Rajab Ali — the melodious voice of the ‘70s and ‘80s — Part I


I have known singer Rajab Ali for a long time both at personal and professional level. I have sung with him a number of times for the Pakistan Television Corporation and Radio Pakistan, Lahore. His loving nature and tuneful singing has enticed me to write on him. Like me, he falls in the second generation of singers after the creation of Pakistan; the first generation comprising Noor Jehan, Zubaida Khanum, Nahid Niazi, Salim Raza, Ali Bukhsh Zahoor, Fazal-e-Hussain, Munir Hussain, Inayat Hussain Bhatti, Alam Lohar, Masood Rana, Ahmad Rushdi, Mehdi Hasan (late), Iqbal Bano (late), Ijaz Hussain Hazarvi (late), Tufail Niazi (late), Farida Khanum and alike. Ghulam Ali, Nayyar Noor, Abida Parveen and alike are my contemporaries. Parvez Mehdi, Rajab Ali, Mahnaaz, Akhlaque Ahmad, Nahid Akhtar, Alamgir, Muhammad Ali Shehki, Nazia/ Zuhaib Hasan, Shaukat Ali, Ghulam Abbas, Afshan and alike are the product of 1970s. There are many others not mentioned here.
It was music composer Nazir Ali’s music and a song “Ainaan phul kaliyan di mehfil” picturised on Waheed Murad in the movie ‘Mastana Mahi’ that gave fame to Rajab. This was a piano number picturised on chocolate hero Murad with Naghma dancing around in a drawing room. The lyrics of the song penned by Hazeen Qadri depict Murad abhorring the modern culture, which the girls adopted negating the Eastern culture. Talking of Nazir, he gave another popular break to Rajab through the song “Aseen aan qalandri diwane laj paal de” in the 1971 film ‘Asoo Billa’. Then a duet with Noor Jahan “Mujh sa tujh ko chahne wala” from the movie ‘Yaadain’ picturised on Zeba and Muhammad Ali brought Rajab’s popularity graph higher. Music of this song was by M Ashraf, a close relative of Rajab. The problem with music composers of that era was that they always preferred giving break to their relatives/students; if not the only reason, at least one of the reasons of downfall of film music today. 
Rajab hails from Hyderabad, Sindh where he belongs to an established Gowaliar Gharana of music. His whole family is related to music at large and Sindhi music in particular. His real brother Waheed Ali is a big name in Sindhi music and his maternal uncle Manzoor Ali Khan is also remembered for his association with classical music, Sindhi Kafis and Sufiana Kalam like that of Hazrat Shah Abdul Lateef Bhitai. Rajab’s elder brother Ustad Fateh Ali Khan Hyderabadi is an established exponent of Gowaliar Gharana. He has contributions towards making Kheyal format of classical vocalisation popular. He got training from his father Ustad Ghulam Rasool Khan and from his uncle Ustad Umaid Ali Khan. Fateh Ali Khan therefore has managed to collect many ‘bandishes’ of this school of thought. One amazing quality of this Gharana is that it lays emphasis on appropriate use of ‘Akaars’ (vocal depiction of proper sound of the word) and still remains within the gamut of full throat singing. Rajab is content with being labeled as one of stylish playback singers who is known more as ghazal and film playback singer rather than a classical one. He possesses a beautiful voice with heavy tone and leaves an impression of owner of presentable demeanour. 
Before proceeding ahead I must mention that Kheyal form of classical music that has over-shadowed ‘Dhurpad’ form of classical music since last three centuries, was introduced as a popular genre by Naimat Khan Adarang. Those were the times of the reign of last of Mughal kings, Muhammad Shah Rangeela. It was because of Muslim ‘gaiks’- (singers) that Muslims’ contribution for advancement of this genre has been enormous. It was because of such classical vocalists that the basic ‘scales’ especially those in vogue in the northern part of Indian subcontinent, were modernised as per need of the times. Rajab got his early tutelage from Ustad Umaid Ali Khan, his paternal uncle and inherited Gowaliar style of singing. Rajab also obtained training from his father Ghulam Rasool Khan who had settled in Hyderabad, Sindh before the creation of Pakistan. Rajab is one among seven brothers. Initially his elder brothers Hameed Ali Khan and Fateh Ali Khan used to render classical music as a duo. Education has been introduced in the family. One of his brothers was a civil servant.
During one of informal sessions with me in the distant past, Rajab informed that his school of thought in music was the same as that of Bhai Lal Muhammad Amritsari and Ustad Ghulam Hassan Shaggan. These classical vocalists were scions of Rajab’s forefather, Khan Saheb Banne Khan. It always irked me that despite having a classical base, why did Rajab choose to be in filmdom as a playback singer (instead of becoming a classical singer). He responded that he had decided to move to Lahore from Hyderabad in 1970 because of the break to sing playback for the famous hero Muhammad Ali for film ‘Yaadain’. Continued

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