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Friday May 24, 2024

Musicologist SM Shahid launches another book on classical music

By Bilal Ahmed & Zubair Ashraf
December 22, 2023

The National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) on Thursday hosted a musical event to launch a book on classical musicians ‘Great Masters [of] Pakistani Classical Music and other memorabilia about classical, ghazal and folk music’ authored by Napa’s adviser on music and retired advertising professional SM Shahid who has earlier authored books on the Indian classical music.

This picture shows a view of the NAPA on December 19, 2022. — Facebook/NAPA - National Academy of Performing Arts
This picture shows a view of the NAPA on December 19, 2022. — Facebook/NAPA - National Academy of Performing Arts

It contains small pieces giving information on the lives and careers of 20 great classical musical maestros of the country with their portraits drawn by artist and filmmaker Sharjeel Baloch. Eight of those portraits — those of sarangi player Ustad Bundu Khan, Kirana vocalist Roshanara Begum, Gwalior vocalist Ustad Bhai Lal, tabla player Ustad Karim Bakhsh Pairna, sarangi player Ustad Hamid Hussain Khan, vocalist Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, sarangi player and Delhi Gharana vocalist Ustad Umrao Bundu Khan and Sham Chaurasi vocalist Ustad Salamat Ali Khan — have also found their way on the cover of the book.

The book also has a section on musical instruments used in classical music. It also defines classical music jargon for the laymen.

The launch ceremony was held at Napa’s Zia Mohyeddin Theatre and moderated by Muhammad Abdullah Haroon. Those who spoke on the book included the author and the artist along with former senator Javed Jabbar and corporate executive Saadia Naveed.

“Shahid’s meticulous preservation of the past serves as a lighthouse, guiding us back to the roots of our musical legacy,” Saadia said. She represented her father Khawar Masood Butt, a businessperson and connoisseur of classical music who sponsored the book. She said some of the favourite singers of her father and Shahid echoed through the narrative of this book.

Referring to a comment by Shahid for him that he could draw a portrait in a night, Baloch said that all of the portraits, except one, were finalised by him in the fifth or sixth attempt. He said that although he could come up with a portrait in one night, but then would reject the same in the morning.

When asked if music helped him in his artistic works, Baloch said he preferred to listen to instrumental music while working. He, however, added that sometimes listening to music during creating artworks would help and sometimes if it was so powerful that it would absorb all the attention, making it difficult for him to focus. He remarked that music surely helped him in relaxing during breaks.

Despite its brevity, Jabbar termed the book a Shahnama, which translates into book of kings. He said that although the author and him belonged to the same profession of advertising, which is an art of making whole lies out of half-truths, Shahid was a peculiarity in the advertising industry.

He said that although the book was not too big with around 100 pages, it carried immense knowledge.

He added that the books contained a whole section on elementary terminologies for youngster to help them understand the classical musical terms such as ten principles scales of classical music called thaats, seven basic notes, types of raags and their names, and finally structured rhythm modes.

The author was of the view that musical talent was God gifted. He advised that only those should learn music who had the talent, and that talent emerged in the initial years.

He deplored that in Pakistani society, music was not considered a talent but a defect, because of which this talent was often killed at an early age. He cited the example of India, saying that small children were singing there like professionals, because of a conducive environment.

He said that out of his passion to revive classical music, he was teaching music to children. Musical talent was in abundance in remote parts of the country, such as Thar, in comparison to cosmopolitan cities, Shahid remarked.

He said he had students from Hindu and Christian families and wondered why his Muslim students did not stay for long with him to pursue musical education. To this, Jabbar said it was a paradox of the Pakistani society, especially its religious section of middle class who would love to enjoy music in buses and other places but discourage classical music by attaching a figuratively derogatory term ‘Mirasi’ to it.

He, however, lauded the Sindh government for making a decision to teach music in schools across the province. The former senator urged the government to publicly endorse music and discourage parental resistance against teaching music to children.

After the discussion, three young girl students of Shahid, Eden Samuel, aged seven, Kirpa Dhanja, aged eight, and Jessica Dhanja, aged three, rendered different film songs composed in raags like Mohe Bhool Gaye Sanwariya composed in Raag Bhairov. It was followed by an instrumental performance by sitar player Farhan Rais Khan, his brother Huzoor Hasnain Khan and Napa faculty member Ustad Bashir Khan on the tabla.

The book has been beautifully designed. However, one wishes it had more details and many half-filled pages were completely filled. Moreover, as only 20 maestros were selected, information about many other great names could not be included and only their names were mentioned in a list. The classical maestros whose information were omitted in this way include many major names such as vocalists Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, Ustad Barkat Ali Khan and Mukhtar Begum, tabla player Ustad Tafu Khan and sarangi player Ustad Nazim Ali Khan.