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Collectors' Choice: Classical Ghazals

Sony Music, Cassette Rs. 55

SCHOLARS CREDIT Mehdi Hassan with playing a significant role in developing ghazal as an important melodic, thumri-ang genre in the Fifties and Sixties. With a firm grounding in the classical tradition (he is the 16th generation of musicians of this family from Rajasthan), he infused classical idiom into ghazal singing, while not compromising on the importance of the written word. His rich voice came to be much sought-after in the Pakistan film industry as well. That this was a period of great boom in radio listening worked to his advantage. It may be mentioned here that Mehdi Hassan's family migrated to Pakistan during partition. The family was in such dire straits that he worked as a car mechanic for some years before he got a chance to sing on the radio.

Mehdi Hassan is a purist within the semi-classical tradition. He believes, largely, in keeping his compositions within the basic structure of specific ragas, and singing in a cultivated style — "Ghazlon ko raag ki shakl mili," in his own words. This album, which is the recording of a concert in the Royal College of Music, London, is interesting for it holds a mirror to his musical credo.

The maestro begins with a brief introduction. Identifying the four angs of the semi-classical tradition — thumri, geet, dadra, and ghazal — he stresses the importance of singing each in its own distinctive style. When they get mixed up, it becomes "aawara gaana" — something he obviously does not approve of. He then goes on to present different genres in their distinctive styles.

He begins with a thumri in Des ("Umad ghumad ghir... "). It has the slow progression and assured style of a classically trained musician. He pauses to explain how Des can easily slip into Tilak Kamod, since the difference is only in chaal.He then presents popular Rajasthani folk song "Kesariya balam padharo... " The ghazal he presents in Yaman, "Mubham baat paheli... ", begins with a short, beautiful alaap . Along the way, he demonstrates how a ghazal singer has to pay attention to correct pronunciation.

The 1990 recording does not present the maestro at his best. The voice is surely not the mellifluous one that we have heard in his earlier recording. But this tape is unusual for its unhurried pace, hard to come by these days, and its academic approach to the genre. Sultan Khan plays some beautiful saarangi passages, though they tend to drown the voice sometimes.

For a stark contrast to this style, within Mehdi Hassan's own musical repertoire, one could listen to his Finest Ghazals of Mehdi Hassan (HMV), which presents his filmy-style ghazals. One finds in it a lesser-known ghazal, "Nawazish karam shukriya... ", which has been lifted straight by our M. Ranga Rao and turned into "Saada kannali pranayada kavithe... " in Kavirathna Kalidasa.What a find!

Life Story, Ghulam Ali,

Vols. I & II

Universal, Cassette, Rs. 90

IF WE love Mehdi Hassan's music for its quiet flow, we love Ghulam Ali's music for its youthfulness and flamboyance that has endeared him to millions, across generations, in the subcontinent. Ghulam Ali pioneered a singing style marked by unconventional modulations, which serve two purposes: they take you completely by surprise because of their unpredictability and musically reflect the meaning of the word being sung. And he defines this style very lyrically in this album — "Aise sur jaise lafz ijazat de" — as he sings his classic, "Itne muddat baad mile ho".

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This collection, which showcases this quality of his singing at its best, includes several of his great hits — "Chupke chupke", "Awaargi", "Hangama hain kyon barpa", "Raaste yaad nahin", "Apni dhun mein rehtha hun", "Phir saawan rut ki"...

But what makes this collection really priceless is not so much its inclusiveness (if you want to nitpick, you can always point out that it does not include "Dil me ek lehar"!), but the fact that all the songs on this album are culled from various live concerts. That is how even "Awaargi", which one has heard so many times over, sounds fresh. It's fascinating to listen to Ghulam Ali modulate the word "Awaargi" to reflect the progression of its meaning — from the naughty to the melancholic — in the ghazal. And as he plays with the phrase "Tez hawa ne mujhse poocha... " in "Itne muddat... " one has the feeling of a breeze actually talking to you.

It's the word and the voice that reign supreme in this collection, with only harmonium and tabla for accompaniment. One hears saarangi on rare occasions. Strains of this instrument, which best reflects pathos, is effectively used to create a nostalgic mood in "Sab kuch kaise accha accha... " The lover in this song pleads with his beloved: "Return just my dream to me, all else was anyway always yours."

Ghulam Ali chooses ghazals mostly in high-flown Urdu. So, those of us not initiated into the language miss many lines that elicit "Wah! Wah!" from the audience. But the little that we understand is alluring enough — "Bhut hamko kahe kafir allah ki marzi hain... " (from "Hungama").

0Listening to ghazals over a period of time, we seem to have come to love even the unintelligible parts for the sheer beauty and mystery of the sound! The only moments of disappointment in this tape are when Ghulam Ali sings an unembellished ghazal, without those amazing sweeps, and unpredictable odd notes.

That's why one is rather disappointed with his straightforward geet-like compositions such as "Gham hain ya khushi". After all, it was he who taught us to appreciate the teda!

BAGESHREE S.

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