khan, Shaukat Ali, Ustad Badaruzzaman and Pervez Kalim.
It was obvious from most of the speakers, even if they did not pointedly mention it, that the style and quality of music that Ustad Shaggan represented was on its way out. In many ways he was the last of the Mohicans and probably a few now survive who belong to the old tradition like Ustads Fateh Ali Khan of Patiala, Fateh Ali Khan Hyderabadi and Naseeruddin Saami — all of whom are well past their middle age.
The basic characteristic of these musicians and their style was that it was principally an expression of total maturation. It is wrong to say that the classical music has stood still and has faced stagnancy. The fact is that it has developed and changed as is evident from the various forms that have evolved over a period of time. There was once prabhand, then there was the majestic dhrupad that probably reflected the glory of the central empire in the Indian subcontinent and later the kheyal. Kheyal was more individual, romantic in character than the more stoical dhrupad which it replaced as the major form during the course of the nineteenth century when the subcontinent was carved into princely states under the suzerainty of the British Raj.
Change has been there but it was a condition that change was subject to both creative innovation and total assimilation of the external sources, initially from Persia and Central Asia and then Europe. That appears to be the only difference because the change is happening too suddenly with perhaps not enough time to masticate and make it part of the blood stream. All this could be justified on the premise that every age brings its own parameters of creativity and these days perhaps it is the “cut and paste” act that is going to define what it means to be creative.
Fair enough but the music of the more recent past made assimilation and absorption its essential condition.
Speaker after speaker pointed out the salient features of his gaiki. The most important characteristic of Ustad Shaggan’s gaiki was the total reliance on the centrality of the human voice. The riyaz which was both a source of self-control and a disciplined grind supposed to bring the required command over the notes so these could be used with varying intensity according to the demand of the raag. The use of shrutis was thus essential in creating the evocative mood of the raag and Ustad Shaggan did just that. Then it was the command over the rhythmic cycle and the interplay between various cycles during the course of a single performance. It emphasised the mathematical relationship between various rhythmic cycles and its marriage to the melody of the raag to bring forth the required aesthetic flavour or rus.
All this is not considered essential these days; only the compositional element is. The rest is done by the post-production processes that through the physics of sound make the voice or the instrument appear in tune. What it lacks is the soul, the “roohdari” which the musicians of Ustad Shaggan’s generation considered to be crucial.