Melodies for patriots

August 10, 2014

In the nationalistic vigour of 1965 Pakistani artistes succeeded in creating songs that lasted beyond their time

Melodies for patriots

Come Independence Day and the media is inundated with songs that are supposed to burnish the spirit of patriotism. Similarly during the month of Ramzan the media was overflowing with recitation of either the holy text itself or the surfeit of naats, hamds, qawwalis much other texts that can be called quasi religious in nature. The purpose there too was to drum religious virtue of goodness by extolling the benefits of fasting among the believers so as to keep them away from evil.

Initially, trained vocalists recited religious texts during Ramzan and Muharrum but now stars, celebrities and above all the television hosts consider themselves competent enough to recite and chant; the criteria no longer being the competence with which the text is rendered but the fame of the person who is doing so. Thus the minimum artistic sanction does not come from the quality of rendition, rather the star value of the performer. That also determines the ratings of the performance and ratings is merit now.

This year the Independence Day is being celebrated with renewed hype by the government. This means in material terms the coffers for these events will be opened and, as a consequence, many songs will be composed, televised or streamed on the net. At best these will be command performances that follow made to order rules.

It can be said with certainty that the best taranas were created during the 1965 war with India. The run up to the war that included the Battle of Rann of Kutch and then the war itself genuinely inspired the artistes -- the vocalists, the composers and the lyricists to create something that was worthwhile, and could outlive the time that it was being created in.

It is usually the emotional need of the moment; an incident triggers the creation of such a tarana cause it is then instantly consumed. But it has to be something more than that. The taranas created then are heard even now after about 50 years and still carry the same impact that they did during the dust and heat of the war.

That period also made the people aware of the significance of these patriotic songs and they also collected all the songs that had been recorded from time to time like Allah ho Akbar, Waqte shahadat hai aya and Saathio mujahido jag utha hai sara watan. Probably the greatest stock of such songs came from the various films numbers during the last 30 odd years when songs could be used in the films on the basis of playback technology.

 Singing a song, recitation, enacting a play are all means to counter the one dimentionality of the sermon.But in our plays and songs the element of the sermon is given top priority.

Some good songs were also recorded in the 1971 war like Aey merey piyare watan pak watan by Amanat Ali Khan and Jeevay jeevay Pakistan by Shahnaz Begum but not in the same number or quality as six years ago. Perhaps it was felt that the country had entangled itself into another armed engagement without time to regenerate itself after its creative exhaustion six years earlier.

But since then, except a few, the quality of taranas or the patriotic numbers have shown a downwards graph. There is a general assumption that the arts can be used for the purposes of instruction with a small measure of delight thrown in. This makes those that are wary of the intractability of the sermon to mellow down, and be led towards the garden path of righteousness and good conduct.

Very few taranas have created that rival Aey watan ke sajeele jawano or Aey puttar hataan tey nai wikde by Noor Jehan or Rahe haq ke shaheedo wafa ki tasweero by Naseem Begum. Later probably another outstanding song was composed Watan ki mitti gawah rahna and it was sung by Nayyara Noor. Most of the songs only filled or met the need of the moment, and so could not survive and live on to be heard again after the occasion had passed.

One would only go back and listen to such songs that are created for the occasion when they have an aesthetic quality that is so good that it can be heard not for the content but the inherent merit of music. It will be the artistic quality which ensures its life rather than the heat and dust of the moment when it was created.

Some songs have been mighty popular like Hamara purcham and Dil dil Pakistan. The latter was endorsed at the highest level which facilitated its being aired on the state media and hence increased popularity but the musical quality of that song were far below that of the few mentioned above.

It is an aphorism that the artiste has to get involved if he or she has to create something worthwhile. Otherwise one goes through the motions but the real content or spirit is missing. In most of the command performances, the heart of the creative team is not in it and therefore whatever is created is passable but not good, very seldom great.

In the 1965 war probably the creative energies of the artistes were tapped and unleashed and they were able to do good work. Otherwise, on most occasions, it is like doing something that is a routine chore and the result is for all to see. It dies with the occasion.

Even if it is conceded that the function of the artistic expression is to instruct, sermonising is the least that is intended. Actually singing a song, recitation, enacting a play are all means to counter the one dimentionality of the sermon. But in our plays and songs the element of the sermon is given top priority and it thus loses whatever it tends to gain by converting it into a play or a song.

There has been too great an emphasis on the sermon, on exhortation about the right and the wrong. The hand me down prescriptions of good and evil may have a blowback consequence and the way the society is conducting itself, it appears it is only being effective in the reverse.

Melodies for patriots