Bano Apa: A Rememberance

Posted on April 26, 2009
Filed Under >Junaid Zuberi, Music, People
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Junaid Zuberi

On a chilly evening last December I decided to stop by a music store in Clifton known to have the largest stock of classical and semi classical music from both sides of the Wagah border. While browsing through the shelves, I spotted some CDs of Iqbal Bano and had a sudden craving to listen to her. I bought two CDs instantly. From that day onwards, I got hooked to her music that I was listening to after a long time, my favorite being her thumriab ke sawan ghar aaja’.

As I got deeper into her music, I had this urge to talk to her for she had been living in the oblivion for long. I called her Garden Town residence but could not speak to her. The next few weeks were spent in an attempt to reach her in vain. The last time I called, I was told she has gone off to her lands. I thought I’ll try after a month or so. Little did I know a month would become eternity.

Bano apa is no more.

The news came as a shock yesterday. All her immortal numbers kept cropping up in my mind. She was undoubtedly a class of her own. I remembered her performance back in the year 1999 or 2000 when she sang at Bahria Complex Karachi. Thanks to my friend Raheel who spearheaded the event, this was the sole occasion when I hear the maestro live in person. She sang effortlessly. We all loved her and craved for more. More never came though.

Bano apa was as much a thumri and dadra singer as a ghazal singer. Her musical prowess extended to all forms of semi classical music. She belonged to the generation of singers that was fortunate to have received training from some of the most prominent names in the classical vocal singing of the subcontinent. The training by the greats of pure classical form ensured that she sticks to the roots even in the lighter forms of music. Hence whatever she sang was heavily imbued by the raag that it was set in. Even the few songs she did for films in the 1950s became immortal semi-classical numbers that became her identity and were in no way less to her ghazals and thumris. These included tu lakh chalay ri gori, ulfat ki nai manzil ko chala.

Bano apa rose to prominence when the world of ghazal and thumri was dominated by some of the best names in the last century. These included Begum Akhtar, Mukhtar Begum, Farida Khanum, Barkat Ali Khan, etc. Mehdi Hasan joined the league around the same time also. Nurjehan was the queen of films and playback singing. To make a name for herself in the presence of all these greats is no mean achievement. Her generation of singers were neither hungry for instant fame nor money. Their passion for music prevailed upon everything else. Their solid training in classical music resulted in each one becoming an icon in his and her own life.

Another distinct feature of ghazal singers of her generation was their command over Urdu irrespective of their own mother tongue with an impeccable pronunciation and accent. This was part of the rigorous training that they received. In those days, learning classical music was entirely different from what it has become now. Not only were the disciples trained into the world of raags complete with their nuances and innuendos, but were also given exhaustive training in the language as well as poetry. Hence the singers that came out from those trainings had an excellent command over Urdu and in most cases Persians and Arabic besides an in-depth knowledge and understanding of poetry. This is the reason that all these singers, Bano Apa including, chose to sing the kalaam of asatiza. Their choice of poetry speaks volumes of their love and knowledge of the poetry. The kalams they have sung decades ago are still lilting in our ears.

Bano apa is known to many as the singer who sang Faiz the best. Although many singers before and after her sang Faiz but Bano apa stood out. Her rendition of dasht-e-tanhai and hum dekhain ge stand a cut above the rest. Numerous singers have sung these soul-stirring poems of Faiz but no one could bring them to life the way Bano apa did. She literally became synonymous with these poems. Such is the power that even today when we hear them we get goosebumps. No protest movement is complete without her powerful hum dekhain ge that is enough to invoke the right emotions and sentiments. It was heard on many occasions during the recent lawyers movement and protesters were seen dancing and screaming with emotions with the poem. Bano apa will live amongst us with all the wonderful music that she gave us.

Pakistan is fortunate to have produced some of the finest musicians. After Begum Akhtar, all the top names in ghazal singing belonged to Pakistan. Iqbal Bano was a true legend who made classical ghazal popular. Many of us grew up listening to her. In fact my interest in Urdu poetry and eastern classical and semi classical music was inspired by listening to the greats like Iqbal Bano.

Yesterday, after getting the devastating news I put on her CD in my car. It was around 10pm when I dialed her number and was told that they had just taken her body for burial. There she was singing ab ke sawan ghar aaja in her beautiful voice and unknowingly my whole face turned wet with tears.I quietly took the CD out.

Bano apa I will miss you.

12 responses to “Bano Apa: A Rememberance”

  1. Fauzia says:

    Such a sad news. I have been listening to her ghazals these last many days. Amazing talent in this entire generation of singers who are now leaving us.

  2. Wadood says:

    Another great ghazal singer has departed.

    May she rest in peace.

    Very touching post and a great picture.

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