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Friday, June 23, 2006

Friendly Fire

Knowing about my passion for Classical Music does reduce the risk of friends buying me shalvaar qameez suits that I wouldn't be caught dead in, or ties that will only hang in racks to feed moths. But it still does not cover two risks adequately:
(1) that I may already own that piece of music - not a big problem, because one can exchange it in shops or with friends;
(2) that the reason I don't have it in the first place, maybe, is that I did not want it or, worse, I detest it. As a devout worshipper of music, it is difficult for me to hide my disgust in this case.

Fortunately, the CD my friends brought back for me from India, no doubt with much affection, was delivered via their driver. He seemed quite satisfied when I lied to him that the pain on my face was because I had twisted an ankle while coming to answer the doorbell.

When I called my friends to thank them, I mumbled something along the lines of "It's the thought that counts" and managed to hold back my choking sounds as they waxed eloquent about their discovery of this marvellous artiste and how I was the first one who came to their minds. Politely, while contemplating whether 'minds' correctly described anything that could have been instrumental in making such a decision, I told them I had not had the opportunity to listen to the CD yet as the KESC had - mercifully, for once - shut off electrical supply to our area (read 'all of Karachi') in the intervening hours.

Later in the evening I decided to brave it and play a bit of the CD, if only out of perverse curiosity akin to when, knowing the pain it'll cause, one lifts a scab off a semi-healed wound. You may well ask why I was so sure I wouldn't enjoy the content. Well, friends, on the cover it bore the legend 'Selected and Composed by Muzaffar Ali' - a name that sends chills down my spine.

Monsieur Ali is a quack of all trades: Film maker, Designer, Translator, Producer, Composer and an Authority on Just About Everything. He held a successful Sufi Fest once and, since nothing succeeds like excess, he has set that up as an annual event (admittedly, one must not - even in jest - negate the great service this has done on several levels. It has.) …

This Annual Festival, known as Jahan-e-Khusrau, brings together some of the biggest names in the World of Music and Sufi Poetry. That said, he dominates the entire event by directing Just About Everything. The video shoots, coming from a film maker, however mediocre, look like the work of a 10-year old who has just discovered the Zoom & Focus Controls. The booklets and the boxed-CD sets they accompany bear his design stamp, too. But what is really bad is that he also directs the compositions and the performers.

Like Death, Muzaffar Ali is the great leveller! All music begins to sound similar after a while - not a mean feat when you consider that the performers span styles and forms developed in India, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Israel and more. To be fair, bits of it remain entertaining enough (or novel enough) for an occasional excerpt to be played. Once. For me there are two unforgiveable aspects of MA:
1. He took an absolutely marvellous singer of Sufi and Folk Music from Pakistan, Abida Parveen, and has turned her into a drama-queen-cum-qavvaali-singer who has slowly lost all the authenticity she had and is now a bundle of well-rehearsed but not too convincing histrionics. I hope she soon recovers from this while she is still in voice. [Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan did not survive a similar situation at the hands of the West.] 
2. He has produced good looking boxed sets of the Khusrau Festival CDs/Videos, with booklets that are very useful and attractive. Until you start to read them and discover that, even ignoring the instances where legibility has been sacrificed for design, or form has trounced function, they are (for no understandable reason - since they are neither cheap nor produced or published by the illiterate) full of typos and textual mistakes. Annoying. Inexcusable.
(Incidentally, a similar form of carelessness has also - very sadly - marred the extremely valuable collections that the Dawn Group has published. For example, a collection of Tapu Javeri's lovely portraits, screwed beyond excusability by careless, thoughtless printing and insane binding. Also, a delightful, albeit idiotically named, Book+4CD boxed set of Faiz - with typos. Worth getting, nonetheless! What surprises me is how stuff like this gets past His Highness ...)

And FINALLY to the artiste on the CD: Zila Khan. Daughter of the great, incomparable Sitar Navaaz Ustad Vilayat Khan. Niece of Surbahaar virtuoso Imrat Khan. A few seconds into her alaap or early verses and one feels that she'd have been more aptly yclept if she'd been called Ibrat Khan. Here's a joke I made up that may serve as my view of her singing:
Ibrat Khan dies and goes to Heaven (well, she has sung songs of Love and Peace and Harmony instead of martial themes ... and stuff like that counts up there!). She goes to the GateKeeper and says "Is there any way I can meet my father?". "What's his name?", asks the chap. "Vilayat Khan", says Ibrat. "A not uncommon name. Many Vilayat Khans. You'll have to be more specific." ... "He was a famous musician", says Ibrat, helpfully. "Several of those, too ...", says the GateKeeper. "How can I find him, then?", asks Ibrat. "Oh, well, there are other links in the databases. For example the last words he spoke." "Fantastic!", says Ibrat,"He blessed me and made me promise that I'd do nothing through my performance that would bring disgrace to the Gharana or he'd turn in his grave." .... "Ohhhh ...", beams the GateKeeper, "you mean Whirling Vilayat!"

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

23 June, 2006 05:21

Anonymous rayhan said...

You mean there's a reason other than it being a very funny piece? Are you the friend who bought him the cd? Or are you related to Muzaffar Ali (which would make you my relative, too) --- have just sent him the url.

The joke needs to be printed in a mumbai magazine, so I have passed it on to an editor.

23 June, 2006 10:26

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mean His Hugeness? Hahaha. I work there (which explains the reason for my anonymity). The stuff doesn't "get past" him, sir, he "creates" it.

23 June, 2006 11:03

Anonymous BeanZ said...


Zak has a way of becoming parental at inopportune moments - he forced us to watch the MA DVD! Seriously, first I got a headache, then my eyes started burning, then my stomach started churning. It was nothing short of unadulterated torture. I'd rather have watched a video of Michael Bolton!

23 June, 2006 11:29

Blogger the olive ream said...

This certainly qualifies as one of your best and one of the funniests posts I have ever read. Laugh out loud hilarious.

This piece out to be published in Dawn but then again, I wonder how His Highness would feel about it.


23 June, 2006 19:52

Anonymous Ghazala said...

If its any consolation, the same friends proudly presented me with a similar set of cds - including the ibrat khan one and I was asked later by the spouse if I liked the music they had specially got for me, I too almost choked but managed to produce a very authentic smoker's cough.
I think it was better than being absolutely speechless, cause it immediately sent my guest in search of a glass of water from my kitchen, having downed which - the topic of conversation mercifully changed.
Love your bit about his hugeness 1 and 2
btw is the Faiz cd set available anywhere ( I'd like to get it typos and all)
as usual a fabulous piece of writing

24 June, 2006 09:22

Blogger Pyschofloobicologist said...

naa man hte uncensored version would be a lil too!!!
i mean i can discriminateee a lot but then tellling other ppl about tht discrimination would be mean!!!

24 June, 2006 15:30

Blogger Zakintosh said...

ghazala: btw is the Faiz cd set available anywhere (I'd like to get it typos and all)

the link is in the post.

27 June, 2006 11:23

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I luvd your comments abt Muzzaffar and you are right in everyway.Though I strongly disagree with you about Abida Parveen and Zila Khan.Whatever knowledge I have of music I feel these two are exceptional artists but yes ofcourse projected in an awful way by our Jack of all & Master of none.After having heard & seen Zila twice with due respect to you I feel she has an amazing voice & depth in her music.

28 June, 2006 18:30

Blogger Zakintosh said...

Dear Anonymous: Music is very subjective - which accounts for a world that is accepting of Beethoven at one end and Kenny G at the other. I respect your right to your views.

I greatly admire Abida P. and have most of her early recordings and have heard her at live mahfils (including very inspiring small baethaks, where she is at her best). My objection is to the theatrical performances she has begun to deliver, as a result of her Muzaffar Ali encounter. While this may have gained her a larger audience, many of her dedicated listeners (myself included) feel saddened at unnecessarily losing the real Abida to this. In private sessions, judging by one I attended last year, she continues to enthrall serious listeners.

Zila - whose father was arguably the finest sitar player in recent years - is another kettle of fish. I could support my opinion by quoting what 5 of the finest musicians of India have said to me about her ... but that would be betrayal of trust.

Anyway, thanks for dropping in ... enjoy whatever music you like. That's what finally matters!

28 June, 2006 20:13


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