Home » Music

Mehdi Hasan: A bridge over the troubled divide

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. […]

July 22nd, 2012|Arts & Culture, Music, Published in The Hindu|5 Comments

The Music Doesn’t Stop in Peshawar

A story that I co-authored with Manzoor Ali, published here

On June 18, celebrated Pashto singer Ghazala Javed and her father were murdered in Peshawar. Text messages and news alerts from the city’s famous Lady Reading Hospital started to spread across Pakistan. Ghazala, for so many Pakhtuns, had been eliminated. The police later indicated that her ex-husband might have been involved as he wanted her to give up her singing career. However, until the investigation is complete, the cause for her death cannot be ascertained.

The story of Ghazala’s last years reflects the travails of Pakistan and its province, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), till recently known as the North-West Frontier Province. Her family left Swat in 2007 for Peshawar after the Taliban started gaining power in the valley. In Peshawar, her career witnessed a meteoric rise. She was noted as a rising star with a promising future. During the last three years, the Awami National Party (ANP)-led provincial government has also undertaken a glasnost of sorts by focusing on culture and encouraging the arts industry. But the efforts of Pakistani politicians face a formidable foe in a conservative culture and Taliban militancy. While artists like Ghazala take risks and perform, Taliban militants continue to threaten artists, blow up shrines, CD shops, cinemas and internet cafes. In April 2009, another promising Pashto singer and lyricist, Aiyman Udas was killed on the outskirts of Peshawar. The police suspected her brothers, who were against her musical pursuit, to have perpetrated her death. It remains an unresolved mystery to date. […]

Mehdi Hasan: King of kings

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

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 […]

January 15th, 2012|books, India, Music|2 Comments

Reclaiming the legacy of ZA Bukhari

By Raza Rumi

Defining ‘Pakistani’ culture has been a problematic endeavour right from the inception of the country. Pakistan has straddled between 5,000 years of its ancient past, a thousand of years of Muslim rule in the Indian subcontinent, and the secular, plural reality that exists to date. Few individuals attempted to understand this. And fewer could actually lead the arduous process of articulating and shaping a truly nuanced and composite Pakistani culture. Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari, popularly known as ZA Bukhari, was one such Renaissance man who will always be remembered for his life and works, but more importantly for filling the void, which was created due to the truncation of Indo-Muslim identity in 1947. At the time of Independence, Pakistan was beset by the greatest of its challenges, ie of coming to terms with its past and deciding about its future trajectory, conflicts which remain unresolved despite six decades of fruitless struggles. […]

Sufi rock by an immensely talented band

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

December 19th, 2010|Arts & Culture, Music|8 Comments

On ‘The Melodious Age of Mehdi Hasan’

A book review published in DAWN mentions my piece on Mehdi Hasan:

… Raza Rumi’s piece ‘The Melodious Age of Mehdi Hasan’ discusses in reasonable detail the socio-cultural impact that Khan Sahib has had on Pakistani society.

Beginning from his birth (in the town of Luna in district Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan in 1927) he touches upon the early struggling phase of his life and then, in lyrical prose, talks about the society that he is a part of and how music in particular and the arts in general are looked upon.

He writes, ‘Our greatest artists, singers, poets and intellectuals have suffered at the hands of a conformist society and state captured by puritans especially since the late ’70s.

It is never too late for the intelligentsia of this country to mobilise public pressure on the state machinery so that it learns to respect cultural diversity and the imperative to nurture a creative, healthy and civilised society.’

Showering compliments on Khan Sahib, Raza Rumi rounds off his article by claiming, ‘Miyan Tansen must be proud of his new age prodigy.’

October 18th, 2010|Arts & Culture, books, Culture|5 Comments