Grace and Flow: Mehdi Hassan

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A little New Year’s gift for all the dear followers of Harmonium.

 

This album claims to capture Mehdi Hassan live in concert in New York. I find that to be a somewhat dubious statement as each track has a very ‘studio’ feel to it. Clean, sonically level and with none of the rough edges and spoken asides that accompany all live performances.

 

But I’m happy to be proven wrong.

 

Regardless of the veracity of the album’s title, the music is top quality. Mehdi’s tenor is suave and unforced. He delivers each ghazal with the panache of the supremely accomplished, hardly breaking a sweat. That doesn’t mean he is simply running through the material passion-baghair. Rather, he is at the top of his game. In the flow and full of grace.

 

And that seems to be a good attitude to possess as one year ends and another is soon to begin.

 

Happy New Year 2017. Thank you for dropping by from time to time!

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mh-in-ny-v-5-back

Track Listing:

01 Fitrat ka wo Paimana Bata Yaad Hahin Hai

02 Kabhi Kaha na Kisi Se Tere Fasane Ko Na Jane Kaise Khabbar ho Gayi Zamane Ko

03 Haath Men le ke Jam-e-mai Aaj Wo Muskara Diya

04 Gulon ki Baat Karo

05 Ajab Janoon-e-mussafat Mein Ghar se Nikla Tha

06 Yoon to Pahle Bhi Hui Us Se Kayi Baar Juda

07 Sehar Hoi Bhi to Ham ne Deeye Bhujai Nahin

MHv5NY

Overlooked Gem: S.B. John

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S.B (Sunny Benjamin) John is known in Pakistan primarily for his hugely popular song Tu Jo Nahin Hain from the film Savera (1959). It is a wonderful song with lyrics by Fayyaz Hashmi The song introduced John to a national audience. Critically acclaimed as one of the all time classics of Pakistani film music, John almost missed his date with destiny.

 

He had been down with the flu and fever for several days and only went to the audition on the insistence of a friend.  He apologised to the infamously moody music director Master Manzoor, “I’ve got a fever so won’t be able to sing well,” but Manzoor cut him off and told him to get on with it. After his rendition, Manzoor sat back stunned and exclaimed, “Where have you been all these years?”

 

History was made and a new voice was discovered.

With the advent of television in the mid-1960s, John commenced singing Christian hymns and carols every Christmas Eve, a tradition that has been embraced by the country’s Christian community.  In 2010, John was awarded Pakistan’s highest cultural award, the President’s Prize of Performance, for his outstanding services to music.

 

That most famous of his songs does NOT appear on this short collection. But I’m sure you will enjoy the music nonetheless. Every one of these songs is plump with melody. And John’s innately honeyed voice gives them that extra layer of cream that turns them into things of luxury.

 

I am taken by the difference in the timbre of John’s voice in these songs and Tu Jo Nahin Hain. The latter has him floating somewhere close to the sound of K.L Saigal—dark and heavy. (Perhaps it is was his ill health on the day that was the X factor!)

 

On these songs, John’s voice is like his name, sunny. He delivers each with a gentle and light touch that really is quite unique. I’ve not been able to identify any other male playback singer who has such a voice. There is a quality of openness and simplicity in it, no frills. But very pleasing. I’ve been listening to nothing but these songs for the past couple of weeks. They keep delivering.

 

For those of you who love ghazals, geets and filmi songs but looking for a rare, very overlooked voice, I commend this collection to you.

 

saza-e-jazbat-main

Track Listing

Dekha Unhain To Apni Tabiyat

Ik Khalish Ko Hasal Umre Rawan

Mehke Gaysoo Rangeen Anchal

Raaste Bandh Kiye Dete Ho

Sare Gilley Tamam Hooey

Saza E Jazbat Main

Soch Raha Hoon

SBJ

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

Rare Pressing: Mehdi Hassan

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It just so happened that a friend and former colleague messaged me one day. Her father was getting rid of his music collection and there was quite a bit of vinyl of old Indian and Pakistani music. Should she bring it down to Melbourne next time she was in town?

The gentleman in question, who has so kindly gifted these records to me, is a Sikh from the Chakwal area of Punjab in modern day Pakistan. At the age of 11 he was forced, like nearly every other Sikh in that part of the world, to flee with his family to India. The biggest transaction of human capital and one of the biggest human, not to mention political and cultural tragedies ever to visit any country was underway in the form of the Partition of British India.

Our hero studied agriculture in India but left for Australia to pursue graduate study while still just a young man. It was the 1950s. Australia’s infamously racist White Australia immigration policy was at its peak. How a turbaned Sikh managed to make it through the bureaucratic defense systems is a story I’ve yet to be told. [About 20 years later our art teacher at school, one of India’s finest talents, who was married to an Australian, struggled for years before he managed to get an entry visa!]

Once landed he married a Latvian woman, had a family of find Latvian-Punjabi-English speaking children and developed a career as an educationist in Queensland.

One day soon I hope to have the privilege to meet him in the flesh. I will thank him for his music collection and I hope he will tell me stories of pre Partition India and 1950s Australia.

It is a joy to share the first album from his collection.

This is a rare record in that there were probably no more than a few hundred pressed. Clearly the work of music fans and homesick immigrants, this record is entitled Latest Edition in Love and Romance. It is a collection of ghazals from the modern master of the form, Mehdi Hassan.

The label, Oscar Records, has a replica of the famous golden statuette as its logo. One can safely bet that the brains behind this effort was one Mr Asghar, whose enterprise, Asghar International also gets billing on the back of the album.

The vintage of the selected ghazals is well loved rather than rare. Mr Asghar appears to have had connections and good relations with executives of EMI, Pakistan, whom he thanks for their cooperation in producing the album.

A final note of interest is the label on the front of the album which indicates the record was purchased at Ambika’s Record Bar in Vancouver, British Columbia. So altogether, a well journeyed record/music: Pakistan, New York, Vancouver, Queensland and finally to my humble home in Melbourne.

I’ve cleaned the vinyl a bit but only minimally. It is in outstanding condition, considering its date of release (early-mid 80s, I would guess).

Mehdi Hassan latest edition front

Mehdi Hassan Latest edition back

Enjoy immensely.

Track Listing:

01 Jidhar Deedaye Jana Hongay

02 Hosh-e-hasti se begana banaya hota

03 Jal Bhi Chuke Parwane

04 Tere Zalim

05 Garche Sau Bar Gham-e-hijr se Jan Guzri Hai

MH