Cultural Icon

Nazir Mohammed

(1913 -1968)


Nazir Mohammed

During the era of the Nineteen Twenties and Thirties when most of the Indian population lived in rural settlements, far away from radio or from the major entertainment centers there arose a group of fIrst and second generation Indians who decided, to take the culture to these towns and villages. These were the pioneers who felt strongly enough to band together to win a cultural space for Indian song and dance.

Under the initial patronage of Babu Ram Singh, a successful Port of Spain businessman, this group of roving troubadors performed at weddings, yagnas, bhagwats and often at the Chaguanas Electric Theatre. Foremost among these were Phiramat, Bel Bagai, Ali Jan and Fakir Mohanuned. It was this group which popularized the harmonium, an early version of which was purchased by Fakir Mohanuned from an Indian who had brought it on the indenture ship.

Fakir Mohanuned was the person most responsible for establishing the Indian theatre on a sound footing by reviving the drama lndar Sabha a love story filled with song and dance which thrilled large audiences wherever it went. Fakir followed this first effort by producing a religious drama Raja Harischandra based on the heroic exploits of a famous Indian king of that name. This drama was especially successful at the bhatwan or cooking night which precedes a wedding.

The passing away of that first generation of cultural icons did not signal the end of top class Indian music. A new generation of artistes followed closely in their footsteps. This group consisted of stalwarts such as Jhagroo KawaI, Jang Bahadoor, Tarran Persad, Salimullah, Narsaloo Rarnaya and not least of all, Nazir Mohanuned. Over the years, the group came under the leadership of Nazir who was the son of Fakir Mohanuned. Like the father, the son Nazir was a gifted harmonium player but he was equally adept as a singer and as an organizer.

Adapting his music to the new age and to a different place he added to his repertoire such instruments as the violin, trap sets, bongo drums, guitars and kanjiris. He continued with classical music but also added filmi melodies which were becoming increasingly popular during the forties. On occasion he would add western rock beats to his repertoire, to the delight of the younger audiences. In this marmer and in the tradition of his father, Nazir Mohammed staged two dance dramas which did much to break the tedium of estate life. These were Gulshan Bahar and Naya Zamana, which were carried from one community to another, during the Forties and Fifties. It was out of this initiative that the Naya Zamana Orchestra was started with Nazir the ustad at the helm, insisting on regular practice sessions, arriving punctually to performances and remaining sober during these sessions.

Nazir Mohanuned understood more than most of his contemporaries, the need for a business-like approach to the entertainment business. The high point of his career was reached in 1962 the year of independence, when for four days the entertainment industry staged the Junglee competition whose aim was to establish mastery in Indian entertainment. At this festival, Nazir’s work with Naya Zamana paid off. His group won the fIrst and second prizes for singers and the fIrst prize for instrumental music. Other groups now began to use the Naya Zamana model for their presentations.

If today, there is life and vibrancy in the Indian entertainment industry we must recall the early foundations established by that father and son team, Fakir and Nazir Mohammed. Not only did they introduce a well-established gharana of music from the ancestral place but they were both sensible enough to adapt and change their style to suit the new homeland and its different cultural needs. At a time when there was little state support, when the public could hardly afford to pay for entertainment, these pioneers persisted against all odds and paved the way so that our generation can make its play. ‘ll”his evening the National Council of Indian Culture recognizes the role played by Ustad Nazir Mohammed as we pay tribute to this maestro.