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     Volume 7 Issue 48 | December 5, 2008 |

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The Food of Love

Fayza Haq

Mohammad Hassan Ali. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

Flautist Mohammad Hassan Ali, who performed at the Alliance Française recently, is full of aplomb and drive, as he played on the wind instrument the "Bansri"(Flute), which as one knows, differs from the western counterpart -- and is more often in metal or a combination of wood and metal. As the mood of the tunes varied, the lighting too changed to create the suitable ambiance. As too many had not rushed in to crowd the hall to a bursting point, the rapport between the audience and Hassan Ali grew with time. This flautist has often performed overseas, and in India and Pakistan. He has played both as a soloist and as a part of the Bangladeshi delegation. At the Alliance Française performance, this being his second effort at the venue, he played at will, with remarkable control of notes.

Hassan Ali has performed for the radio too, and for film makers, sometimes even serving as the music director. He has not had the patronage of Alliance and other music lovers, as say, her junior, Bari Siddiqui, and is more of an introvert, although full of wit and repartee during the parley with "The Daily Star", at Café Veranda, the following morning. He had brought his huge canvas bag of different flutes of various shapes and sizes, and was ready to give command performance, ad lib. For Hassan Ali, music is to charm the soul, and take one away from the grinds of daily, mundane existence. Music carries him from this world to the next, to his Maker, as he puts it, and only when the notes cease, does he get back to earth. He has mastered the "sargam" in his youth, and sailed forth to have the tunes at his fingertips. As he swayed and puffed at the keys, the tunes flew out with magical melody putting him on a class with other local masters.

Since the flute does not have ready followers-- as it does not easily usher in financial reward for the professional musicians in Bangladesh --so Hassan Ali's students maybe counted on the fingers. His "shagirds" usually play -- not as a profession but what is locally called "passion". Hassan Ali, however, earns his bread and butter with his flute, and looks prince-like in his attire by day and evening-- taking heart in playing for his listeners -- along with rearing a contented family, where music plays a vital part. Charming away his audience, he brought in the message of peace and harmony, even in the poignant tunes.

He looked composed, determined and poised--ready to take on his listeners, and drive any discontentment from their minds and hearts. Hassan Ali did not pander to any element of cheap or ready sensationalism. He lithely crept up to listeners' attention by changing gradually from the classical to the popular, in order to bring in variation -- and lighten the atmosphere of the oncoming night -- with its humid pressures outside the hall. He knew he could feel the pulse of the people, and gradually mastermind the feeing of ease and well being among the audience--seated both on the spread-out white sheet on the floor, and a few spacious and comfortable gallery- room included at the back in the concert - hall. Hassan Ali's notes transported one from the metropolitan, mechanical existence-- to one of repose and hopeful dreams. It was as if one were lifted and carried away and out, breathing paradise air -- in one of the pages of the Arabian Night's tale, or the Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam's. Such was the magic of the flute's notes that evening.

Hassan Ali began his pursuit of flute notes as a child in the village of Rupganj, Naraynganj. His father took him to a fair where he bought him a flute. As a child, wanting to pass his time, and also have a good time at it, Hassan Ali practised his flute, learning the "sargam" under his uncle, Moejuddin Khan, who himself was a student of Ustad Allauddin Khan in India. Later he learnt to play more seriously and effortlessly under his next teacher, Ustad Shamsul Haq for 17 years. Shamsul Huq played for Bangladesh Betar -- apart from coaching students privately. Hassan Ali picked up the silver flute as well as the clarinet, meanwhile.

Asked which flautist he likes best, during his tête-à-tête at Café Veranda, Hassan Ali says, Hassan Ali says that he admires Bari Siddiqui and Ustad Shamsul Huq (his teacher). He claims that he is the senior-most living flautist in the radio, TV and stage in Bangladesh, having begun his career in 1979. He says that he enjoys playing as an accompanist and as a soloist -- although he prefers the latter, as then he is more in the limelight. When he accompanies, he does not have any preference, as such, and lends his music to Rabindra sangeet, Nazrul sangeet, folksongs and other modern compositions. Similarly, he plays with gusto for folk, traditional and modern dances, as well, and naturally for dance-dramas too. "All tunes are worth playing and contemplating on. All lend felicity to the soul. Every tune takes one away from the humdrum world," Hassan Ali says with a ready chuckle.

Hassan Ali has accompanied Mehdi Hassan when he came twice to Bangladesh -- making two cassettes in the process (1985); Fatema-ut-Zohra; Shubir Nandi, Shammi Akhter; Pilu Mumtaz; Rothindra Nath etc. The words have been of lyricists like Jiwan Chowdhury, Kazi Shafiqul Islam and Abdul Karim Sarkar.

Asked what were the essential components of a successful flautist, Hassan Ali says," One must have a firm concept of the musical notes; one must love the flute; one has to dedicate oneself to this sensitive instrument to produce delicate and lyrical notes. The player should be able to present both pensive and jubilant moods -- with passion and dexterity. One must be ready to take up something else as an interest, apart from flute playing, so as not to flounder over the flute as a means of existence." Hassan Ali tried his hand at music direction for TV and films too.

He has played solo at Rotterdam (1994), where the audience of western listeners comprised a gathering of over a thousand; and where the listeners sat through with rapt attention. It is this experience that the flautist treasures the most. He also performed as a member of the Bangladeshi delegation at Pakistan (1991); Uzbekistan (1995); England (1997); Myanmar (1998) and Spain ( 2000).

Talking about his students, incidentally, Hassan Ali points out, that they include only four, comprising Dr Mominuzzaman Khan of the "Heart Foundation", Farya of "Text-Mart", and his younger brother Mohammad Hossain Ali. As the playing of this particular type of musical instrument does not insure a big bank balance, students of music do not venture to take up the flute as a profession, Hassan Ali says.

The maestro ended his interview by dwelling on the different "raags", like "emon" , "todi", "jhijhit" and "khambaz" and their moods -- and even played some of them in the café after the interview.


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