Music

Mehdi Hasan: A bridge over the troubled divide

22 July 2012

My tribute to Mehdi Hasan published here

He was the musical Midas who transcended borders with the same mastery that he transcended genres

Mehdi Hassan is gone. His devastated fans across the globe will mourn the loss of a voice that ruled their hearts for nearly half a century, a voice in which Lata Mangeshkar said she had found bhagwan.

Mehdi Hassan was born in a family of musicians in the town of Luna of district JhunJhunu in Rajasthan around 1927. Rajasthan is famous for its haunting melodies and the expanse of the desert, which celebrates man’s primal relationship with nature. Reshma is also from this region. Hassan’s father Ustad Azeem Khan and Uncle Ustad Ismail Khan were well known classical musicians and it is said that Mehdi Hassan’s first ever concert was at the Maharaja of Baroda’s darbar when he was just eight years old.

With Partition in 1947 this gharana moved to Pakistani Punjab. A young Mehdi Hassan took up the job of an automobile mechanic, something that he was supposed to have been quite adept at. But within a few years, it was his musical talent to which people began paying attention, and by 1952 he was singing at Radio Pakistan.

Mehdi Hassan remained a prized treasure of Radio Pakistan for nearly half a century. I remember growing up listening to his film songs, ghazals and thumris on radio. The launch of television in the 1960s provided an additional platform to Hassan and some of his memorable performances are from those black and white days of television programming.

Hassan proved to be a musical Midas. Whatever he touched turned to gold — from the poetry of famous Urdu poets to romantic film numbers. (more…)

Mehdi Hasan: King of kings

13 June 2012

mehdi hasanMehdi Hasan died today. There are no words to capture his influence on my generation and the ones before me. I am posting a shorter version of my essay which was published in a volume “Mehdi Hasan: The Man and His Music” (2010, Liberty Books). RIP Khan Saheb. The kesari balam has finally left for his new home..

From Khyber to Dhaka and from Skardu to Deccan wafts a lilting and profound voice that binds discerning lovers of music. The highly trained vocals are none other than Mehdi Hasan’s, which leave music buffs like this writer wondering how Mian Tansen may have sung Raga Darbari, his own innovation, with full-throated ease and with what degree of perfection in Emperor Akbar’s court, be it in Agra, Lahore or Fatehpur Sikri. Listening to Mehdi Hasan’s flawless exposition of what is often referred to as the most royal of the ragas on which is based his composition of Perveen Shakir’s ghazal Ku baku phael gayi, one feels privileged to be living in the melodious age of Mehdi Hasan. But it is not merely Darbari that he excels in; name any other raga that he has garbed his ghazal in and you will not miss his flair for classical music.

(more…)

Heart to Heart: Remembering Naina Devi

15 January 2012


My dear friend Vidya Rao’s labour of love is finally out. She has been working on this project for quite a while. Her book Heart to Heart: Remembering  Naina Devi is a tribute to her teacher, Guru and inspiration who trained Rao as a singer..

Legendary singer, Naina Devi  was born into a Bengali Brahmo Samaj reformist family in the early years of the twentieth century. A childhood replete with music, dance, theatre and social reform gave way to the grandeur and seclusion of the life of a young queen of the Kapurthala royal family of Punjab. Despite seventeen  years of silence necess
itated by the norms of a royal household, she came back to music and a glorious career as a singer, arts-administrator, teacher and patron,  after the tragic death of her husband.

Heart to Heart, traces Naina Devi’s incredible story as she told it to her foremost disciple, Vidya Rao. Naina Devi’s  story traces the changes in the world of Indian classical music, women singers and women in Indian society  over the last century.  Learning seena-ba-seena, heart to heart, in a seamless blend of music and life-lessons,  Rao imbibed not
just a knowledge of her chosen form, Thumri,  but a sense of the very being of her teacher.

The evocative  narrative weaves back and forth between history  and memory,  past and present, and between Naina Devi’s voice and Rao’s own, to illuminate the power  and beauty of music, the lives of these two women and of many others,  of courage, pain, joy and love, and  of the deep bond between Rao and her beloved Guru.

Here’s a detailed review published here (more…)

Sufi rock by an immensely talented band

19 December 2010

This video is from the band Da Saaz. Dhruv Bilal Sangari is singing and Raoul Amaar Abbas has directed, produced and shot all the trippy light

Mehdi Hasan: The Man & His Music

30 September 2010
A new book on Mehdi Hasan, originally uploaded by Jahane Rumi.

My essay on Mehdi Hasan has been published in this book compiled by Asif Noorani Saheb. This is a memorable collection of essays, reminisces and two CDs of choicest music from Mehdi Hasan. The greatest of Pakistan music icons deserves much more but this little offering brought tears to his eyes. Here is an excerpt from the essay which I will post after a permission from the publishers:

“But this has been our tragic tradition. Our greatest artists, singers, poets and intellectuals have suffered at the hands of a conformist society and state captured by puritans especially since late 1970s. It is never too late for the intelligentsia of this country to mobilise public pressure on the state machinery so that it learns to respect cultural diversity and the imperative to nurture a creative, healthy and civilised society.
Tansen taught us how music is a route to immortality. An ailing Mehdi Hasan in 2010 is fighting with death. His longevity is ensured. Tansen must be proud of his new age prodigy. “

Outstanding rendition – Khwaja meray Khwaja

11 July 2010

This is a fabulous, almost flawless performance by Sreeram, an aspirant for the Indian Idol selection. Originally rendered by A R Rahman, this young talent has given a new dimension to this ode to South Asia’s celebrated saint Khawaja Muinduddin Chishty of Ajmer.

Khwaja Mere Khwaja By SHREERAM

Music sans frontiers

14 May 2010

by GEETA NANDAKUMAR

Song of the soul Farida Khanum

‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo, haaye mar jaayenge ham to lut jaaenge, aisii baatein kiyaa na karo’.
Strains of her most popular ghazal in all the grandeur of her voice wafted all over the room. Rehearsing for a concert organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the NGO ‘Routes to Roots’ at the FICCI auditorium in New Delhi this week, Pakistan’s legendary ghazal icon Farida Khanum, looked svelte and poised even in her 70s. She was busy chiding the tabla accompanist, asking him to tone down the percussion. “Flow gently with the music,” she told him. Turning to me with a welcoming smile and immense warmth, she said, “There is too much cacophony and too little mellifluous music these days. Often, I am completely put off by the raucous play of percussion and refuse to sing even in Pakistan.” The irritation was palpable. The rehearsal continued as I soaked in the rich voice. Music that is manna! Age has only added to the infinite variety of her music. Finally, she broke off and asked for another percussionist. (more…)

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