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An ode to melody

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Happiness is a sad song Ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas
Happiness is a sad song Ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas

ANJANA RAJAN

Pankaj Udhas on his new album and coping with technology.

We have gone into an era globally, where the importance of poetry and melody is lost.

With the number of talent hunt shows mushrooming on television, you would think they would spawn some variety too. Alas, everyone in the nation who queues up for an attempt at instant stardom has only one path in mind: through the playback channels to Bollywood fame and fortune.

Celebrated ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas, who was in the Capital to launch his new album Yaara, brought out by Music Today recently, says these hunts should bring out the different genres of music.

Focused shows

“They should focus on singers who will sing folk, or be future classical singers, or ghazal singers. Why should they be only playback singers?”

Perhaps because that is where the money chiefly is to be made? He looks thoughtful. “Well, I guess we’ve all survived by not being playback singers,” he counters. Maybe. But then, his famous “Chitthi Ayi Hai” from the Sanjay Dutt-starrer “Naam” is engraved in filmgoers’ memory. Of course, it wasn’t merely playback, since he was playing himself in a cameo.

A different side

There’s no denying though, that his fame is multi-pronged. As for diversification, Yaara promises to reveal a different side to the maestro.

A collaborative effort with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, an old friend, the songs in Yaara have been composed by the sarod maestro in various ragas, “from Bhoop to Bhairavi”. Besides, “The format is not ghazal. They are geet. It’s a pleasure, doing something I’ve not done before.”

Something he will never do, though, is to abandon the melody and poetry that are the soul of his songs. “We have gone into an era globally, where the importance of poetry and melody is lost,” he says.

“This is my personal opinion. I’m not talking as a representative of ghazal singers.”

Earlier, he says, a song was identified by an entire musical package of poetry and melody, including the singer’s voice and style.

Describing some of today’s chartbusters as “random songs,” he points out, “There is actually no melody. What we are losing is the basic structure. We all grew up with songs that had, say, an asthayi, an antara, etc. Nowadays songs don’t have that. There is no definite format for the music that is being created.”

‘Soothing balm’

But even as he unflinchingly describes the demise of what could be called the essence of vocal music, the ghazal maestro continues to hold his own. His star aura is intact, his audiences eager.

“At this stage I think the ghazal is doing the job of a soothing ointment or balm,” he explains. “There are so many scars, or wounds, created by the current music. This is one kind of music which doesn’t deviate from the poetry and melody.”

But ghazal singing has changed too. This coming Saturday, when he performs under the aegis of the Begum Akhtar Academy of Ghazal in New Delhi, Udhas will be singing in a style quite different from Begum Akhtar and her contemporaries. “Yes,” he concedes, “It has also changed, but that is more to keep in the race, or stay in touch with the audience. Because the moment you give a sound which is not identifiable, they reject it.”

In the digital age, ‘identifiable’ takes on increasingly uniform parameters.

Notes Udhas, “The advantage of technology is that everything can be enhanced.”

Digital effect

Even the voice of the most off-key singer can be digitally corrected, he says with his customary candour, but there is no smile to soften the blow. “Which makes it more in the nature of the assembly line,” he adds.

On the other hand, technology has also brought music making within reach of a larger population. Yet for an aspiring singer or composer, cutting an album is still not easily affordable, and without the exposure an album brings, they struggle to be noticed.

“Currently the whole scene is dominated by reality shows,” he points out. “They are good and bad. Good in the sense they provide a platform for aspiring talent. Bad in the sense, they don’t provide for those who don’t have the support of SMSs.”

Thanks to these televised shows, he says, “We’ve seen there are a whole lot of talented people. But unfortunately they get voted out. The onus is on the organisers of these reality shows so that the good ones don’t get voted out.”

To the dearly BelovedMusic Today’s new album Yaara (meaning the Beloved) features Sufi music compositions. Ghazal king Pankaj Udhas says sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan, a long time friend, “believes a lot in simplicity”. That’s why he recommended Udhas’ name to sing, because “he wanted a singer who can express and is less gimmicky.” The music video of the title track visualises the lyrics against a backdrop of West Bengal in the late 1950s. The theme is love and longing.

Album name: Yaara

Voice: Pankaj Udhas

Music composition:

Amjad Ali Khan

Musical arrangement: Hitesh Sonik

Lyrics: Sufi scholar Madan Gopal Singh

Genre: Sufi geet

Songs: Bolo Ji Bolo, Jagi Jagi Raaton Mein, Hole Hole, Chalte Chalte, Woh Baat, Chhaliya, Yaara


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