Lion in Winter: Talat Mahmood

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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.

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Track Listing:

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

Lion

Ragamala Vol. 6: Bhimpalasi

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Way back in 2013 I began this Ragamala series.  I wanted to collect a variety of tracks from diverse genres that were based upon or direct interpretations of particular ragas.  I have to confess that despite many years of listening to South Asian classical music my ear is still as wooden as when I began to seriously pay attention to khyaldhrupad and other forms of classical music.  I think I can identify Malkauns but that’s about it.

I feel terrible about this. Surely, I should be more competent and clever. But each time I try to read anything about the structure of ragas the better to tune my ear, my eyes glaze over and my mind closes up shop.  There is simply too much new vocabulary to learn and I’m not sure how much such knowledge would increase my listening pleasure.

Of more interest to me is the mood each raga attempts to induce in the listener. I like to see if it works on me, and I’m happy to report that Bhimpalasi does.

Bhimpalasi is an afternoon to early evening raga. A time of day that for most modern families is stressful. Kids back home from school. Commotion all over the place and pots and plates banging in the kitchen.

They say this raga speaks to the melancholy, sad aspects of the human soul. And in so doing, is effective for the release of stress and anxiety. Some recommend Bhimpalasi as part of the treatment for depression.

I began this weekend listening to Ali Akbar Khan‘s interpretation from his Bangla Desh album (1972).  I’ve since listened to it a couple more times and this afternoon let Saskia Rao’s doleful cello sink slowly beneath the skin.   And I am proud (and surprised) to report I feel absolutely peaceful, light and relaxed.

There are some very nice interpretations here.  Lata sings two film songs (one composed by SD Burman, the other by Madan Mohan) including one of my all-time favorites, Khilte Hain Gul Yahan. An enigmatic early fusion/jazz group from the UK give us Bhimpalazi (1969) and Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan contribute two straight-ahead versions on sitar and sarod, respectively. The Dutch cellist Saskia Rao shows how beautifully that instrument fits into the Indian soundscape and finally, Mehdi Hassan gives us a filmi ghazal from Azmat (1973).

PEACE. SUKOON. SHANTI.

Bhimpalasi

Track Listing:

01 Raga Bhimpalasi [Ali Akbar Khan]

02 Nainon Mein Badra Chaaya [Madan Mohan and Lata Mangeshkar]

03 Bhimpalazi (Looking Eastward to the Blues) [Indo-Jazz Ensemble]

04 Raga Bhimpalasi [Ravi Shankar]

05 Khilte Hain Gul Yahan [SD Burman and Lata Mangeshkar]

06 Bhimpalasi Alap Jod Jhala [Saskia Rao]

07 Zindagi Main To Sabhi Pyar Kiya Karte Hai [Mehdi Hassan]

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Lucknow’s Great Son: Naushad Ali

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Naushad Ali

Naushad Ali of Lucknow was arguably the first giant of Hindi film music. Not as a singer, but as an inventive composer and arranger.

His sound is instantly recognizable for its deep connection to the folk music of north India and especially the Gangetic plain. Flutes, matkas (clay pots) and other folk instruments embellish his compositions like  glimmering light off a paddy field.

Responsible for the music of so many classics he is one of those of whom it can be honestly said, ‘his music was the soundtrack to an entire generation’. Indians who came of age in the first 2 decades after Independence will probably save the sweetest corner of their hearts for his music.

Naushad was a sharif Musalman. A man of great taste and dignity and culture he also brought a deep love and understanding of raga based melodies into his film scores.

Here is a collection of some of his greatest hits sung by voices as diverse as Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh, Suraiya and Shamshad Begum. Thank you to Mr Balkar Bains (once again!) for the gift of this wonderful LP.naushad-front

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Track Listing

01 Jawan Hai Mohabbat [Anmod Ghadi]

02 Bachpan ke Din [Deedar]

03 Murliwale Murli Baja [Dillagi]

04 Gaya Ja Geet Milan Ke [Mela]

05 Dil Toote Na [Andaz]

06 Panchhi Ban Mein [Babul]

07 Chhod Babul ka Ghar [Babul]

08 Aja Meri Barbad-e-Mohabbat [Anmol Ghadi]

09 Maan Mera Ehsan [Aan]

10 Sawan ke Badala [Rattan]

11 Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki [Dulari]

12 Jhoom Jhoom ke Nacho [Andaz]

Naushad

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).

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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.

 

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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