life and Art of Ustad Salamat Hussain 


The name bansuri has its roots in the word Bans means bamboo. Originally used as a folk instrument and to accompany dance. The bansuri with its pastoral association and chosen instrument of Lord Krishna, is one of the oldest musical instruments of Nepal and India, it is mentioned in Vedas and is depicted in the Buddhist art of 2000 years ago. One Sanskrit verse credits the bansuri as the source of Swarajnana- the knowledge of music. In India the flute has been known by many names in addition to bansuri, algoza, bansi, murali etc. in the beginning of this century there were at least three different kinds of flutes in use. Transverse (side-blown), end blown and fipple flutes (similar to a recorder). They are typically made of bamboo or reed. There are two varieties: transverse and fipple. The transverse variety is nothing more than a length of bamboo with holes cut into it. This is the preferred flute for classical music. The fipple variety is found in the folk and filmy styles, but seldom used for serious music.


There are many people like Amulya Jyoti, AKA Pannalal Ghosh, Vijay Raghav Raa and Hariprasad Chaurasia in North India who play beautiful bansuri. like in Pakistan we have Ustad Salamat Hussain.


“The flute player puts breath into a flute, and who makes the music? Not the flute. The flute player! ”.  (Rumi, Internet Information).


There is so much magic that perpetually spills out of the hollow reed, when Ustad Salamat Hussain gently blows into it, that one literally has this urge to break open his flute to see what stuff it is made of.


And his specialty in the various (mix) of ragas which he constantly experiments with chiefly, Nat Bhairavi (a combination of Nat, an evening raga and Bhairavi, a morning raga), also called the Milap Ka Raaga or the Raaga of union, Nat Kalyan, Nat Khamaaj etc. also Raag Shush Saarang which no one can play unless one has full knowledge of its intricacies, Hans Dhun, Vihaag, Maru Vihaag, Jhnjoti, Kirwani etc. even complex folk tunes like Heer and Haq Baahoo Ki Houk.


Though, the Ustad’s own all-time favourite ragas are Chanderkaus, Tlemvati, Bhairavi, Peeloo and of course, Pahaari, which is close to every flutist’s heart.


Born on October 10, 1937 in Rampur, a village in the province of Uttar Pradesh of the then undivided India - Ustad Salamat Hussain’s birth was majestically celebrated by a whole battalion of 200 soldiers on horseback who had come to visit him. Mohammad Jan, his father, was deputed from Indian Army to serve under the Nawab of Rampur as bugler in the royal cavalry. At the time of retirement, he quit it in favor of migration to Pakistan.


Ustad Salamat Hussain’s uncle Master Guchchan (was his first teacher who was the student of Mushtaque Hussain Khan, and he was the brother of Ustad Latafat Hussain) an extraordinary musician, a Clarinet player in the Nawab of Rampur’s court.


Later, when Mastser Guchchan took lessons in classical music from the versatile film composer, Ustad Mashooq Hussain, young Salamat Hussain was  quietly sits at the place, and just by watching and listening he gathered enough training himself. So in a way, his training started rather early not directly under any tutor until the year 1954, two years after the family migrated to Pakistan.


Where in Rampur the family was living a regal life, in Pakistan it was to spend the day in abject poverty and misery. A sad story of riches to rays took shape. A slum in Jacob Lines Karachi become home. The family struggled hard to survive. Salamat Hussain’s father was assisted by relatives, involved in cap making and he also joined making Rampuri caps and to sell them. Yet for young Salamat Hussain nothing could deter his obsession with sangeeet, not even poverty. And one day, he bought a flute from Saddar for two annas. There was no looking back after that.


The girls of neighbors he said loved the sweet film songs he played. He got requests to play one or two favorites and he obliged. A few days later, their mother complained to Hussain’s mother and said she would break his legs if he dared play his flute again. Hussain’s mother, in turn, hit him with a broom, hoping to beat the music out of him, she could not.


He then started hiding himself under a thick quilt and practicing softly till late at night. But he could not give up his music. The music of the flute attracted him.  Wherever he went and heard it is being played; by the roadside, on the radio, he stood and listen. He wanted to spend the whole day listening to the flute. The whole day after spending / working tirelessly and in the night he spent practicing flute. In a few days, he was able to play out many popular filmy tunes.


Right since his childhood, Ustad Salamat Hussain has been pursuing his own technique, as instead of being trained in proper flute playing he had trained in classical music under the late Ustad Hamid Hussain Khan, a Sarangi nawaz of repute with Radio Pakistan.


He says “We used to go on foot from Jacob Lines to Light House taking food for his Ustad. Those were tough days, but just the madness to accomplish something kept me going”. And today, he looks back in satisfaction and even pride that he was so committed towards the causes.


Ustad Salamat Hussain was also much inspired by Dibu Bhattacharya, another great musician and flute player. One more flautist who greatly influenced him was Pannalal Ghosh. He says “Although he could never meet him, he largely inspired him, and he even adopted part of his style of playing the flute in the Gaayki (singing style).

One year at the Hyderabad Radio, he groomed up more with Ustad Mohammad Jumman, a renowned singer who initially was a flute player. He learnt much and shared with him several techniques of music.


        He says “So much love and respect I have received from my fans and admirers that at times I have even landed in the strangest of situations. The day I got married and was coming home with my bride, Mr. Suhrawardy’s daughter Begum Akhter Sulaiman’s car was waiting outside my house. I was told that I have been called by the Begum to perform at the Governor House. I could not even enter my house and had to send my bride in alone. And, very much in the groom’s attire I performed at the Governor House for prestigious guests from all over the world who had gathered there” remembers the Ustad.


“Ayub Khan loved my performances like anything. He took me to England, Moscow and Tashkent, too many other places where he went, and many a times had offered me much money which I had curtly declined. Even such HE Suhrawardy offered me handsome rewards, but I told them both that I was happy with what little I had”.

Ustad Salamat Hussain has been associated with the Lahore film industry too, for five years (1960-1965) where he has given some of the best renditions, the film industry can boast of. Lat uljhi Suljha ja re balam, a rather famous song from the film Sawaal, sung by Madam Noor Jehan, the music of which was composed by Rashid Atre gave him a certain respect in the contemporary music circle. He also gave his best work by playing famous songs like "May ney tu preat nibahi sanawariya tu nikla herjaye", Mala's song, composed by Khalil Ahmed, incidentally her first song in film Khamosh Raho, Chand jab bhi tu muskurata hay dil mera doob doob jata hay, song from film Sarhad, whose music was composed by Khawaja Khurshid Anwar, There are plenty of other songs from films Heer Sayal, Naila, Lori, etc. etc.  which carry the inimitable flute of the Ustad.


He contributed in so many films being made at Karachi from 1952 including all Sindhi movies from Umar Marvi (first Sindhi film). His most popular songs such as Kiya howa dil per sitam tum na samjho gey balam, sung by Zubaidah Khanum, Har gaye har gaye tu say dil laga key, Nena roay cham cham, tu jo nahi tu kuch bhi nahi mana keh mehfil hassen hai. Whilst working with Nashad Sahab, famous song Jan keh ker bolaya tu bura man gaye. One song sung by film actor Nadeem Sahab (the then Nazir Beg) "Muhabat key qadardan na shahar may na gaoon may" were among his best works. With Sohail Rana, almost all the songs recorded at Karachi Film Studies for Arman, Ahsan, Samadar, Heera Pathar etc. Also worked with Lal Mohammad Iqbal, originators of several famous songs.    


“My contribution to the Sindhi films is unparalleled, as I have done the most number of Sindhi songs, starting from the first Sindhi film”.


Ustad Salamat Hussain worked from 1966, precisely with the PIA Arts Academy, initially headed by the well known personality, Zia Mohiuddin Sahab, which later on taken by the Government as the Pakistan National Council of Arts and at Karachi named as National Performing Arts Group, under Ministry of Culture and Inheritage of Pakistan. Being a staff artist (Flutist), he is still required to travel extensively with Pakistani delegates and cultural troops abroad.


Ustad’s first trip was in 1957 to travel to Nairobi,  with Pakistani delegates at the coronation ceremony of the HH Prince Karim Agha Khan. With Pakistan National Council of Arts, he toured U.K. and attended the Commonwealth Institute with The President, General Mohammad Ayub Khan and performed for Queen Elizabeth II, He has been traveling with various Presidents and Prime Ministers of Pakistan to other parts of the world including SAARC Summits and similar government organized events.


“I have traveled to and performed in nearly every country of the world that is mentioned in the Pakistani passport, except Israel. I have from 1956 to now many passports and any new passport gets full very fast with visas!” he says.


The Ustad who has received in 1990, the President’s Pride of Performance Award, and subsequently the PTV Award of Excellence and the PTV Silver Jubilee Gold Medal, as well as the Cassette Melody Award by the poet Yunus Hamdam are modest about the honors. He speaks of life as nothing new and rather unchanged even after having received so many accolades and awards.


With at least 24 cassettes to his credit, of which three deal purely in classical music, and 4 Long Plays Record – one released by the EMI, one by Asghar International, one in Europe and one in America. Ustad Salamat Hussain is widely registered in the hearts and minds of his varied fans. But he feels proud to have been acclaimed by various other Ustads and maestros who have given him much respect, acknowledgement and encouragement. “This is definitely an achievement of sorts,” he believes.


“But this is only because I can play any raga in the world, and tune of any country- those of China, Japan, Korea, Russia, France, Germany, etc. especially Turkey. I can adeptly render the typical tunes of more than 12 languages of the world. I can play the flute as the Chinese play…. as the Japanese play, etc, etc,” he says with a grin sauced with enough confidence. “And I have paid my respects at Maulana Roomi’s tomb in Turkey, where the flute is played for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”He says.


Ustad Salamat Hussain can play ‛all the members of the flute family’ equally well, such as Alghoza, concert flute (with keys), piccolo, recorder, etc though he prefers to play the indigenous wooden flute which is blown side ways. Which is why, he is the most sought-after flautist in the country for singers and musicians, too. He says “I used to charge Rs.5 per song for the EMI when I started work years back. I remember doing as many as 20 songs in one day and one night at a stretch. Those were the days and that was the stamina. Whilst working with National Performing Arts Academy, he has composed much musics for Folk dances like Kashmiri dance, chitrali dance, moenjodaro dance etc. At sometimes, his recorded flute songs / folk music and Mili Naghmay was part of all PIA flights – domestic and international.


“For Fehmida Nasreen’s Raag Rung Programme on PTV, 1 have experimented with ragas, and played some very old and intricate ragas in a most modern way, “he says, and even goes onto appreciated the contributions of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. “There should be fusion, there should be change, and there should be a metamorphosis!”


Ustad Salamat Hussain is very much young at heart, even though he plays the world’s first and oldest musical instrument. “The instrument of Prophet Hazrat Daud (AS)” as he refers to it.


He concluded by saying Maulana Rumi’s masnavi:


Bishnu az nae choon hikayat meen kunad

Wa az judai haa shikayat meen kunad

The bansuri weeps to see the holes in its body

O Lord! Riddle my heart with holes so that I can sing thy praise.


He makes his flute sing, cry, laugh, and dance. He has always been fascinated by the sound of the flute, right from the time he was a little boy. There is sweetness and purity in the notes of the flute. Only someone who is pure heart can play the flute well. He feel the bamboo reed cries when it sings, trying to get closer to God. He cries with it.



Family support and structure


It would be very unfair if a brief introduction of Ustad & Mrs. Salamat Hussain’s sons and daughters is not mentioned here, particularly keeping in view of the struggles he had been made from his childhood to now, the extensive traveling schedules etc., it is an eye-opener to the reader as well that how his family educated and reached to such levels:


1.Zakir Hussain, a Metallurgy Engineer, worked with Pakistan Steel Mill

2. afar Hussain, an Income Tax Officer

3.Tahir Hussain, an Executive Chef of 5 Star Hotel, Halifax, Canada

4. Dr. Zaki Hussain, Surgeon (serving as Major in Pakistan Army at Kohat)

5.Shakir Hussain, Martyr (shot dead whilst on duty with Karachi Police)  

6.Zahid Hussain, Chef, 5 Star Hotel, Movenpick at Medina, Saudi Arabia

7.Shahid Hussain, MBA - Gold Medalist from ZABIST, businessman

8.Rashid Hussain, Officer, Shaheen Air at Karachi Airport

9.Farzana Sher Mohammad, house wife

10.Dr. Sumera Salamat, working as Research Officer, Agha Khan Hospital


It is a unique talent that Ustad Salamat Hussain possess which none have harboured or chiseled in the family.   It is this artistic appeal of his which makes him distinctive amongst the rest.


Ustad thanks to ALLAH, the Almighty for His kindness and grants to him and his family, without any regrets.        



(exclusive interview conducted by the author, Uzma Noor)



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