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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Salamat Ali Khan Music Circle Award (SMC)

In the name of the Ustad

Tabla player and composer Tafo and vocalist Sharafat Ali Khan were given awards at the second Salamat Ali Khan Music Circle Awards ceremony, which turned out to be a variety showwrites Sarwat Ali

The second Salamat Ali Khan Music Circle Award (SMC) was shared by the tabla player/composer Tafo and vocalist Sharafat Ali Khan in a ceremony held at Alhamra, Lahore.

The main purpose of this award is to give due credit to the outstanding exponents of the classical form of music thus promoting a cause being pursued by an ever decreasing number of people in the country. An initiative of Shafqat Ali Khan, the youngest son of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, the first SMC award last year went deservedly to Ustad Ghulam Hassan Shaggan.

Ustad Salamat Ali had been rewarded with most prestigious awards of the country and his name was synonymous with khayal and thumri. After spending his formative years in undivided India, he migrated to Pakistan and soon established himself as the most promising khayal singer with his elder brother Ustad Nazakat Ali Khan. The duo was to dominate the world of classical music for the next two decades.

Belonging to the famous Shamchaurasi gharana, these two brothers actually were the founders of their own gharana of khayal gayaki. These professional musicians with proper lineage in the Punjab were dhurpad singers. Of the four major schools of dhurpad in the Punjab -- Talwandi, Haryana, Shamchaurasi and Kapurthala -- their grandfather Mian Karim Buksh was a great dhurpad singer and the flag bearer of the Shamchaurasi gayaki. But the grandsons, Nazakat Ali and Salamat Ali, chose to switch to khayal gayaki. They did not formally submit themselves to any ustad but the influences were many and the most profound were that of Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan -- the two giants of the Patiala Gharana who dominated music, with Tawakkal Hussain Khan, one of the most virtuosos of singers.

Obviously to many detractors this little rebellion from tradition where a formal ustad-shagirdi nexus assumes a mystical tradition was sacrilege. These two brothers silenced the critics with their lightning progress in this genre. They were driven to perform at a very early age due to their promise -- and also because of poverty. 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 also benefited from the tutelage of Mubarak Ali Khan, the Jallandhari qawwal. And they proceeded on the path of dikhiya, sikhiya and parikhiya (to see, to learn and to creatively assimilate) with great deal of success.

Ustad Salamat Ali Khan was blessed with a good voice which he honed with great diligence. His real forte were the lightning taans that traversed the three registers in a flash, and laikari, which was nearly unprecedented. Despite all the virtuosity, there was a base of the dhurpad as they elaborated the raag and then in the drut they astonished everyone with their taans and subtle division of the rhythmic patterns in that tempo.

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

The classical musicians who performed at the award ceremony were the recipient of last year's award Ustad Ghulam Hassan Shaggan, the recipients of this year's awards Tafo, Sharafat Ali Khan with Shafqat Ali Khan and Farrukh Bashir.

Ustad Shaggan has not compromised on his singing by lacing it with lighter forms of music. He has stuck to his guns and has been singing kheyal over these last 60 years. He has lived in difficult circumstances, almost bordering on abject poverty till a few years ago when recognition from abroad made him meet with the expenses of subsistence living.

Of the two musicians selected for the award this year, Tafo has produced sounds on the tabla which can be used in fields like background music. His influence in contemporary music as a composer and tabla player is due to his solid grounding in the Punjab baaj. Sharafat Ali Khan replaced his uncle Nazakat Ali Khan when the latter ceased to sing with his brother. He accompanied his father for almost 20 years and was perhaps rewarded for the patience he showed in remaining steadfast in his illustrious father's shadow.

Ustad Sharafat Ali Khan

Since the programme was a tribute to Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and meant to be a reminder that the glorious tradition was under threat of extinction, there was no need to include other items in the ceremony. The singers other than the performers of classical music were not top of the line, and in striving for popular appeal, some classical musicians landed in a mix up of forms, achieving precious little.

And then there was absolutely no need to have skits. From a programme with serious intent its reduction to frivolity was at the cost of losing its focal point. It became a variety programme with a bit of everything thrown in. Ironically this attitude has contributed to the decline of classical music which stakes its claim on purity of form. The inter-mixing and moving from one genre to the other in quick succession has afflicted the concentration. It runs contrary to a gradual building upon a musical idea within the discipline of a laid down formal structure. The audience too begins to treat the programme differently and the restless nature of the audience is given a free hand. It was a packed house, people moving in and out with regularity as they would do in a variety show.

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