When Meesha Shafi sang poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s urdu nazm ‘Dasht E Tanhai’, which is originally titled ‘Yaad’, for Coke Studio, Pakistan, it repopularised a song that had not been heard in quite a while.
The originator of the song, ghazal exponent Iqbal Bano, was born in Delhi in 1935, and studied music under Ustad Chaand Khan of the Delhi gharana. In 1952, Bano married and settled in Multan in Pakistan, never to return. From the 1970s, she sang for Radio Pakistan alongside pursuing a career in playback signing for films.
Trained in classical Hindustani music and performing dadra and thumri, Bano transformed the ghazal into something of a post-Partition revue, taking Urdu poetry of serious themes and giving voice to the Pakistani people’s disenchantment with its leaders.
Bano sang to please and when it troubled her, to incite. She is most famous for her rendition of ‘Hum dekhenge, lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge’, the revolutionary poem by Faiz critiquing General Zia ul Haq’s dictatorial regime in Pakistan in 1985 before a crowd of 50,000 people in Lahore. Those who stood listening to her are said to have hummed along and wept.
Such was the impact of Bano's rendition that she was immediately barred from concerts and television appearances. Her notoriety gave her instant fame. Her ghazals became anthems of rebellion largely fuelled by Faiz’s incantatory poetry.
When Bano sang Dasht E Tanhai for a television programme, it became the gold standard for the intricately composed song. Moreover, her voice had the perfect blend of rasp and raag – she was singing to entertain but also calling for listeners to awaken to a despairing world around them. That is what made her singing special – it had a duty beyond music.