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`I disagree with video aesthetics'

Shubha Mudgal and Muzaffar Ali on the kind of melody that is indeed music to their ears

If I were to do a film, I won't like to provide the music Muzaffar Ali

SIFTING AND BLENDING STREAMS: Shubha Mudgal and Muzaffar Ali in New Delhi Photo: S. Subramanium

This is about two people who are unique, who converge to make wonderful music and who are charismatic and communicative. Shubha Mudgal, whose voice reverberates with a haunting poignancy, and Muzaffar Ali, a man of many dimensions - filmmaker, poet, designer, painter and maker of music.

Alka Raghuvanshi brings them together for a Take Two. One of their most creative endeavours was Jahan-e-Khusrau, which saw musicians from several parts of the globe perform against the spectacular backdrop of Humayun's Tomb in Delhi. Their banter has a musical lilt peculiar to people from eastern Uttar Pradesh. Hers is a language of elegant self-deprecating humour and his, a style of lyricism with a hint of Awadh.

Shubha: When someone asks me to define Sufi music, I am often hard put to answer! After all, it is a constantly changing form like a river and to straitjacket it is like trying to contain the river in a pitcher. The popular perception of Sufi singers being a lot of sar jhatakte aur cheekhte log is so far from the truth! How do you take something of divine value to people who have never experienced it and yet be able to communicate it to them in an intelligible form?

Muzaffar: (running his hands through his silver mane) It is a challenge! But to take poetry to people you have to first feel it! And combat issues of language - in the case of Jahan-e-Khusrau - Farsi. The journey of poetry into my life has led to some interesting encounters of the musical kind. I have explored myriad rhythmic structures and so people who sing from their heart become important in my exercise. I'm not implying that you are not important otherwise, you are your own vehicle of creativity, but in my exercise, you and the other musicians play an intrinsic role.

Seeking perfection

Shubha: But for someone like me, who is usually featured solo, to make music together with so many people calls for `surrender', actually and philosophically. It requires a certain openness to deal with it. It is so easy to say hum yeh gaate hain aur hum yeh gayeinge! But one is trained to improvise and I can sing a line in so many different ways, so it is not difficult from the point of performing. The areas of differences are many but at the same time, interesting! The blending of many voices calls for so much of technical expertise. But if you get caught up in technicality or craft, you can't soar! Of course, there are practical distractions like an out of tune tanpura! And there were moments when I was acutely aware of only that besura, jarring note and nothing else!

Muzaffar: That is the perfectionist in you! But yes, to bring together the veritable deluge of tones, rather like a zamzama, where voices are used differently, maquams are blended, ragas are blended, forms and content are brought together to create something new, it is quite an experience!

Shubha: Creating music is quite a challenge!

Muzaffar: Yes, but if I were to do a film, I won't like to provide the music.

Shubha: No?

Muzaffar: Never. Remember how we met in connection with my film Habba Khatoon? But I eventually chose Asha Bhonsle. Perhaps that's why it never got made!

Shubha: You couldn't have chosen better! (eyes twinkling)!

Muzaffar: But what I'd like to do is to integrate traditional musicians into the film, which is a thoroughly intense and completely different level of participation. After all, music is imperative in the spiritual process. It is not like taxi ka metre down kiya aur ho gaya! You've also drawn flak for your explorations of the fusion kind!

Shubha: But it is not something people will tell you on your face. At best, you can sense hostility. Perhaps what the purists don't like is the visibility of it! Not that they can accuse me of compromising on the classical element in my music - like I won't let strains of `Ab ke Sawan' into my classical repertoire. The fact is that I had loads of fun! And I loved it!

Muzaffar: So when does one see you next in a music video?

Shubha: Not in a hurry! Much as I enjoyed it, I have taken a conscious decision to not do it again. It is just not me. And especially when there is a story being told, just to bring in the singer for reasons of visibility or for a promotional exercise, seems a bit silly.

I disagree with the aesthetics of it. It is not an a la carte menu where one orders a set of images!


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