Ghazal singer Tina Sani's concert was one of words and her projection of every syllable reflected her awareness of the magic and mystery of poetry

“Poetry must be soft, like the whisper in the beloved's ear,” said Tina Sani. The Pakistani ghazal singer's opening recital at The Hindu Friday Review November Fest had the quality of quietness and intense feeling. With her accompanists, a nod, a smile, a lifted eyebrow, were enough to communicate and appreciate. ghazal

Sani found snatches from old favourites first, under Yaman lights —  Shaam-e-firaaq, Aaj jaane ki zid na karo, Ranjish hi sahi… Without percussion, layered with two resonant harmoniums (Iqbal Hussain, Wazir Sultan) and a plaintive sarangi (Akhtar Hussain), they turned into a monologue of gliding aural images, the stress falling on the ideas expressed, not metre.

After that, Faiz was lionised for his apostolic message of “Hope and  Healing” (the theme of the recital), mirrored through processes of reflection — by turns elegiac, nostalgic, rousing, idealistic, dejected — but always inspired, profound and humane, a cry for freedom from oppression in both physical and the mental spheres. Aap ki yaad aati rahi, recalled a poet with tenderness. Bahaar aayee celebrated spring as the burgeoning of new hope for the whole world. The message came through with the dynamism of dominant notes drawn from raag Durga.

Applause greeted the launch of Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat, declaring: “Don't ask for the love I once gave you… there are other heartaches than those of love in this world”. This gave ample scope to Sani's stylistics of modulating tempo, rhythm and volume to discover the power of each word, rich with its own network of connotations.

Through the recital, she pitched the key words from simple “haaye” to imperative “naa maang” or  the imploring “Meri araj suno!” to extract their full potential.  The ending of each song was again, not in a flourish of music, but with the impact of the word. Nor did she depend on drummers (Abid Hussain, tabla; Aslam, dholak, additional percussion) for razzle-dazzle or racing crescendos. They faithfully and unobtrusively banked the singer's interpretations.

A change of rhythm, purana theka this time, and Sani launched Faiz' fond memories of times gone by (Kuchh hi pehle) when people had more time for each other. Here, as with every song, she contemporised the poet by relating his thoughts to her present-day existence.

Expressing her admiration for the music of the South, Sani disclosed how she has used something from M.S. Subbulakshmi in her own way. But it remained unsung. 

The evening ended with Kabir for encore, after the apt couplets of Rumi in Farsi and Urdu, etched in Bhairavi, repeating the idea well known to India that the human soul is always tormented until it achieves bliss in union with the Oversoul.

What lingered in the mind was the disturbingly-titled Sheeshon ka Masiha (Messiah of Glass), rendered with the full-throated vibrancy the shattering import demanded. Jo toot gaya, woh chhoot gaya “I come from a chaotic world, We must find hope, friends to hold hands, support human bonds.” Admirably, Sani kept the political import at a universal level, without aggressive slogans.

What the evening offered was not sangeet so much as shayari. No accent on melodising raag or cascading sur. No percussion medley. Moreover, what was sung did not maintain, or even try to create a pleasing flow of raga, or rhythm-strung momentum. There were abrupt pauses, breaks — not at crucial moments for special effects — but for almost every line. This process refused to allow listeners to immerse themselves in the melody, but had them thinking about context and import all the time.

The singer did say at the beginning that God's language was not of words. But Sani's language was definitely one of words, reflecting a content that she had internalised with passion.

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