Ustad Zakir Ali Khan
Saeed Malik pays
tribute to Ustad Salamat Ali Khan's youngest brother, classical vocalist
Ustad Zakir Ali Khan who passed away on 6th June 2003.
My soul is satisfied by
my artistic achievements, but my body is not. The earnings from my
professional pursuits have never been adequate enough to meet its
needs," said Ustad Zakir Ali Khan of Sham Chaurasi gharana of khayal
singers a few months before his death on 6th June 2003 in Lahore. He was
responding to my question during a chance meeting at Radio Pakistan,
That was, in fact, the
gist of a long conversation between Zakir Ai Khan, the youngest brother
of legendary classical vocalist Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and myself. All
matters related to the prevailing sorry state of affairs of classical
music in the country, especially the plight of classical vocalists, were
discussed in that meeting. The late vocalist did not have to stretch his
imagination much to search for appropriate words required to portray the
bleak future of 'art music' in Pakistan. He deplored the apathy of both
the cultural bureaucracy and Pakistani society towards the need for the
preservation and promotion of our rich classical heritage, a legacy that
was created by the collective efforts of gharana musicians during the
past several centuries.
42-year-long professional career," he bemoaned, "I had to
struggle hard to support my family at even the basic level of
subsistence." So strong were his feelings about societal neglect of
classical music and the indifference of the official electronic media
that his eyes became wet while narrating his own woeful tale as a
follower of classical music. His story was in no way different from
those of other classical singers who are struggling hard to preserve
their ancestral art in the face of heavy odds.
"Lack of interest by
the public," he explained, "whose tastes have been corrupted
by the substandard music churned out by films, radio, TV and the rising
tide of imported and utterly alien pop music, have combined to push our
art music into the shadows."
Lack of patronage by the
government is another factor which has contributed to the decline in the
popularity of classical music, which in the past was kept in circulation
by the munificence and artistic tastes of the rulers of princely states.
With the obliteration of these states from the political map of the
subcontinent, the responsibility shifted to the governments in both the
dominions which, unfortunately, failed, more in Pakistan than in India,
to rise to the occasion.
As has been the practice
among professional gharana musicians, Zakir Ali Khan also learnt
classical music from the elders in his family at a very young age. He
was brought up and groomed by his older brothers Nazakat Ali Khan and
Salamat Ali Khan, who also trained him in the art of khayal singing as
their father had died when Zakir was hardly two years old. Born in
village Sham Chaurasi in Jallundar district of Indian East Punjab, Zakir
was brought to Pakistan along with the other members of the family, who
then settled in Multan.
"At age 12,"
Zakir Ali claimed, "I participated in a music stint of Radio
Pakistan, Multan in 1958 as a junior member of the duo of Akhter Ali-Zakir
Ali. Earlier, I had made my debut at the All Pakistan Music Conference
held in Multan in 1958," he said with a glint of pride in his eyes.
"The All Pakistan
Music Conference holds its meetings in Lahore," I interjected,
adding, "How did you start your career under its umbrella in Multan?"
Taking a meaningful glance at me he said emphatically: "The Multan
based Conference was in existence before its Lahore namesake started
functioning. It was a one-night event in which frontline artists from
East and West Pakistan participated."
In the duo with his older
brother, the late Akhter Ali Khan, he also participated in another
All-Pakistan musical moot held at Dhaka in the year 1970, which was
sponsored by the Dhaka Music College. A number of prominent musicians
from West Pakistan also participated in that event, which was spread
over four days.
events in my career were our duo's participation in the All India Music
Conference held at Kolkata in March 1965, where our performance was
applauded by large audiences, which included cultivated listeners,
connoisseurs, critics and frontline professional musicians from Pakistan
and India. Among other participants in that moot were classical
vocalists Ustad Ameer Khan of Indore, Shehnai player Ustad Bismillah
Khan, sitar player Ustad Wilayat Husain Khan, sarod player Ustad Amjad
Ali Khan, classical vocalists Ustad Nazakat Ali Khan-Salamat Ali Khan,
Ustad Amanat Ali Khan-Fateh Ali Khan, Mahapursh Misra and Pundit Bhim
Sen Joshi. During another visit to India, which coincided with Indian
Independence Day, our duo unofficially represented Pakistan at LGT Hall,
New Delhi. The concert there was sponsored by the Punjabi Academy."
Ustad Zakir Ali Khan was
known for his versatility in using various classical modes to express
his creative melodic ideas "from khayal to heer," as he once
proudly put it. He had no inhibitions, as was the case with a few senior
classical vocalists of yore, in using all modes of musical expression.
"A musician should
be pragmatic enough to use all kinds of modes for his expressions as is
demanded by the audience," he said in a matter-of-fact tone,
adding, "however, my preference is still for the classical modes -khayal,
thumri and dadra. I have recorded a large number of Multani kafis,
ghazals, even patriotic songs, and songs of the theatre for Radio
Pakistan during my career."
Zakir Ali Khan spent the
better part of his career singing with his brother. However, when his
brother was alive, and also after his death, he rendered numerous solo
songs for radio and television, on stage and at soirees sponsored by
private parties. Jointly, with his late brother Akhter and singing solo,
Zakir Ali Khan traveled to India four times, where they recorded ragas
Madh Kauns, Pahari and Peelu for a one and a half hour duration of the
Urdu Service of All India Radio. They also appeared on the Indian mini
screen from Mumbai, New Delhi and Jaipur. Ustad Zakir Ali Khan also
performed in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand both as a solo
singer as well as with his nephew, Latafat Ali Khan, now settled in
Ustad Akhtar Ali Khan
Ustad Zakir Ali Khan
One LP containing ragas
Mian Ki Todi, Darbari and Thumri Pahari, and two cassettes containing
Punjabi and Urdu songs and a couple of ragas in the Ahang-i-Khusravi
album are the other achievements of Zakir Ali Khan. When the Punjabi
Heer was recorded by Radio Pakistan, Lahore in the voices of 70
different singers, Zakir Ali Khan also lent his voice to this collection
but rendered Heer in raga Tilang and not Bhairvin, in which
this Punjabi epic is traditionally sung.
Criticizing the role
played in recent years by PTV in pushing the classical heritage of the
country towards the shadows, Zakir Ali Khan said that the medium did not
even have a schedule for classical music as did Radio Pakistan. Within
PTV, it depended on the 'marzi' (whims and fancies) of a producer to
engage a classical musician for the recording of a number at any time in
"PTV telecasts only
a 25-minute weekly stint of classical music at a time when everyone,
including votaries of classical music, have sunk into a deep slumber.
Who will keep themselves awake until 30 minutes past midnight to listen
to a brief presentation of classical vocal or instrumental music?"
He observed with a touch of biting sarcasm.
"I don't resent the
frequent exposure given to pop music by PTV, but I do wish that it
thought of preserving our traditional melodic culture, which is fast
fading into oblivion. There sill remain a few classical vocalists in
Pakistan who can teach ragas, thumris and ghazals to the future
generations of Pakistanis. To learn these genres, one needs the services
of ustads as compared to pop numbers like Aa ja tu bai ja
cycle tay and Billo tay ghar, which do not need much grooming in
music," he said in despair.
The junior-most among the
Shamchaurasi brothers, the 58-year old Ustad Zakir Ali Khan died in
Lahore on 6th June 2003 after going through various illnesses which he could
not properly treat owing to poverty. One wonders who will take care of
his family - the state or society?