The finer notes

February 23, 2020

How the subtleties of musical expression have succumbed to popular demands

Shakir Ali Museum.

A concert of Ghulam Abbas was held at the Shakir Ali Museum last week and it was attended by those who are initiated into the finer aspects of music.

Ghulam Abbas is from Multan and like many others from that area he made a name for himself in the field of singing particularly via ghazal and film songs. Later as there appeared to be more opportunities in Lahore, which then was the capital of filmmaking in the country, he shifted here and continued to express himself as long as his style of singing stayed popular.

He was first noticed in the film Ashiq Log Saudai and it was Mehdi Hasan, it is said who appreciated his singing and advised that he become a formal shagird of an ustad. He also helped him become a shagird of Ustad Ismail, an uncle of Mehdi Hasan and one of his most formative influences.

It was the ardent desire of Ghulam Abbas to become the shagird of Mehdi Hasan and in his various interviews he talked about the travails and hardships being accepted as a shagird by Mehdi Hasan. It was not so much that the ustad did not have confidence in the young Ghulam Abbas but that he was so busy and sought after in the 1960-70s that he hardly had time for being an instructor. The next best option was to tag along with the ustad and to be around when he performed or recorded and in the process pick up the finer aspects of his art. This has been the general pattern as the ustads just serve as the example and the shagird is equipped enough to emulate and understand the intricacies involved and so benefit from it.

The same intonation is evident in the gaiki of Ghulam Abbas. He carried the tradition of singing in the next decades which was the dain (gift) of his ustad’s gharana.

Popular music has changed greatly in the last couple of decades and the way a note is intoned has been most effected. The vocalists, once masters of bringing out the subtleties found themselves to be singing to audiences that wanted more rhythmic input and straight rendition of the note.

As it happens in a concert, vocalists are bombarded with requests from the audience and they are generally more popular numbers. It is known to happen that the artiste has experimented or is keen to render a recent number but he or she is in a way overruled by the eager members of the audience who think its their right to demand the performance of a certain number. Usually in concerts it becomes very difficult for performers to be assertive and stay their course without acceding to popular wishes. One had even seen Mehdi Hasan surrendering to popular wishes and not being fully appreciated for the new ghazal numbers he was desperate to sing. The audiences were keener to listen to his film numbers.

Shakir Ai Museum, actually the house that Shakir Ali built was taken over and purchased by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts after his death after due legal proceedings and since then has been serving as a house museum. He had built this over a period of many years and it is a work of art itself. His students who later became very well known in their respective fields contributed to its architectural design and helped in making it a very distinct architectural piece.

It is also the only property that the Pakistan National Council of the Arts has in Lahore and therefore also serves as their outpost in the culture capital of Lahore. It has been a platform not only for the visual arts, which many thought that it should have been, but of many art forms including music, dance and theatre. It has also been hosting workshops and seminars, poetry readings and lectures on literature and film-making.

Shakir Ali himself was a multidimensional person. His interests stretched beyond painting. He was a short-story writer and deeply interested in music. It was due to his persistence that the multi-disciplinary approach to the arts has since featured at the National College of Arts as the bedrock of all artistic experience.

It can play a larger role than it has been traditionally assigned to and at times it is the limitation of space, resources and logistics that circumscribe the desire to do so.

Subtleties of musical expression have succumbed to popular demands