Joint India-Pakistan Celebration Event in El Dorado Hills Features Ghazals by Sifar1
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Pakistan and India celebrate their respective Independence Days on August 14 th and 15 th respectively. Their Diaspora follows and tries to join in the celebrations on a holiday close to those dates here in America where weekends suit that purpose best. And experimentation on mixing the two events is not unknown. Last year, a joint India-Pakistan Independence Day event was held at the ICC in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Milpitas featuring a fine Ghazal performance by Sudhir Narain.
At around the same time this year, when we had almost given up on a repeat, an invitation was received that two ladies Beela and Sadia aspired to hold a somewhat similar India-Pakistan effort in the rather posh suburban community of El Dorado Hills outside of Sacramento on August 23rd. Promoted as "Nazaara-e-Jamal / Evening of Ghazal" this invitation-only gathering featured the unique musical talents of the Sifar1, a duo made up of Anshuman Chandra and Farhan Shaikh accompanied this time by Ashish Tare on tabla and Narendra Joshi on the harmonium.
Nazaara-e-Jamal (A Glimpse of Beauty) is the title of a recently released CD collection of seven ghazals by Sifar1. It is also its title song whose lyrics were written by Shakil Badayuni. Sifar1 describes itself as a “South Asian rock/pop band based in the Bay Area, San Francisco” and derives its name from the binary code 01, a Sifar (zero in Urdu/Hindi) and one exposing the computer/semiconductor technology engineering backgrounds of both Anshuman and Farhan but in no way diminishing their talent and passion for music. It is quite a collection but more on that later as we return to the event.
About a hundred diehard Indians and Pakistanis were in attendance including a few people who traveled from the Bay Area, an indication of our reversal of fortunes here in Sacramento since we are quite used to making the reverse journey to the Bay for quality entertainment. The guests list here was also indicative of an Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) connection as emcee Huma Abidi made the necessary opening comments and introductions. It is important to note that by this time after dinner, the venue décor, the people and wonderful weather, we were already gazing at something beautiful here or a “Nazaara-e-Jamal”, and the music was the icing on the cake.
Sifar1 started off with Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry “Jurm-e-Ulfat Pe Humain Log Saza Dete Hain” originally sung by Lata Mangeshkar from the Indian movie Taj Mahal. This was followed by Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s “Gul Huwi Jaati Hai” that has been sung by many of the greats including Abida Parveen and followed by another Faiz classic “Aaye Khuch Abr Kuch Sharab Aaye” originally sung by ghazal master Mehdi Hassan. A wonderful rendition of “Aashiyane Ki Baat Kartay Ho,” penned by Javed Qureshi and most famously sung by Noor Jehan, followed.
A Daag Dehlvi penned and Begum Akhtar original was performed next followed by the Sha’ir Luknavi’s “Kuch Ajab Zindagi Ke Manzar Hain,” a fine original composition here by Sifar1. Faiz Sahib’s poetry returned with “Kab Thehrega Dard-e-Dil” beautifully sung by Anshuman. Due to length constraints here we will skip a song or two to my favorite of the evening “Khwaja Mere Khwaja” made famous worldwide by its inclusion in the movie Jodha Akbar (music originally composed by A.R. Rahman). I don’t know what it was about this song but this much softer composition of the original stayed with us on our return home from the venue along with Sifar1’s CD title song “Nazaara-e-Jamal,” both wonderful ballads.
To conclude, Sifar1 made a fine contribution towards what was already a fine evening. Anshuman is no stranger to us as this writer has witnessed his love of Urdu poetry on many occasions in the past courtesy of events held at the ICC in Milpitas by Urdu luminary Hamida Banu Sahiba. What Anshuman and Farhan bring to the table here in their Nazaara-e-Jamal effort is what can be termed as the “Soft Ghazal”. Many young people have stayed aloof of the ghazal genre due to its intensity which requires a level of concentration which can best be described as a learned attribute. Sifar1 makes it seem easy to the listener of ghazals. Many of these works of Urdu poetry have already been performed by some of the greatest vocalists from India and Pakistan. It is hard to beat the originals, the original building blocks of the ghazal binary code but this effort, which one cannot accurately describe as an upgrade, at least delivers a much more user-friendly version of the performances of the masters.