A jazz archive
of Pashto music
Mahmoud Darwish has become a larger than life voice of a larger than history political struggle – the struggle for a sovereign state of Palestine and the right of the Palestinian Arabs to return to their usurped land. His own life was intricately linked with his homeland, its losses and all the political tribulations it has had to undergo. He was born in Al-Birwa in 1941 and by June 1948 the town had witnessed Operation Dekel, an Israeli military campaign to cleanse the town of its Arab inhabitants. After the operation, only three houses, two shrines and one school were left intact. All the other buildings were destroyed. Most of the Arabs became refugees in other lands. Darwish’s family sought refuge in Lebanon but stayed there for only a year. The next year they sneaked back. Now they were internally displaced Palestinians and were called “present absent” people. Till 1966, all the non-Jewish persons in Israel were subject to martial law and existed as aporetic beings – they were in Israel only as bodies but not as officially existing residents/citizens. They even needed special permits to travel within the country. Mahmoud Darwish experienced all these forms of oppression firsthand and he turned to poetry as a form of political resistance. Like other non-Jewish persons, Darwish was paperless and, because of his defiant words and politics, he was often imprisoned. He kept on honing his words as if they were weapons and the Arab world welcomed his words as revolutionary chants.
His poem “Identity Card,” written in 1964, shows Darwish’s frustration with the bureaucratic nightmares, with the condition of existing and non-existing, in Isreal and there are echoes of the Fanonian violence of the colonised:
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
And the land which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left nothing for us
Except for these rocks..
So will the State take them
As it has been said?!
Record on the top of the first
I do not hate poeple
Nor do I encroach
But if I become hungry
The usurper's flesh will be my food
Of my hunger
And my anger!
By 1971, Darwish had moved to Cairo and started working for Al-Ahram. By 1973, he had joined the Palestine Liberation Organisation and by 1984 he was the editor of the journal Palestinian Affairs and the director of the Palestine Research Centre in Beirut. At this moment in his life, as he joined the Executive Committee of the PLO, the highest political authority of Palestine, he was at the peak of his creative output. In 1985, he barred himself in an apartment in Paris for three months and wrote an entire book, The Memory of Forgetfulness, describing a single day (August 6, 1982) of the siege of Beirut. On the 6th of August, Israel had unleashed a “scorched earth” war strategy in West Beirut. The sea, the air, and the earth seemed on fire. The book describes the horrendous details with a feverish intensity of the imagination of a survivor:
“Two hours ago I went to sleep. I plugged my ears with cotton and went to sleep after hearing the last newscast. It didn’t report I was dead. That means I’m still alive. I examine the parts of my body and find them all there. Two eyes, two ears, a long nose, ten toes below, ten fingers above, a finger in the middle.”
The Memory of Forgetfulness was hailed as a unique document in Arab literature: part memoir, part poetry, part fictional narration, yet all emotionally, politically and historically true about the effects of the blitz on Beirut on the Arab world and sheer psychological resilience needed to survive and maintain an ordinary, everyday life. Banality became heroic. The book displayed, with a disturbing acuteness, how brave the Palestinians were in the maintenance of their apparently humdrum lives. As the bombs are raining on Beirut, the protagonist is only trying to concentrate on his first cup of coffee for the day, perhaps to continue his simulation of normalcy:
“I want the aroma of coffee. I want nothing more than the aroma of coffee. And I want nothing more from the passing days than the aroma of coffee. The aroma of coffee so I can hold myself together, stand on my feet, and be transformed from something that crawls, into a human being.”
This desire for a peaceful, normal life – for the entire Palestinian people – fuelled his work throughout his life. Though often angry, always resilient, and frequently subversive, he wanted peace for both Palestinians and Israelis and a sovereign identity for his homeland. He was for the two-state solution of the Palestine question but, like Edward Said, Darwish was against the Oslo accords because there was too much at stake for the people of Palestine and there were no clear guarantees provided by the agreement. As a sign of his disagreement with the Oslo accords, he gave up his membership of the PLO.
At the time he gave up his PLO membership, he was also trying to grapple with the issue of his own identity as a poet and the kind of relationship he wanted with his readers. He had turned Palestine into a metaphor, a trope, for existence in exile but he did not approve of the infighting between Hamas and Al-Fatah. He did not think militancy was going to solve any problems even though his poetry sometimes evinced sympathy for those who resort to violence in moments of despair. The clearest and unequivocal statement from him against terrorism came after September 11, 2001: “nothing, nothing justifies terrorism.” Still, he said, he could understand how despair can contribute to the making of a suicide bomber.
By 2003, Darwish had shifted his focus from the specific problem of Palestine to the general problem of imperialistic occupation. Now Iraq and other Muslim lands were also under occupation. He tried to corrode the monolith of imperial hubris with his defiant words by writing against the invasion of Iraq.
I remember as-Sayyab screaming into the Gulf in vain:
Iraq, Iraq. Nothing but Iraq.
And nothing but an echo replies
I remember as-Sayyab, in that Sumerian space
A woman triumphed over the sterility of mist
She bequeathed to us earth and exile . . .
For poetry is born in Iraq,
So be Iraqi to become a poet, my friend.
This poet of myriad metaphors of resistance, who infused a new poetic intensity into the critique of imperialism and occupation, has left his readers last week for ever. But his more than twenty books translated in all the major languages of the world are going to inspire the wretched of the earth for decades to come. The question of Palestine will remain alive as long as the words of Mahmoud Darwish are available to his readers..
All that remains of Al-Birwa, the birthplace of Darwish.
apologize for what you’ve done…
Don’t apologize for what
you’ve done - I’m saying this
in secret. I say to my personal
Here all of your memories
Midday ennui in a cat’s
the cock’s comb,
a scent of sage,
a straw mat with pillows,
the iron door to your room,
a fly buzzing around Socrates,
the cloud above Plato,
your three brothers and three
your childhood friends -
and a klatch of meddlers:
“Is that him?”
The witnesses disagree:
“It seems to be.”
“And who is he?”
I get no answer.
I whisper to my other:
“Is he the one that was
you… that was me?”
He looks away.
The witnesses turn to my
mother to confirm
he is me and
she readies herself to sing
her unique song:
“I’m the one who bore him,
but the wind brought him up.”
And I say to my other: “Don’t
apologize, except to your mother.”
Chawkandi Art Gallery, Asif Ahmed has attempted to
By Quddus Mirza
While the Western societies were busy inventing electricity, automobiles, telephone, computer, internet and other technologies, our society was involved in activities of different kind. Besides its focus on culinary delights, the pinnacle of which indeed is the paratha, we have been arguing about racial, religious, ethnic and cultural issues, and not too bothered about progress of knowledge or discovery of the world.
Things have changed: the lack of inventions in our society has been compensated to some extent. One sees a lot of them made by miniature painters in their works. Each new exhibition of a young miniature artist brings forth a fresh wave of imagery and technique — all employed in order to carve an individual identity and a distinct (trade)mark. Lately, the viewers have witnessed certain visuals being associated with a particular painter. For instance, mouse is linked with Mohammed Zeeshan and postage stamps with Hasnat Mehmood. Pair of scissors are often found in Imran Qureshi’s work, mannequin repeatedly figures in Ayesha Durrani’s miniatures, cockroach is much favoured by Tazeen Qayyum while Talha Rathore prefers a certain tree in her works on paper.
Although these artists use other images too, usually it is one form that dominates and serves as a style. This has become a routine practice to the extent that one anticipates a new ‘imagery’ before turning up in an exhibition of miniature painting.
Asif Ahmed has also tried using his own set of pictorial inventions. In his solo exhibition (‘Narration and Transformation’ held from August 7-15 at Chawkandi Art Gallery in Karachi), instead of being content with one ‘special’ image, he has created a number of visuals — from dice and mouse trap to razor blade. The former two appear in different sizes and settings in several miniatures, rendered either as a solid object or merely a pattern.
The impressive aspect is not the number of items used for pictorial purpose; it is Ahmed’s ability to draw them in a skillful manner. The same level of craftsmanship is evident in dealing with each component of his miniatures; the human bodies, animals and items like the throne etc. are rendered in a delicate and sensitive fashion. Sharp outlines and careful application of tones define figures and background in a convincing way.
But his ‘personal’ visuals, i.e., mousetrap, dice and blade are used in a way that these could lead to some deeper and important ideas, especially when these are juxtaposed with the portraits and figures of kings and rajas. In the catalogue, the artist has explained the reason behind his choice of imagery: “The use of mousetraps and dices over the Kings, representing the tragedy of these icons more ironically and playfully...” However his attempt to construct a meaningful iconography, by combining the image of king and traps and dice, seems more repetitive than ironic. Only because this blend has become a formula adopted by many miniaturists to make their works appear meaningful and politically-oriented.
Besides this well-trodden method, there are some fresh aspects in Asif’s work; one being his preference for white surface. Lately a number of our miniature painters including Muhammed Zeeshan, Mehreen Zuberi, Hasnat Mehmood and others have been using white areas in their compositions instead of the traditional practice of putting various colours inside the border.
The most prominent part of Ahmed’s paintings is the depiction of king and elephant (the animal used by the Indian royalty). In several paintings the huge beast is emerging out of dice or is drawn along with its ghost image (drawn in outline only). Similarly the king is illustrated diversely — as a detailed figure, a silhouette, a blurry character, a combination of erased lines and in multiple shapes superimposed on each other. All this emphasis on the king as well as rajas could have a political context (particularly with his head rolled on the ground next to the pool of blood), but in its essence the portrait of king and its treatment signify something different. Probably for him, and to many other painters of miniature, the subject of king represents his own self as well as a link with the traditional genre.
The urge to identify with the king is visible in a number of paintings by Asif Ahmed, but it is more obvious in one work, in which his face appears in a box next to three portraits of kings and rajas. Interestingly Asif, unlike other miniaturists, does not rely on Mughal sources for his subject matter. Instead, he has explored other schools; so references to Rajasthani and Pehari paintings are evident in his portraits of the king and raja (to the extent that in a number of works the Rajasthani-inspired portrait resembles the features of another painter Muhammed Zeeshan!).
Like others, Ahmed’s attempt to disfigure, alter and deconstruct the portrait of the king (central theme in the historic art of miniature) could be viewed as a desire to modify, change and transform the conventional genre. An adventure that majority of miniature painters are after, but only a few are equipped to deliver it in a creative manner. Because most practitioners of miniature are only conducting minor variations on the surface, without a real understanding of the experiment. While there are others who are capable of evolving the tradition, in its vital form, and in due course move beyond the conventional miniature to something drastically original. This loss has gained them fame, fortune and artistic freedom and all of this awaits Asif Ahmed too.
By Sarwat Ali
Annemarie Schimmel Haus has been holding various programmes including concerts of music to bring about a better understanding between the various regions of the world. A European Asian Jazz concert held in collaboration with the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop (RPTW) at the Alhamra Lahore last week was also aptly labelled as Dialogue through Music.
In this concert the jazz musicians from India, France, Germany and Pakistan played together for over a couple of hours in this peaceful exchange between different cultures.
All of them played with plenty of verve and gave a good account of their craft. Christof Lauer on the saxophone played more in the European style, banking on extreme modulation of sound while Patrice Heral on the percussion displayed a more catholic understanding of the drums. It was not so long ago, perhaps fifty years, as states gained independence from colonial rule on the basis of their national identities that the cultural specimen of these countries were considered as curiosities in the cultural capitals of the world. The exotica of Indian classical music, for example, in the West was extolled and written about with great deal of passion. The authenticity of these exotica rested on the premise of purity and insularity, and the exhibition of this purity and insularity became a permanent feature of the cultural relationship of the emerging world scene.
In the last couple of decades, the cultural scene has undergone a change. The cultural insularity and purity is now being challenged by the forces that push for a greater exchange between the cultural expressions of the various regions of the world. Besides the fast changing political scenario accelerated by the fall of the Soviet Union, the technological breakthrough that have made satellite link ups and internet possible has rushed this process of the yoking together of cultures. The MTV revolution has left no society untouched.
Jazz has been one form of music that has been widely experimented with. Probably because the music was not written and it established itself on foreign soil, its restrictive dos and don’ts were not applied very stringently. It has been infiltrated and mixed with other forms of music, some formal but mostly informal. Other than the distinct American variety which has been its home, jazz over the years has also developed a European style which is probably even more experimental than the American. Perhaps it gave more space to the European musicians who found themselves hemmed by the highly developed and stylised form of their own classical traditions. Hollywood films too were greatly instrumental in reaching out to wide audiences. This associated Jazz music with films more than anything else.
Now the domination of the media has seen Jazz travel from America to Europe and is now encroaching upon various Asian styles. The Indian film music, too, has been greatly influenced by jazz and many of the famous songs that are hummed by millions in the subcontinent have some jazz component in it. Jazz also now has an Asian sibling and some of it was on display at the concert.
The German musician Christof Lauer, a jazz tenor and a soprano saxophonist is well-known in Europe. He grew up imbibing the free jazz movement of the 1960s while in the 1970s he established himself as an original and dynamic composer. He won the prestigious jazz prize Südwestfunk in 1968. About twenty years later he led the quartet at the 20th anniversary of the German Jazz Festival in Frankfurt. In the nineties he released his first recordings as a leader and joined the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble. He is also a member of the Hamburg NDR Radio Orchestra. Patrice Heral has worked as an autodidactic Jazz percussionist at many European Theatres and performed with various bands and has been member of the Orchestra National de Jazz. He has worked with various multi-ethnic projects with Sudanese musicians.
The Indian musician Pundit Ulhas Bapat is a disciple of Zarin Sharma Pundit Ginde and Wamanrao Sadolikar. He plays the santoor and has the distinct technique of tuning it on a chromatic scale. He has pioneered a modification which enables him to reproduce a glide (meend) in the santoor. He has helped in extending the frontiers of the santoor and increasing its appeal as a concert instrument. He has worked for All India Radio and Doordarshan and has toured many countries of the world.
Irfan Hussain from Pakistan has been under the tutelage of his grandfather Jamal Khan and later he learned from Muhammed Haneef. He has played with ghazal singers, jazz bands and has been under training at Sampurna with Abbas Premjit. He plays the vilampat lai well and often accompanies the famous Pakistani singer Tina Sani.
Fusion is not a very old concept in music. It has been egged on by the great exposure through the media of the various cultural strands and forms all over the world. In the past a music idea travelled to another land, got assimilated, indigenised and then was reborn as the genetic mix of its parents. In today’s world the period of assimilation and digestion has been squeezed out and musicians come and play their own thing. The fast pace of the world coming together has probably left the artist far behind, still struggling in the discovery of a new idiom to express this rapid fire coming together. It is not only the coming together of various forms from all over the world; it is also the changes brought about by technological innovations that will announce the next staging post in music.
programme that plays Pashto songs from pre-partition times has a wide pool of
By Sher Alam Shinwari
Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) Peshawar, known as All India Radio Service Peshawar when it was established in 1935, celebrated its 72nd anniversary on March 7, 2008. Since its inception, it has been contributing tremendously towards promoting art, culture, music, social norms and traditions of the Frontier people and the adjacent tribal areas. After partition, PBC Peshawar kept up its efforts of shaping the social, cultural and traditional life of the people.
It has numerous memorable programmes to its credit. A 45-minute Tair Hair Awaazoona (Forgotten Voices) is one such widely-acclaimed Pashto programme broadcast on Sundays, which was launched in May 2000 on the persistent demand of the listeners who would, most often, complain of the deteriorating standard of Pashto music. Laiqzada Laiq, former producer at PBC, floated the idea to run this programme because Pashtun listeners would write letters to All India Radio Service in New Delhi to play Pashto songs of the pre-partition era.
PBC Peshawar had only 30 songs available in its music library on some worn-out spools. In the maiden programme, a request was made to the listeners to contribute old songs to the corporation. It immediately worked, and songs began pouring in from far-flung areas in piles of reels sung by the most popular singers of yore that had long been forgotten. Aslam Khan, compere of the programme, and his friend Khurshid Khan combed every district of the Pakhtunkhwa, contacting relevant persons to collect old songs from their dingy homes. Gradually, the PBC Peshawar’s treasure trove swelled up to 2500 rare Pashto songs.
“Fortunately, the arrival of radio to the Frontier coincided with the epoch of Pashto folk poetry. Recording on spools started in 1877 and according to my observations His Voice Master, a recording company in Calcutta, was the first to have recorded Miss Gauhar Jan’s song in Pashto in 1904.
“It was followed by Bungaphone (Delhi), Gulshan, Regal, Bajaj, Gelophone, Young India and a number of others. Around 250 various recording companies came into the business; they would hire services of singers — even Hindus who knew Pashto — and they would receive Rs 3-4 as fee per song. Each spool could be purchased at 3-5 paisa depending on the choice and quality. This was the golden era of Pashto music. Music lovers still cherish those velvety voices,” said Aslam Khan.
Pashto music became so popular that Sardar Sadhu Singh, owner of the Bungaphone, concentrated only on Pashto songs and thereafter launched a branch in Peshawar to facilitate the local singers and ensure fresh songs in the market. The spool closely resembles modern day Compact Disc (CD). It is ten times bigger in size and used to be played on gramophone which needed key winding to bring out its voice.
It was a double-sided disc called ‘Rekart’ in local slang, accommodating two items, each with three minute duration. Khushmir, Gulmir, Awalmir, and Pazair played sareenda, tabla, harmonium, clarinet, rabab and flute. Surprisingly all those popular singers were amateurs. Bannu, Mardan and Swat were hubs of Pashto music. Ruler of the Swat state patronised Pashto music and gave stipends to singers till recently. Most early Pashto songs are reformative, sarcastic, and irreligious in content.
“Many clergymen listen to the weekly programme ‘Tair Hair Awaazoona’. Because, they say, its music is so pure and sacred,” said Khan. “Music at that time was not considered something irreligious; people used to call singers Ustad or masters and gave standing ovation to them wherever they happened to pass by.”
Fida Mutuahar, Hamza Baba, Mohammad Din Teelai, Ahmeddin Talib, Mirdin, Din Mohammad, Sardar Ahmed Jan, Abdul Manan, Norudin, Gulzaman and Miskeen were top poets in those days. They were such experts that they could versify full-length folk tales of Pashto for only three minute duration. PBC Peshawar recorded interviews with Arbab Dilbar, Mutwali, Sherin, Sherai Ustad and Abdul Ghani who recently died in their late 1980s. Dr Sharin, Ibrahim Shabnam, Allah Dad Khan late and many others have generously contributed to PBC and many have even given away their gramophone sets.
The programme is being aired on Thursday night as well. Station Director Noorual Basar and producer Farhad Anwar Yousfazai said that old songs are being computerised as they were a national asset. They stressed the need for establishing a Central Production Unit (CPU) at PBC Peshawar for their proper preservation. A project has also been launched for research on profiles of singers and Pashto music.
Aslam Khan with gramophone.
I had not previously shown interest in American musicals about adultery, jailed murderesses, a scheming lawyer and sensationalist media. So why now?
It was day four in Karachi and in my first forty-eight hours, I had seen the annual Gujarati play (somewhat vaudeville without intending to be) at the Pakistani American Cultural Centre and a preview of Waiting for Godot at The Second Floor, the intimacy of which enhanced the repressive despair. In other words, this was not my first cultural venture. My alternative was Ramchand Pakistani, but given that I would be able to catch the film in India, I opted for Chicago. The selling of the final aisle and ‘front row’ tickets (all on the floor) was rather lengthy and chaotic, but people were generally patient. I am not sure there would have been such behaviour in some other places I have been to, and floor seating is unheard of in safety-regulated western theatres!
Admittedly I was curious to see how it would be taken by Karachiites. The themes, like Beckett’s play, are universal, but did a Pakistani audience want to see such risqué business? The cast of musicians and actors-dancers-singers was local — I say this for the benefit of those who are wondering. And amazing. (I caught my breath as five husbands, pushed to the floor, rolled backwards on their sides, to within centimetres at the edge of the stage). Of course, only a certain elite will see such a performance. And the elite responded in raptures.
During the rest of my five days, three of which were taken up with business, I visited Empress Market (fat Iranian dates, Afghani figs, black cow heads) and the centuries-old tombs at Chaukandi. I got education in Pakistani cuisine at the Salt ‘n Pepper. I also went to Café Flo (the first French restaurant I have visited that doesn’t serve alcohol) and Okra. I shared food with colleagues at the office and, spontaneously, had dinner at a newfound friend’s home. I left Barbeque Tonight, Pompeii and home-cooked meals at many more new friends’ places for next time.
Of course my Indian mobile did not work, although this was to the surprise of colleagues in India and elsewhere. My other experiences are also far from unique. The economy is suffering from low confidence and high oil prices, but hospitality and friendliness are in abundance, starting with the immigration officer welcoming me to Pakistan, to the housekeeper at my hotel who somehow appeared within seconds whenever I needed him. Maybe the lack of tourism has allowed the few visitors to be spoilt by the warmth.
And everyone has relatives in India. This, coupled with people’s affability, means that when Pakistanis meet an Indian, they are irrepressibly talkative (to the point where I started worrying about missing my flight). Take Rahim Tahir, a former bodybuilder running a public call office and photocopying service in a furniture warehouse waiting for new business, whose father Abdul Rehman Faher (‘merchant, Bombay’) was conferred the title of Khan Bahadur in 1936. Or Sarib Jadeja, working for the Nawab of Junagadh, whom I asked directions from. Delighted to discover that we both spoke Gujarati, there ensued a long conversation about his wives, a woman he had helped to cure from some disease, the Nawab’s evening guests...
To be granted a business visa, I required a recommendation letter from the British High Commission (INR 5,050 cash), a letter from my employer in India, an invitation from my company in Pakistan and a letter from the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce vetting my company in Pakistan. Why Pakistan makes it so difficult to get in is beyond me; this is more familiar to a Gujarati than places in south and east India, but even for a complete foreigner, it is a country worth discovering. Polling an unrepresentative sample of Indian colleagues and friends to see how many have visited their neighbour, the number is tiny. They keep reminding me how hard it is to get a visa, but how many have tried?
It is close, yet far away enough, to be interesting. The fashion scene is different from India, slim trousers, slit capris at varying lengths, with kameez are in and the women rival the Ethiopians and Somalis with their beauty. My visit coincided with the wedding season and while some tastes were too flashy for my liking, the lobby of the Pearl Continental Hotel, where I stayed, was like a catwalk.
Anybody fearing the security situation in Pakistan is only sobered by the recent bombs in Ahmedabad and Bengaluru. I saw President Musharraf one night as he was attending a business dinner at PC (as Karachiites call it). I did at first wonder why there were so many unassuming men, who, on closer inspection, were wearing ‘Special Branch’ badges, when I stepped out of the lift at 9 pm. There were a couple in khaki carrying arms, and the odd one with telephone wire hanging out of his ear, and a CCTV trapped everyone that entered the restaurant in which I normally had breakfast, but otherwise it was more an inconvenience for some, and not threatening.
So if you are now contemplating a trip, be ready to overcome the absurd bureaucracy. (I do not subscribe to the ‘reciprocal’ argument, as I cannot xenvisage a queue of UK nationals trying to get into Pakistan.) But, unlike Godot, my visa eventually came. And trust me, it was worth it.
Have a good week.
(The writer is the business manager of a company in Mumbai and likes to travel to places of historical, natural and culinary significance).
‘Waiting for Godot’.