Two monarchs of melody exchange notes on the power of music and poetry
It couldn't be easy for two intensely creative people, with individualistic styles and international appeal, to share space on stage. But for close to three decades, Pakistan-based ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali and ghazal and bhajan exponent Anup Jalota have traversed the globe together and performed in perfect sync. For them, more than the fusion of rhythm, it's the fusion of hearts that matters. In these days of increasing mistrust and hatred, they believe in healing through music. Also at a time when music is more about technology than technique, more visual than emotional, the duo swears by poetic alfaaz (words) and authentic singing. As on stage, there was never a discordant note as the singers spoke for a Take Two, quite often in Punjabi, about musical values and bhaichaara (brotherhood) across the border. Chitra Swaminathan listened in.Anup: Ki haal hai Khan sahib. Khoob chamak rahe ho tusi. Oh, what a long and artistically fulfilling association! Don't you think so Khan sahib? Ghulam: Has to be, chhote bhai (gives Anup a hug). Once you shed the frills that accompany fame, life becomes simpler and relationships more honest. Anup: Wah! Kya baat hai! Also, our styles are quite similar with a strong classical base. Another uniting factor is the common Punjabi flavour - we speak the same language and belong to gharanas that are in the same region.Ghulam: What a blessing to have learnt the art from legends such as Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Barkat Ali Khan. It was not mere taalim (teaching) but a total development of the personality, a term hurled at you often today. Of course, initially, I learnt from my musician-father.Anup: For me, my father Purshottam Das Jalota is my guru and inspiration. Even today, he is my best critic. It is such hard training and relentless riyaaz (practice) that prepare you to take on musical challenges. Ghulam: The raga-foundation has to be rock solid. Then building a distinct image as a performer is not difficult. I also attach a lot of importance to the beauty of poetry. It leaves a deep impact on the minds of listeners when the lyrics are meaningful and conveyed clearly. Sceptics keep talking about whether such word-power will appeal to the impatient audience of today. Anup: That's an absolutely wrong assessment. Ghazals, thumris, nazms, film music... each has its own following. Recently, I performed in Australia and was completely moved by the euphoria of the listeners. Ghulam: Patchwork performances will never work. If ghazals don't have an audience, how could I have continued performing for so long? Anup: True. You stand tall for your commitment to the ghazal, efforts to uphold its purity and for inspiring future generations to listen and learn the form. Ghulam: What about you Bhajan Samrat? Thanks to you, not just in temples and satsangs, even roadside shops started playing bhajans. You convey the Supreme message in a simple manner. Hence, it appeals to the masses.Anup: With more and more stressed out souls of today turning spiritual, I release a bhajan album almost once in two months. The ghazals you have sung in films are still on everyone's lips - "Chupke Chupke", "Hungama"... Ghulam: Where's the scope to include ghazals in today's films? I refuse to compromise on quality. What's important is to ensure that we do not dilute the system under the excuse `demand of the time'. The common query of youngsters taking up music now is `in how many days can I learn to play the harmonium or the sarangi'. And I tell them you will lose it as fast as you try to learn it.Anup: Shortcuts will only lead to short circuits. Some are desperate to get into these dime-a-dozen reality shows to seek success. For them, music means only playback singing. If they don't get to do that they resort to remixes, which is killing the creations of legendary composers. At least version music, a rage before remixes entered the market, was better. It did not tamper with the original composition and lyrics. The only new element was the voice. In fact, it introduced promising singers such as Sonu Nigam and Kumar Sanu to playback singing. Usually during my concerts, I try to showcase some upcoming talents by giving them an opportunity to render a ghazal or two. They would be either my disciple or someone else's. Ghulam: I know how difficult otherwise it would be for them to get a platform. Anup: I also feel that ghazals shouldn't just talk about nasha (intoxication) and mehbooba (love). New writers should be encouraged. The need of the hour is to pen socially relevant poetry and verse that evokes national feelings and stresses on world peace. Ghulam: Our joint performances offer a good opportunity to pack in a lot of such ghazals, particularly in the context of fostering Indo-Pakistan ties. The audience finds it quite exciting to hear singers from both the countries at the same time. With so much of people-to-people contact, cultural similarities and affection, I wonder how we are moving away from each other. It's quite sad.