The Evolution of Hindustani Classical Music in Pakistan Since 1947

The 1947 partition of British India on religious lines significantly impacted Hindustani classical music in the parts of the colony that became modern Pakistan.  There is a consensus that, since the creation of the country, Hindustani classical music has declined in Pakistan.  Various reasons for this decline have been theorised: the contested status of music in Islam, Pakistan’s search for a national identity distinct from India's, and the loss of patronage. In this paper, I trace the evolution of music in Pakistan since 1947, focusing mainly on the adaptive strategies employed by gharana musicians to continue performing within the new societal constraints. These adaptations include focusing on the less problematic genre of ghazal rather than khayal and fusing elements of Western pop into local styles (as exemplified by Coke Studio).  

It is widely accepted that the classical aspect of Hindustani music (khayal, dhrupad) has declined in the parts of British India now comprising Pakistan. Before 1947, Lahore was renowned as a major cultural metropolis whose centrality in the world of Hindustani music has been well documented (Saeed 2008) and also narrated in the documentary Khayal Darpan (Saeed 2008b) by surviving musicians of the time. Now the city finds no mention aside from its historical eminence. This note traces how the core of that tradition has evolved.

Establishing the Decline of Hindustani Music in Pakistan
There is a need for a more rigorous assessment of the "decline" to be sure that the opinions in the above-mentioned sources are not just a lament for a ‘golden age,’ a phenomenon commonly observed when contemporary artists compare the present with the past (Schofield 2010: 497). The decline in a musical tradition can be measured across two key dimensions, quantitative and qualitative, that need not move in tandem. In Western music, for example, while the audience for opera has shrunk, the quality of today’s star performers is compared favourably to those of the past. On the other hand, while the number of those learning music has grown, modern composers are rarely rated at par with the greats of the 18th and 19th centuries. 
This note contends that both the quantity and quality of Hindustani classical music have declined unambiguously in Pakistan. The quantitative decline can be assessed by reference to the sheer drop in numbers: of internationally recognised artists, individuals learning Hindustani music, performances, institutions where classical music is taught, and the amount of air time allocated to Hindustani music on mass media. The steep decline in each can be documented with diligent research but it is rendered unnecessary by the availability of two already well-documented or readily observable indicators.  
The first is the virtual decimation of the craft industry that produced instruments catering to classical music, for example, tanpura, sitar, sarod, sarangi, etc, which unambiguously confirms the severe contraction in demand for learning Hindustani classical music in individual homes. Due to this contraction, families that specialised in producing these instruments have not passed on the craft to their children (Malik 2018). The Rikhi Ram Musical Instrument Manufacturing Company—one of the world’s foremost sitar makers—was established in 1920 in Lahore but relocated to Delhi in 1948 where it continues to thrive.[i]  
More readily observable evidence is provided by the relative proliferation on YouTube and Skype of individuals offering to teach or explain Hindustani music at various levels of expertise. While there are literally hundreds of such channels originating in India, anyone can confirm the rarity of finding a single one from Pakistan. This reflects starkly the absence of demand for learning Hindustani music in Pakistan. From the point where India’s first music university, the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, was established in Lahore in 1901 and produced many highly regarded musicians (Saeed 2008: 240),  there is now no university, institution, or private academy in Pakistan comparable to the Bhatkhande Music University in Lucknow, the Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata, or Shruti Nandan, where Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty alone has over 1,000 students. 
The qualitative dimension of the decline is even easier to establish. Immediately after 1947, Pakistan had world-renowned vocalists (e.g., Ustads Amanat Ali and Fateh Ali Khan, Ustads Nazakat and Salamat Ali Khan, Roshan Ara Begum) and instrumentalists (e.g., Ustads Bundu Khan, Shaukat Hussain Khan, Sharif Khan Poonchwaley) who performed regularly on Radio Pakistan and later on Pakistan Television (PTV). Succeeding generations of these gharanas have not achieved anywhere near the same national or international recognition. It is not possible to identify a single female vocalist or male sarangi player of recognition in the country, let alone of the stature of Roshan Ara Begum or Ustad Bundu Khan.
In a country the size of Pakistan, the occasional artist of significance has no doubt emerged but most have settled abroad for a lack of performance opportunities and students to teach. The sitarist Ashraf Sharif Khan, son of the renowned Ustad Sharif Khan Poonchwaley, and the outstanding tabla player Ustad Tari Khan are the most prominent in this list. 
Thus, there is little doubt that Hindustani classical music's domain has shrunk significantly in Pakistan in both quantitative and qualitative terms, and the assertion does not reflect nostalgia for an imagined past. Incidentally, such nostalgia is noted more in India, where artists of the caliber of Begum Parween Sultana complain that students today are nowhere near as dedicated to classical music as they were in the past (Soubiri 2019). Ironically, such nostalgia might be a luxury to be indulged when great artists are still around to recall the past.[ii] 
Three major explanations have been offered for this decline: the contested status of music in Islam, the self-imposed need for Pakistan to craft a distinctive national identity, and shifts in the patronage of classical music. I have critiqued these explanations in detail elsewhere (Altaf 2020), and this paper will focus exclusively on tracing the evolution of Hindustani music in Pakistan since the creation of the country.

Hindustani Music in Pakistan Since 1947
In Altaf (2019), I argued that given the decline of Hindustani music in Pakistan, the reduced opportunities for performance, the inadequate fee paid by state institutions, and the reduced pool of learners, the economic condition of artists became increasingly precarious over time. There was no alternative for them but to adapt to the changed circumstances. While some migrated abroad, most channelled their knowledge and talents to cater to the new tastes and genres that were in popular demand. These adaptive strategies included embellishment of the ghazal with classical elements as well as the creation of a fusion style incorporating Western pop.  The remainder of this paper will illustrate this evolution concerning one hereditary lineage, the Patiala gharana, which continues to have a very high standing in the world of classical music and maintains it in India through the legacy of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

The Patiala Gharana
In his book The Life of Music in North India: The Organization of an Artistic Tradition, Daniel Neuman (1990: 146) defines a gharana as “a lineage of hereditary musicians, their disciples, and the particular musical style they represent.”  In present-day Pakistan, the Patiala gharana is one of the most prominent whose history goes back to the 19th century when its founders, Ali Baksh Khan and Fateh Ali Khan, were trained by Tan Rus Khan, the court musician to Bahadur Shah Zafar (r 1837-1857). Subsequently, they found employment at the court of the Maharaja of Patiala (Malik 1985: 112). After partition, the clan moved to Lahore. The grandsons of Ali Baksh, Ustads Amanat and Fateh Ali Khan, were among the leading classical vocalists in Pakistan, celebrated far and wide for their khayal and semi-classical renditions. In 1969, they were conferred with the Pride of Performance award by the Government of Pakistan (Malik 1985: 126). 
The transition away from pure classical music began in the first generation itself. Ustad Amanat Ali Khan (1932-1974) became a household name in the country when he ventured into ghazal singing shortly before his death. Two ghazals in particular became sensational hits paving the way forward (Lutfullah Khan 1997: 150-151).[iii] Ustad Hamid Ali Khan, the younger brother of Amanat and Fateh Ali Khan also shifted almost entirely to ghazal and light classical genres by the 1980s.
Amanat Ali Khan’s son, Asad Amanat Ali Khan (1955-2007), also attained fame as a ghazal singer largely reproducing the compositions made famous by his father. Amongst Ustad Fateh Ali Khan’s sons, Rustam Fateh Ali Khan is the best known. Both father and son did not make the same transition because, as some have claimed, their voices, while extremely well suited to khayal, were not equally suited to the singing of ghazal.
The younger generation of the gharana has ventured into pop music. The most prominent among these are the sons of Ustad Hamid Ali Khan (Nayab, Inam and Wali) who have established a band called Raga Boyz.
The Development of a Distinct Ghazal Style 
Dwindling opportunities to perform purely classical music forced many artists to shift to singing the ghazal for which a sizable audience remained. They incorporated many features of the classical repertoire into their stylisation, leading to the evolution of a new and unique style of ghazal singing in Pakistan. Mehdi Hassan, Amanat Ali Khan, Farida Khanum, and Iqbal Bano among others, all trained in classical music, emerged as the flag-bearers of this new style. Mehdi Hassan himself composed the ghazals he sang in popular ragas and made it a point to enlighten his listeners with the relevant details (Saeed 2008: 243). For example, he composed Parveen Shakir’s famous ghazal  “ku baku phail gayee'' in Raga Darbari with a classical alaap as an introduction. In one mehfil, whose recording became viral, Mehdi Hassan went so far as to  explain the differences between the closely associated ragas Darbari and Jaunpuri.[iv]  Such judgements by artists depended entirely on their assessment of the knowledge of their listeners. 
According to the musician and scholar Vidya Rao, this reimagining of how the ghazal might be stylised was a direct outcome of the constricted space for khayal. The reimagined ghazal “satisfied the need to have an acceptable music tradition which while retaining elements of the classical did not cross over into problematic areas” (Rao 2017). However, while classically trained artists gave a new direction to the rendering of ghazals, the momentum has not been sustained since the new generation of artists does not have the same rigorous training in classical music that gave their predecessors the ability to be both innovative and creative. What is common today is new artists copying the masters without being able to replace or surpass them. The primary feeling is  that of stagnation and deterioration. 
The development of a distinctive Pakistani ghazal style further illustrates the difference in the health of the Hindustani music tradition in Pakistan and India. In the former, the most highly rated classical performers became the innovators of the new style of ghazal rendition. In the latter, the leading performers never deigned to make the ghazal part of their repertoires even as the “light” items with which they concluded their concerts. However, as noted by ethnomusicologist Peter Manuel (2010: 249) in his article “Thumri, Ghazal, and Modernity in Hindustani Music Culture,”  the appeal of the new style originating in Pakistan found a mass audience in India as well, leading a number of less recognized artists there to copy the Pakistani style).[v]

Gharana Musicians Utilisng Fusion 
The new avenues opening up involve fusion among indigenous genres and Western forms of music. Once again, the younger generations of gharanedar families have an advantage even though their training is nowhere near the quality of their elders. This proves, again, the value of formal training or at least of some knowledge of the essentials of music theory. Scions of the Patiala gharana are prominent in this evolution. Among the leading bands was Fuzon in which the vocalist was Ustad Amanat Ali’s son, Shafqat. His 2002 recording of Khamaj, a reinterpretation of a famous thumri sung by his father and uncle, broke records. Contrary to the pure classical stylisation of the original, Shafqat’s version is rendered in a much faster tempo accompanied by orchestration provided by Western instruments such as the guitar.[vi]
As mentioned above, Ustad Hamid Ali Khan’s sons formed Raga Boyz, a “Sufi-rock” band, while marketing themselves as the ninth generation of the Patiala gharana.  They render famous compositions associated with the gharana in the fusion format supported by a melange of indigenous and foreign instruments like the tabla, harmonium, guitar and drums, much like Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan. A typical example is their 2017 version of “Pyar Nahi Hai Sur Se Jisko” in Raga Malkauns. Their performances replicate many elements of the classical template like an opening alaap, taans and sargams (fast passages using solfege) in the middle and a concluding tarana (a fast composition using syllables with no discernible meaning). Despite that, both the ambience and the emotional vibe are that of a pop concert much more than that of a Hindustani classical performance. One major difference is that the artists are standing, gyrating, and moving around on the stage, rather than being seated, which is the format for a traditional classical performance.[vii] This new generation of artists insists that it has not forsaken the traditions of their gharana but only adapted them to modern times (Lodhi 2015). Once in a while, they do attempt to perform the classical khayal to placate voices that lament the passing away of a great legacy.  The results can best be judged by listening to their rendition of Raga Mian ki Todi on Firdaus-e-Gosh (a music programme that aired on Pakistan Television) and comparing it to the same raga sung by Ustads Amanat Ali and Fateh Ali.[viii] 
These reinterpretations have enabled members of gharanedar families to ensure their economic survival. Even with a decaying legacy,  they have an advantage over others who have no early exposure to music culture. The successful ones among them, like the Raga Boyz, tour abroad frequently,  something that their much more talented parents could not imagine.  

Coke Studio as an Avenue for Fusion 
Coke Studio has emerged as a major platform for fusion music. Since its inception in 2008, it has become the most long-lived television music show in Pakistan whose new season is eagerly awaited every year.[ix] Popular artists representing diverse genres like ghazal, qawwali, and khayal perform fusion numbers in orchestral settings, including modern Western instruments. The show aims to promote all aspects of Pakistan’s cultural heritage by featuring its many regional languages and local styles. In doing so, it sees its contribution primarily as a medium to promote cohesion in a multi-ethnic country by utilising popular music's universal power and appeal (Saiyid 2012). 
Coke Studio has provided a lifeline for members of gharanedar families to leverage their legacy and cater to larger audiences. Rao (2017) has claimed that: “The creation of the Coke Studio style seems to be a way that artists have responded to obstacles to the performance of their music in a manner that has led to the creation of a different group of listeners for a popular style, quite unlike any of its parts. It has also tapped into a deeply-felt need to mark and reclaim traditions and roots in a fashion appreciated by and acceptable to a new generation.”
Ustad Hamid Ali Khan’s re-interpretation of “Piya Dekhan Ko”[x] shows how Coke Studio has recycled older genres of music in new forms. This is a khayal composition in Raga Bageshri that has been frequently performed by the doyens of the Patiala gharana. The Coke Studio arrangement is supported by Western instruments like guitar, drums and piano while including tabla and sitar as well. In addition, backup singers are also part of the performance. While much of this is very different from a traditional performance, the classical structure with alaap, sargams and tarana is retained. It is claimed that this mix of tradition and modernity successfully conveys a sense of Pakistan’s musical heritage to new audiences. There is no doubt that Coke Studio has gained global recognition (Kibria 2020), however, the fact remains that its adaptation of classical music, while attractive in its own right and evoking a glimmer of the legacy, is not the real thing. Opera is alive in the West in a way that Hindustani music in Pakistan is not, and no repackaging can change that fact.

There is no doubt that both the quantity and quality of Hindustani music in Pakistan have declined since the country's creation in 1947.  Evidence for this decline can be found in the quality of performances by younger generations of the gharana lineages, reduced amount of broadcasting time for classical music, lack of music education, and the disappearance of allied industries such as instrument making. 
In this milieu, it is not surprising that artists used various adaptive strategies to respond to the changing environment. They leveraged their knowledge of classical music to embellish those genres like ghazal and fusion with more popular appeal. However, with the transmission of knowledge dying out even among the reputed gharanas and the absence of teachers, it seems inevitable that the tradition of classical music in Pakistan would disappear altogether within a few generations.




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