The One Behind the Film Score

An Interview with Veteran Music Director Saleem Haider

Scrolling through a list of popular patriotic songs, it is disappointing to see how few song-writers and composers are credited. Only the singer’s name is seen, everyone else is deemed unimportant. One of these unsung heroes is Saleem Haider, a music director who helped orchestrate the hit songs ‘Ae Watan Pyare Watan’ and ‘Ae Jazba e Dil Gar Main Chahoon’.

 Mr. Haider’s family has long been connected to the stage, with their career in drama starting with his great-grandfather, Miyan Sandhi, a friend of the great playwright Agha Hashir Kashmiri. Miyan Sandhi was a great classical singer, but he encouraged his two sons to become actors rather than musicians. Saleem Haider’s mother’s side of the family also has a long tradition of classical music, as seen in his uncle Ustad Nathu Khan, a sarangi maestro. Incidentally, he was also the grandfather of Hassan Ali, another of our interviewees (it’s a small world after all!). Interestingly, Saleem Haider’s father, breaking the mold, was an English professor at M.A.O College. He himself broke the family tradition when he decided to learn music from the music director Akhtar Hussain Akhiyan in 1960, despite his family’s disapproval. Surprisingly, he states that he actually disliked music at first, and was persuaded into learning it at the age of nineteen by his cousin, Mujahid Hussain, a famous music director, who talked him out of continuing his education.   

He tells us that he started off his classical music training with the harmonium, and then started to learn the principles of music direction from his ustad much later on. His basic training was mostly provided by his mother’s side of the family, with his uncle, Faiz Khan, playing an important part in his education. He started professionally playing music when he was around twenty-three, in 1964, and also worked at PTV at that time too.  He was also an apprentice under Akhtar Hussain Akhiyan at that time as well, continuing his training with him up till 1971.

At the risk of being political, Saleem Haider recounts how the previous government was much more helpful to musicians than the current one is and how he used to receive a stipend of Rs. 20,000 under them. Nowadays, the government pays him small amounts erratically, perhaps Rs. 5,000 after four months.

Talking about his students, he names a few, who were sitting near him during our interview. When pressed as to what he teaches them, he states plainly that it is impossible to directly teach someone an art such as music or poetry. One can only learn them from watching and practicing, day in and day out.

Relating an amusing anecdote about his training, he tells us how his own training under Akhtar Hussain Akhiyan began. Saleem Haider used to get up each morning, catch the five o’clock bus from Bhatti Chowk to get to Kasur, where his ustad lived, bring him to Lahore, and then drop him back each evening. He dutifully followed this routine for three years, a time period in which no formal music instruction took place. It was only then that Akhtar Hussain accepted him as his pupil and said that he had wanted to scare him away with the onerous routine but Haider’s persistence had convinced him otherwise.

At the end of his interview, he advises the younger generation of musicians to try to do things as they were done before, and above all, sing live. He believes that only through performing live on stage can a musician’s worth be actually recognized. After all, with digital technology ‘hum suray ko besura aur besuray ko sureela kar datay hain’ (we turn the in-tune to the out-of-tune and the out-of-tune to the in-tune).


Save the Sitar is a blog dedicated to preserving Pakisan’s classical music. Join our growing community to help further our cause.

Follow Save the Sitar!

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

We’re on social media!

The Dhol

The Folk Instrument of Punjab

We hope that all of you know about the dhol, that lovable cuddly little red wolf-like creature … oops, it seems that we picked the wrong dhol. This is what happens when you have too many homonyms in one place!

The Dhol. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Going on to more serious matters, let’s talk about the real dhol. ‘Door ke dhol suhaney’ (Faraway dhols sound better, the equivalent of ‘The grass is greener on the other side’), a common Urdu proverb, often resonates in our minds while we delve into the history and current situation of the dhol. Even though this lively instrument is present at nearly every other street corner in Lahore, a deeper look reveals how it is a prime example of how traditional folk music has drastically declined. Many traditional rhythms have simply vanished, and many dholchis, or dhol players, are now struggling to provide for themselves on both sides of the border.

However, as we have often said in the past, do not lose hope! The dhol still lives, and is in fact thriving around the world. Various people, both around the world and in Pakistan, are taking interest in this folk instrument, and we sincerely hope that it will continue to prosper.

And finally, to brighten up your day, here’s a video of a dhol performance, recorded by yours truly. Listen to the repetitive yet surprisingly catchy rhythm of the dhol, intelligently distributed between the bass and treble drums: a sure entertainer!


Save the Sitar is a blog dedicated to preserving Pakisan’s classical music. Join our growing community to help further our cause.

Follow Save the Sitar!

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

We’re on social media!

The Matka

The Complex Simplicity of a Folk Instrument

At Save the Sitar, we have covered many diverse types of instruments, from sarangis to tablas. Continuing this tradition, today we will cover an unusual yet amazing instrument: the matka, an instrument which may appear to the uninitiated as a … pot?! What’s this? We cover instruments, not cooking utensils! Or at least we think so—perhaps we should reread mission statement!

Okay, we’ve checked the matka’s Wikipedia page (our research sources are impeccable) and concluded that it is indeed an instrument. The matka, also known as the ghatam or gara, is ideal for playing rhythmic patterns at an energetic tempo and is a prominent part of folk music throughout much of Pakistan and India. The matka itself is a percussion instrument which is a large clay pot. Despite its simple appearance, playing it is anything but simple. The matka is played by both hands, with the dominant one hitting its abdomen to produce a hard treble sound while the other one plays the bass by clapping its open top and striking its rim with the wrist. This requires extraordinary hand coordination, which is perfectly demonstrated in the video below, where our interviewee, Ghulam Sarwar, plays the matka and sings a traditional Punjabi song. Notice the metal chhalay he wears to protect his fingers while striking the matka, very similar to the mizrabs sitar players use.


Save the Sitar is a blog dedicated to preserving Pakisan’s classical music. Join our growing community to help further our cause.

Follow Save the Sitar!

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

We’re on social media!

The Circle Unbroken

Ziauddin, the Maker of our Namesake, the Sitar

When we entered the shop of Ziauddin, the 75-year-old Pride of Performance winning sitar-maker was working on a sarod’s wooden frame in deep concentration. He looked up to welcome us, and putting his tools away, sat down for an interview. From time to time his eyes wandered to the instruments hanging on the walls, the instruments he had made with his hands, with the knowledge his father had passed down to him.

Ziauddin is an experienced instrument-maker who specializes in crafting the sitar, and also makes a wide variety of other musical instruments. He is one of the last sitar-makers in all of Lahore with an impressive family history.  His father Ustad Sher Muhammad Khan, a Pride of Performance awardee, was world-famous for his sitar-making talents, and taught the great Rikhi Ram himself, who made sitars for a variety of famous Western and Eastern musicians including the Beatles! While absent-mindedly brandishing a file, he told us that his ancestors used to make sword sheaths during the Mughal era, and later on shifted to making the sitar and other string instruments. While one of his brothers, Ustad Ramzan Khan Sahib used to make the sitar like he does, his other one, Ustad Salahuddin, used to make harmoniums.

Upon being asked if he sold more sitars in the past than he does nowadays, he replied that the number has not changed much, states that he did not sell that many sitars earlier either, and cautions against romanticizing the past.  However, it is important to note that there has indeed been a drop.

When asked if he has any students, he tells us that he has taught sitar making to no one except for one of his sons, Muhammad Kashan, and that no-one else other than him is currently carrying on the family legacy. His other children work in various firms and companies and help financially support him.   He did not encourage them to pursue his profession, as he believes that there is no financial security in it.

His father, Ustad Sher Muhammad, pulled him out of school when he was in fifth grade to teach him making instruments, a knowledge which has supported him all of his life. That knowledge also stood him in good stead when he made sitars for experienced sitarists like Ustad Sharif Khan Poonchawaley, Ustad Kabir Khan and Ustad Nafees Ahmed Khan throughout his career. Even though he knows how to play the sitar, he has never seriously taken it up as an occupation, preferring to stick to his ancestral profession of sitar-making.

At the end of his interview, he wishes to pass on a message to the future generation, telling them that playing music saves them from many flaws and errors, and encourages them to take up playing classical music.

After his interview ends, we thank him and leave the shop. Even as we leave, we look back to see him return to his work, exactly as we left him, the file shining in the light. Suddenly, we stop.

“What is that on the wall?” “Oh, that’s a poem which was composed in honour of my father by the famous poet Syed Zameer Jafri.” “Can we look at it?” “Why, of course!” came the answer. You can see it below along with its translation and typed version.

       

ایک سازنیہ

(سازوں کے ماہر فن کار ساز استاد شیر محمد کے لے)

شیر محمد تجھ سے کتنے سازوں کو آواز ملی

سازوں کو آواز ملی جینے کی اداے ناز ملی

سازوں سے تو، شہد بھری آوازوں کا رس گھولے ہے

تیرے ہاتھ سے گونگی، مردہ لکڑی فر فر بولے ہے

تاروں کے جھنکار  سے دل کے دروازے کھولے ہے

وقت کی جھولے میں سوئ پریوں کو پرواز ملی

شیر محمد تجھ سے کتنے سازوں کو آواز ملی

تان پروں کی تانیں گونجیں ، چیخ اٹھی شہنائ بھی

تار سرود کے چھم چھم باجے، من مرلی لہرائ بھی

تیرے دم سے چھن چھن چھن چھن، بول پڑی تنہائ بھی

تیرے فن سے دنیا کے چپ جنگل کو اواز ملی

وقت کی جھولے میں سوئ پریوں کو پرواز ملی

شیر محمد تجھ سے کتنے سازوں کو آواز مل

An Orchestra (Translated by Mubeen Irfan Chaudhary)

Sher Muhammad, into how many instruments have you instilled the miracle of life?

The instruments came to life, and they learnt their art.

From your instruments you coax honey-filled voices,

From your hands, dead and dumb wood begins to sing.

From the sparkling of the stars the doors of the heart have opened

And the fairies that slept for eons, woke up and flew high.

Sher Muhammad, into how many instruments have you instilled the miracle of life?

The voices of the tanpuras boomed, the shehnai’s shrieks pierced the air,

The sarod’s strings went “chum chum”, my flute shrilled too.

From your breath even loneliness spoke,

From your art the quiet jungle of this world got a voice

And the fairies that slept for eons, woke up and flew high.

Sher Muhammad, into how many instruments have you instilled the miracle of life?

Save the Sitar is a blog dedicated to preserving Pakisan’s classical music. Join our growing community to help further our cause.

Follow Save the Sitar!

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

We’re on social media!

Saleem Haider

Saleem Haider (b. 1949) is a music director who was born in Lahore. His teacher was the famous Akhtar Hussain Akhiyan, who worked on films such as Gulbadan, Aas Paas, etc. His paternal family were stage artists while his maternal family included famed sarangi player Ustad Nathu Khan, who was his uncle. His grandfather and grand-uncle used to collaborate with the famed poet Agha Hashar Kashmiri, who wrote plays for the New Alfred Theatrical Company, one of the first modern acting companies in the Subcontinent. Mr. Haider has worked on the famous film Patay Khan with his teacher Akhtar Hussain Akhiyan, and on the hit patriotic song Ae Watan Pyare Watan. Along with being a prominent music director at PTV, he has also worked with Radio Pakistan in the past. His family is currently working in the music industry, and he now teaches music to students.


Save the Sitar is a blog dedicated to preserving Pakisan’s classical music. Join our growing community to help further our cause.

Follow Save the Sitar!

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

We’re on social media!