Alamgir: “The King of the Evening”
By Ras H. Siddiqui

Alamgir plays the harmonica

It has been quite some time that this publication has reported on the legendary Alamgir. It seems like only yesterday when he and a skinny Iranian-Pakistani by the name of Mohammad Ali Shehki ruled the pop charts in Pakistan and were almost dethroned by the late Nazia and her brother Zohaib Hassan from the United Kingdom. But time is relative to those who live their immigrant lives in segments. For some of us, the Pakistani segment (as opposed to the American) cannot be forgotten, especially due to Pakistan’s entertainment industry which once enriched our lives. When some of us left, Pakistan had quite an active film and music industry. I guess that we have to be thankful that the music side is still flourishing there.
This chance encounter happened because of three reasons. While talking with Raana Faiz of the Hamrahi Radio Program that is well known in the San Francisco Bay Area, I came to know of Alamgir’s forthcoming performance in the area. It had been years since our last meeting on a boat ride to the Golden Gate Bridge, where more than a book was launched (so to speak) by our local Urdu poet Javaid Sayed. The second reason was that the hosts of the party were quite accommodating to our inclusion. And last but not least Mrs. Farah Siddiqui is also a big fan of Alamgir, a legend of Pakistani pop music. So without hesitation, Farah and I left for the Chandni Restaurant in Newark on September 2. We try never to pass on the chance of the combination of good food and great entertainment. And on this evening we were not disappointed in either department.
We met the be speckled “young man” while he was discussing his music with the sound engineer. I write “young man’ here because like a number of other entertainers, Alamgir looks just about the same as I saw him last about a decade ago. We conversed a little while he gave me his current contact information. We even exchanged a few pleasantries in Bengali, but easily judging my limited vocabulary in that language he switched to Urdu and English. His latest city of residence is Atlanta, Georgia.
Alamgir started his performance by asking everyone to stand up and observe a moment of silence to remember the victims of Hurricane Katrina. His first two songs were dedicated to the wedding couple. The third, a ghazal “Paas Aa Kar Koi Dekhay to Pata Lagta Hai” was quite moving as was the “Kabhi Tum Idahar say Guzar Kay to Dekho”.

A scintillating performance

But it was with his presentation of the late Ahmad Rushdi’s “Ko Ko Korina” that a certain transformation took place on stage. The glasses were gone and Alamgir was the “King of the Evening.”
The first of two evening songs presented was the ballad “Shaam Say Pehlay Aana” where he pulled out his favorite harmonica and played it in between the lines. And with “Mein Nay Tumhari Gagar Say Kabhi Paani Piya Tha” his control over the attention of the audience was complete (Gori tum woh din Yaad Karo).
Not to disappoint fans from across the border he sang his version of Bollywood’s “Mein Hoon Na” and for local Americans an English number “Where do I begin” from the movie “Love Story.” But our favorite and the next song that launched his career, “Dekha Na Tha” electrified us. The stage at this time became a gym for Alamgir and his moves as the Punjabi “Mainu Lai Chal” had even our community seniors swaying.
One of his most famous songs from the Platinum Jubilee movie “Aina” called “Mujhay Dil Say Na Bhulana” brought back many memories as did his Spanish number “Quanta La Mera” (Plus Albela Rahi), his first song on TV. “Nasha Yeh Piyar ka Nasha” with its heavy disco beat was very energetic but the song that some of us traveled many miles to hear, “Yeh Shaam Aut Tera Naaam,” although much faster than the original version, made our day.

Alamgir with the author and his wife

We were there for four more songs and Alamgir was still going strong with a tribute to ghazal legend Mehdi Hasan as we were leaving. I stop this writing at “Yeh Shaam” because it made Alamgir an inseparable part of Pakistani pop and its legends.

In closing Alamgir Haq deserves kudos for enriching our musical lives. Shukriah, gracias and thanks. It was just great to take a trip down memory lane with you at this program and to reflect back on a time when guided by our youth and once lofty ideals we left our homes for America. And now after all these years, we think back and can only smile as Alamgir, once the King of our Pakistani evenings ( Shaams) makes both Bagladeshis and Pakistanis think about home here in North America.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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