Munni Begum is a renowned ghazal singer who has been performing her own style of semi-classical and classical singing for the last 40 years. A Pride of Performance recipient, Munni Begum was born Nadra Begum in West Bengal (now Bangladesh) and began her career in Karachi in 1970.

Her 1976 debut album brought her fame that has continued until today.

Munni Begum now resides in the United States and performs all over the world, as well as in Pakistan. Dawn sat down with her at the Rawalpindi Arts Council to talk about her career.

What drew you to singing?

I started singing during my childhood, and I devoted my life to it because it was my passion.

I always liked the sound of birds, like nightingales, and waterfalls; if you listen to the sounds of nature you can hear soft voices in the evening and early morning. I enjoy all kinds of music; Western, Arabic, South Asian. I listened to all kinds of music and enjoyed it.

What is the future of classical singing in this age?

The future of classical music is very bright. The popularity of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has proven that people listen to classical singers.

People turn to their traditions, and most people prefer classical music to pop music. Classical music brings people close to nature, while pop music only sounds good for a few minutes. I am happy to see that most people like and demand classical music.

There is a need for the government to act as a patron to singers and artists.

The government is satisfied by giving them pride of performance awards, but [it is not enough]. There is a dire need to establish academies where senior artists will impart their art to the new generation. Artists have had to do double the work, as they are struggling to improve their economic position and keep traditions alive.

Are the younger generations taking an interest in learning classical music?

The new generation is taking more of an interest in classical singing. They turn to classical singers to learn about the art.

It is my desire to teach the new generation, but I am busy with family and concerts and I have little available time.

The new generation is very talented and Pakistan is blessed with good voices as compared to India and other parts of the world, but the new generation needs patrons. Practices makes perfect, and there is a dire need for practice of the right sur.

Are any of your children interested in singing as well?

My daughters and son were not interested in singing, and I did not force them. One of my granddaughters is interested in acting, another in art, and my grandson is interested in music – but just as a listener. My daughter-in-law has a good voice, and she has sung for the family. I cannot force them to turn to this field.

What is the difference between the audience for semi-classical music in Pakistan and abroad?

The ghazal is still a popular form of singing in the world. I have observed that people want classical singing, but it should be light and fast. In the past, famous singers would perform ghazals at events for over an hour, but I started singing ghazals within six to 10 minutes, which people liked.

The basic thing is interest, as the singer should see the audience’s interest. If you take an hour to perform, it will be difficult for people to listen for a long time.

Originally published in Dawn, November 30th, 2017