I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Saturday, July 24, 2010

...Of A Pilgrimage

This Sunday I went here

From the outside, it may look like just another shop in a random Pakistani market but in terms of folk music in Punjab in general and Sufi music in particular, Rehmat Gramophone House in Faisalabad is Pakistan's answer to the Abbey Road studios. For me as for many other Pakistani music geeks, RGH is an almost mythical place.

Nusrat cut his first records here, his father recorded some of his last. Attaullah Khan Essakhelvi's journey from unknown performer to the darling of truck drivers all over Pakistan started here. Allahditta Loonaywala was a circus singer before he came to RGH to record. Alam Lohar, Inayat Hussain Bhatti, Zahida Parveen, Reshman, Pathanay Khan, Saeen Zahoor...everybody recorded at RGH. Their archives probably contain more Punjabi folk cultural artifacts than anywhere else in the world.

I had been planning to go to RGH for a while now but due to the unpredictable ward-duties timetable that's the bane of a House-Officer, most of my weekends were spent in the wards. This time though, I specifically requested the powers-that-be to give me a day off so I could go to Faisalabad and finally see the place. Thankully, I got the weekend and on Sunday, I left Lahore for Faisalabad at 9.30 in the morning.

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I consider my phone my Swiss Army knife, and the most potent and useful app in my phone is Google Maps. I can't count the number of times it has saved me from the consequences of my terrible sense of direction. Google Maps made Islamabad and Lahore navigable for me, it took me to my Powergliding trip and now it got me right to RGH Faisalabad from my place in Lahore without ONCE having to stop and ask for directions. In short, Google Maps gets the coveted Official Seal Of Awesomeness

I can say for a fact that I loved Faisalabad, especially the whole 'Ghanta-ghar and Gol Bazar' area. Anarkali in Lahore used to be an interesting place, with bookstores, music shops, people selling trinkets, herbal medicines and the like. But now it's just one huge clothes market. Thankfully, the Gol Bazar in Faisalabad has retained its diversity and you find phoolon ke haar sellers right next to multinational banks, and from what I saw, each doing a roaring trade.

I took a deep breath once I entered Rehmat Gramophone House and I was immediately floored; if old books smell an 8 on the awesomeness scale, old records smell an 11 !! Granted there aren't many vinyls at the shop, but they've still got enough to give me an odour-gasm. I had talked to one of the people at RGH a day earlier and they were expecting me. Before I started to give a look and listen to the qawwali recordings I wanted, I asked them to let me wander around the place a bit. RGH is like a museum and it was an experience just looking at the millions of cassettes on the shelves and imagining the treasures they contained. I thought the gentleman in the photograph in the store was the late supernaturally brilliant Agha Rasheed Fareedi Qawwal, but it turned out to be that of the founder of RGH, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali.

My already huge respect for the musical tastes of the people of Faisalabad increased as I noticed that RGH is almost always full of customers. People are regularly coming in with names of Qawwalis or folk-songs written on slips of paper that the staff take a look at and immediately find for them. I didn't see a single customer turned away because they didn't have the recording he wanted.

After my tour was done I requested them to let me see the tapes I had asked them for, the staff bustled off to underground vaults and returned bearing huge boxes filled with cassette tapes, (something that reminded me partly of Gringotts obviously, but also of a brilliant Bill Bailey spiel about the Argos stores). They had the stuff alright, and giving every cassette a whirl on their stereo cleared any doubts about the sound quality (something I'm very finicky about, knowing the hours that go into cleaning a muddy recording) Once I had expressed my satisfaction with the 10 odd cassettes that I'd ordered, I started looking around for other rarer artists that I didn't really expect them to have.

Suffice to say, they had 'em. They opened up their old recording ledgers and let me look at the various artists and recording dates and when I'd picked one, the store staff would go and retrieve the master-tapes to make me a copy. I spent 3 hours there, exploring, listening to and discussing music with possibly the most knowledgeable and accommodating people I've met. In the end, I left with 7 recordings and they promised to parcel me the rest after they'd made copies from the master-tapes. The rest of my stash arrived today and although I know it'll be a long hard slog digitizing and editing these recordings, I'm terribly, terribly happy.

(RGH photos courtesy Sohail Abid)


  1. I absolutely insist you send this in to the Tribune Blogs section as well. With photographs, to jahanzaib.haque@tribune.com.pk

  2. I don't mind if the whole anonymity thing can be sorted out.

  3. indeed a Pilgrimage..LOL
    Would like to make my Hajji's trip to RGH too :-)
    cheers and regards from Brazil

  4. @Pedro, let me get these cassettes digitized, you'll be hearing some of the stuff I got from RGH.

  5. I randomly came accross your blog while looking for some photodiaries. And I love your blog :)

  6. Thank you very much for this information as i was looking for this. I am a big fan of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and i had almost every song and Qawali in cassetes in my childhood but lost now. I am looking for these old albums if i can get on CDs. Searching for weeks i found a website with old all album names with songs which i was searching. Now i want to contact with RGH to get these albums. Can you please send me their any address, postal or email address or phone numbers please....... please..... please. send to ansaripk@yahoo.com

  7. السلام و علیکم
    کیا کوئی مجھے رحمت گرامو فون کا رابطہ نمبر بھیج سکتا ہے ؟
    برائے مہربانی اس اس نمبر پر میسیج کر دیں
    محمد ندیم خان