Groomed under the tutelage of
his late uncle Ustad Ahmed Ali Khan and father Ustad Rahmat Ali Khan of Gwalior
gharana, Roshan can
be termed as an exciting prospect for Pakistani classical music. Based in Karachi, Roshan
Abbas Khan is quickly gaining a following amongst the art music
listeners of Pakistan.
During his recent tour of the UK, he was approached by Saqib Razaq, he kindly obliged to spare some time for an interview and record short classical pieces exclusively for the site. Here are excerpts of the interview with
you tell us
about your gharana?
Roshan Abbas (RA): Gwalior
gharana is considered to be one of the pioneering schools of khayal singing alongside
Kirana, Qawwal Bacchay, Talwandi and Agra.
The gharana is said to have been founded by Ustad Nathan Peer Bukhsh who
was associated with the Gwalior court. His art was passed on to his
grandsons, the legendary Ustads Haddu and Hassu Khan.
I hail from a family of musicians who have been vocalists for almost
500 years. However the first recognised name of my family is that of Baba Bannay Khan who
became a student of Khansahabs Haddu-Hassu Khan of Gwalior.
Abbas Khan. Young vocalist hailing from the Gwalior Gharana
far as the classical music of Pakistan is concerned, Mian Bannay Khan
and his family members have played an important role primarily role in
popularising khayal gayaki in the regions of present day Pakistan.
worked as a servant at Haddu Khansahab’s house for 12 years before being
accepted by Khansahab Haddu Khan as a student. It is said that Mian Bannay Khan used to secretly
listen to Haddu Khansahab teach his students and in the evenings, he used
to practise the same lesson in the forests. One day thinking that nobody was
at home Bannay Khansahab started practicing, Haddu Khansahab’s wife was in the
house and was stunned to hear that Bannay Khansahab singing compositions in
almost identical manner to those of her husband and immediately informed Haddu
Khansahab. Having seen Bannay Khansahab’s devotion and sincerity Haddu Khansahab
decided to teach him. It is also said that Haddu Khansahab was going to adopt
Bannay Khansahab before he had a son of his own.
Other renowned members of my family are Khansahab Meeran
Bukhsh Khan, Ustad Pyare Khan, Ustad Jamal Khan, Khansahab Sainday Khan, Khansahab Misri Khan,
Khansahab Ghulam Rasool Khan, Ustad Umeed Ali Khan, Mohammad Din Khan and my
late uncle Ustad Ahmed Ali and father Ustad Rehmat Ali Khan.
|What are the attributes of
the gayaki of Gwalior Gharana?
The first essential feature of Gwalior is “Aakar ka Gana”. We don’t rely
on a vocal technique known as “raggee”. Aaakaar ka gana is highly valued and
uses singing in a full throated manner. The second feature of Gwalior is the
possession of authentic asthayi antaras, we have many bandishes which can be
traced back to Ustad Nayamat Khan Sadarang. The bandish or composition is
central to the performance in khayal, and the raag is presented through the
bandish. Thirdly layakari or rhythmic interplay features strongly in our gharana,
there are many compositions which are composed in difficult time cycles such as
Dhamar, Ikwaai and Talwara. We also use the 4th laya concept which
involves taans at four times the speed of the tempo. Fourth feature is
that we have many taans like teen saptak ki taan and spaat taan.
Ahmed Ali Khan.
you agree on the fact that your family
has been responsible for introducing khayal gayaki into Sindh?
Baba Bannay Khan introduced
khayal gayaki not only in Sindh but in the region of Punjab as well. The dominance of khayal in Punjab is
due to my family’s contribution towards khayal gayaki, before that dhrupad was
the most popular form of classical music in Punjab. In a way, one can term all khayal vocalists of Punjab
and Sindh to be shagirds of my family
regardless of whether they admit to it or not.
|What age did you start your
RA: My musical
training commenced when I was four years old. In our training emphasis is given
on recognition of each note. To begin with, my
teachers Ustads Ahmed Ali- Rahmat Ali used to tell me to sustain the note Sa
whilst they practised. This helped me to strengthen and recognise
the base note. As a source of encouragement they used to offer me money to
practice with them.
How did your musical
training progress after your initial introduction with classical music?
The next stage was
voice control. My ustad placed great emphasis
on voice culture and maintained that having full command over sur attracts
listeners to the performance. He said there it is no use if a person has tayyari
in the shape of dazzling taans and sargams and is continuously out of tune.
Following this, Khansahab taught me the structure of different raags and how to
develop them. I also learnt compositions of the raags known as bandishes or
|Were you ever frustrated at
being born into a musical family?
Ustads: Ustad Ahmed Ali and Ustad Rahmat Ali Khan.
to hear Kafi Kanada
RA: At times yes, I have had to struggle for
recognition as we professional musicians encounter more criticism for our
performances than an amateur normally would. A listener will subconsciously
judge my ability in comparison to my family elders before
passing a judgment on my skill. Although I feel honored to have born into
such an illustrious family, it has been a difficult task to live up to the high
expectations of the audience. There were times when I thought of quitting music
altogether, however due to the blessings and encouragement of Ahmed Ali
Khansahab I have managed to succeed in pursuing music as a profession.
practice do you do?
practice is essential for a vocalist, however I have never timed myself on the
exact number of hours I do. When you are passionate about something time limits simply vanish.
There was a time during my youth that I practiced so
much that my mother used to say that even when you are not practicing we feel
that you are.
|Which artistes have inspired
Umeed Ali Khan and Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan.
The major source of inspiration has been my
teacher Ustad Ahmed Ali Khan. I am also inspired by my uncle the late Ustad Umeed Ali
Khan and Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan of the Patiala Gharana. All three had individual
qualities. Ustad Ahmed Ali Khan and Ustad Umeed Ali Khan used to execute Aakaar
taans and used the fourth laya concept in taans which is a speciality of our family.
Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan was a great layakar and made very good usage of bol taans.
Many artistes have been inspired by Ustads Umeed Ali Khan and Ashiq Ali Khan.
|What features of a classical
music recital are important for a beginner to listen to?
RA: A listener who is new to classical music
should focus on the composition being sung.
Classical music is not as difficult as people perceive it to be. Raags
are based on combination of notes. If I say that I am going to sing a raag
containing five notes, I will be displaying all the different permutations of using the
five notes within the performance, that is a challenge for a vocalist on how he
will attract the audience with the combinations.
|Each gharana has its
discrete bandishes that are not openly sung and are known as “Achop” or “Aprachalit”.
Do you know any bandishes which apart from being rare also indicate your strength
as a vocalist?
musicologist. Professor B.R. Deodhar. Spent a number of years learning
from Ustad Sindhay Khan.
RA: Yes, our gharana has many such
There are a few individuals who are scared of singing rare compositions in fear
that they might get stolen. However due to the lack of popularity of classical
music in our country I feel that we gharanaydaar musicians have a duty to
perform such compositions in public so that more people could be attracted
towards classical music.
My ustad used to say that there
are many ustads who have a wealth of knowledge and training but lack authentic
traditional compositions. Even a great vocalist of the calibre of Khansahab Bade
Ghulam Ali Khan had to get compositions from different sources which included my
grandfather Ustad Sindhay Khan who was also the teacher of the renowned
musicologist B.R. Deodhar.
|Some ghazal singers claim
that classical singers don’t have the ability to sing ghazals due to
having over strained vocal chords as a result of heavy riyaaz. What are your
views on this statement?
Yes, I have heard this before and feel that this is a very silly thing to say.
It’s like asking a PhD in English if he knows the English alphabet. The ghazal
singers must remember that a classical vocalist doesn’t just execute taans and
sargam. We have vilambit in khayal and an asatayi antara which is a composition
in itself, so why can’t we sing a ghazal? Ghazals themselves are wholly based
on classical bandishes so there aren’t any hurdles for a classical artiste to
overcome. A classical vocalist should have mastery over all fields. Training in
classical music gives you a solid base and singing ghazal, thumri or even pop
should present no problems. The reason why classical vocalists of yesteryears
didn’t sing ghazal was that most of them lacked formal education and didn’t
understand the delicate nuances which ghazal gayaki demands. Another reason was
that ghazal gayaki has always had a lower status compared with khayal gayaki due
to its association with the courtesan tradition.
|Classical music was fairly
popular amongst the masses of Pakistan thirty to fourty years ago, we had
the likes of Khansahab Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Umeed Ali
Khansahab, Nazakat –Salamat Ali Khansahabs, Ustads Amanat- Fateh
Ali, and Roshan Ara ji. However there doesn’t seem to be any newcomers
coming up, what are the reasons for this unfortunate situation and can there
be anything done to improve the current situation?
RA: In my view the decline is
only a temporary phase and we should see improvements in the future. There will
be a time when classical music will regain its popularity. The main reason for
the blame goes to the hereditary musicians who didn’t concentrate on teaching
the masses, they just taught their family members. If the masses were trained
they would have recognised the difference between Shyam Kalyan and Darbari and
not listen to the likes of Abrar-ul-Haque or Mohammad Ali Shaheki. We classical
musicians should firstly analyse ourselves before pointing fingers at others for
the demise of classical music. Classical music has always had a select following
and the traditional musicians have made it too select. I try to teach as many
people as I can so that appreciation of classical music can be raised in
Another major reason for the demise is that
classical music has lacked media attention. We are living in an age where
media is ruling all facets of life and this should be used actively to promote classical music.
Currently, we only have a 15 minute daily programme on radio devoted to classical and a 25 minute
weekly programme on PTV called Raag Rang which is broadcasted so late that even
we go to sleep rather than watch the programme. We should get prime time
airing on TV, Radio and satellite. Classical music broadcasted on TV should
incorporate audio visuals so that the mood of the raag could be fully expressed.
Are conferences important for the survival for classical music as well?
course, we don’t have the concept of conferences in Pakistan in
comparison with our neighbours India, conferences are extremely important in
promoting classical music. There should be a set up where there are regular
music conferences so that the masses can start identifying with classical music.
At present I think there is only one annual conference which takes place in
Lahore. Presentation is also vital for promotion in the modern age of mass
|What is the background to
the challenge you gave to all other young vocalists in Dawn newspaper 1993?
purpose of the challenge was to give classical music of Pakistan a shot in the
arm so that enthusiasm could be raised. I put out a challenge to all other
vocalists to sing with me so that other talented artistes of Pakistan could
participate on a single platform. Purpose of the challenge was to create
interest in Pakistani classical music and not to stamp my authority over others.
This way musicians from different gharanas could compete against each other and
also the audience could benefit by listening to different styles.
| What do you think of the current craze of pop music in Pakistan?
RA: I am
not against pop singers. I am a great fan of pop singers such as Mariah Carey,
Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. The pop singers of Pakistan cannot be
classified as “pop singers” they are not doing “pop” but “paap”.
They are taking traditional folk melodies and incorporating them into pop by
utilising western orchestration.
like to make a request to all the fake pop stars. If they are blessed with fame
and fortune, despite their lack of talent, then they should recognise this
within themselves and approach an ustad to gain knowledge in return for some “khidmat”.
This will benefit both ustad and the pop star. The ustad would get a source of
maintenance whilst the pop star will benefit from improved technique and
knowledge on raag daari. This relationship can make use of the ustad’s
knowledge which in these times is being wasted.
What’s stopping you from joining the current pop wagon?
Abbas in discussion with Saqib Razaq. Click to hear Raag Darbari sound
RA: As a
gharanaydaar musician, I feel it is my duty to uphold my tradition and art.
There have been suggestions by many people to put aside the tanpura and take up
the guitar, however I don’t need cheap publicity. The media has only been here
for a short time, but my forefathers made a name for themselves before
the advent of the media. I am sometimes astonished when thinking of how much they would have
had to travel and perform in order to receive popularity and recognition. If I want to earn a quick buck, there are other types of work which I
could do rather than pop in which I could earn more money.
| Are there any other upcoming artistes in your family?
Yes there are.
cousin Karam Abbas, who is the son of Ahmed Ali Khansahab is a talented vocalist
based in Karachi. He regularly performs in jugalbandi with his brother
Rahmat Abbas in concerts and on television. I usually sing in conjunction with
my elder brother Ghulam Abbas. My youngest brother Imran Abbas is showing great
promise as a vocalist and I have full hopes that he will become a great artiste
in the near future.
| Finally, can you tell us about your upcoming CD soon to
be released by Sadarang Archives?
RA: First of all I am thankful to Saqib Razaq of
Sadarang.com for starting a venture for the promotion of classical music in
Inshallah this will be an initial step in preserving our culture. In
the CD I have tried to present
classical music in its purest form so that it can be preserved for future generations.
sahab, we wish you
the best of luck for this tour and future.
RA: I am thankful to you for inviting me for an
interview and I pray that your passion and hard work for the promotion of
classical music can reap rewards.