Adieu Iqbal Bano!

Liberation, May, 2009.

Adieu Iqbal Bano! You will live on as the sub-continent’s voice of defiance against tyranny

Iqbal Bano, the sub-continent’s beloved ghazal singer, born in India and trained in the Dilli Gharana by the legendary Ustad Chand Khan, passed away on April 21 2009 in Lahore at the age of 74.

In the hearts of all who knew and loved her music is the memory of that day: when, in protest against the jailing of the subcontinent’s foremost Left poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz by General Zia-ul Haq, she sang Faiz’s immortal song ‘Hum Dekhenge’ (We shall witness) at a Lahore stadium full of 50, 000 people, wearing a black sari in defiance of Zia’s ban on the sari. As her liquid voice reached the crescendo – declaring ‘Certainly we, too, shall witness that day … When these high mountains/Of tyranny and oppression turn to fluff and evaporate/And we oppressed/ Beneath our feet will this earth shiver, shake and beat/And heads of rulers will be struck/With crackling lightening and thunder roars/When crowns will be flung in the air — and thrones will be overturned….,” people joined with slogans of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Long Live Revolution!). In future years, Faiz would be requested, “Please recite that song of Iqbal Bano’s” – because she had made it her own. Smug Indian commentators like to contrast the supposedly superior democratic culture of India’s people with the supposed passivity of Pakistan’s people – but it is Pakistan that gave us that immortal moment of democratic culture – where thousands of people sang in defence of a jailed atheist and communist poet – who had drawn upon progressive traditions within Islam to confront the zealot Zia.

Iqbal Bano – As the people of the sub-continent confront the tyrannies of their governments, of imperialism and of jingoistic hate-mongering, yours will be the voice that will reflect their unity, their defiance, their confidence that one day, tyranny will be defeated and the people will triumph…

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