Bury Me with This Record: Jagjit and Chitra Singh

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Chitra and Jagjit Singh

This album is a desert island disc. A record I would take on my flight to Saturn or want buried with me when I pass on.   Every track is a thing of beauty and grace.

What follows is a remembrance from my old blog on the occasion of Jagjit’s death nearly 5 years ago.

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I discovered Jagjit Singh’s music when I returned home to Allahabad for a brief visit in the winter of 1983. This was the beginning of the cassette revolution in Indian music. A revolution that shook up the music industry lock, stock and barrel and broke the iron grip of a handful of record companies who seemed to think there were only two types of music: classical and Bombay filmi songs.

I was amazed to find small shops on every corner of Allahabad’s posh Civil Lines district selling hundreds of cassette tapes of a staggering array of musical styles: devotional music (qawwali, bhajans, kirtans) salacious pop music in local dialects and a few European/American pop bands. But by far the most popular form of music was something the shop keepers crudely called, ‘ghajal’ substituting the Sanskrit ‘j’ for the Arabic ‘z’.

From one shop came two of the most mellifluous voices I’d ever heard. They drew me inside instantly. In response to my question about who the voices belonged to I was handed several cassettes. On the cover were photos of what looked like a boring middle class couple called Jagjit and Chitra Singh. I bought all four and commenced one of the deepest love affairs of my life.

Ghazals like Us Mor Se Shuru Karein Phir yeh Zindagi (Let’s Begin Life Again from That Turning), Uski Baatein Bahaar ki Baatein (His Words are the Words of Spring), Kaun Kahta Hain (Who Says So?) and especially, Woh Kaghaz ki Kashti (That Paper Boat) became the soundtrack of my inner world. I sang them to myself daily. The tapes were constantly in my Walkman and I used each ghazal to improve my Urdu vocabulary, which as a graduate student in South Asian studies was a high priority.

Without a doubt the greatest thing about Jagjit Singh was his voice. It exuded calm, assurance and safety.  Like a father’s words of comfort, it delivered a totally unexpected gift–peace.  This is a rare quality in a singer. Sure the arrangements and instrumentation were tasteful, never outlandish or exotic, and that added to the restful aura of their music. But above all it was Jagjit’s voice that cut through whatever stress, whatever anxiety I was feeling and gently grazed my heart.

Jagjit and Chitra were probably the most famous Indian singing act in the 1980s and 1990s. They travelled the globe and sold millions of cassettes and records. Their leading contribution to the democratisation of the Indian music scene cannot be overstated. And without them elevation of the ghazal to the status of India’s most popular musical genre (after Bollywood) would have not happened.

In the mid 1990’s Chitra stopped singing publicly after the accidental death of her son. How, we all wondered, could Jagjit carry on without her? We all loved their intimate, intuitive and absolutely in-sync way of singing. I always felt that their love lyrics were sung to each other. Jagjit just wouldn’t be the same without ethereal Chitra. But he carried on and continued to find new fans and enthral us old ones.  He sang for films and in the later years experimented with some very modern studio-derived doodlings. But whatever he did he did with taste and integrity. And that warm soothing voice.

As I write I’m listening to one of my favourite J&C ghazals Manzil Na De Charagh Na De /Hosla to De (Give me not the destination nor the lamp/ Just give me courage).

Giving courage. That was the vocal legacy of the great Jagjit Singh.

Jagjit Chitra front

jagjit chitra back

Track Listing:

01 Ham To Yun

02 Kiya Hai Pyar Jise

03 Woh Dil Hi Kya

04 Sirf Shabnamhi

05 Uski Baten Bahar ki Baten

06 Mujhse Milne Ke

07 Chale Bhi Ao

08 Kaun Kahta Hai

Jacsg(HERE)

Mixed up Blue: Talat Mahmood

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An interesting album that immediately caught my eye. In a Blue Mood is a very western title. It would fit right in with the 1950s and early 60s trend of moody jazz album covers.

So right away, you see this album is marketed to a sophisticated cosmopolitan Indian audience. Perhaps the upper middle classes, the ones who had the disposable income for record players and LPs in a country and at a time when such things were the height of luxury. A class of people who rarely went to the cinema but who loved the music. A sort of people who probably had Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra records in their collections.

The color blue in Hindu color does not signify the same thing it does in English—sadness. Rather, blue is the colour of manliness and valour. Leadership. Recall the pictures of Krishna and Shiva, both often represented in blue and both icons of Hindu manliness.

But in keeping with the Western/jazz idea of blue, in this album each song is a sad one. Songs of broken hearts, tears, unrequited and rejected love. Talat Mahmood, the silky-voiced ghazal singer par excellence, renders each one with a vulnerability that you can almost touch. No one is able to voice the feelings of the dejected lover better than Talat. He conveys resignation but never bitterness; disappointment but never despair.

There are so many great tracks here but my favorite are Hain Sab Se Madhur Woh Geet (The Sweetest Song) and Sham-e-gham ki Qasm (The Sad Evening’s Promise).

TM Blue mood front

TM Blue mood back

 

01 Yeh Hawa Yeh Raat [Sangdil]

02 Main Dil Hu Ek Armaan Bhare [Anhonee]

03 Hain Sab Se Madhur Woh Geet [Patita]

04 Ae Gham-e-Dil [Thokar]

05 Husun Walon Ko [Babul]

06 Sham-e-gham ki Qasm

07 Meri Yaad Mein [Madhosh]

08 Ansu Samajh Ke [Chhaya]

09 Dekh Li Teri Khudai [Kinare Kinare]

10 Raat ne Kya Kya [Ek Gaon ki Kahani]

11 Ham se Aaya Na Gaya [Dekh Kabira Roya]

12 Main Pagal Mera Manwa Pagal [Ashiana]

BlueMood

New and Old Ghazals: Mohammad Rafi

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In 1976 things were not so cheery in India.

Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule was at its apogee. Sycophancy and sloganeering were the order of the day. Political dissent was forbidden. And, the general unruliness of life as lived in India was frowned upon.

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Of course, that has nothing to do with this record. Except in an indirect way. That no matter what politicians and dynasts do to try to cling to power, they all ultimately end up in the dustbin of history.

12 months later, in 1977, Indira was tossed out of office when she very injudiciously believed her own press releases and called a general election. So much for ‘More Work. Less Talk’ and mass sterilization campaigns!

What remains and will always remain is truth. As expressed in art. As expressed in music. As expressed in these eight massive ghazals which are brought to a soulful life by the inimitable Shri Mohammad Rafi.

Rafi sahib, like all the great play back singers of his generation, loved the opportunity to ‘stretch’ himself by getting away from film music.   Films made him his millions but as an artist there is a limit to how many variations on a theme you can credibly sing.

I have a number of records of non-filmi music by Lata, Asha and Rafi which I consider to be among their finest. Without the contraints and pressures to deliver to a specific formula for a specific scene in a specific film by a specific music director, you can sense the freedom and joy in their voices.

On this record Rafi renders on Side 1 four ghazals by contemporary poets such as Sudarshan Faakir and Shamim Jaipuri.   Faakir’s lyrics in particular are ones I’ve admired for many years.   Ek Hi Baat Zamane ki Kitabon Mein Nahin, (The One Thing that Will Not be Found in the books of history) the last track on Side 1, seems especially appropriate to the spirit of 1976. All the things that will not be written in this books of history.

 jo gam-e-dost me nasha hai sharabo me nahi 

(The buzz from wine can not be compared to the intoxication of friends’ sorrow)

That line can be read as a boozer’s lament, but also as a comment on the profound tragedy of lost friendships, something that divisive period of Indian history delivered in spades.

Side 2 is a quartet of classic ghazals from some of the greatest Indian poets, including Ghalib, Mir and Dagh Dehlvi. All of them are wonderful. Taj Ahmed Khan the music arranger has done an outstanding job making sure to give Rafi’s voice just the instrumental and rhythmic support it needs to shine. My favorite is the opening track on Side 2

Haae Mehman Kahan Yeh Gham-e-Jaana Hoga which is full of blue notes and mournful glissandos.

The record is a treasure. I am grateful to Balkar Bains of Queensland for his gift.

 

rafi ghazal front

rafi ghazal back

 

Track Listing:

01 Falsafe Ishq Mein Pesh Aaye Sawalon ki Tarah [Sudarshan Faakir]

02 Talkhi-e-Mae Mein Zara Talkhi-e-Dil Bhi Gholen [Krishen Adeeb]

03 Kitni Rahat Hai Dil Toot Jane ke Baad [Shamim Jaipuri]

04 Ek Hi Baat Zamane ki Kitabon Mein Nahin [Sudarshan Faakir]

05 Haae Mehman Kahan Yeh Gham-e-Jaana Hoga [Dagh Dehlvi]

06 Diya Yeh Dil Agar Usko Bashar Hai Kya Kahiye [Mirza Ghalib]

07 Dil ke Baat Kahi Nahin Jati [Mir Taqi Mir]

08 Na Shauq-e-vasl-ka Dawa [Ameer Minai]

RafiGhaz

West of Bollywood: Film Songs of Pakistan

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Everyone knows Noor Jehan, arguably the finest female popular voice to emerge from the subcontinent in the last century. But many of the singers on this excellent collection remain unknown beyond the borders of Pakistan. This is sad because the likes of Salim Raza, S.B. John and Naseem Begum, each with distinctive sounds deserve much wider appreciation.

 

The film industry of Pakistan, centered around Lahore and Karachi, but also Dhaka until 1971, has rightly or wrongly been ignored by the outside world. Even within Pakistan there are few these days that express as deep an affection for the films, actors and singers of Lollywood as they do for India’s glimmering gallery.

 

You won’t be able to tell if the movies that these songs were part of were any good until you watch them. I’ve seen a couple and they are not bad. The real lo-fi standards of film making were still a decade and a half or more in the future when these films were released. But listen to these songs and tell me if you think they are any less beautiful than what was coming out of Bombay at the same time.

 

Zindabad!

pak film front

pak film back

Track Listing:

01 Jalte Hain Armaan [Anarkali] (Noor Jehan)

02 Too Jo Nahin Hai [Savera] (SB John)

03 Aaye Mausam Rangile [Saat Lakh] (Zubeida Khanum)

04 Shah-e-Madina [Noor-e-Islam] (Salim Raza)

05 Too Lakh Chale Ri [Gumnaam] (Iqbal Bano)

06 Nighahen Mila Kar [Mehboob] (Noor Jehan)

07 Chandni Raaten [Dopatta] (Noor Jehan)

08 Tum Zindagi Ko [Dopatta] (Noor Jehan)

09 Yaaro Mujhe Muaaf [Saat Lakh] (Salim Raza)

10 Raj Dularay [Naukar] (Kausar Parveen)

11 Mudat Hui Hai Yaar [Ghalib] (Noor Jehan)

12 Ae Mard-e-Mujahid [Changez Khan] (Inayat Bhatti)

13 Ham Bhool Gaye Har [Saheli] (Naseem Begum)

14 Ulfat ki Nai Manzil Ko [Qatil] (Iqbal Bano)

Lollywood

Two in One: Suraiya

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Filmstars, as everyone knows, command the adulation of vast numbers of fans. Film singers have an equally worshipful following. But what happens if you have a filmstar and as singer rolled into one? Especially, if the two-in-one rarity comes in the form of a wowful, big big eyed woman with a voice that does things to your heart?

Suraiya was such a phenomenon. She still is—the same melting eyes and delicate shapeliness, the same languorous silky voice. This makes her decision to withdraw from the films all the more enigmatic and regretful to her countless fans.

She is still so svelte and sprightly that it is difficult to believe she had already acted and sung in over a hundred films before she called it a day a couple of years ago. But then, she came to the films as Baby Suraiya, so that she had attained that tally at an a age at which most others begin their careers. This explains why those who surmise her age on the basis of the length of her career are bound to be astounded by her youth.

An unrivalled topper throughout her sojourn in the films, Suraiya was the favorite singer of all the reigning music directors, the great masters who have since become legendary names, and the chosen heroine of all leading men of the day. She has emoted a vastly varied range of moods both through histrionics and singing with equal grace and success. Here memorable castings with that fabulous artiste, the late K.L. Saigal, was the most natural thing that people expected to happen.

And yet, this unassuming and coy lady remains surprisingly modest. “I never considered myself a great artiste—certainly not a good singer. With no training in music at all I sang because in those days it was the vogue for all heroines to sing their own songs. I don’t know why people liked my voice.” Well, we don’t join issue with a lady and so would let the twelve songs featured on this disc speak for themselves. (Liner Notes)

With this brilliant, pithy and snappy piece of copy, some unknown writer summed up the brilliance of Suraiya.

The third album from the Balkar Bains Collection of old vinyl that has come my way in recent days. Another cracker!

Everything is wonderful

suraiya front

suraiya back

Track Listing:

01 Murliwale Murli Baja [Dillagi]

02 Bigadi Bananewale Woh Pass Rahe [Bari Bahen]

03 Woh Pass Rahe [Bari Bahen]

04 Nain Diwane [Afsar]

05 Jab Tum hi Nahi [Parvana]

06 O Dur Jane Wale [Pyar ki Geet]

07 Man Mor Hua Matwala [Afsar]

08 Ho Likhne Wale Ne [Bari Bahen]

09 Tere Nainon [Pyar ki Jeet]

10 Nirala Mohabbat ka [Dillagi]

11 Dharakte Dil ki Tamanna [Shama]

12 Mere Mundere na Bol [Parvana]

Suraiya