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Semi Classical Music of Pakistan


At the end of Muslim rule in the subcontinent, most Mughal court musicians moved from Delhi to the relative peace and safety of smaller principalities. Here, a new musical movement gained momentum. This movement sought some relaxation from the structural limitations of the khayal form to allow singers to express lighter musical thoughts. This new trend resulted in the emergence of two closely related genres, the Thumri and the Dadra.



The thumri is one of the most interesting forms of music which is still popular among contemporary classical vocalists. Because it enjoys comparative freedom from the rigid conventions of orthodox classical music, it is considered a light form of classical music.

The most widely current theory connects the origin of both the thumri and the dadra with the royal courts of Awadh, especially that of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, who himself was musician of great merit.

Thumri is derived from the word thumak, meaning a lady's graceful gait. It is indicative of a striking note of tenderness, and the themes of its songs are invariably related to some phase of human love in a state of amorous separation or union. Like other genres, the thumri has its own distinguishing characteristics. The poetic content of its songs play a major role in creating the desired pleasing effect. Sometimes its poetic themes have double meanings, referring to matters both spiritual and mandane. Many musicians therefore consider it the most lyrical of all light classical forms.

Vocalists recommend that a thumri be rendered in a special quality of voice. The female voice is generally considered superior to the male voice in producing the desired effect. The thumri can be accompanied by plucked, bowed, or wind instruments such as the sitar and sarod, sarangi and violin, or flute and shehnai respectively.

The three most popular styles of thumri are Banarsi, Lucknavi, and Punjabi. The Lucknavi style, developed by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, is characterized by a certain grace and flexibility of tonal embellishments, while the Punjabi style resembles the tappastyle of singing.

Among the greatest exponents of both the Banarsi and Lucknavi styles of thumri singing have been Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and Ustad Fayyaz Khan Payare Sahib, while Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and his brother, Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, successfully represented the Punjabi style. Present-day exponents of the Punjabi style in Pakistan are Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and Farida Khanum.



Considered even lighter than the thumri is the dadra. This style of singing resembles the thumri in structure, theme and treatment. The main difference is the time measure used for this genre. It is sung only in a six-beat cycle.


Ghulam Ali

Ghulam Ali, an acclaimed ghazal and thumri singer, was born in 1942 in village Kaley Ke Naagrey, Daska, Sialkot. His father, Daulat Ali Jaffri, loved music, particularly the kheyals and thumris of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Barkat Ali Khan.

Ghulam Ali began singing as a child, performing for a children's programme broadcast by Radio Pakistan. When he sang a thumriin Raag Pilu before Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in 1958, the Ustad immediately recognized the boy's talent. There began a long journey of devotion and dedication to music. For fourteen years Ghulam Ali studied and served under two luminaries of the Patiala gharana, Barkat Ali Khan and Mubarak Ali Khan, both brothers of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Barkat Ali taught him the nuances of the thumri and dadra, while Mubarak Ali Khan taught him kheyal singing.

In Lahore, he sang for the first time in 1960, rendering a thumri in Raag Pilu and a kafi of Bulleh Shah at the All Pakistan Music Conference. He sang his first ghazal, "Sham Ko Subhey Watan Yaad Aiee," in 1964. It received wide acclaim. Over three decades Ghulam Ali has sung about 5,000 ghazals from the works of Ghalib, Dagh, Mir, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, and Ahmad Faraz. Almost all Ghulam Ali's renderings are based on his own compositions. His singing is particularly cherished by Pakistanis and Indians living abroad, who play his cassettes and remember home.

For the past ten years Ghulam Ali has perforemd regularly at private functions in India. Among his friends and listeners are Pundit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Allah Rakha, and Hari Parshad Chaurasiya. They are appreciative of his interpretations of the ghazal andthumri. At home, he has sung before such well-wishers as Roshan Ara Begum, Ustad Amanet Ali, and Fateh Ali Khan, Mehdi Hassan, and Farida Khanum. He is a recipient of the President's Pride of Performance Award.

At concerts in the Far East, Europe, and the United States, Ghulam Ali has covered a wide repertoire of Urdu poets, from Ghalib to Faiz. He sings to please, not to impress, and the aesthetic quality is always prominent in his performances.

A widower, Ghulam Ali moved to Islamabad in 1985 with his mother, four daughters, and two sons. He rehearses daily and tutors his 17-year old son, Nazar Abbass Ali, for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening.


Iqbal Bano

Iqbal Bano, born in Rohtas on 16 August 1938, is ranked as one of the best female exponents of ghazal singing. Her complete grasp on both ghazal and thumri singing reflects refinement and elegance on one hand, and sensuousness and playfulness on the other. She has adopted a style which is simple, spontaneous and lyrical, yet subdued and elegant.

Iqbal Bano's father was a strict, conservative Pathan from Swat. Her mother was from Delhi. Their neighbours, good friends of the family, were Hindus who ran a musical training academy in their home. Iqbal Bano used to lead the prayers in her school. One day, her neighbours heard her recite this prayer and were amazed at the quality of her voice. They asked her parents to send her to their academy for training. Reluctantly, her father agreed. Thus began Iqbal Bano's journey into music. She studied at the academy and gradually progressed. Her first singing appearance was with a group of children on a radio programme. After some months, she was taken to the regular music studios of the radio station, where she was introduced to musicians and a professional atmosphere for the first time.

She began her formal training under the guidance of Ustad Chand Khan Sahib, who coached her in the intricacies of classical music for a year and a half. Using her God-given gift, she learned quickly. Her speed at picking up new notes and combinations was a source of great pride for herself and her teacher.

Soon after independence, Iqbal Bano and her family moved to Pakistan. Her teacher, who was losing his star pupil, tried his best to dissuade her father from leaving, but what was lost to Delhi, became the prize of Lahore.

Her first public performance in Pakistan was at the Lahore Arts Council under the guidance of Chaudhry Bashir Ahmed. She sang well, and her audience were very appreciative. One concert soon led to another, and her career was truly launched. When her family moved to Multan, Iqbal Bano continued to sing for radio, films, and later television. She also won the President's Pride of Performance Award.

While she has sung for over 50 films (she went to see her first, “Gumnaam”, wearing a burqa so that she could test the audience's reaction), her first love is still performing for a live audience. She always inquires about the type of people invited to the gathering, as this helps her to select what she should sing.


Surriya Multanikar

Surriya Multanikar was born in 1940 in Multan. He earliest childhood memories are of wanting to excel as a singer. No one in her immediate family could either teach or advise her, so she taught herself by listening to film songs and copying their tunes and lyrics.

Surriya was only seven years old when Roshan Ara Begum visited her house in Multan. She taught Surriya a ghazal which Surriya skillfully presented the next day. Impressed by the child's voice, Roshan Ara asked her parents to provide her with a qualified teacher. A year later she sang for Pir Sharif, who predicted that the child would someday be famous. Because her family could not afford to pay for her training, Pir Sharif asked Fauji Khan, his disciple and a well-known music teacher of Multan, to give Surriya her initial training free of charge. Three months later, when Pir Sharif died, Surriya went home. No one spoke of music until three years later, when Fauji Khan came to visit the family. With great difficulty, he persuaded them to let him teach the young girl in fulfillment of the wishes of his Pir.

At the age of thirteen Surriya sang in front of Ustad Khan Sahib Bundoo Khan, a well-known classical singer, who was impressed by her voice. She later auditioned for radio, and soon her career as a child star began. She sang under the name Surriya Begum until her first public performance in Karachi, where Ustad Khan Sahib Bandoo Khan gave her the name Multanikar. She started her career in mid fifties and won popularity on the basis of "Barey Bey Murawwat Hein Yeh Husn waley". She is considered to be a top class singer of Seraiki folk songs and Khawaja Farid's Kafis. She is equally excellent at rendering ghazals and some of her best performances are reflected in the singing of Ghalib's ghazals. In her highly individual style of singing there is a unique combination of folk and classical traditions.

Now in semi-retirement, Surriya Multankiar still sings for Radio Multan on a regular monthly basis and also performs for Pakistan Television occasionally. She yearns to teach someone who would learn with the same passion with which she would teach, but she has yet to find a pupil who fulfills those requirements. She vows that she will continue singing until the last breath leaves her body."Music is and will always be my life and soul. it is an integral part of me which I treasure most religiously," she says. She was awarded pride of performance medal in 1986.

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