Talat Mahmood, the gentle, silken voiced ghazal master passed away nearly 20 years ago but remains a much loved voice among South Asian film and music fans. I wrote a piece on him several years ago which provides some basic biodata of this often overlooked playback singer.
Around the same time that I wrote that article I got my hands on this album but have hesitated to share it. Though the back cover gives a date of 1966 these tracks were clearly recorded much later. Probably in the mid-late 1980s would be my guess.
Mahmood‘s soft voice with its incredible capacity to emote melody and melancholy is instantly recognisable. Its a voice from a bygone era. But also gone is the strength and control. Talat sahib‘s voice wavers frequently and he struggles to hit notes that once came so effortlessly. From time to time he slips out of key. And for this reason I kept this record buried deep in my collection. I didn’t want to do a disservice to the once beautiful voice by sharing a record that was clearly far below the standard he himself set.
But perhaps because I have recently passed a certain chronological milestone myself I now think differently. We are familiar with the ‘official’ portraits of Queens, Prime Ministers and dictators which show them in that airbrushed eternal moment when they were 40. No matter that they are now twice as old and decrepit, it is this image we are supposed to remember.
I have always found this ridiculous.
Several years before the end of his fabled life Johnny Cash released a couple albums made when he was under real physical and emotional stress. That thunderous trumpet of a voice was now a hesitant near whisper. And yet if was full of power and conviction. And in its way a necessary part of his life’s work. When I listen to those last tracks I get a complete, honest picture of Cash. If I never moved beyond Folsom Prison Blues not only would I be missing out but I would be cheating Johnny himself. He was not ashamed of his state and never thought he should censor his voice. Why should I?
And so with Talat. He never made an excuse for not liking the direction—disco, rock n roll, electronic beats–Hindi film took in the 1980s. He settled into semi retirement and seemed content not to partake in the film world again. But as this record shows, he never gave up on the ghazal.
This is touching and humane record. A labor of love by Talat and his dear friend and collaborator, the arranger Enoch Daniels. It is a final hurrah of a master who is well aware of his limitations and the dimming of the day. But it also a triumph of passion. The much weakened but still vital roar of a lion in winter. And I am pleased at long last to finally share this collection of fine ghazals that should be part of every genuine Talat-lover’s collection.
01 Kahin Sher-o-Nagma Ban ke
02 Har Ek Mod se Milta Hai Rasta Koi
03 Ghazal ke Saaz Uthao
04 Dil Hi To Hai Na Aaye Kyon
05 Main Nazar Se Piraha Hun
06 Jo Tu Nahin To
07 Gulshan Mein Leke Chal
08 Mere Saqiya Mere Dilruba