A little rebellion from the tradition

July 19, 2020

Nazakat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan adopted and excelled at kaafi gaiki after moving to Multan in 1947

Ustads Nazakat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan started singing together during their childhood and were groomed musically in a way that their gaiki supported each other to blossom into a unified artistic expression. During the course of their long career, there was a falling out, and in the latter part of it each of them sang alone. Salamat Ali Khan was stricken by paralysis but he overcame it to perform till the end, making a very significant contribution to two forms: kheyal and kaafi.

Actually when Nazakat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan migrated to the new country, there were very few takers for the musical form that they had mastered. And since their first stop was Multan, there were even fewer fans who appreciated the kheyal. So they switched to singing the kaafi in an ang that had been established by the likes of Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan. It then took off and they were recognized as a significant young presence in the initiated music circles of the new country. The very rich musical heritage that was expressed in the kheyal started to be expressed in the kaafi and a new form of singing the kaafi was established.

Iqbal Bano, too, faced the same dilemma when she shifted to Multan after 1947 from Dehli-Haryana as thumri had few adherents there. She initially switched to the ghazal but then to the kaafi. She gradually gained greater recognition and eventually shifted to Lahore. A new phase in her singing career started with the relocation. The same transference of musical expression took place in the ghazal as the rich musical expression also became incorporated into ghazal gaiki in Pakistan, flowering, for instance, in Mehdi Hassan.

In a way, the two brothers followed the tradition faithfully. At the same time, they were sensitive to change and innovation. Belonging to the famous Shaam Chaurasi Ghrana, these two brothers actually were the architects of their own style of kheyal gaiki. These professional musicians with proper lineage in the Punjab were dhurpad singers.

The four major schools of dhurpad in the Punjab are: Talwandi, Haryana, Sham Chaurasi and Kapurthala. Their grandfather Mian Karim Buksh was a great dhurpad singer and the flag bearer of the Sham Chaurasi gaiki, but the grandsons, Nazakat Ali and Salamat Ali, chose to switch to kheyal gaiki.

They did not formally submit themselves to any ustad but were influenced by many. The most profound impact on their style was that of Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan and Ustad Barray Ghulam Ali Khan – the two giants of the Patiala Gharana who dominated music, with Tawakkul Hussain Khan, one of the most virtuous of singers in the first half of the 20th Century. By proceeding on the path of dikhiya, sikhiya and parikhiya (to see, to learn and to creatively assimilate), they achieved great success.

Obviously to many detractors, this little rebellion from the tradition where a formal ustad-shagird nexus assumes a mystical tradition was a sacrilege. However, these two brothers silenced the critics with their lightening progress in this genre. They were driven at a very early to perform in public. The family just could not bear to see them not become earning members to salvage a near-desperate situation at home. They got their early training from their father Vilayat Ali Khan. Probably, they also benefited from the tutelage of Mubarak Ali Khan, the Jalandhari qawwal.

Lahore was a centre of music in the sub-continent, but classical music had a larger audience in the erstwhile East Pakistan. When the patronage of the princely states in the Punjab and Sindh ended, many musicians were cut off from their umbilical cord. The classical musicians and gaiks in the first twenty five years of the country’s existence made extensive trips from the western to the eastern wing, where they were more appreciated. That also ensured economic sustenance which otherwise was not assured based on the response that they received from the western wing.

After the dismemberment of the country the ordeal of these classical musicians became even more difficult and some started to make forays into the west where Ravi Shanker and Ali Akbar Khan had made the initial breakthroughs. Pakistani musicians, too, performed to the diaspora of the sub-continent and gained a larger audience and means of sustaining themselves.

Among the classical vocalists, Salamat Ali Khan was more adventurous that others. Later, he was followed by qawwals like Nusrat Fateh Ali who gained a worldwide audience.

Ustad Salamat Ali Khan was blessed with a good voice, which he honed with great diligence. His real forte was the lightening taans that traversed the three registers in a flash, and laikari, which was almost unprecedented. Despite all the virtuosity, there was a dhurpad base elaborated in the raga. In the drut tempo, he astonished everyone with his taans and the subtle division of the rhythmic patterns.

Needless to say Ustad Salamat Ali Khan was the dominant partner, but the elder Ustad Nazakat Ali Khan had a mellifluous voice that could also traverse the three registers. It was he who formed the basic aesthetic tonal pattern of the raga. One of the most difficult things in kheyal or dhurpad is to establish this aesthetic tonal pattern (shakal) of the raga. Nazakat Ali Khan was very good at conjuring a sketch, Salamat Ali Khan would then took over and start adding colour by dividing, sub-dividing and combining the variations of stress that enunciated the musical possibilities inherent to the raga.

Shafqat Salamat Ali Khan has been carrying forward the legacy of the family and performing all over the world which is no longer the big deal it used to be sixty years ago. The world has become much more eclectic in its tastes and the musical influences are picked up at great speed although organic assimilated is still much slower. Ustad Salamat Ali Khan’s barsi (death anniversary) was last week.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore.

A little rebellion from the tradition