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Music With a Message

January 2003
Music With a Message

Atlanta. Saturday, December 19, 2002. Sometimes you go to an event not only with anticipation, but also with just a bit of apprehension. Such were my feelings at the recent ghazal concert featuring vocal masters, Anup Jalota and Ghulam Ali. With Jalota mostly focusing on bhajans and Ghulam Ali with his intense ghazal renditions, I wasn?t sure how well they would go together. But to my delight, when I left the Impact Conference Hall at Global Mall in Norcross past midnight, I could no longer remember why I had ever had any apprehensions. Brought to Atlanta by Nitin and Manisha Malik of Milan Entertainments along with one of the local bastions of the arts, Mustafa Ajmeri, the performance flowed beautifully. It struck a rare balance between the playful and relaxed approach of Anup Jalota and the more serious and demanding style of Ghulam Ali.

The concert began IST, almost an hour late because the artists were delayed. The restless few in the audience even started clapping from 8:30 p.m. to encourage the show to begin.���But once Anup Jalota arrived, he took complete control of the situation. He made jokes about how he would like to offer us a good excuse but unfortunately he didn?t have a good one to offer. He then asked the audience to squeeze in close and even encouraged them to sit on the floor right in front of the stage, making it feel more like a private party rather than a public concert. This gesture was especially welcomed since the low stage and the hall room venue made it difficult for the audience sitting behind the first few rows to really see the artists.

Anup Jalota opened the concert with one of his most popular Bhajans, ?Aisi lagi lagan?. The song was beautifully rendered and in typical Anup Jalota style, interjected with explanations and jokes. The sound system and the acoustics of the room worked well and Anup Jalota?s voice resonated, effortless and smooth. The audience listened enthralled and soon joined in humming the words and singing the song of Mira?s devotion and love.

With his next song, which was refreshingly a ghazal, Anup Jalota also added another dimension to the concert, one of peace and tolerance. He started with Yeh mandir-masjid ka jhagra mitaya jai? and pointed out, ?if we can both sing together, we can also live together.? This message resonated through other remarks from him, Ghulam Ali and the organizers as well as the finale where Anup Jalota and Ghulam Ali sang a poignant and emotional song in rag balkose, ?aao mil kar sur bikhraien, dono mil kar prem badhayein.? The simple lyrics of the song allowed both artists to display their unique flair of building different moods. Jalota was especially fluid in the piece and both artists were successful in convincing us that they really felt the underlying message of the song. They sang that if there is a crescent moon on the other side, there is the tricolor in one, if there is Sumsum in one, there is Ganga in the other. The differences are all a matter of perspective and should be celebrated, ?dono ka sangam karvayein.? This message added another dimension to the evening and made it fuller for the audience.

The first half of the concert featured Jalota, who stayed with safe choices of popular ghazals, renditions of movie songs and bhajans. He took an interesting approach of adding a bit of humor, a bit of a message and mostly entertaining the crowd that had a constant smile throughout his set as they hummed along the familiar songs. He ended his part of the concert with two very popular songs, ?Chaand angraiyan le raha hai? and ?Dama dam mast kalandar?.���

It was disheartening that climax of his part of the program was disrupted by the late appearance of Ghulam Ali and the resultant commotion of autograph seekers. Considering how close the front row was to the stage, all the commotion was distracting and disrespectful.���Like a professional though, Anup Jalota continued singing while praising Ghulam Ali and ended his solo set with the high energy ?Dama dam mast kalandar?. I personally couldn?t get the Runa Laila version out of my head but it didn?t stop the audience from getting up on their feet and responding to the lively song.

Ghulam Ali, introduced as the ?Badhshah? of ghazals and as the big brother by Anup Jalota followed without a break. There was no intermission for the audience or the talented and patient accompanying artists, Arshad Ali on Tabla and Bashir Ahmed on Banjo. They amazingly performed the entire three-and-a half-hour concert without a break.���The mood and pace of the concert changed as Ghulam Ali got on the stage. It became more somber and controlled.

He interrupted his songs a few time to ask people to put away their video camera, to stop their chatter or other distracting gestures and pay attention to the words and the notes of his songs. He was politely demanding respect that artists should automatically get from the audience. A few people had also sneaked in alcohol and one of the men in the front seat had a bit too much, mostly adding comic relief with his staggering trips to the stage with dollar bills and the freak dancing. Luckily, it never got out of control and just made you feel that you were at a private gathering.

As Ghulam Ali presented many of his popular ghazals, his typical emphasis on the use of classical music to highlight the various layers of a sher, the words, the wit, the hidden meanings, the effect was quite apparent. As the audience hung on his every note and every word, he didn?t disappoint them by singing popular songs like, ?Dil mein ek lahar si uthi hai abhi?, ?Chupke-Chupke?, ?Humko kiske gam ne mara? yet interspersing a new Punjabi song and a few new ghazals as well.���The ghazal he sang in megh rag was especially beautiful, enhancing the gritty quality of his voice and the talent he has.

It was well past midnight when Ghulam Ali?s solo set ended and he invited Anup Jalota for the final song about celebrating differences in religion, in nationality and in identity. After the finale, the two artists put their arms around each as brothers and the audience stood on their feet with applause. The organizer announced that this could be an example of how we can come together and for at least that evening, the message and the music resonated loudly, clearly and beautifully in the smiles and applause of everyone who had gathered to listen to music but left with much more.

- Alka Roy


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