Flute maestro

April 7, 2024

Baqir Abbas, a world-class bansuri-nawaz, has been honoured with a presidential medal

Flute maestro


aqir Abbas has been our outstanding bansuri player for the past many years. He has now been deservedly awarded the Presidential Medal for the Pride of Performance.

He is not unknown to the younger generation like many other musicians who are into serious music. This is in part because he has made regular appearances in Coke Studio. Even in short pieces, he has impressed most of the viewers and listeners with his virtuosity.

Abbas hails from a family of musicians, His ancestors were dhrupad gaiks. Ustad Bhurreh Khan was one of them. In the subsequent generations, the family concentrated more on instrumental music, in particular, wind instruments and those that are blown into. The most prominent of those in the subcontinent has been the bansuri. In his pre-teens, Baqir Abbas chose it as the medium for his musical expression.

He has recounted in some interviews how he impressed his elders in his first attempt at playing the instrument so that he was readily accepted as a shagird and learnt from the family and a range of musicians around him. He owes a special debt to his uncle Ghulam Shabbir Chabbi, the brother of his father Ghulam Abbas Bhola who was also an instrumentalist. His musical apprenticeship took him to the radio where he picked up precious tips from those who gathered at the radio canteen and talked, discussed and lived music.

Baqir Abbas’s real merit for survival has been his versatility. He did not, like many of his predecessors such as Sain Ditta Qadri, Khadim Hussain and Salamat Hussain, limit himself to the classical genres or to accompanying vocal music but has expanded his playing technique and with it the quality of his sound production. He has absorbed influence from outstanding flutists all over the world. In his interviews, he quotes many international flutists belonging to various musical traditions that he has being been influenced by or had the honour of playing with in live performances or recordings.

Baqir Abbas’s real merit for survival has been his versatility. He did not, like many of his predecessors limit himself to the classical genre or to accompanying vocal music but has expanded his playing technique and with it the quality of his sound production by absorbing influences from outstanding flutists all over the world.

Bansuri has been an ancient presence in the sub-continent. It has been mentioned in the texts and there have been pictographic images of it. It has mythical status because it is linked to Krishan who’s totally magical playing of the flute made Radha and the Gopis succumb to his charming advances.

The present shape of the bansuri is attributed to Panna Lal Ghosh, the legendary bansuri nawaz of the Twentieth Century who, as the saying goes, was considered the greatest bansuri player since Krishan himself. He changed the instrument to suit the changing musical taste of the people. By making its diameter bigger, the instrument meant for playing folk melodies was creatively modified into one where the kheyal in all its four lais and three saptaks could be played. Meanwhile, the mesmerising quality of the sound has been retained. The traditional basuri, much smaller, is not played sideways and is basically meant for playing bandishes in the upper register.

When Indian music was taken abroad as a part of foreign policy, the instrumental music received greater acceptance. As the expression is not divided between the note (sur) and the word, Ravi Shanker, Ali Akbar Khan, Bismillah Khan, Amjad Ali Khan and Shiv Kumar Sharma were much more popular on the world stage than the first rank vocalists of the subcontinent. Hari Prasad Chaurasia, too, is very well regarded and is sought after by international audiences all over the world and carries the footprint of the other great instrumentalists of India who introduced the high culture to an international audience.

One wishes that Baqir Abbas also plays the bansuri in the concerts of classical music more often to give due outpouring to his immense talent. Exhaustive raagdari is what is expected of him not once but many times over for him to be recognized at par with the great bansuri nawaz musicians of the times. It has to be conceded that live concerts of classical music are becoming rarer by the day and the opportunities for performance, especially of solo instruments are rarer still. Baqir Abbas has the ability and the creative resource to meet the highest benchmark that can be set up by the connoisseurs of music.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore

Flute maestro