Music lovers in Dubai will soon be able to learn to play classical music on the musical instrument, banjo, from Ustad Mumtaz Ali Sabzal, who hails from the Gharana of the inventor of banjo and claims to be the only classical banjo performer in the Indian sub-continent.

By Mohammed A. Qudoos

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Published: Wed 23 Jun 2004, 2:04 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 12:51 AM

Sabzal has mastered playing classical music on banjo and does that regularly on the Pakistan Television programme, Raag Rang. The programme exclusively features the outstanding exponents of classical music and Sabzal is the first and the only musician to introduce and play banjo to this programme.

Now, he plans to move to Dubai and start offering classical music classes here. "My aim is to make banjo a popular instrument the world over and to transfer my skills to others," Sabzal said.

Sabzal said in an interview in Dubai that his family, originally from Balochistan province of Pakistan, has been living since 300 years in the Lyari area of Karachi in the Sindh province.

He said that in 1919, banjo was made by Ustad Gul Mohammad Khan, the elder brother of his grandfather Ustad Khaliq Dad. He did that by modifying and enlarging the length to three feet and the width to 10 inches and adding Sur (melody) to a small and simple Japanese musical instrument (Japanese harp) invented by Morita Goro in the early Taisho period beginning 1912. It is still sold in Japan under the name of Taishogoto. The name banjo was given to the instrument as it produces a special Ba-aj (melodious tune).

Sabzal's grandfather Khaliq Dad improved on the quality of melody to the extent that its level reached between sarod and sitar. He was the solo classical banjo artist at Radio Pakistan Karachi for 35 years and has a long list of students residing in several countries. Sabzal's father, Ustad Sabzal Baloch, improved on the design of banjo in the mid-1960s giving it a modern look.

The Journal of Association for Indian Music Study (No. 5) has carried a research report by Murayama Kazuyaki on Taishogoto and Banjo, which it also calls Bulbultarang, in South and West Asia, along with the photographs of Sabzal's family for their contribution to banjo. It describes Taishogoto as a 60 cm long and 15 cm wide resonant box painted black. Two metal strings are installed like typewriter-style keys in the same pitch and create three-octave chromatic scale. It became popular at homes as it could be handled and played easily after short practice.

Sabzal started playing banjo under the supervision of his grandfather at the Mian Mubarak Ali Khan Gawaliar Gharana Art Circle in Karachi in 1979. He used the medium of TV to play banjo for the first time in 1987 as a classical music instrument in the Raag Rang programme and plays all classical Raags on banjo. Before that, banjo was played on the TV as a folk music instrument.

Sabzal is considered to be an outstanding classical performer on the PTV. In 2001, he received the Best Solo Classical Banjo Artist Award from PTV. In 2004, he was given the Pakistan film industry's respected Nigar Award in the same category. Sabzal gives classical banjo recitals regularly at programmes organised by foreign missions in Pakistan.

He has been appreciated among others by Sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, music director Nisar Bazmi, famous film personality turned politician Member of Parliament Shatrughan Sinha, and classical singer Ustad Fatah Ali Khan, to name a few.

Sabzal said that rock 'n' roll, Spanish, Arabic to folk and classical, all kind of music can be played banjo

Kazuyaki said in his research that in South Asia, especially in India and Pakistan, banjo occupies very unique position as a musical instrument.

Balochi music, in Pakistani and Irani Balochistan province, has very rich tradition of banjo music in various types of performance style, he said. He has devoted a chapter on banjo in Balochi music in Pakistan.

He said that in India, banjo was popular as a home use musical instrument until 1960s. Nowadays, its popularity is reducing and barely local musicians in Assam, West Bengal and M.P. are known as player of banjo in their musical styles.

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