Saturday, June 3, 2017

Kesarbai Kerkar: Jaa't Kahan Ho?


Kesarbai Kerkar (केसरबाई केरकर, 1892 -1977) was a classical vocalist,  the most prominent disciple of Alladiya Khan (1855–1946), the founder of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. She was one of the most noted Indian classical 'khayal' singers of the 20th century.  This thumri of her's in Raga Bhairavi, Taal Deepchandi, is part of the golden disk aboard the Voyager I & II spacecraft that carries a record of humanity's achievements and aspirations into interstellar space.


 


जा'त कहाँ हो अकेली गोरी, जाने न पैय्यों
केसर रंग के माठ भये होय, होरी खेलत कान्हा रे

Jaat kahan ho, akeli gori, jaane na paiyyon
Where do you go alone, girl, do your feet not know?

Kesar rang ke maath bhaye hoy, Hori khelat Kanha re
The fields are colored saffron, Krishna plays Holi (there I go.)

The sense is that of a companion or elder asking the young lady where she ventures by herself. She answers: Krishna (Kanha) is calling, playing Holi (Hori) in the fields, they are (i.e. my world is) become the color of renunciation.

Quo Vadis? We could ask that of any Voyager.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rasoolan Bai: Jaawe Man Najar Nahin Aaye

Rasoolan Bai (1902 – 1974) was a classical tawaif of the Benaras gharana. She specialized in the romantic Purabi Ang  - Eastern Arm - of the Thumri and Tappa musical genres.

The Tappa is a form of Indian semi-classical vocal music. Its specialties are its rolling pace and its knotty construction. The tunes are melodious; intended to mimic the emotions of a forlorn - perhaps God-obsessed - lover.

Tappas originated in folk songs of camel riders of Punjab. The style was refined and introduced to the imperial court of the Mughal Emperor Mohammad Shah 'Rangeela' in the 1720s; and thence to the court of Asaf-ud-Daulah, Nawab of Awadh. It then spread to Benaras and Bengal. In Bengal, Ramnidhi Gupta's compositions form a genre called Nidhu Babu's Tappas. Tappa gayaki took new shape in Bengal, and, over the decades, became puratani, a popular semi-classical form of Bengali vocal music.

Rasoolan Bai was born in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, in a poor family, of a musical mother - Adalat. At the age of five, her prodigy was recognized and she was sent to learn music from Ustad Shammu Khan, and later from the sarangiyas Ashiq Khan and Ustad Najju Khan. She became an expert in tappa singing and went on to dominate the Hindustani classical music genre for next five decades, basing herself in Varanasi and becoming the doyenne of Benaras gharana. In 1948, she stopped performing mujra, moved out of her kotha, married a sari dealer, and moved into a bylane.

Below, Rasoolan Bai sings a tappa in Raga Gaud Sarang. The lyrics are very simple:

Jaawe man, najar nahin aaye -
(Dhhondhata phirat nisi-din, sun Miyo.)

My mind goes (to Him), my eyes do not see (Him)
I look (for Him) night-and-day; listen, Master.

This material was morphed by Sachin-karta into his Ghum Bhulechhi Nijhhum,  and from there into Hum Bekhudi Mein Tumko Pukare Chale Gaye, where it is sung in a cousin-raga, the Chhayanat. The ragas Kedar, Gaud Sarang, and Chhayanat have very similar melodic movements.




Rasoolan Bai was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in Hindustani music Vocal in 1957 by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy of Music, Dance and Theatre. Despite an illustrious musical career, she died in penury, running a small tea shop out of a hovel next to the radio station from where she had often broadcast in her heyday.



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Moujuddin Khan: Bajawa Re Baar Baar Baje

The defeat of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 led to the collapse of centers of cultural patronage in Awadh, Agra and Delhi. The famous courtesans of the age moved around in search of benefactors to Benares or Kolkata. Victoria Hemmings - the famous Maika Jaan - and her daughter (by one dry-ice engineer named William Yeoward) Angelina better known as Gauhar Jaan - are two famous singers who followed this trajectory.

Between the 1870s and 1930s, Benares came into its own as a center for classical or semi-classical music. This was the age of Rasoolan Bai, Siddeshwari, Moti Bai; the thumri in Eastern-style or Purbi-ang reached its zenith. Veshya-Stotra written by Babu Bacchu Singh in the 1890s lists over 100 tawaifs or courtesans, each of whom would conduct a mehfil every few days.

Compared to the teentaal based regular beats of the courts of Oudh, Benares preferred the irregular 1-2-3/1-2-3-4 deepchandi. The lyrics and melodic span were simple, the goal was a contemplative depth of emotion. Boating parties carrying the singers and their patrons would ply the Ganges all night. A music lover was to lament in 1979:

Ah - at 2 in the night - Siddeshwari in one boat, Kashi Bai in another, Rasoolan in a third. Each singing different ragas - one a chaiti in Jogiya. Sometimes all three boats would come together, sometimes they would all float separately. People would forget where they were going. Where are those days now?

Below, Reba Muhury (who sang Mohey Lagi Lagan in Satyajit Ray's Benares-based Jai Baba Felunath) revives a thumri from that era. The composition is attributed by Smt. Muhury to Moujuddin Khan Saheb, the guru of the Elder Moti Bai. The simple - even rustic - lyrics describe the wedding procession of Rama and Sita in Awadh. It is sung with an artlessness that is the art, and contrasts with the sensual histrionics of the other styles of singing.




Bajawa re baar baar baje
Awadh mein
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Pragat char bhaiyya
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Behak saaj saaje.
Raja Dasarath ati sukhat bhayo
Kanchan roupya det lutaiyyan.
Puranari sab harash bhar
Abir gulal det udaiyyan.

The strings and pipes they play and play
O - in Awadh
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Proceed the brothers four
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Beguilingly decked all o'er.
King Dasarath, so happy is
Of gold and silver he the strewer.
Women-folk of town in joy
Let colors fly in the air.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bhawaiya : Diney Diney

The territory of the Bhawaiya folk song is North Bengal, Coochbehar, and Assam -  also covering much of the Rangpuri-dialect-speaking areas of northern Bangladesh.  Some say Bhawaiya is derived from "bhava" - emotion.   Others think the term originated from the word "bhabaiya" -  that which inspires contemplation. Certainly the themes of this genre are contemplation, love, and loss. The lyrics below are traditional - dated sometime between the 17th and 19th centuries, now resurrected in a MTV sherwani. (Disregard the mishmash of overlaid new-age Punjabi lyrics, which bear no relation to the original.)




দিনে দিনে খসিয়া পড়িবে
রঙ্গিলা দালানের মাটি গোসাঁইজি ... কোন রঙে?

Diney diney khoshiya poribe
Rongila dalaner mati Gosain-ji ...  Kon rongey?

Day by day will crumble
Mud-walls of this pretty-colored house, O priest ... In what color?

বাঁধিছেন ঘর মিছা
মিছা দ্বন্দ্ব মাঝে গোসাঁইজি ... কোন রঙে?

Bandhichhen ghar michha
Michha dwandwa majhe Gosain-ji ...Kon rongey?

Your house-framing is futile
Futile in midst of doubt, O priest ... In what color?

বাল্য না কাল গেলো হাসিতে খেলিতে
যৈবন কাল গেলো রঙ্গে
আর বৃদ্ধ না কাল গেলো ভাবিতে চিন্তিতে
গুরু ভজিবো কোন কালে, গোঁসাইজী ... কোন রঙে?

Balyo na kaal gelo hashite khelite
Jaiban kaal gelo rangey
Aar briddho na kaal gelo bhabite chintite
Guru bhojibo kon kaale Gosain-ji ... Kon rongey?

Childhood went in laughter and play
Youth in dance and song
Old age in thinking and worry
When to chant of Guru, O priest ... In what color?

হাড়েরও ঘরখানি, চামেরও ছাউনি
বন্ধে বন্ধে তার জোড়া
আর তাহারই তলে ময়ুর আর ময়ুরী
শূন্যে উড়ায় তারা গোসাঁইজি ... কোন রঙে?

A room of bones, thatched by skin
Joint by joint tied
And beneath, peacock and peahen
They fly in space, O priest ... In what color?

(মতান্তরে )
হাড়েরও ঘরখানি, চামেরও ছাউনি
বন্ধে বন্ধে তার জোড়া
সেই ঝড়েরও প্রহরী ময়ুর আর ময়ুরী
কবে দেয় যে গো উড়া গোসাঁইজি ... কোন রঙে?

Harero gharkhani, chamero chhawni
Bandhe bandhe tar jora
Shei jharero prohori mayur ar mayuri
Kobe deay je go ura Gosain-ji ... Kon rongey?

(Alternatively)
A room of bones, thatched by skin
Joint by joint tied
That tempest's guards, peacock and peahen
Who knows when they fly away, O Priest ... In what color?

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Amjad Sabri: Yehi Mera Zauq-e-Sujood Hai

A few weeks ago, two motorcyclists opened fire on Amjad Sabri's car in Karachi. Sabri was shot twice in the head and once on the ear and died shortly after.  The killing was claimed by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban who accused Sabri of blasphemy.

Here is a piece of traditional qawwali from Amjad Sabri. The circumspect poster of the video (apparently the music label who produced it) has bleeped some of the problematic lines, wherein Hindu deities and Western philosophy are said to be found within a saint's shrine along with Muhammad or Allah. At one point, a camouflaging grunt of "Allaaaaah" is added to the soundtrack.




Yehi mera zauq-e-sujood hai, yehi mere ishq ka raaz hai
Teri yaad mein mera jhoomna, mera Hajj hai meri Namaaz hai

This is my perception of the essence of prayer: acknowedgement of my love for Thee
My whirling dance ,with Thee in mind, this is my pilgrimage (Hajj) and my prayer (Namaaz.)

Tere dar pe sajda ada kiya, tujhe apna kaaba bana liya
Yeh gunah hai to hua kare, mujhe is gunah pe naaz hai

I lay my prayers at Thine door, I made Thee my most sacred enclosure (Kaaba)
If these be sins, so be it, I cherish such sins of mine.

Yehan pehle raaj hain Aulia, yehan paaon rakha rawaan naheen
Yahan sar ke bal chalo aashiqon, ye dayar ye banda nawaz hai

The First Lord here is the shrine's saint (Aulia), none stepping here are sent back
Prostrate here your heads, O Lovers, this be the realm of Friends of Worship.

Yahan Falsafi bhi hai Ram hai, yeh ajeeb kaisa maqam hai
Jahan khud se jhuk na sake zabeen wahan sajda karna haraam hai

Here be philosophy (natural philosphy, i.e. science), here be Ram (avatar of Vishnu) too, what a strange station this is
Where Beauty (Pride?) cannot bow down before itself, that place is forbidden for prayers.

Mujhe Anwar-ul ka hai aasra, ke wahi to mere rafeeq hain
Main ghareeb hoon to kya hua mera silsila to daraaz hai

I take shelter in the Luminous One (Ali, the first Shia Imam), for he is my ally himself
So what if I am poor, my link to him is still unbroken.

Another rendering of this qalaam, by Shafqat Hussain and Shujaat Hussain qawwals, is here.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Nizami: Mara Ba Ghamza Kusht

Nizami Ganjavi (Persian: نظامی گنجوی, Nezāmi Ganjavi‎‎), 1141-1209,  is considered the greatest romantic epic poet of Persian literature.  He forged a colloquial, realistic style of writing, and his heritage is shared today across Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kurdistan and Tajikistan. Nizami was born in Ganja (an outpost of the Seljuq empire, in present-day Azerbaijan, named from the Turkic 'Gan chai,' refering to the eponymous 'Wide river',)  and is believed to have spent his whole life in the South Caucasus.

By the end of the 10th century, Persian literature had become widespread from the Mediterranean to the Punjab. The Seljuqs took Ganja from the Shaddadids in 1075, and adopted Persian for their courts. By the middle of the 12th century, the Seljuqs' control of the region had weakened;  their provincial governors, usually local Persian nobles, further encouraged Persianization. Political power was diffused; Farsi remained the primary language of court and commerce. This was especially true in Ganja: Nizami was patronized by different rulers, and dedicated his epics to various rival dynasties including the Seljuqs, Eldiguzids, Shirvanshahs, the ruler of Ahar and Ahmadilis. Although he rubbed shoulders with rulers and princes, Nizami avoided the court life and is generally believed to have lived in seclusion with his 'most beloved wife', a Qipchaq slave girl of the Eurasian steppe named Afaq ('Horizon'.) It is after Afaq that Shirin ('Sugar') of Nizami's epic Khusrau and Shirin is modeled.

Often referred to by the honorifics Hakim ('Sage') or Rind ('Knowledgable'), Nizami is both a learned poet and master of a lyrical, sensuous, secular style. Poets of the time were expected to be well versed, Nizami was exceptionally so. His poems show not only that he was fully acquainted with Arabic and Persian literatures, as well as with popular traditions, but also that he was familiar with diverse fields such as mathematics, astronomy, astrology, alchemy, medicine, botany, Quranic exegesis, Islamic theory and law, Iranian myths and legends, history, ethics, philosophy, esoterica, painting, and music. His strong character, social sensibility, and knowledge of oral and written historical records, as well as his rich Persian cultural heritage  - all serve to unite pre-Islamic and Islamic Iran into the creation of a new standard of literary achievement; one that not only creates a bridge between pre-Islamic and Islamic Iran, but also straddles Iran and the whole ancient world.

I went to the Tavern last night, but I was not admitted
I was bellowing at the door, yet nobody was listening to me
Either none of the wine-sellers were awake
Or I was a nobody, and no one opens the door for a nobody
When more or less half of the night had passed
A knowing man  raised his head from a booth and showed his face
I asked of him: "Open the door"; he told me: "Go, talk not like a fool
At this hour, nobody opens the door for anybody
This is not a mosque where doors are open any moment
Where you can come late and push ahead to the first row
This is the Tavern of Magians and Rinds dwell here
There are Beauties, candles, wine, sugar, reed flutes and songs
Whatever wonders that exist, are present here
Muslims, Armenians, Zoroastrian, Nestorians, and Jews
If you are seeking company of all that is found here
You must become a dust upon the feet of everyone."
O Nizami! if you knock on this door day and night
You won't find but smoke from a burning fire.

Goethe described Nizami thus:

A gentle, highly gifted spirit, who, when Firdausi had completed the collected heroic traditions, chose for the material of his poems the sweetest encounters of the deepest love. Majnun and Layli, Khosrow and Shirin, lovers he presented; meant for one another by premonition, destiny, nature, habit, inclination, passion staunchly devoted to each other; but divided by mad ideas, stubbornness, chance, necessity, and force, then miraculously reunited, yet in the end again in one way or another torn apart and separated from each other.

Amir Khusrau's lament after reading Nizami:

Ruler of the kingdom of phrases; scholar and poet, his goblet raises
In it pure wine, intoxicatingly sweet; in goblet beside me settles only peat.

Below, K.L. Saigal renders a composition attributible to Nizami, though there is some debate on whether certain of the couplets were added later, such as by Mirza Hasan Qateel Dehlvi (Qateel "Lahori" to the Persians.)




Mara ba ghamza kusht, o qaza ra bahana sakht
Beloved killed me with slanted glance, "fate" was what she blamed.

Khud suye ma na deed, o haya ra bahana sakht
Deigned not Beloved meet mine gaze, "modesty" was what she claimed.

Daste ba dosh-e ghair, nihade bar-e karam
Put her arms around rival's shoulder, entwined him without pretense -

Mara chun deed laghzish-e pa ra bahana sakht
Seeing me she sprang apart, said "feet slipped", ashamed. 

Raftam ba masjidi ke bebinam jamaal-e-dost
Hurried I to mosque, hoping to see Beloved's beauty thence -

Dasti ba rukh kashid, o dua ra bahana sakht
Raised she hands to hide her face, and "prayer time", exclaimed.

Zahid na dasht taab-e-jamaal-e pari rukhan 
The pious there dared not meet, raging beauty of fairy-like face -

Kunji girift o yad-e khuda ra bahana sakht 
Retreated they to rosaries, "thinking of the Lord", they claimed.

There are other decent renderings of this qalam - Iqbal Bano's, and Farid Ayaz's.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Baluchi Traditional: Laila O Laila

Rostam Mirlashari grew up in the Sistan-Baluchistan  area of Iran. In 1991, the political situation and fear for his life in Baluchistan convinced him to leave Iran and move to Sweden. Here's a Baluchi traditional song performed by his fusion Baluchi-Swedish band.





Mijaazi ent Laila
Bya tar baraant sail a

O high-and-mighty Laila
The sights let me show ya

Tou shoto der kut
Zaheeran man a koor kut

You been long delayed
Tears my eyes decayed

Laila shan ko Laila
Laila u washe ent Laila

I'd die for you Laila
Laila, O sweet Laila

Gerwaartai saap ent
Dil mani aap ent

Your hair parting's so fine
It melted this heart of mine

Tai sar-e qaida
Kutag mana shaida

Saw your forehead bijou
Fell madly in love with you

Laila O Laila
Bya tar baraant sail a

Laila, O Laila
The sights let me show ya

Laila u washe ent Laila
Mijaazi ent Laila

Laila, O sweet Laila
O high-and-mighty Laila.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Mir: Dekh To Dil Ke Jaan Se Uthta Hai

Mir Muhammad Taqi Mir (Urdu: مِیر تقی مِیرؔ‎, 1723-1810), whose takhallus is, simply, Mir - was the leading Urdu poet of the 18th century, a pioneer who gave shape to the Urdu language. One of the principal poets of the Delhi School of the Urdu ghazal, Mir migrated to the court of Awadh in 1782 and lived there till his death. Mir-ji is one of the foremost names in Urdu poetry, oft remembered as Khudā-e sukhan (God of words.)

Here, the Shahenshah of Ghazals renders Mir:




Dekh to dil ke jaan se uthta hai
yeh dhuan sa kahaan se uthta hai

Look, if it comes from my heart, or life?
Say, from where does this smoke rise?

Gor kis dil-jale ki hai yeh falak
shola eik subh-o-yahan se uthta hai

Tomb for some cinder-heart must be the sky
A burning thing every morn thence, too, does rise.

Yun uthhe aah us gali se hum
jaisey koi jahaan se uthta hai

Thus I got up, alas, to leave behind that lane
Like to part this world some soul might rise.

Baithne kon de hai phir usko
jo tere aastaan se uthta hai

Who can make him again a proper place to sit
He who from a seat at thy house did last rise?

Ishq ek Mir bhaari patthar hai
kab ye tujh na-tawaan se uthta hai

Love, O Mir, is such a heavy stone
When could a fool like you even make it rise?


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Faiz: Aaj Bazaar Mein

Faiz was being transferred between jails in a tonga (a horse carriage, the common man's transport of the time), and it so happened that the tonga passed a market-square where he'd been fêted not too long ago. Nayyara Noor sings the nazm that he penned upon reaching his cell at the end of the ride. It ought to be an anthem of women in the Islamic world. For that matter, why only women? And why only the Islamic world?





आज बाज़ार में पा-ब-जौलाँ चलो

Let's walk the market-square enshackled today

चश्म-ए-नम जान-ए-शोरीदा काफ़ी नहीं
तोहमत-ए-इश्क-ए-पोशीदा काफ़ी नहीं

Tears and heartbreak never enough
Blamed tending hidden love never enough

दस्त-अफ्शां चलो, मस्त-ओ-रक़्सां चलो
खाक-बर-सर चलो, खूं-ब-दामां चलो
राह तकता है सब शहर-ए-जानां चलो

Go innocence in hand, go dancing in trance
Go dust on head,  go blood on garb
All watch that road - Go, to the town of Beloved

हाकिम-ए-शहर भी, मजम-ए-आम भी
तीर-ए-इल्ज़ाम भी, संग-ए-दुश्नाम भी
सुबह-ए-नाशाद भी, रोज़-ए-नाकाम भी

Lord of town too, Crowd of commoner too
Arrow of accusation too, Stone of infamy too
Morning of grief too, Day of failure too

इनका दमसाज़ अपने सिवा कौन है
शहर-ए-जानां मे अब बा-सफा कौन है
दस्त-ए-क़ातिल के शायां रहा कौन है

But thee their friend who else?
Untainted in town of Beloved who else?
Named for assassin's hand who else?

रख्त-ए-दिल बांध लो दिलफिगारों चलो
फिर हमीं क़त्ल हो आयें यारों चलो
आज बाज़ार में पा-ब-जौला चलो

Bind up torn heart, come to the path of love
Join we those to next to die, come my friends
Let's walk the market-square enshackled today.

Here is Faiz himself, reciting the verses.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Bulleh Shah: Mahiya Tere Vekhan Nu


The Mughal emperor Akbar gave a name to the doab between the Beas and the Ravi - he combined the names of the two rivers to call it the Bari. The tehsil of Dipalpur, a stronghold of the Bhatti Rajput clan, lies in the Bari. It was here that the  first Mongol invasion of India was deflected  by Balban in 1285 (at the cost of the life of his son.)

The most noticeable feature inside old Dipalpur town is the monastery of Lal Jas Raj Dipal, venerated by locals. According to legend, Lal Jas Raj was the son of Raja Dipa Chand, the founder of Dipalpur. The boy had a lock of hair on the back of his head, while the rest of his head was shaved, a common practice for the Hindu devout. One day, while he was teasing his step-mother, she got annoyed and told him to go bury himself. The curse took hold, Dipal's body started entering the earth. When his step-mother saw what was happening, she quickly ran to his rescue but by then he had almost completely disappeared, with only his choti (lock of hair) above ground. Eventually the choti turned to stone, and the spot where Dipal had sunk became a shrine, testament to the destructive effect of cruel words on those we love.

This area at the Punjab-Rajasthan border has been the holy ground of many peoples' saints. Hazrat Bahawal Haq (Bahawal Sher Qalandar) came from Baghdad and settled outside Dipalpur. Guru Nanak lived here for a while. When Akbar visited along with his son Saleem (the future emperor Jahangir) in 1578,  it was to pay homage to Hazrat Farid Ganj Shakar.

Below, Amir Ali Khan, Saleem Ali Khan, Ejaz Ali Khan and party render traditional qawwali inside the old town of Dipalpur - an act of defiance by the Shia, for the Shahi Masjid of Dipalpur flies the banner of Maulana Fazul ur Rehman, the well-known Islamist politician from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. The Maulana and his men follow the Deobandi school of thought and look down upon song as un-Islamic.

The qalam is that of Bulleh Shah, the raga is Des.




There is no longer a canonical channel of these lyrics, which have spread across the doab like the braids of the Beas, here is an approximate translation of another version (performed by the Wadali brothers here.)

Charkha mera rang rangeela, ban gai teri yaad vaseela.

My charkha (spinning wheel) of many colors, has become a way of meeting Thy memories.

E mahiya tere vekhan nu, chuk charkha gali de vich panwa.

Beloved, to catch a glimpse of Thee, I place my charkha in the lane outside.

Ve loka paane main kat di, tang teriya yaad de panwa. 

People think I spin cotton,  but I truly weave the thread of Thy memory.

Charkhe di oo kar de ole, yaad teri da tumba bole. 

I tire,  set charka aside in shade, the music of Thy memory still rings in my heart.

Ve nimma nimma geet ched ke, tang kath di hullare panwa. 

Humming slowly, slowly, I spin gently and dwell on the joy of meeting Thee.

Vasan ni de rahe saure peke, mainu tere pain pulekhe.

Kin let not me rest in ease, but I feel Thou art come close.

Ve hoon mainu das mahiya, tere baaju kidhar main jayiyaan. 

Beloved, I ask this: If I don't go to Thee then where do I go?

Ho Eid aayi, mera yaar na aaya, tera ve khair hove ove tamd.

The festive day (Eid) has come, but my Beloved hasn't returned.

Haar singar change nai lagde, ho kisi cheez pe nazar na jamdi. 

Jewelry and colors seem dull, nothing around catches my eye.

Sukha waalian needra mangne, yaar mile to main eid manva. 

I only pray for sleep,  let my Love come then I'll celebrate Eid.