Beat Street


EMI CD, Rs. 199

HUSN-E-Ghazal brings together 11 Pakistani women musicians, some heard and some unheard. It is an unusual album, for it brings to fore so many voices from that part of the world from where you get to hear of only suppressed voices of women. EMI has done a commendable job of compiling this volume.

The album has the famous "Hum dekhenge" which stirred the audiences at the World Social Forum, when Shubha Mudgal sang it. This compilation has Iqbal Bano's celebrated version of the song, a live performance which had over 50,000 giving her a standing ovation. The story (narrated by Aditya Johri, an ardent fan of Faiz in the essay Musings and Such, Nothing Much) goes that the performance happened when the man who wrote the song — the winner of Lenin Peace Prize, the Leftist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz — was in jail. The song expresses his anguish about the state of affairs in Pakistan, post Partition. Faiz spent most part of his life in the prison, for his writings were dubbed as "anti-Pakistani". It is not easy to understand Faiz's loaded Urdu lines, but you can quite imagine its power, with the audience goading the singer to repeat verses.

Coming from the Begum Akhtar school, Iqbal Bano has a distinct style of singing, without much ornamentation. It is clear from her rendition of the nazm that she emphasises more on the clarity of lyrics. Faiz, in this poem, talks about the Islamic promise of justice to all and Iqbal Bano sings it packed with energy, yet shorn of any sentimentality. "We shall see... That day which is promised in all holy books/ when oppression and fear/ will fly away like cotton ... " (translated to English by Priya Vora). The other song by Iqbal Bano is "Dashte tanhai" which has some rich accordion interludes.

Mehdi Hasan's famous "Ranjish hi sahi" has been rendered by Runa Laila, who is more known as a pop singer, though she is quite an accomplished ghazal singer herself. It's quite a transition from the earlier songs on the album, with Runa Laila's song carrying a more modern, yet subdued orchestration (the guitar progressions are lovely). She does a fine job of it and one must say her rendition is next best to Mehdi Hasan's.

"Naina re naina" in Farida Khanum's soft, pleasantly nasal voice is good. She gives it some lovely graces. It reminds you of an old Hindi film song. Nasir Kazmi's "Gaye dinon ka suragh lekar" by Firdousi Begum is a disappointment, particularly if you have listened to Ghulam Ali's brilliant version. It neither bears that literary sensibility, nor does it have a sparkling tune. It has a very folksy orchestra and a rather drab tune. Even Firdousi Begum's voice is shaky.

Abida Parveen, as usual, is arresting, singing some striking lyrics — "Rang baatein karen, aur baton se khushi aaye, dard phoolon ki tarah meheke, agar too aaye" — in her untamed, robust voice. You love Reshma in her earthy voice in her rendition of "Aksaar shab-e-tanhai".

It is a rare collection, though not all songs are uniformly good. Many songs in the collection are dreary, while some are haunting. The sleeve notes are done rather indifferently, with no details.