Music: Tabla master Sandeep Das & Kayhan Kalhor

16 May 2015

Tabla master Sandeep Das joins multiple Grammy nominee and co-founder of Masters of Persian Music Kayhan Kalhor following their March D.C. appearance with Silk Road Ensemble 
The U.S. does not boast many kamancheh (Persian spike fiddle) performers, let alone any in the same league as Kayhan Kalhor. He is, quite simply, the most internationally acclaimed master of this instrument, which produces a broad range of sounds, from an almost percussive bark to a sweet, throaty tone. The Tehran-born Kalhor closes out Washington Performing Arts’ season-long exploration of the Silk Road, performing with artists from other countries on the historic Silk Road, on Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 8pm at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Kalhor is joined by his Silk Road Ensemble colleague, renowned table master Sandeep Das. This is the second time this season that D.C. audiences will be treated to Kalhor and Das’ inimitable style. Their Jugalbandi was peformed at the lauded March 1, 2015, Washington Performing Arts presentation of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, of which Kalhor and Das are original members and frequent collaborators. (more…)

Promoting pluralist folk heritage is vital for Pakistan’s future

13 February 2015

I talked to Dr Fouzia Saeed, the newly appointed Executive Director of Lok Virsa

fauzia saeedDr Fouzia Saeed with Zarina, a folk singer from Cholistan

Dr Fouzia Saeed, a scholar and civil society activist, was recently appointed as the head of Lok Virsa – the premier government institution to conserve and promote cultural heritage. After years of inaction and treating folklore as a commodity to be sold at melas and cafes, it is somewhat encouraging that a professional is in charge of an important institution. Fouzia is a renowned folklorist. Her well-researched book ‘Forgotten Faces: The daring women of Punjabi theatre’ traces the lives of women actors active in folk theatre during the 1960 and 70s. Another publication on the lacquered work of Dera Ismail Khan is a useful reference on an old craft that continues to be practiced.

Earlier, Fouzia led the movement for promotion of Manganhaar music encouraging younger people to participate and take pride in that activity. On PTV Fouzia interviewed many artists who had quit performing arts. As the founding member of Sanjh Theatre, she has been actively engaged with the folk arts. In 1988, she joined Lok Virsa as a Deputy Director, Research, and produced a record number of publications. In 1989 she set up a private organization – The Folklore Society – that she still chairs. Fouzia’s best known initiative remains Mehergarh – a Human Rights institute – that provides leadership training and helps build an alternative discourse on culture and society. Her PhD in Education and academic training in anthropology led to her award winning book ‘Taboo’ that explores the stigma on performing arts in Pakistan; and is now being used as a textbook in many countries.

We spoke to Fouzia as she was leaving for Islamabad to take charge of the institution.

Going back to Lok Virsa as its head must be a homecoming of sorts?

Yes, Nostalgic! When I joined it in 1988 I had just completed my education from the USA and was so full of enthusiasm. It was a thriving and creative place! There was a tea khokha on one side and we used to have samosas there and come up with  creative ideas for our programs. I really got groomed there. It is great to come back to it. All these past years I used to call it my ‘maika ghar’ (parental abode). I know almost all the people there, I also know its glorious as well as subdued past quite well. With all the affection for Lok Virsa, it is great to be back. Not just for the staff and colleagues but also the folk artists that I have maintained close contacts with.  They are thrilled and I am thrilled!


Raza Rumi on Hospitality

14 October 2014

Raza-Rumi 1

A Tidings conversation about hospitality, friendship and loyalty with Raza Rumi, a Pakistani journalist, blogger, author of Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani traveller and follower of Sufi thought. The subject of hospitality holds a certain irony for Raza who is now in exile, forced to flee from his country after narrowly missing an assassination attempt on his life in Lahore which tragically killed his driver.

Mehdi Hasan: A bridge over the troubled divide

22 July 2012

My tribute to Mehdi Hasan published here

He was the musical Midas who transcended borders with the same mastery that he transcended genres

Mehdi Hassan is gone. His devastated fans across the globe will mourn the loss of a voice that ruled their hearts for nearly half a century, a voice in which Lata Mangeshkar said she had found bhagwan.

Mehdi Hassan was born in a family of musicians in the town of Luna of district JhunJhunu in Rajasthan around 1927. Rajasthan is famous for its haunting melodies and the expanse of the desert, which celebrates man’s primal relationship with nature. Reshma is also from this region. Hassan’s father Ustad Azeem Khan and Uncle Ustad Ismail Khan were well known classical musicians and it is said that Mehdi Hassan’s first ever concert was at the Maharaja of Baroda’s darbar when he was just eight years old.

With Partition in 1947 this gharana moved to Pakistani Punjab. A young Mehdi Hassan took up the job of an automobile mechanic, something that he was supposed to have been quite adept at. But within a few years, it was his musical talent to which people began paying attention, and by 1952 he was singing at Radio Pakistan.

Mehdi Hassan remained a prized treasure of Radio Pakistan for nearly half a century. I remember growing up listening to his film songs, ghazals and thumris on radio. The launch of television in the 1960s provided an additional platform to Hassan and some of his memorable performances are from those black and white days of television programming.

Hassan proved to be a musical Midas. Whatever he touched turned to gold — from the poetry of famous Urdu poets to romantic film numbers. (more…)

Mehdi Hasan: King of kings

13 June 2012

mehdi hasanMehdi Hasan died today. There are no words to capture his influence on my generation and the ones before me. I am posting a shorter version of my essay which was published in a volume “Mehdi Hasan: The Man and His Music” (2010, Liberty Books). RIP Khan Saheb. The kesari balam has finally left for his new home..

From Khyber to Dhaka and from Skardu to Deccan wafts a lilting and profound voice that binds discerning lovers of music. The highly trained vocals are none other than Mehdi Hasan’s, which leave music buffs like this writer wondering how Mian Tansen may have sung Raga Darbari, his own innovation, with full-throated ease and with what degree of perfection in Emperor Akbar’s court, be it in Agra, Lahore or Fatehpur Sikri. Listening to Mehdi Hasan’s flawless exposition of what is often referred to as the most royal of the ragas on which is based his composition of Perveen Shakir’s ghazal Ku baku phael gayi, one feels privileged to be living in the melodious age of Mehdi Hasan. But it is not merely Darbari that he excels in; name any other raga that he has garbed his ghazal in and you will not miss his flair for classical music.


Heart to Heart: Remembering Naina Devi

15 January 2012

My dear friend Vidya Rao’s labour of love is finally out. She has been working on this project for quite a while. Her book Heart to Heart: Remembering  Naina Devi is a tribute to her teacher, Guru and inspiration who trained Rao as a singer..

Legendary singer, Naina Devi  was born into a Bengali Brahmo Samaj reformist family in the early years of the twentieth century. A childhood replete with music, dance, theatre and social reform gave way to the grandeur and seclusion of the life of a young queen of the Kapurthala royal family of Punjab. Despite seventeen  years of silence necess
itated by the norms of a royal household, she came back to music and a glorious career as a singer, arts-administrator, teacher and patron,  after the tragic death of her husband.

Heart to Heart, traces Naina Devi’s incredible story as she told it to her foremost disciple, Vidya Rao. Naina Devi’s  story traces the changes in the world of Indian classical music, women singers and women in Indian society  over the last century.  Learning seena-ba-seena, heart to heart, in a seamless blend of music and life-lessons,  Rao imbibed not
just a knowledge of her chosen form, Thumri,  but a sense of the very being of her teacher.

The evocative  narrative weaves back and forth between history  and memory,  past and present, and between Naina Devi’s voice and Rao’s own, to illuminate the power  and beauty of music, the lives of these two women and of many others,  of courage, pain, joy and love, and  of the deep bond between Rao and her beloved Guru.

Here’s a detailed review published here (more…)

Sufi rock by an immensely talented band

19 December 2010

This video is from the band Da Saaz. Dhruv Bilal Sangari is singing and Raoul Amaar Abbas has directed, produced and shot all the trippy light

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