Mulaqat-Ustad Ghulam Hassan Shaggan
Guardian of a glorious tradition.
There have been many
accounts in the history of classical music where great musicians have been victims of
social neglect and poverty, the paths to success and recognition being
impeded by complex socio-economic issues. The fate of Ustad Ghulam Hassan Shaggan
would have been similar if French musicologists Gerard Kurgijian and
Martina Catella had not become aware of the Ustad’s plight. Saqib
Razaq met the ustad in London and discovered more about the life and career of
this national asset.
The region of Punjab
was considered to be the centre of musical activity during the early part of the
20th century. Many outstanding musicians hailing from the region contributed towards the popularity of classical music in the sub-continent.
Gharanaydar Punjabi musicians were proud of their musical ancestry,
devoting their lives to mastering the art of music in order to achieve
fame and recognition. To this day, the creative mastery of Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, Ustad Bade
Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Ustad Allah Rakha has left indelible
impressions in the minds of listeners.
Harvallabh mela at Jullundhar and the weekly mehfils at Takia Meerasian in Lahore
were some of the important venues providing ample opportunities
for musicians to stamp their authority as musicians of outstanding merit. It was often said that musical success in the Punjab, meant success in the
Regular contests or 'dangals' took place in which
leading musicians would put their entire careers at stake in order to be
proclaimed as the leading musicians of the time, reputations of many a
musician were either built or destroyed at these contests.
of Punjab in popularising classical music to the masses was further strengthened by the opening of the first music college in
the Gandharava Mahavidhyala was founded by Pandit V.D. Paluskar in 1901.
the advent of partition, the popularity of classical music started to decline
and Punjab began to lose its reputation as a centre for classical music.
Light musical genres such as folk and film music gained prominence and
appealed greatly to the masses. Many classical musicians were forced to compromise
with the changes and began to perform light music, others became disenchanted
and stopped performing altogether. Amongst these musicians, there was
also a minority, who
despite all odds remained committed to retaining their musical heritage.
The eminent Ustad Ghulam Hassan belongs to this minority who refused to
conform with the prevailing conditions. A traditionalist at heart, Ustad
Ghulam Hassan Shaggan maintains a link to a tradition struggling for existence
in the modern age.
Born in 1928 in
Amritsar, Ustad Ghulam Hassan Shaggan is one of the great exponents of
the austere Gwalior style of khayal singing. The ustad was initiated into
classical music at the age of five by his father, the late Sangeet Sagar Ustad
Bhai Lal Mohammad, a leading vocalist of the
Punjab during the early part of the last century. Ustad Bhai Lal received many
titles and awards but the title of Sangeet Sagar awarded at the Shikarpur Music
conference in 1927 was associated with him the most. Ustad
Shaggan’s debut performance came at the age of seven at SPSK Hall in Lahore at
a concert presided by the Maharaja of Poonch. He performed a khayal in raag
Malkauns before a distinguished line of musicians which included his father
Ustad Bhai Lal, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Pandit Krishan Rao Shankar, Khansahab
Fayyaz Hussain Khan, Ustad Tawakkal Hussain Khan, Pandit Dilip
Chandar Vedi, Pandit Narayanrao Vyas and Bhai Nasira Pakhawaji.
Ustad Bhai Lal Muhammad. 1887- 1962. Click to hear excerpt of Raag Adana
Despite being a
child prodigy, Ustad Shaggan's early childhood was dominated by education. His father wanted
him to have basic educational grounding before concentrating on classical music. Ustad Shaggan
received a scholarship for outstanding achievement
in his school when aged six. His talented elder
brother Nisaar Hussain, was groomed as Ustad Bhai Lal’s musical successor,
however, Nisaar tragically died of tuberculosis at the young age of 23.
Following the death of his eldest son, Ustad Bhai Lal Muhammad stopped performing for a number of
years, it was during this period of mourning that he began to focus his attention on
the young Ghulam Hassan. Ustad Shaggan started to perform regularly from the age of ten, regularly providing vocal
support to his father as well as performing solo.
Ustad Shaggan's childhood and youth
were spent in Amritsar. He comes from a
distinguished family of musicians known as the Rubabis who were mostly settled
in Amritsar before partition. The city holds a special place in his heart. “Amritsar was a centre for music, everything was classical,
everybody loved classical music. There were plenty of music clubs in the city,
regular conferences and mehfils used to take place and there was healthy rivalry
between musicians. Senior musicians were open hearted in imparting their
knowledge to juniors and greatly encouraged them” he nostalgically told this
Bhaskar Rao Buwa Bakhle. 1870-1922
hails from the Kapurthala gharana but sings in the style of the Gwalior gharana
and is well versed on the repertoire of other gharanas. The
ustad explained “My father Ustad Bhai Lal ji received his initial training from
his father Bhai Ata Muhammad. Bhai Ata Muhammad was a disciple of Mian Bannay
Khan of the Gwalior gharana, Mian Banne Khan hailed from a village near Amritsar
called Nangli-Nowshera and learnt from the Gwalior stalwarts Ustad Haddu and Ustad
Hassu Khan. Mian Bannay Khan was responsible for
introducing khayal into Punjab. After the death of my grandfather, Bhai Lal ji
came under the influence of Mian Mahboob Ali, a distant relative who was a great
sitar player belonging to the Kapurthala gharana and was associated with the
states of Kapurthala and Patiala. He
was a disciple of Mir Nasir Ahmed Beenkar and Saeen Ilyas. Despite being a
sitar player, Mian Mahboob Ali was also familiar with vocal techniques and knew
many rare bandishes. He taught my father these bandishes and the
technique of meerkhand and moorchna. In 1921 Ustad Bhai Lal became a disciple of the illustrious Pandit Bhaskar Rao Buwa
Bakhle. Pandit ji had received tuition from a variety of ustads belonging to
different gharanas, including Ustad Bande
Ali Khan (Kirana), Ustad Natthan Khan (Agra), Ustad Faiz Mohammad Khan (Gwalior)
and Ustad Alladiya Khan of Kohlapur (Jaipur)".
style has all the elements of Gwalior gharana, the gharana is widely considered to be
one of the oldest gharanas of khayal gayaki. The roots of the gharana originate
in Dhrupad during the reign of Raja Man Singh Tomar in the 16th century. The
style is defined by its unadulterated method of voice production entailing the
extensive use of 'aakaars'. There is a strong emphasis on the
composition (bandish) and very often the bandishes are set to complicated rhythm cycles
such as Ikwai, Talwara and Ada Chautala. All of these qualities feature in
the gayaki of the ustad, however the real
strength of his gayaki lies in taanbazi. Despite approaching his mid- 70s, he can
easily execute complicated taan patterns spanning a range of three octaves.
Apart from having extensive knowledge of authentic bandishes of the Gwalior
gharana, Khansahab has also composed many
khayal bandishes under the name of “Shaggan”.
creation of Pakistan, Ustad Shaggan and his family settled in Lahore. The family
struggled to adapt to the harsh conditions facing classical musicians, most of
the wealthy patrons had migrated to India and the long standing tradition of music
conferences had not yet taken shape. During this period, many classical artistes disillusioned with classical music started to
experiment with light classical genres such as thumri and ghazal,
but the ustad did not lose heart and pursued his
passion for classical music.
and his son Qadir Ali narrated an interesting incident from the 1960s when the
ustad was requested to sing a classical number with Malika-e-Mausiqui
Roshan Ara Begum for the Pakistani film Roopmati Baz Bahadur. The song was based
on a scene involving a duel between two classical musicians in which the female vocalist outclasses her male opponent.
Upon hearing the script the ustad refused
to participate as it seemed to undermine his ability. The music director explained that it was only for a film but the ustad
was adamant that he would only agree if the director changed the script. The
ustad’s persistence finally succeeded when the director was forced to make
changes to the scene in order for Ustad Shaggan to sing in the film.
There have been
many memorable concerts in which the ustad has performed. The ustad recalled a
concert from the 1950s when he performed at Jahangir Park, Karachi, before a
galaxy of musicians such as Ustad Umeed Ali Khan, Ustad Jamal Khan, Umrao Bundoo Khansahab, Ustad Mubarak
Ali Khan, Ustad Habib Ali Khan and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. When the 1st
All Pakistan Music Conference was held in 1960 at Jinnah Bagh, Lahore, Ustad
Ghulam Hassan Shaggan was invited to perform alongside the leading musicians of
Pakistan and was awarded a gold medal.
In 1962, the ustad toured
India where he won
appreciation from fellow musicians and admirers.
He performed in the leading music conferences
such as the Sadarang Music conference and gave performances in Bombay, Delhi,
Calcutta and Amritsar.
Ghulam Hassan Shaggan performing at a concert in the 1960s.Click to hear a bandish composed by
Ustad Shaggan in Raag Malkauns
one of the foremost vocalists of the Indian subcontinent, Ustad Shaggan has had
to struggle for recognition for the majority part of his life and has endured long periods of poverty. During the years of struggle the ustad never lost the zest for
classical music and maintained dedication towards his art. His years of devotion
and patience paid dividends when in 1995 he came to the attention of French
musicologists Gerard Kurgijian and Martina Catella. Both were shocked to see the conditions in which the
maestro was living in and decided to take action. In 1996 Martina persuaded
organisers of an Islamic music festival in Fez, Morocco to book Khansahab for
the festival. Since then, Ustad Shaggan's
music has attracted an international audience, he has regularly toured abroad and performed in
France, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and recently in the UK. His recent
tour of the UK was a great success, he
performed at various venues and international music festivals which include the Portobello festival
at the Tabernacle and Respect festival in Hackney. His
at Momo restaurant
and the Noor Jehan centre in London were whole heartedly appreciated. Gerard Kurgijian
has produced a number of CDs
and also directed a French documentary on the maestro. Aki Nawaz of
supported the ustad in setting up a website and arranged concerts for the maestro's
UK tour earlier this year.
Awards and Titles
Hassan Shaggan has received many awards and titles during the course of his
career. Khansahab’s efforts have been recognised at governmental level and he
has been conferred with the Pride of Performance and the Sitara-e-Imtiaz
civilian awards. Ustad Shaggan also takes great pride in stating the countless
awards and titles he received during his 1962 tour of India. He was conferred
with the titles of Sangeet Rattan, Sangeet Alankar, Sangeet Samrat, Sindh Sangeet Mandalam and King
of Music from the Sindh Sangeet Mandal in Bombay. On the same tour he was presented with a certificate
of recognition by sarod maestro
Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan.
ustad has passed on his art onto numerous disciples.
His son Qadir
Ali regularly provides vocal support and is also a talented music composer. Another
son, Mazhar Hassan is an accomplished rabab and mandolin player. His
grandson, Muslim Hassan, aged 8 has recently shown potential and is receiving training.
Other disciples are Safdar Hussain (music director), Ustad Rangi Khan (shehnai),
Ustad Aurangzeb Khan (shehnai) and Saeen Khawar Hussain.
about the current trend in popular music, the maestro says that he does not
despise pop music, but he would like to see pop artistes take an
initiative in finding a teacher who can give them a basic grounding in classical music. “Even
though classical music is hard to learn, one must have a basic understanding of
it. It is the basis for all music, pop singers should at least have a primary
understanding of classical music, this can be done by having tuition from a well
qualified ustad”, the maestro said. The ustad's
support for pop music has been proved by his recent collaboration with
'Fundamental' on their fusion album "There shall be love".
Even though recognition and fame
have embraced the ustad at a late stage, he remains contended with life. Apart from music Ustad Shaggan spends much of his
time reading namaz, studying sufism and taking timeout with his family. The government and cultural agencies of Pakistan
must urgently address the demise in classical music and make use of the services
of senior vocalists such as Ustad Ghulam Hassan Shaggan. A national academy of classical
music is urgently required as artistes such as Ustad Shaggan are an asset to classical music and
their tradition must be carried forward to future generations.
young prospect. Muslim Hassan, performing before his grandfather and
session. Ustad Ghulam Hassan Shaggan and Qadir Ali Shaggan
and disciple, rabab player Mazhar Hassan
maestro with Saqib Razaq
at the Respect Festival, London July 2001
Photographs and audio excerpts courtesy of Ustad
Ghulam Hassan Shaggan and Qadir Ali Shaggan.