The Greatest of them all: Mehdi Hassan

Mehdi Hassan

Mehdi Hassa


In the same way that jazz is considered America’s greatest musical creation, the singers of the Indo-Pak Subcontinent, have given to the world the musical ghazal.  The poetic genre was actually born in Persia but it was the light classical singers of northern India, who grabbed the ghazal and breathed an unexpected vibrancy into its lines.


Among the many wonderful ghazal singers India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have produced, the artistry of Mehdi Hassan is universally acknowledged as simply the Best. He not only set the benchmark against which all subsequent ghazal singers would be judged, he shaped the very character of the genre. There are many different ways to sing a ghazal. Jagjit Singh’s approach is different from that of Ghulam Ali. Iqbal Bano’s style is nothing like that of Farida Khanum’s.  But all of these very accomplished artists would without any hesitation agree that Khan sahib Mehdi Hassan ji is the greatest ever.


Lata Mangeshkar, no slouch herself, has been reported to have said, ‘God lives in the voice of Mehdi Hassan.’


Mehdi Hassan died two years ago.  Born into a traditional family of Rajasthani singers, his family moved to the new country of Pakistan in August 1947. Although forever revered for his mastery of the ghazal, Mehdi Hassan’s voice adorned dozens of Pakistani films between the 1950s and 1980s.  Tonight, I am very very excited to share 5 volumes of some of the best and most loved of his film songs.  As with the rest of his mighty oeuvre these songs are marked by a graceful spirit, perfect annunciation and endless melodic imagination.


Here is a bit of his story in his own words.


I understood that though my training and practice was exclusively in classical singing that my voice was suited best for light classical, thumri, dadra, geet and filmi songs. Each of these has its own ‘line’ and ghazals in particular have a very particular line indeed.  My aim is to experience no obstacle to my singing, whatever the style.


In 1953 I sang for the film Shikar. Radio Pakistan Karachi asked me to sing for them. I went at 1000 am and sang classical, dhrupad, dhamar, khayal, ghazals, thumri, dadra and some Punjabi folk songs. By 500 pm they were still unable to categorise me! In the end they felt I was a classical singer and for six months I had a classical program in Karachi.


But I felt compelled and really wanted to sing light classical styles as well. Even though Begum Akhtar and Barkat Ali Khan had taken these styles to great heights, and no one has been able to equal them, I started really focussing on ghazals in particular. This was 53, 54 ,55…in those years.


But because my training was in classical and I sang mostly classical, I framed the ghazals within particular ragas.  Jhinjhoti and Pahadi and others. I wanted to make sure that whatever raga the ghazal was composed in, it would retain its integrity. I didn’t want people to say, ‘Oh he sings well but he’s messed up that raga’. So I paid special attention to both the ghazal and the raga. I wanted people to enjoy both. Or if they wanted one or the other they would be satisfied. And slowly my style became popular.


I was fortunate to have good mentors and guides when I started singing in Karachi, who really helped me to understand the ghazals and what they meant.  As a boy, though my family sang for maharajas, in Nepal and UP, I never got a good education.  I learned to read and speak Hindi and Sanskrit. When I came to Pakistan I picked up a bit of Urdu. But I had to really put my mind to understanding what each ghazal was about and then finding a raga whose mood would match its meaning.


I never thought of fame when I started out. I only felt I should be as successful as I can be in whatever I do. I have experience as a diesel mechanic and a degree in agriculture too! So, in singing it’s the same. I’m the first to really sing ghazals in a classical way and my purpose has been to do that the best. Each style of singing has its own demands. Even film songs, I have to know what the situation is on screen and in the story to get the right mood and feel for the song.


I love music. I don’t have many other hobbies. I love singing and music and like to spend time alone.


My elders really taught me how to sing. Of course there is God’s gift (talent) but then you have to work hard. As singing is all about breathing I would be put through the paces. I would have to do hundreds of sit ups and run 3-4 miles a day. In the evenings I would wrestle and my teachers would tell the wrestlers to not let me breathe!


My father and uncle, especially my uncle, were dhrupad singers. And wrestlers. To sing dhrupad you need lots of physical strength and stamina, so they used to wrestle too. Your voice, its sound, comes from God. But your breath and its control, your lungs, your chest, your mouth and nose, these are so important. I barely slept 4 hours a night. The rest of the time I was practicing singing or exercising in the wrestling pit.


The ragas, Malkauns, Bhairav/i, Megh etc, have been passed down through centuries…they haven’t changed. And that’s the basis of my singing. I’ve been able to sing ghazals so well for so long because of this foundation.


I don’t give ‘pure’ classical concerts because I’ve taken the essence of classical ragas and put them into the ghazals I sing.  My father taught me, when I was beginning to sing on the Radio,  ‘Prepare three of four raga based dhuns (tunes). When they gave you the poem to sing, see which of those ragas suit the words and start singing.’


I protested, ‘I’ll get kicked off the radio.’


‘No,’ he said.  ‘You have to feel the raga and sing it confidently and with an open heart and as you sing the music will come.’


Phrasing is so important. You cannot just breathe anywhere in a ghazal. You have to know where to break the line and where to start the next phrase.


Mehdi Hassan is the Frank Sinatra of the ghazal. His attention to phrasing, pristine annunciation and tasteful interpretation are unparalleled in the genre.  These many songs are ek se barh ke (each better than the last). It is hard to say, this one is special, compared to any other.  The collection is something to love and cherish and explore over many years.  I hope you do.


Track Listing:











Disc. 1.

aa roshneon ke

aaj tak yaad hai woh

buhut yaad aengay

cheer na hum

dil diya dard lia

hume koi gham

jab bhi chahai

jab koi pyaar se

kaise kaise loog

main jo shayar kabhi

mere dil ka taar

qeesa-e-gham main

tume mubarak naee

tunha thi aur tamasha

ye kaghaze phool

yeh wafa ka diya











Disc. 2

ab ke hum bichray

apnoon ne gham diye

dil buhut udaas hai

dil veeran hai teri yaad

duniya ko hum kya

ek bar chale aao

jo bazahir ajnabi

kabhi meri muhabbat

kaise jiyenge dard ke

mujhko awaaz do

nazaron bhari aahain

shikwa na kar

tumhe dekhon tumhare

ulfat ka sila

zindagi jaa chor de

zindagi main tu










Disc 3

aaj tu gair sahi

dil mian toofan chupai

ishq mera deewana

ishq sacha hai to phir

jisne mere dil ko

jo dard mila

kyoun humse khafa

kyoun poochte ho kya

mere humdum tujhe

mere pyar tere

muhabbat zindagi hai

mujhe tum nazar se

naina re naina

ranjish hi sahi

samne aake tujhko

tu hussan hi devi

tumhara aakhri karloon











Disc 4

bewafa kaun hai

duniya kisi ki pyar

ek naee moor

ek sitam aur meri jaan

ga mere deewane

ghar tum hassen

hamare dil se mat

jaan-e-jaan tu jo

jo mila usne

kaha jo marne

khuda kare muhabbat

mera imaan muhabbat

na koi gula hai

naam aye na

sulag raha hoon badlon

tere mere pyar ka

teri mehfil se yeh

yeh jhuke jhuke neegha













Disc 5

buhut khubsurat hai

ek hussan ki devi

hamare sansoon main

kabhi main sochta hoon

khene ko ye ek

main jis din bhula doon

mere sawne mehbooba

pyar bhare do sharmelee

rafta rafta woh mere

tere beghe badan ki

tere siwa duniya main

thera hai samaa

tujhe pyar karte karte

yeh duniya rahe na rahe

yeh tera aana




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