The king of ghazals

Jagjit Singh’s music remains etched in our hearts.— File Photo

Jagjit Singh’s music remains etched in our hearts.— File Photo

The celebrations began yesterday when 25 young ghazal singers got together at Ajivasan Music Academy to render Jagjit Singh tunes. Today, flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj, tabla wizard Ustad Zakir Hussain, singers Suresh Wadkar, Hariharan and Sonu Nigam, drummer Ranjit Barot and violinist Deepak Pandit are set to enthral audiences at Shanmukhanada Hall, Sion.

The first Jagjit Singh Music Festival has been conceptualised by the Jagjit Foundation, in collaboration with Perfect Harmony Productions, to mark the late legend’s 75th birth anniversary, which falls today. A few days ago, the Jagjit Singh Memorial Award was given to ace composer Ilaiyaraaja in Chennai. And the fiesta doesn’t end here. On February 18, Panache Media is presenting ‘Ek Ehsaas’, a unique concert at Shanmukhananda, where Jagjit Singh’s voice and image from previous concerts will be extracted and played with live performance of instrumentalists who accompanied him.

It’s been over four years since Singh passed away on October 10, 2011. His music remains etched in our hearts. Songs like Kafeel Aazer’s ‘Baat Niklegi Toh Phir’, Ghalib’s ‘Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi’, Nida Fazli’s ‘Duniya Jisey Kehte Hain’, Sudarshan Faakir’s ‘Yeh Kaagaz Ki Kashti’ and Qateel Shifai’s ‘Sadma Toh Hai Mujhe Bhi’ are immortal, and so are film hits ‘Honton Se Choolo Tum’ (from Prem Geet), ‘Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho’ (Arth), ‘Tumko Dekha’ (Saath Saath) and ‘Jaag Ke Kaati’ (Leela).

For those who blossomed after 1975, Singh is definitely one of the most popular singers ever. While his early records with wife Chitra were successful, he continued to release new albums through the 1990s and early 2000s. His focus was always on ghazals, and he sang the occasional film song. But later, he moved more towards devotional music, with gems like ‘Varde Varde Varde’, ‘Tum Karuna Ke Saagar Ho’ and ‘Hey Ram’.

What made him stand out? The most obvious factor was his distinct bass voice, which went perfectly with the romance and pathos that ghazals needed. Second, came his choice of simple yet beautiful poetry. In this genre, the poetry and expression are as important as the richness of the singing. The maestro struck the perfect balance, and also selected words the masses could follow.

Next, Singh altered the pattern of instrumentation. While early ghazal artistes focused on harmonium, tabla and maybe sarangi, he added guitar and keyboard to his live set up and studio recordings. Despite an upsetting period that followed the death of his son Vivek in a 1990 accident, he made a slow and sincere comeback.

He’s had an enormous influence on current singers like Ghansham Vaswani, Tauseef Akhtar, Jaswinder Singh and Anurag Sharma. Finally, he had an amazing stage presence and a sense of humour to match. At times, he would catch the audience unawares by saying, “Yeh taali waala gaana nahin hai, yeh sochne waala gaana hai.”

I first met Singh in 1998, when he released ‘Love is Blind’. The interview was followed by an impromptu masterclass on ghazal appreciation. We met many times later, before the release of Silsilay with Javed Akhtar, Marasim with Gulzar and the live Parwaaz, and his biography Beyond Time . Each time, his humility and cordiality impressed overwhelmingly.

Once, he was in jeans, a light yellow Lacoste tee and Raybans. The photographer had expected him in a kurta, and wasn’t sure whether to click. He joked: “My face will be the same. So will my voice. That’s what matters.” That one incident sort of sums up Jagjit Singh, the Gentleman. The memories shall keep flowing on his birthday.

Narendra Kusnur is a freelance music writer

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Printable version | Jun 30, 2022 7:48:18 am |