The kheyal maestro- shrinking situations of  Pakistani classical singers

The kheyal maestro- shrinking situations of Pakistani classical singers

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The early life of kheyal maestro:

He was born in the Jalandhar district of India. His date of birth was 1940. He learned the basics of music from childhood. So, Ghazanfar Ali Khan, his paternal uncle, became his music teacher. He received primary education from him.

Therefore, he was a Kheyal maestro and became one of the best among Pakistani classical singers. Mubarak was the paternal uncle of Javed Bashir and Akbar Ali, the young musician of Pakistan. They also basked from the glory of Ustad Mubarak. They learned the musical knowledge under his supervision.

Mubarak Ali Khan sang the Kheyal gaiki for more than five decades. He had trained a number of genres. However, for the past three decades or so had chose kheyal as the only genre to explore. He was idolising Ustad Amir Khan of Kirana Gharana. Therefore, Mubarak Ali was the only Pakistani classical singer who molded himself in his style.

It was a difficult journey because he continued the traditional style. Till the very end, He did not cower under pressure to compromise in favor of more popular forms till his death. This determination is very important because he had started his career as a qawwal.

During the last five decades, qawwali became a musical patent internationally. It also became a concert item at home. Its relationship with the shrine reduced. Then, in the end, it detached itself from its usual quasi-religious moorings.

During this time, one saw many a qawwal changed their directions towards a more contemporary sonic representation. So, it is created with help from computer-generated sound, emphasizing the rhythmic pattern.

Similarly, qawwals sound more like rock stars. Therefore, it appeared a legacy of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. However, Mubarak Ali quit qawwali. Then, he settled for a more meditative tone that dwelled in introspection of the raga in the vilampat lai. Other than evoking an ecstatic response, the stress was on an incremental build-up that nuanced into evoking different layers of shrutis embedded in a sur.

Kheyal was more prestigious. Therefore, during the Eighteenth and Nineteen Centuries, many of the qawwals switched over to the kheyal. Two obvious examples of this were Ustads Barray Muhammed Khan and Tanrus Khan. Barray Ghulam Ali is the founder to establish the kheyal as an independent form. As dhrupad was pure music. But then the musical taste had shifted away from the dhrupad to Kheyal. The innovations of Tanrus Khan made the genre possible to become a major form of serious music.

Read Also: Shaukat Ali-The king of folk

A daring step to chose Khayal

Mubarak Ali Khan took to the kheyal in a difficult time. Many classical singers quit Kheyal. It was the time when it had dwindling takers in Pakistan. That must have been because he was sincere in whatever he was doing irrespective of the response that he was able to get.
The task became more difficult when he decided to idolize Ustad Amir Khan.

In a certain way, he went against the drift of music in Pakistan. Because here the emphasis, unfortunately, had shifted to virtuosity, which meant excessive reliance on fast flights, preferably lightning fast, and then the intricate division of the rhythmic cyclic. In this scenario, who will listen to Pakistani classical singers and  Mubarak Ali- who was indeed a treasure trove in the field of classical music.

A musical performance only warms up once the vocalists indulge in lightning-fast taans and tehais –preferably with one following the other. The compositions in the vilampat lai have suffered.

The musicality and the melodic content thus escaped kheyal and found refuge in the other forms, like folk and ghazal. Meanwhile, classical forms were seen as the battleground for virtuosity –rather externalized virtuosity. Mubarak Ali Khan continued to sing Khyal. He was a trailblazer to explore the raga in a slow tempo. Indeed he was a Kheyal maestro.

His spiritual relationship with his mentor

The Ustad Amir Khan-Mubarak Ali was a rare case of a bond between an old ustad and a young admirer – it was a bond that was not ustad/shagirdi in flesh and blood but on a roohani level. No expression in another language fully captures the essence and the implications of the term.

One can translate roohani as spiritual but the connotation is much more cultural-specific than that associated with the merely spiritual. Mubarak Ali Khan had been so impressed by the singing of Amir Khan that he accepted him as his roohani ustad.

They never met and there was no one-on-one interaction between the two. It has little to do with the traditional teaching relationship where the ustad in person teaches the shagird the finer art of music. However, in a higher sense, it was a bond that had all the trappings of a formal personal relationship. More was added to it by the absence of the ustad.

Ustad Amir Khan was himself greatly inspired by the singing of Ustad Waheed Khan of the Kirana Gharana. The vocal rendering of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and Abdul Waheed Khan had an immense diversity. Abdul Waheed Khan was very careful about the intonation of notes with the raga as he specialized in vilampit lai gradually weaving the magic of the notes in the slow elaboration of the raga in a tempo, where the nuance of the note is not lost in acceleration.

But it retains its emotional coloration by dwelling on it. Ustad Amir Khan made this singing his specialty and during his prime, there were few who could match his exposition of the raga in the vilamapit lai and the musical possibilities inherent in the mandristhan -the lower octave. Mubarak Ali Khan chose the slow evocatory progression of the raga in the vilampat lai and then the exploration of the lower and the middle octaves. He remained loyal to his ustad.

It rarely happened that as the raga progressed at a certain pace, Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan suddenly finalized the raga due to the time constraint. He rarely had the luxury of a gradual unfolding as organizers of the programs pressed for fixed schedules. The kheyal maestro of our age died at the age of 81. He died on Thursday night in Lahore. Mubarak has shot a name and fame among the  Pakistani classical singers. He was a trailblazer in the field of music, especially classical music which is dying day by day.


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