Paying tribute

December 10, 2023

Vocalist Badar-uz Zaman was also a very serious scholar of music

Paying tribute


ll his life Badar-uz Zaman, who died last week, served the cause of music in more ways than one. The general public knew him primarily as a vocalist of the kheyal tradition, as he sang in the duo format with his brother Qamar-uz Zaman, but he was also a very serious scholar of music who contributed significantly through his various publications.

His mentor in this field was Rashid Malik whose scholarship was not based on either hearsay or wish-fulfillment. It was solidly squared on research and citations. Music could not be retained in its primary form since it existed only in time till the technological revolution of recording arrived, the documentation is thus varied and sketchy. There is scant literature in Persian and Urdu. It is difficult to maintain historical continuity. The large gaps that need to be filled in have been handled with consistency and reasonableness and not with fanciful anecdotal leaps. This has been made doubly difficult by an insistence that music is something to be performed and not talked and written about.

Pakistan has had an unfortunate stance on account of the contradictions regarding the arts, particularly the performing arts. A lot of music is created and the people love to listen to it. This has been the case all along but there is also a shadow of disapproval. The role and contribution of Muslim vocalists and instrumentalists has been immense and since it was dismissed for lacking religious sanction. On the flip side, the role was overemphasised and links established with the musical traditions of Persia and Arabia. Any educated person can conclude that an evolution took place over centuries and that the creative intake was welcomed, primarily as ensconced in the ethos of the land.

The dominant narrative has been so built that it rests on negating the historical evidence. Music, not really owned by the cultural establishment, had to find refuge in the hands of private lovers of music. They have been responsible for maintaining the sanctity of the tradition. Badar-uz Zaman painstakingly collected the evidence and credited it to a source, thus establishing its authenticity. He collected the bols of many asthai-antaras and reconstructed them not only as they sounded after being passed on from generation to generation but also made them lyrically comprehensible.

No serious effort has been made to record this oral history but Badar-uz Zaman, himself very articulate, documented these. He also made it a part of his pool of researched material to dip into.

Belonging to the Kasur Gharana and being a shagird of Chotay Ghulam Ali Khan, he focused on the contribution made to music by the musicians of the town in particular and the Punjab in general. The remains of Tansen’s jagir that was granted to him by Akbar are in Kasur. The role of Mian Shori’s family is also well-known in fostering the musical tradition in the faraway Lucknow. In the same family were born Shakkar Khan and Makhan Khan, who are the ancestors of the kheyal gaiks who elevated the form to the level of serious music. Its stylistic divisions in the various gharanas crystallized over time.

A great part of the history is wrapped in lore that is recounted verbally by the leading practitioners and scholars of music. No serious effort has been made to record this oral history but Badar-uz Zaman, himself very articulate, documented these. He also made it part of his pool of researched material to dip into. He kept the debate alive along with people like Saeed Mallik, Ghulam Haider, Nasir Beg Mirza, Pervez Paras, Master Manzoor and Professor Israr, MA Sheikh. By firing polemical salvos at others and at one another, these scholars kept the cauldron on boil.

Being employed by the Punjab Council of the Arts and being transferred to stations like Dera Ghazi Khan gave him the space and time to do serious work. It resulted in a number of publications that focus on the controversies, the performers, the histories of gharanas, of forms and also of the instruments.

He established a publishing house and his books have carried the same banner: Idara-i-Farogh-i- Fun-i-Mausiqi. Some of his publications are Taal Sagar, Surmandal, Ramooz-i-Sitar, Sada Rung, Sangeet kay Sitarey, Tappa, Nawa-i-Mauseeqi, Sada-i-Mausiqi. He also republished some of seminal works with commentaries. These included Maraf-ul Naghmaat by Thakur Nawab Ali, and Tohfat-ul Hind by Mirza Muhammad.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore

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