Broadcaster Ameen Sayani, whose voice united South Asia, passes away at 91

Broadcaster Ameen Sayani, whose voice united South Asia, passes away at 91

Sayani's was the legendary voice that introduced the sub-continent to the radiance and lure of Indian film music on the shortwave.
22 Feb, 2024

Progressive Urdu poet Sardar Jafri often quoted from a Pakistani poet’s poem to illustrate the power of music over politics.

It was music, he said, which had bound India and Pakistan through ups and downs since their inception.

“Two Indian and Pakistani men, surrounded by their supporters in a restaurant, were fiercely defending their countries,” Jafri Sahab recalled. “Suddenly, the voice of Lata Mangeshkar arrived on the radio and the quarrel stopped in obeisance. The packed restaurant was riveted to the song.”

What Sardar Jafri did not say was that it would be almost impossible for an Indian, leave alone a Pakistani, to hear Lata Mangeshkar or Mohammed Rafi on the radio were it not for the rebellious endeavours of radio jockey Ameen Sayani.

Sayani, who died at 91 in Mumbai on Tuesday, owned the legendary voice with which he introduced the sub-continent to the radiance and lure of Indian film music on the shortwave, a genre otherwise banned on All India Radio.

It so happened that Jawaharlal Nehru had BV Keskar, a narrow-minded Maharashtrian Brahmin, as his information and broadcasting minister. Keskar was part of a puritan project of ‘purifying’ Indian music, and he banished film music altogether from the radio, saying it was corrupting for the new nation.

He enforced other regressive measures in keeping with the neo-Brahminical attitudes. He banished the courtesans from singing for the radio, which used to be live performances in the absence of recording technology.

The decision instantly excluded a whole lot of Muslim musicians, who would accompany the banned singers, from the cultural journey.

And Keskar deleted the harmonium from the musician’s accompaniment as a foreign innovation before singers like Bhimsen Joshi brought it back and won the Bharat Ratna award.

At one point he banned Dilip Kumar’s Ganga Jamuna as the censor board demanded 200 cuts. Nehru fired Keskar to save the iconic movie.

Sayani belonged to a progressive Gujarati-speaking family with an acquired taste for conversing in Urdu. His elder brother Hamid Sayani was a member of the film fraternity and appeared in early movies with Nehruvian socialist themes.

Ameen Sayani got his break when he was asked to audition in Colombo to compere a programme to promote Binaca toothpaste by stringing film songs to the show.

And the programme would be broadcast by Radio Ceylon, earning it a fortune. That break for Ameen Sayani became a foundational enterprise, as it took the shortwave radio across the s ub-continent by storm.

It was the shortwave radio that had introduced legendary cricket commentators such as Omar Kureishi and Melville De Mello across the borders.

And of course, Indian music lovers would be glued to the radio to hear Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanam and Suraiya Multanikar.

Binaca Geetmala

Sayani’s weekly Binaca Geetmala would feature 16 newly released Hindi-Urdu film songs. He categorised the changing ‘paadaan’ of each according to its varying popularity. He also introduced other radio programmes, but there was one memorable song every morning at 8am in India. It was always a Kundan Lal Sehgal song, a lovely well-deserved tribute to the maestro of film singing.

“It was for the first time that the warmth and affability of a voice from the radio broke down the sanctioned solemnity and sternness that came in the guise of authoritative baritones, perfect pronunciations, and diction — all of which were associated with state-owned All India Radio,” said the Indian Express in a tribute.

“For decades, one cocked one’s ears to Binaca Geetmala as Sayani played the top (16) every Wednesday from Radio Ceylon, our loyalties bought forever by Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Hemant Kumar, Mukesh, Talat Mahmood and Kishore Kumar.

“I wanted each listener to feel that I was talking to them and that immediately struck a chord. I didn’t expect it to become a phenomenon. They were such fantastic times,” he told writer Komal Panchal in a 2014 interview.

Sayani’s conversational style of engaging the audiences was peppered with anecdotes and interviews of movie celebrities. He occasionally asked listeners to join him in questioning the odd or the absurd about the music he played.

There was a Lata Mangeshkar song from the black and white film Nagin, for example, which used the gourd wind instrument ‘been’, otherwise a regular with Indian snake-catchers.

“If the song is playing the ‘been’, brothers and sisters, why is the heroine praising the magic of the flute?” Sayani was indeed an institution for South Asia, and beyond quite possibly, with no parallel ever again.

Originally published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2024


rasmalaibeku Feb 22, 2024 12:09pm
Very sad. Grew up with Ameen Sayani and Binaca Geetmala. Fantastic memories. RIP SayaniJi
Aamir Latif Feb 22, 2024 12:17pm
My parents listened to Binaca geet Mala regularly and I grew up listening to it and so does my love for music from great sub continents great singers and Ameen Sahani a household name then. .. My love for these songs is not diminished and I still listen them... Thanks Ameen Sahani
Factsmatter Feb 22, 2024 12:40pm
Why bash Brahmins in all your articles? After all the wretched Brahmins have won two Nobel prizes. Ameen Sayani is a legend and universally liked. Let us leave it at that.
Naim Khan Feb 22, 2024 12:57pm
I very much doubt anyone reading this obituary would have known who Ameen Sayani was, let alone listening to Binanca Geet Mala. I did, and this article has taken me to my childhood, back in the 1960s.
NYS Feb 22, 2024 12:57pm
Rest in Peace
M. Saeed Feb 22, 2024 01:50pm
Alas! Avery long. Chapter in subContinental music and history closed.
Syed Hasni Feb 22, 2024 04:05pm
I still use in my daily life, his cheeky greeting. Behno aur bhaiyon, aap ki khidmat me Ameen Sayana ka aakhri adaab RIP !
Jamil Soomro, New York City Feb 22, 2024 04:54pm
There are two things I have been totally unable to understand and grasp so far in my life and they are old age and death. RIP Ameen Sayani.
Taj Ahmad Feb 22, 2024 05:11pm
Great man and well respected not only in India but entire South Asian community where Urdu speaking people lives. RIP to this great man.
Secular South Indian Feb 22, 2024 08:38pm
I learnt Hindi from Ameen Sayani's radio programs, on the Bush short wave transistor from my childhood.
Dr.Daraliya Feb 22, 2024 08:54pm
Ammen Sayani , would have beaten any "RJ" hands down. May he rest in peace.
Arun Feb 22, 2024 09:15pm
Great Orator RIP SayaninJi
Dr. Abdul Quayum Feb 22, 2024 09:32pm
I am now 65, retiring in June this year. I hve been brought up hearing Ameen Sayani every wednesday. He was not only a legend and institution but also a person who interatained generations. He will be living in the hearts of millions across the earth.1
babar saeed Feb 22, 2024 10:06pm
RIP Mr.Sayani. Thank you for my childhood memories when my parents were listining to Binaca Geet Mala in 60's...
Asad Feb 22, 2024 10:57pm
Never heard of him in pakistan or else where. RIP
Kamil Sanaulla Feb 22, 2024 11:30pm
I used to wait for Wednesdays 8pm to listen to the Binaca Geetmala to hear Ameen Sayani announce the top 16 Indian film music songs on radio Ceylon. What a fantastic announcer. Sad to hear his passing away. But nothing is said or written about his family regarding his parents and family life. My prayer for his soul May he Rest in Peace.
SriniS Feb 22, 2024 11:51pm
Jawed Naqvi has a knack to squeeze in words 'Muslim', 'Brahmin', 'Brahmanical' on a topic that has a positive narrative on south asian cultural similarities, leaving at 'narrow-minded' administrator would have been enough, but heck no. I wonder about the rationale behind identifying him as 'Maharashtrian Brahmin'...though I'm surprised that he didn't pull in his favorite whipping boy Modi here.
Agrippa-the Skeptic Feb 23, 2024 01:51am
What or where is South Asia? Ameen Sayani was an Indian.
Obul Feb 23, 2024 05:00am
Fond memories of Sayani sir. Great man, great voice. He should be given the highest national award.
Nazir Ali Feb 23, 2024 06:58am
Brought back good memories. Amazing voice.
Sanjay Feb 23, 2024 07:02am
The references to Keskar (as a conservative Brahmin) seem intentional, but are unnecessary. Even Indira Gandhi banned Kishore Kumar from All India Radio in the mid-1970s. Second, the instrument that sounds like a (been) in Nagin is actually claviolin. It was played by Kalyanji, who later became a very eminent film music composer. It's otherwise gratifying to see a tribute to Ameen Sayani in Pakistani press.
daaku Feb 23, 2024 07:45am
Okay so an Indian becomes a South Asian at convenience. He was voice of India that is Bharat and a radio legend.
Harsh Singh Feb 23, 2024 09:05am
He studied at the prestigious The Scindia School, Fort, Gwalior where his firmative years were shaped.
Dr. Mehtab Ali Shah Feb 23, 2024 12:32pm
Historically, geographically, ecologically, and culturally, India and Pakistan still are united. Their culture is also the same.. Their classical and folk music is the same. Amen Sayani's voice was a glue between them
Najam Yusuf Feb 23, 2024 03:34pm
Grew up with Binaca Geet Mala
mlk Feb 24, 2024 04:25am
Rest in peace Ameen bhai you will be missed
RHS Feb 24, 2024 07:52am
Always looked forward to Binaca Geet Mala and Ameen Sahib's voice presenting the songs. Radio Ceylon was very popular in Pakistan during the old days thanks to him.
Ashok Puri Feb 28, 2024 04:27pm
I have listened Aameen Bhai from 1953 Binaca Geetmala liked his voice Bigul for 1st paydan.His presentation will be remembered for long time to come pray for eternal peace to noble soul