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Iqbal Bano: The Songstress of Ghazal and Revolution

Updated: May 26, 2023

Iqbal Bano: The Songstress of Ghazal and Revolution

Iqbal Bano, also known as Bano Apa, belonged to the era of opulent diamond-dripping saree-clad ghazal singers that prided itself on the likes of Begum Akhtar and Malika Pukhraj Jammu Wali.

Born in 1935 near Rohtak, Delhi, she developed a taste for music at a tender age. She was introduced to the intricacies of music under the tutelage of Ustad Chand Khan of Delhi Gharana. She got a masterly grip on classical and semi-classical forms of music and was referred to All India Radio by her mentor Chand Khan. The melodious songstress announced herself on the big stage, and her name echoed in the musical circles of United India.

After partition, she chose to migrate to Pakistan in 1952. She settled in Multan, where she carved an undeniable mark for herself in the film and music industry by rendering her first track, "Payal me Geet Hai", in the film Gumnaam (1954). The doors of success were wide-open while she sang in films Qatil (1955), Inteqaam (1955), and Ishq e Laila (1957).

Iqbal Bano possessed artistry vocals while singing other forms of classical and semi-classical music like Thumri, Dadra, and Ghazal. The magical beauty of her voice catapulted her into the highest echelons of fame. She made her debut public concert in 1957 at Lahore Arts Council, where she was feted by music devotees beyond imagination. After the death of her husband, she moved to Lahore in 1980 and provided vocals to the verses of a renowned poet, Faiz Ahmad Faiz. She immortalized many of his poems and ghazals through her marvellous art of singing in PTV programs like "Nikhar" and private mehfils.

The seraphic rendition of "Dasht-e-Tanhai" takes one onto the pilgrimage. When Bano Ji's voice soars into the air reciting "Dasht-e-tanhai mein, doori keh khass-o-khaak talay...." (In the desert of solitude, from the dust of parting), it's a stellar glide.

Iqbal Bano is remembered as the dauntless singer who sang of revolution in the black days of martial law. In 1985, she gallantly rendered Faiz's poem "Hum Dekhen Gay" while cladding a black saree, and the crowd of 50,000 people in Lahore came to its feet in ecstasy, filled with the unbending passion of resistance.

As a consequence of her staunch behaviour against the forced religiosity of the Zia regime and donning on saree, she carved a niche for herself in the history of resistance. The poem "Hum Dekhen Gay" (We Shall Witness) became a battle cry, and consequently, she was banned from officially singing in concerts and on TV.

She also recited Persian kalams popular in Iran and Afghanistan, and before the Soviet-Afghan War, she graced Jashan e Kabul & earned huge plaudits from the audience. Khawaja Najmul Hasan, in his book "Stars From Another Sky", wrote, "Ustad Chand Kham described her method of singing as tying a knot in the air (Seedha Gaeki)" which is not something easy to master.

Iqbal Bano sang a vast variety of Urdu poets, from Quli Qutb Shah's "Piya Baaj Piyala" to Baqi Siddiqui's nostalgic verses of "Daagh e Dil Hum ko Yaad Aany Lagy" along with Daagh Dehlvi's "Tere Waaday ko" and Mirza Ghalib's "Taskeen Ko Hum Na Royen Jo". Her peerless rendition of "Muddat Huwi Hai Yaar Ko Mehmaan Kiye Huwe" is an art.

Her presentation of classical forms of music, like thumris in different ragas is equally bewitching. Owing to her indispensable contribution to the music arena of Pakistan, she was awarded the Pride of Performance Award in 1974.

She gave ghazal a stirring feel by infusing more emotion into the verses and her sublime pronunciation of each word with the pristine rendition. She succumbed to a short illness in 2009 and was buried in Lahore. Khawaja Najmul Hasan wrote, "She lacked savvy networking skills .... her career remained stilted, moving to Lahore was a bit too late."

Iqbal Bano's demise left every melophile teary-eyed. This uncrowned queen of ghazal died unsung, and even her name shied away from being etched on a gravestone.

آغوشِ گل کشودہ براۓ وداع ہے

اے عندلیب چل! کہ چلے دن بہار کے

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