Music and tradition

January 8, 2023

Sain Zahoor and Abida Parveen represent two strains of folk music in the country

Music and tradition


wo performers with a very wide age difference performed at the Sufi Night at Alhamra Cultural Complex last week.

Sain Zahoor is no stranger to the music lovers of the country, as indeed in other parts of the world where music is heard and appreciated. Now with the Diaspora is not limited to Britain and the United States but spreads to other parts of the world as well, with bigger chunks of the population than ever before, the Pakistani musicians are now in demand across the globe. Sain Zahoor felt very ill while performing in London and collapsed on stage. He was rushed to the hospital and fortunately for everyone recovered and is performing again across the globe and in Pakistan, which is his home base. A few months ago he was also awarded the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Music.

Tahseen Sakina, on the other hand, is a young artiste who has become prominent in the recent past because she has been emulating the legendary Abida Parveen. The latter is a hard act to follow but a younger exponent taking up the challenge and that too with a degree of seriousness is a good sign for the continuation of a cultural tradition that is vibrant and provides vitality to the cultural practices of today.

Initially, the Aga Khan Award was meant for architecture but then its scope was expanded to include music from the Muslim world a well. Officially, it reflects the conviction of His Highness the Aga Khan that music can serve as a cultural anchor, deepening a sense of community, identity and heritage while simultaneously reaching out in powerful ways to people of different backgrounds. In naming this year’s laureates, the jury expressed its desire to support as many outstanding nominees as possible from the geographically and culturally diverse pool of close to 400 nominations in a time of urgent need for musicians and music educators. While contributing to the preservation and ongoing development of musical heritage, many of the laureates draw on the power of music to raise awareness about social and environmental issues. Sain Zahoor qualified to meet with the criteria and won the award.

Music and tradition

It was heartening to listen to Tahseen Sakina. She has been inspired by Abida Parveen and sings in the same ang. She is at a stage where she is repeatedly requested for numbers that Abida Parveen has made famous and is obliged to satisfy the musical needs of the audience but she should also be singing her own numbers to stamp her position on the musical scene of the country. The tyranny of popularity is something even the more established vocalists and artistes face as they are requested by the audiences to render their famous numbers especially in a live performance. Any attempt at the artiste rendering his or her new numbers receives in comparison a lukewarm response as time and again, the calls go up for the more popular numbers even if they are not the greatest. In terms of pure musical quality, it is an old debate about popularity and quality as the two are not necessarily always in synch.

Sain Zahoor and Abida Parveen represent two strains of folk music in the country. While Abida Parveen follows the strain where the training in kheyal and kaafi helps her add virtuosity to her rendition, Sain Zahoor, on the basis of the purity of the note, renders his numbers more in the geet format with great evocation. In the tradition of the roving minstrel, Sain Zahoor’s compositions are simple and easy but making them appealing requires the correct intonation of the sur, an ability that he is endowed with. He carries the eiktara and strums it along his singing and occasional dancing to emphasise the origins of the folk music that he practices. He has on purpose not let the essential link sap in the face of great influences that the contemporary musician is exposed to.

Abida Parveen has followed the great complexity of the musical folk rendition that started with Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan’s forays into Sindhi and Punjabi folk musical forms, adding more layers of musical depth with greater virtuosity. It is hoped that the young Tahseen Sakina will not limit herself to the numbers that Abida Parveen have made famous but will reach a stage soon where the demand for her originality becomes the more important factor in driving people’s responses. She has the talent and hopefully it will be matched by her dedication to excel in her own ang. The challenge may be formidable but she has the capacity to meet it and forge a style that is her own and at the same time linked to the richness of our traditional manner of intonation.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore.

Music and tradition