Manzoor Ahmed Ahsan on theÂ All Pakistan Music Conference
In the good old days, when the All Pakistan Music Conference (APMC) used to be held in the open-air theatre, the audience was ceremonial in coming prepared for the all-night extravaganza that is the final day. It was always chilly. People would bring thermoses of chai, sandwiches, and even gao takias for when their backs started to give way. Every year, devotees and enthusiasts showed up in strength at the APMC, and this year was no different.
Lahore staged the APMC throughout the second week of October. Although the magical atmosphere has diminished, fans of classical music arrived in great numbers, and heard the music with serious attentiveness. The first day was scheduled for school, college and university students and amateurs. The second evening was dedicated to gharaano ki miraas. On this night budding artists from families of established singers, which are known as gharaanas and who are the maestros of the future, were to show their prowess. The third day was scheduled for folk, loke, thumri and ghazal. Even though the APMC strictly promotes the classical genre, they also present folk songs and ghazals. The fourth day was dedicated to pure classical music. This comprises khyal gaayaki and instrumentals. I was delighted to see the high standard of the performers through out.
When the glamorous and evergreen Fariha Parvez presented a thumri, the audience got to see her in a new light as a classical singer. People who had sneaked out of the hall to make phone calls and get chai made sure to return for her performance
On the second day of the conference, Shujaat Ali Khan â€” the grandson of the great Salamat Ali Khan â€” came out with a wonderful rendition of khyal gaayaki. He travels worldwide showcasing his talent and holds tremendous promise for the future. Chaand Khan and Suraj Khan, sons of the Ustad Hussain Buksh Gullu, were simply outstanding. The jugalbandi, that is the musical rivalry that ensues on stage between musicians, so characteristic of the gharaanas from which they hail, was a pleasure to witness. That the musicians are on equal footing makes the playful competition between them all the more enjoyable.
The performances of several tabla players were a special treat. Haroon Samuel, channeling the Punjab gharaana style of tabla, is an accomplished solo performer. Riaz Ahmed on tabla was also quite unbelievable as were several flute players. During the performances of the flute players there were almost no cell phone conversations, trips to the canteen, or general chatter. The flute performances held everything still and the listeners seemed to be in a trance-like state.
The evening ended at 9:30 am in the morning to a giddy, tired, and mesmerised audience
Â A young boy on the Pakhawaj caught my eye, and ear. Pakhawaj is a very old percussion instrument and forms the basis of all classical music from the subcontinent. It is retained today in its original shape and form. The Late Hayat Ahmed Khan, the founder and ardent benefactor of the APMC, took pains to promote Pakhawaj as he was afraid of it becoming extinct.
Perhaps what touched me most were the singers from Kushaab and Gujranwala. These artists would never be able to get to perform in front of audiences of the caliber witnessed in Lahore, and they were on top of the world, gesticulating confidently and smiling.
Ustad Hamid Ali Khan, the youngest brother of the Late Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, presented three ghazals of his late brother. These ghazals have attained permanence for any listener and connoisseur of music. Ustad Hamid Ali Khan put his heart and soul in the performance and it arguably was one of his best. I looked around and saw a rapt audience; some women even had their eyes closed in a kind of serene contemplation.
Akmal Qadri was accompanied by his teenaged son, also on flute, and they put up a magical performance
When the glamorous and evergreen Fariha Parvez presented a thumri, the audience got to see Fariha Parvez in a new light as a classical singer. People who had sneaked out of the hall to make phone calls and get chai made sure to return for her performance. She is a household name and has achieved much fame and success for her popular music.
On the classical night, we got to enjoy a flute performance by Haider Rehman. It is really amazing how far Haider has come and how he continues to impress. A banker as well as a committed musician, he has been entrancing listeners from an early age. Dr. Amjad Pervaiz, who used to sing folk songs earlier in his musical career and has lately taken to classical singing since the last about ten years, came out with a good performance of khyal gaayaki. Ustad Badar-uz-Zaman, and his brother, Ustad Qamar-uz-Zaman were their usual charming selves and came out with an outstanding performance. Ustad Badar-uz-Zaman has a PhD in music and is one of the most qualified and educated musicians on the classical music scene. And then Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, who has a connection to Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, a very high profile musician of the subcontinent, presented. This too was received very well.
On the final night, Taj Buledi and his group had come from Balouchistan and presented Balochi folk songs. This was followed by flute from Akmal Qadri, who is the ustad of Haider Rehman. Akmal Qadri was accompanied by his teenaged son, also on flute, and they put up a magical performance. A performance by brothers Javed Niazi and Babar Niazi, the sons of Late Ustad Tufail Niazi, sang one of the eternal hits of their father, Chirrian da chamba. Judging by the thunderous applause, the audience was unanimous in their impartiality to Tufail Niaziâ€™s undying music. Noor Zehra on the Saagar veena was in a class of her own. She was followed by Jaffer Hussain on clarinet, which was also among the top performances of the conference. But an instrument missing in most of the music conference was the sitar. Rakae Jamil was one of the only ones and he presented an excellent but short performance and left me thirsting for more. Ustad Naseeruddin Sami, who belongs to the Delhi gharaana and is presently settled in Karachi, had travelled to Lahore for the conference and in the accompaniment of his son, an accomplished young individual, came out with the best performance of the entire music conference. His other son was on the harmonium. Their music is mellow, serene smooth-flowing; it takes you to a sublime place.
This year, there was a unique performance from Ustad Altaf Hussain, more commonly known as Ustad Tafu. He has provided music to over seven hundred films and is well-known and very respected in the film industry; this was his first tabla performance at the music conference. He was performing with two fingers, as well as with both hands on one tabla. The evening ended at 9:30 am in the morning to a very giddy, tired, and mesmerised audience.
A word about the audience. It was one of the most mature and attentive audiences I have witnessed in my many years of going to the APMC. People sat for hours spellbound and consumed by the music, critically appreciating every move, every taal, every sur. The hall was packed to capacity with no seats available, with many people sitting on stairs and standing on the sides. It made me think: this is what makes Pakistan shine. If only we had more music, more melody, in our lives.