‘We all sing the same music’

Pakistani legend Ghulam Ali talks music and recites poetry.

January 21, 2016 10:31 am | Updated September 23, 2016 02:07 am IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Ghulam Ali.Photo: P. Musthafa

Ghulam Ali.Photo: P. Musthafa

‘Dil mein ek leher si uthi hai abhi’ sang the Pakistani ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali during his concert in Thiruvananthapuram, soaking his listeners in soulful waves of melody.

Music reigned supreme during the 75-year-old ghazal legend’s tryst with Kerala. For days, his fans had been ecstatic about the opportunity to hear the legend singing live. During a whirlwind visit to Thiruvananthapuram, Ghulam Ali received an award, gave a concert to a packed audience, hardly met any media persons but spent time with poet Balachandran Chullikad and shot for a documentary helmed by T.K. Rajeev Kumar.

During his performance in the capital city, music erased all barriers – political, linguistic and cultural. The night was still young when Ghulam Ali reached Nishangandhi auditorium in Thiruvananthapuram. As awe turned to applause, he entered the stage with a smile and waved to the music buffs waiting patiently for hours to see and hear him in concert. His listeners had to wait for another hour or more before the legendary singer took the stage to serenade his audience with some select numbers.

Prior to the concert, Ghulam Ali had spoken to CPI (M) MLA M.A. Baby and music director M. Jayachandran as part of an interview for a private channel. Baby, founder of Swaralaya, a cultural organisation that had organised the function along with the Government of Kerala, said that Ghulam Ali talked about his relationship with his guru Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and his encounters with titans such as Bhimsen Joshi, Mohammed Rafi and Mehdi Hassan. Ghulam Ali recalled how his father, an ardent fan of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, had named his son ‘Ghulam’ after his favourite musician. “He told us how his father had taken him to Kabul where he met the senior singer and requested him to teach the 14-year-old Ghulam. Although his Guru was reluctant as he was travelling a lot, finally, he agreed and that is how the young boy became the Ustad’s student. But since he was living in Kolkata, he advised Ghulam to learn from his brothers as well,” said Baby.

While talking about the difference between ghazals and Hindustani music, he told them although both classical music and ghazals needed aesthetic finesse, there was much more attention to the lyrics and its meaning while singing a ghazal. “He told us that he himself had spent a lot of time with poets to understand the layers of meaning in lyrics and how to bring the right pronunciation and intonation to the lyrics he would be singing. The idea was to convey the meaning of the lyrics and its feel through his rendering,” recalled Baby.

He demonstrated this during his concert in the capital city through the number ‘Dil mein ek lehar se uthi hai’ when he captured the aural effects of the waves in his music and sang it for the crowd. Snatches of poetry, conversation and flow of music made it an interactive recital for his listeners. He also sang ‘Chupke Chupke’, one of his most popular numbers that he had sung in B.R. Chopra’s film Nikah , with his son Amir Ali.

The next day Ghulam Ali had a momentous meeting with Balachandran on camera. As the poet recited the lines he had written some 30 years ago, Ghulam Ali responded with poetry from the heart and added that the visit to Kerala would remain a cherished memory for him.


On the sidelines of a television shoot, Ghulam Ali spoke to The Hindu for a short interview. Edited excerpts:

What are the memories you will carry with you when you leave Kerala?

I will remember the unabashed love that I received everywhere I went. People here were so warm and welcoming.

What is your opinion about present-day ghazal singers in India? Singers such as Hariharan, Talat Aziz…Do you listen to them?

Shankar too [Shankar Mahadevan]. They are all like my younger brothers and I share a warm rapport with all of them. Yes, they are all good singers. I have listened to all of them. We all sing the same music. Ideally, I wish I had more time to listen to more singers. It is always important to listen to musicians.

How about K.J. Yesudas?

Yes, I have heard about him. Although we have not met, we know each other. He had sung ‘Aaye Na Baalam…’

You had talked about your memorable meeting with Mohammed Rafi…

That was in 1980 in Mumbai. I was staying at the Taj in Mumbai and in the morning I got a call. Rafi bhai used to talk very softly. So, there was this soft voice saying ‘Hello’. I was sleeping and so I was a little dazed. He said that it was Rafi speaking. I asked him ‘Rafi who?’ He said ‘Mohammed Rafi’ and began speaking in Punjabi. We are both from Punjab, you know. He invited me for breakfast to his house and we spent four hours together. I told him ‘Rafi bhai , the whole world listens to you’. And he told me ‘But I listen to you!’ I used to consider him as my elder brother.

So you remained in touch?

Certainly. He was not a trained classical singer but he was an amazing musician. The difference between light music and film music is that the singer cannot improvise while singing a film song. He must sing what is already there. But in light music and classical music, one can improvise as much as one wants. And there are so many different ways of singing the same composition.

Twenty years ago, you had recorded an album with Asha Bhosle…

That was ‘Miraz-E-Ghazal’. My son Amir Ali also recorded an album with her, a completely new work.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.