Exceptional Zubaida Khanum



March 5, 2022

Kausar Fatima recapitulates a scintillating musical career on Exceptional Zubaida Khanum

It was very endearing to watch the late Exceptional Zubaida Khanum appearing on television with Bushra Ansari some time before she passed away and answering questions with quintessential simplicity. During the course of the entire interview she never uttered a word praising her outstanding contribution to popular music of Pakistan. No one could believe that she was the superstar singer of yesteryears who gave hits one after the other both in Urdu and Punjabi. Although her musical work is prodigious by any standard but she always remained a shy and withdrawn housewife married to film cameraman Riaz Bukhari. Her songs in films of 1950s and 60s caused sensation amongst listeners who heard her on radio and repeatedly wrote to radio stations for playing her songs. In a short singing career of 8 years she sung 257 (152 Urdu and 105 Punjabi) songs in 147 movies.
It was during the voluntary withdrawal of Noorjahan from Cineworld that Zubaida Khanum got her chance. A good looking girl she was initially interested in acting but was soon picked up by music directors for playback singing. In her inimitable sultry voice she was once dubbed Geeta Dutt of Pakistan but her scintillating voice was of an even better quality. She represented the ‘ulhar mutiar’ of village culture in an extremely refreshing way. Her renditions were famous on both sides of the border and she was greatly appreciated for her performance.
It was indeed surprising to listen to such a melodious voice singing effortlessly although she was an ‘ataaie’ (gifted) or without any formal family musical connection. Amidst ‘rubabis’ or musicians of ‘gharanas’ or traditional music families, Zubaida’s talent was unique and universally admired. She soon became the favourite singer of many famous music composers of Lahore film industry who composed outstanding tunes for her and she never disappointed them.
Zubaida got her first break when legendary composer Rashid Attre composed a lilting number ‘Gallan sun kai mahi de naal meriyan dupatta beimaan ho gaya,’ which she sang with considerable panache. This song was a typical ‘tappa’ sung with such virtuosity that it became the favourite song of males and females equally. The punctuating breaks between the song gave it an extra edge which Zubaida exceedingly exploited. Another song by the same composer ‘Raatan merian bana ke Rabba hanerian’ was in contrast a sad song but Zubaida rendered it with the same virtuosity.
In 1956 Rehman Verma composed for her a profoundly effervescent Urdu song ‘balam tum haar gaye jeeta mera pyar ho’ that reflected the sonorous angles of Zubaida’s voice. In 1957 Zubaida sang for composer Safdar Hussain a song that became legendary, ‘Laila Laila Laila’ a smattering of Urdu and Persian words written by poet Qateel Shifai. This song got remixed frequently. She also sang a duet with Salim Raza composed by same composer ‘chand takay chup chup ke oonchi kahjoor se’ that is a vintage Bhairvi number.
In the same year Exceptional Zubaida Khanum sang a song that became her signature song and also part of Pakistan’s music lore. Composed for film Saat Lakh in raag Pahari by Rashid Attre the song ‘aaye mausam rangeelay suhane’ still sounds fresh and is a given for mehndi functions in Pakistani marriages. She also sang a teasing number ‘ghunghat uthaloon ya ghoonghat nikaloon’ in which the composer picked up asthai with remarkable flourish and peppered it with nice musical interludes. In 1959, Khurshid Anwar composed immortal music for film Koel and gave many songs to Noorjahan but the one song that Zubaida sung for him ‘dil jala na dil wale’ was considered pick of the film. It was composed with brief instrumental accompaniments embellishing her voice and it is still rated as a vintage alluring song.
She sang an unforgettable number ‘teri ulfat mein sanam dil ne bohat dard sahe’ composed by Rashid Attre that is a fulsome sad song sung very sentimentally. Rashid Attre also composed a fast Punjabi song for her ‘mera dil channa kuch da khidona’ which she sang beautifully. Her solo and duet with comedian Zareef composed in Bhairvi by little known composer Rafiq Ali ‘buray naseeb mere veri hoya pyar mera; is deeply steeped in sad notes and sung exceptionally well. Contrary to the sad vibes she gave away so well, her number ‘ni chithiye sajna diye’ conveys a fresh girlish excited sentiment.
One of Exceptional Zubaida Khanum immortal songs was ‘dila thehr ja yaar da nazara len dey’ composed by Rashid Attre. This song was also sung by Munir Hussain. Another hit was ‘sayyon ni mera dil dhadke’ in which she rendered the word ‘dharke’ the way it should be rendered. Her strong vocals come to fore in Feroz Nizami’s composition ‘rotay hain chum chum nain’ that was a huge hit and was frequently remixed. Feroz Nizaami also gave her another song ‘meethi meethi batyon se jiya na jala’ which is very upbeat composition with modern connotation. GA Chishti scored a number for Zubaida ‘resham da lacha lak ve’ which was later sung by Musarrat Nazir in her solo volume. TW

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Kausar Fatima works in an international audit firm and writes for magazines


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