In the Pakistani province of Punjab, towards south of Lahore, is a small city named Kasur. While the Arabic word, which literally means forts, finds notable mention for being the burial place of the 17th-century Sufi-poet Bulle Shah, it has also been known for a significant musical family that lived there and later found patronage from the Maharaja of Patiala. The marquee thus became Kasur-Patiala gharana, and, interestingly, is likely to have found the largest representations on both sides of the border. While Pakistani ghazal maestros Farida Khanum and Ut Ghulam Ali have always touched their earlobes (a mark of respect for a guru) while speaking of their Kasur-Patiala gurus, Begum Parveen Sultana, Pt Ajoy Chakrabarty and his daughter Kaushiki Chakrabarty have done the same on the other side of the frontier. But one of the most influential names to come from Kasur-Patiala remains Ut Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who, at the sixth edition of Jashn-e-Rekhta, will be remembered by his grandson Ut Raza Ali Khan in a performance titled “Yaad piya ki aaye”, the thumri that remains the leitmotif to Khan’s mention. The status could have gone to Ka karun sajni, an astounding rendition by him. But the status remains with Yaad piya ki… due to its fluidity, simplicity and follow-up renditions by a slew of artistes.
“The voice culture in this gharana has a beautiful, emotive aspect, and you will see that in all the vocalists who sing this gayaki. You can hear elation, sorrow and mischief, among others, all in the voice. Also, the voice throw is so different here, the words that the vocalists of Kasur Patiala sing are clearer,” says 57-year-old Raza Ali, whose concert will largely focus on ghazals, mostly by “Dilli ke shayar” such as Mirza Ghalib, Mir, Daag and Momin.
Raza Ali, who was born in Karachi, is the son of Ut Munnawar Ali Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali’s son, and a vocalist par excellence. Raza Ali was about four when Bade Ghulam Ali started teaching him in return for sweetmeats and toys. “He’d say, Bhai miyan aye palta yaad karenga taan khilona miluga (if you remember this palta, you will get a toy). I would do as told and he’d keep his promise,” recalls Raza Ali.
He was about six when Khan passed away. His teaching was then taken over by his father. But a visit from Ut Vilayat Khan to their Kolkata home, where the family settled post Partition, made matters complicated. Munnawar Ali was singing while Raza played the tabla. “Khan sahab told my father that I should be taught the tabla, and not trained in vocals as my rhythm sense and baaj is quite good,” says Raza Ali, adding, “My father told me that a senior artiste like Vilayat Khan sahab would have seen something before saying that, but he’d like to have the next three years of my life to get me to sing at a standard that’s needed from the family. I complied.”
In Delhi, on December 14, he is likely to conclude the evening with his grandfather’s famed thumri, Yaad piya ki aaye, in raag Bhinna Shadaja. The musician had written and composed it as an ode to his wife. “It’s hard to ever leave without this one. Its glory is likely to follow the family for many years to come,” he says.