As modernism continues to engulf the cultural essence of the subcontinent, there are some dedicated souls who act like a shield against the mindlessness which is taking us away from our cultural traditions.
Ustad Bismillah Khan was one of those maestros who immortalised an art that is intertwined with our traditions; the art of shehnai playing, a traditional and historical instrument of the region. He believed that, “Even if the world ends, music will still survive” — wise words which have become a proverb in the world of music.
Sadly, despite his contribution to the world of traditional music, his sixth death anniversary passed quietly on August 21 without any tributes or obituaries. However, a few of his disciples have decided to not let his name wane away that easily. Liaquat Ali, 44, a passionate lover of shehnai, is not only trying his best to keep the art alive, but is also turning out to be an emblem of hope for shehnai masters in Punjab.
Born in a small hamlet called Dhoke Hassu to Late Mohammad Nawaz alias Baaj Khan, who was not only a great shehnai master but was quite adroit on dhol, Liaquat Ali fell in love with his father’s skill at a very early age. He started playing the shehnai and the dhol in his teen years.
Till a couple of decades ago, stage actors called kubhaar were invited for entertainment to the weddings that took place in the villages of Punjab. These troupes not only made audiences laugh by cracking jokes but also sang songs to the music of dhol and shehnai. It was during one of these festivities, Gujrat’s famous shehnai master Late Ustad Rehmat Ali came to Chakwal and Liaquat’s father asked for his assistance in training his son. As a result, Liaquat Ali became a student of the legendry shehnai master from Gang Channar village of Gujrat, who helped him polish his skills further.
Presently Liaquat Ali is an integral member of Five Star Musical group which also features Chakwal’s famous folk singer Munir Hussain, who mesmerised the viewers by performing on “Coke Studio” recently. Liaquat along with his team stays busy in rehearsals throughout the day in his office near Tehsil Chowk. Although he is capable of playing the tunes of almost all famous songs by various legendary singers on his shehnai, he still prefers to stick to local songs. “I love my mother tongue and my culture, that’s why I feel happy when I play Punjabi songs on shehnai,” he says. Songs by Noor Jehan and Ghulam Ali are also among his favourites, he adds.
Being a shehnai maestro, however, is not an easy task. He is bound to play any song on shehnai requested by the organisers or the audiences present. If one is to analogise, Liaquat Ali is like a music folder saved on your computer — click on any song that you would like to hear and the computer obeys almost instantly. “If a shehnai master can’t play the songs requested by the organisers or audiences, he doesn’t have the right to call himself a shehnai master,” he maintains. Liaquat’s aim is to “stay alive and promote the culture of my beloved Punjab through shehnai,” he explains. “We are Punjabi and we owe a great debt to Punjab and we need to repay it somehow,” he adds.
The lovers of Chakwal’s dhol geet can get a unique taste of Chakwal’s famous Himri songs like “Jhulara”, “Sahio Main Gawaiya Laal Ni” and “Kandayari” through Liaquat’s shehnai. The addicts of Waris Shah’s timeless epic love tale Heer Ranjah are taken into the realms of tranquillity as Liaquat Ali is adept at playing Waris Shah’s poem Heer. Those who take refuge in the songs of Melody Queen Noor Jehan, can also relish them in the rhythms of shehnai played by Liaquat Ali.
Like many other dedicated artists, Liaquat is highly distressed about the state of Punjab’s culture and its artists. “Our rulers are doing nothing for the promotion and preservation of our rich culture and the artists here spend a highly miserable life,” he says with remorse.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2012.