Sada-E-Ghazal : When Ghazal Giants Come together Under One Roof
By VIREN MAYANI
It was a fittingly grand venue and setting for a beautiful performance for some of India's best known ghazal maestros. For one evening the church prayer hall at the Glenn Memorial on Emory campus, which now serves as an auditorium, resounded not with the sounds of hymns but the strains of Indian ragas.
The Bibles in the pews bore witness to the miracle of music and the church organ played audience to the sounds of tablas, harmoniums, flutes and dholak that filled the hall all the way to the farthest corners of its great white cathedral ceilings.
Tradition and technology came together as the Power Point slide presentation and state-of-the art sound system blended with the ambience created by lighted candles and brass diyas, and bright red curtains of gold zardosi work.
The overall effect on that Friday, the 16th of September, was that of a worthy "mehfil" for worthy musicians, and most importantly, for a worthy cause. The event was a fundraiser for the Robin Raina Foundation, which helps underprivileged children in India and elsewhere. (For more on the foundation and the pre-event dinner, see "Star Power Draws Attention?" in the Around Town section)
The evening's star performers, Ghulam Ali, Anup Jalota and Talat Aziz received a rising welcome from an enthusiastic audience of more than 1,000 guests. Perhaps by virtue of their seniority, Talat Aziz first turned the stage over to Ghulam Ali and Anup Jalota who started the evening off with a rendition of Man Tarapat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj. The perfect blend of the two maestro's music?one from India and other from Pakistan?truly proved that music knows no boundaries.
In honor of the occasion and the evening, Anup Jalota also composed a verse on the spot giving the audience a real treat that they welcomed with a standing ovation. Both performers once again displayed why they deserve the fame and the respect they so garner from their audiences, outdoing each other and themselves as they wove their magic around the listeners.
The warm-up over, Anup Jalota took over the stage leading the audience into familiar favorites like "Chand angdaiyan le raha he," "Jaam chalakne lage" and "Lazatte gham badha dijiye." He concluded with a joint performance in which he performed "Rukh se parda hatta," and Talat Aziz singing "Ankhen Teri." Then it was Talat Aziz's turn who held his own effortlessly with flawless performances of some of his all-time favorites. He ended with another maestro's composition - Mehndi Hassan's "Ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhane ke liye."
The finale of the evening was aptly turned over to Ghulam Ali who picked a select few of the hundreds of beautiful ghazals he has composed, recorded and performed over his long and successful career. No performance by Ghulam Ali would be complete without "Chupke chupke raat din," and he did not disappoint the night's audience. As indeed no ghazal concert would be considered quite done without what is perhaps the best known, and most sung ghazal of all time, "Dumadum mast kalandar."
The three masters performed the last one together to the beat of a rising tempo as the concert culminated in a standing ovation and a promise by all three to be back again soon.
Ghazal Ke Batein
Following are selected excerpts of Khabar's conversation with the three maestros.
Interviews by NIRAJ SHARMA And VIREN MAYANI
You started off as a bhajan singer following the great work of your father Shri Purushotamdas Jalotaji. What drew you towards Ghazal gayaki? Between the two, what defines you more?
I come from Lucknow, the city where Urdu is the [predominant] language. The greatest ghazal singer from India, Begum Akhtar, comes from Lucknow. So when I was a child I used to go to concerts and listen to her; and of course Urdu influence was big in the city. This is the language we used to talk in. Many times I heard my father singing ghazals. Talat Mehmood, another great ghazal singer, comes from Lucknow. That all inspired me to sing ghazal, and since I was about seven years old, I used to sing Begum Akhtar's ghazals "E-Mohabbat Tere Anjaam Pe Rona Aaya."
But at the same time, I was singing bhajans also because my father used to perform mostly at bhajans concerts. So these together have become my career. And once the ghazal wave started in India in 1975, I was one of those ghazal singers who found popularity.
But, then, around 1980 my album "Bhajan Sandhya" was released. It became so popular that people were playing bhajans like "Aisi laagi lagan"," Rang de chunariya", "Mainya moree" again and again. Because of that people started thinking that I am a bhajan singer. That overpowered all my other singing. I started getting maximum concerts for bhajans. I recorded 200 albums of it, and only about 25 of ghazals. So that stamp stayed on, and I started enjoying it because I saw people enjoying my bhajans. The kind of pleasure bhajan can give you, no music can give, because in it you sing poetry written by saints. So bhajan singing is the ultimate thing and that's why all classical singers?Bhimsen Joshi or Pandit Jasraj or Kishori Amonkar or Omkarnath Thakur?sing it. Even when they are singing classical khayal, they will end it with a bhajan. So Bhajan is the ultimate thing which is going to put the artist at the higher level.
What do you think is the future of ghazals in the face of bhangra, pop, remixes and such new trends?
See, the world is changing! So music will also change. We used to play LP records, and then we went to SP. Then it became CD and now you have [digital] machines that can play 1000 songs. Everything is becoming compact. Nbody is going to listen to a classical singer who will sing for three hours followed by one hour of alaap and one hour of khayal. Time is gone! Even classical singers will have to compact their music. Patience is vanishing from people's life. They want only entertainment through music. They don't want to put their mind in music; [because they are consumed] by work and stress. Music they just want to enjoy, and relax with. For that, Bhangra music is good because you can also dance to it. You become a part of the artist.
The other thing is, ghazal means Urdu language. You can't have it in Hindi. The young generation is [hardly] aware of Hindi. How can they appreciate ghazals in Urdu? [To begin with] South [India] and Bengal was excluded from ghazals; there is only a section in India that loves it. The demand has decreased noticeably.
Still, we need to keep our traditions, even if we have to compromise a little bit. Do such kind of music which people will think is Indian, but also has western influence, then it will survive. Otherwise next generation is not going to listen to this music at all.
Such blend and influence is indeed visible in your live performances. You may be singing "Jabse gayee aap;" and in the middle of that, there may be a hint of western chords on guitar; or the tabla may move into a jazzy taal. Is this spontaneous or planned?
On stage, there is a general acceptance in my mind that I want to blend both the music together. Though, the timing is not necessarily set. It generally is determined by mood. I will start with the pure raga in which the song is composed. Then go to a mixture where people will really enjoy the blending. Because you people are living in this world. You cannot avoid this world, you breathe western music. You cannot hear Hariprasasd Chaurasia playing on the road. So you have to blend some things where you accept both, enjoy both.
What is your message to the younger generation?
The young generation is intelligent. More intelligent than us, because when we were young, we didn't have computers. We didn't know what's going on in the world. Now, with the internet, people are informed. Yet, it is very important for you to know the music stays with you for some time after listening. Does it live with you for few days? If that music is living with you for a few days in your life, in your mind, then, yes, that is going to give you peace. But if you come back home and think it was fun, but next day you forget about it, then it is not serving any purpose. You people are intelligent enough to decide for yourself. You can decide what music stays with you for more than just three hours.
Apart from your singing, you have acted as well?
Well I did acting and I still do if there is an interesting project. But my main interest is music. I am a part of, I have ventured into it. I am a part of company, which is incorporated in the U.S. to do events, production, and entertainment. Now I am going in the business of managing events.
Tell us about how you are influenced by Jagjit Singh. Is it true that he launched your career?
I am not influenced by Jagjit Singh. Yes it is true that he launched my first album. He composed the music. He is my senior and I know him for a long time. I don't follow his style; I have my own different style. But, yes, he composed my first album?which was 26 years back.
Do you think that Ghazal gayaki is superior to other forms of singing?
No. I don't think that any form of singing is superior. Every form has its own charm whether it is pop, ghazal, classical, folk?as long as the person playing it has a certain level of experience.
Do you see yourself venturing in anything apart from ghazals?
I have already done that. Couple of years back, I had done something called dynamic fusion. It was fusion of vocal genres, such as ghazal, classical and jazz.
Tell us about your most memorable performance.
After 26 years it is very difficult to encapsulate one of them. I have performed for 100,000 people; I have sung for 100 people; I have sung for 1000 people. I have sung in the best auditoriums. I have sung in the worst auditoriums. I have sung in open air, on the beach. Basically, I have gone through the whole gamut. Yet, there is a lot that still awaits us?
Tell us about Talat Aziz, the person, not the performer.
Talat Aziz, as an individual, is a laid back. He doesn't like sightseeing. He likes good food he likes to be with his friends. He likes a good life.
Any message to young generation?
[Referring to the performance of the previous night at the pre-event dinner (see "Around Town")]: I was very impressed with the dedication of the young here. I have seen young girls perform Kathak, and can only imagine the amount of rehearsals that they must have done. It was a very rewarding experience watching them. I wish I can get the recording.
[The following is a translation of excerpts of the interview conducted in Urdu/Hindi]
While singing ghazals, you can modulate your pitch?the way one does on harmonium or keyboard. How do you include that in your ghazals?
For this, one should have control over the sur. This is a gift from Allah; you also get it from learning. I think that whatever happens is due to grace of my Ustadji, my audience, and all those who guide me. Every person has a need for his own style("Meri koi alag design bane."). I have been thinking this for about 20 years and then I have presented my style.
In your ghazals there is an element of mischief, "ched-chaad," as it is called. Is this done deliberately?
The singer who also knows tabla, can express himself in various modes, such as "chanchal" (mischievous), shokh (somber) or the "madhyam" (medium).
I have been in singing since about 50 years. In the midst of so many talented singers, I felt the need for a unique "Ghulam Ali" signature. Hence, the "ched-chaad" is what I bring to ghazals. I keep on searching for something new. See, there are thousands of people who sing and give music but those who bring their own style are the chosen few.
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