As our lives become more commercialised and faster by the day, the effort to keep alive links with our heritage and culture, which are at risk of fading away, gains deeper significance. Performing such a role is the Tehzeeb Foundation, an organization that works to promote, preserve and archive the classical arts, including music, of the subcontinent. Tehzeeb is doing its utmost to rekindle interest in classical music, its latest effort being the Tehzeeb Festival held last December in Karachi, where some of the most established and prominent masters from Pakistan and India were invited to open people’s eyes and ears to the magic and beauty of classical music.
Many claim that classical music is a dying art as the younger generation is no longer interested in listening to or learning it. Perhaps that is true – in much of the world, classical arts are not very popular with the masses. Even so, it cannot be denied that they have determinedly played an immense role in shaping the cultures of all societies. To understand their importance is the first step in ensuring their survival; patronage, support and promotion from the state and the people is the second. Tehzeeb Foundation has taken the first step. Now resolutely pursuing the second step, it is happy to report that people’s interest in classical music is slowly, but surely, awakening.
The Tehzeeb Music Festival, conducted to promote this very awakening, was held on 5th December, 2010. The event was hosted by the charming Rahat Kazmi, the venue was packed to capacity, and the evening captured the brilliance of both established masters as well as promising new performers.
Leading the evening was the young and very talented Sarod nawaz Asad Qizalbash, who flew in especially from Islamabad for the event. His melodious rendition of raag Bageshri in jhaptal (10 beats) and teentaal (16 beats) was accompanied by Ejaz Hussian on tabla. As classical music is rooted in the Ustad-Shagird relationship, and Asad is a formal ganda bandh shagird of sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan, it was no surprise that the young student displayed his teacher’s flavour in his masterful manipulation of the sarod’s strings.
Next to perform was Ustad Naseer Uddin Saami, who belongs to the Taanras Khan’s Delhi gharana and is a recipient of the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz award. He presented kheyal in raag khambavati and tarana in gaur sarang, and wasaccompanied by two of his sons, Urooj and Ahmed.
The audience was then mesmerised by the legendary Sitar player, Ustad Rais Khan, who was accompanied by his son, Farhan Khan. Ustad Sahib is very choosy of his recitals and was performing in Karachi in front of a large audience after a very long time, while son Farhan is successfully establishing himself as a stylish sitar player who has given concerts in all major countries of the world. Together, father and son performed raag jog, their soulful strumming highlighted by the beat of Ustad Bashir Khan’s fingers dancing on the tabla. Chatting amiably with the audience in between playing, sharing anecdotes from his life with the sitar, Ustad Rais Khan got everyone to more than just listen – he got them involved.
Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, of the Gawalior gharana, was next to grace the stage. His performance was characterised with intense tayyari and intricate taan patterns, which are peculiar to his own gharana. He sang raag Kaunsi kanra, accompanied by Bashir Khan on tabla and promising youngster Gul Muhammad on Sarangi. A valuable gem in the trove of classical music in Pakistan, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan has been awarded Pakistan’s highest civil award, the Sitara-e-Imtiaz.
Rounding off Pakistan’s performers was Fariha Pervez, ostensibly a young pop singer, and possessor of immense talent. In her enchanting voice she sang the evergreen thumri “Yaad piya ki aaye” and other classics previously sung by Noor Jehan and Iqbal Bano.
The grand finale of the festival was the performance by Grammy Award winner Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt from India. Pandit ji received the globally-renowned award in 1994 for his collaborations on Ry Cooder’s album, “Meeting by the River”. Having played extensively in USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, UAE and India, this was Pandit ji’s first visit to Pakistan and he was visibly awed by the love and respect shown to him by the Pakistani audience and artists. In a deeply touching moment, Pandit ji descended the stage to touch the feet of Ustad Rais Khan, and said that it felt like a dream to perform in front of the legendary sitar maestro.
Returning to the stage, Pandit ji performed raag jog kauns on mohan veena, an instrument he created himself by modifying the Hawaiian guitar, adapting to it sitar, sarod and veena techniques, and adding 14 additional strings, enabling it to do justice to the nuances of classical music. Accompanied by his son Salil Bhatt – who, like his father, has devised his own adaptation of the traditional veena, naming it the Satwik veena – and Himanshu Mahant on tabla, Pandit Mohan swept the audience away with his electrifying performance and received a standing ovation.
At the end of the evening, Federal Minister for Culture Pir Aftab Shah Jilani, who had been watching the performance with the innate joy of a true appreciator of music, presented Pandit Mohan Bhatt the Tehzeeb Award for Classical Music. Accepting his award, Pandit ji said that the Tehzeeb Award was as much a recognition of his work as the Grammy.
Thus came to an end the first festival by Tehzeeb Foundation, laying the groundwork for more to come. As an organization committed to providing quality music to appreciative listeners, Tehzeeb Foundation continues in its efforts to develop interest in classical music and inculcating the appropriate discipline in performers and listeners alike, which is merited by this genre of music.