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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Talat saaz back 904

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. 7: Yaman/Kalyani

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This volume of variations on raga Yaman opens with a modern jazz-influenced rendition by the Neel Murgai Ensemble.  A New York based ‘chamber’ quartet led by sitarist Murgai, NME creates intricate, finely spiced musical atmospheres that draw on Indian classical, jazz, and gypsy music.

Also included is bansuri master Pannalal Ghosh‘s beloved Yaman, a couple of film songs from Umrao Jan Ada (1981) and Junglee (1961), Farida Khanum’s spectacular romantic ghazal Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah as well as interpretations in a Western classical and contemporary jazz setting.

Yaman, also known as Kalyani, is by Indian classical music standards a relatively un-ancient raga. It first emerged in the 16th century with some claiming it was a composition of Mian Tansen and that he based it upon a Persian structure known as ‘Ei Man’. In Pakistan and Afghanistan the raga is often referred to as Eeman (in many varied spellings) and I have concluded this collection with a wonderful Afghan take on the raga  by Ustad Mohammad Omar, the famous rubab player.

Yaman emerged from the parent musical style of Kalyan, itself a style of classical Carnatic musical tradition called thaat. Considered to be one of the most fundamental ragas in the Hindustani Classical tradition, it is thus often one of the first ragas taught to students. In the context of traditional standards of performance, Yaman ragas are considered suitable to play at any time of the day, but they are traditionally performed in the evening. (Wikipedia).

Given its close relationship to Carnatic music the centerpiece of this collection is a stunning live recital by South Indian/Sri Lankan violinist L. Subramaniam and shenai nawaz Ustad Bismillah Khan. Listen carefully to this piece and to the playfulness, mastery and virtuosity of both musicians as they play off each other. It delights and enshivers!

Rudresh Mahantappa‘s group Dakshina Ensemble which features South Indian saxophone innovator Kadri Gopalnath and Pakistani American guitar whiz Rez Abbasi also explores the Carnatic original in their massive track Kalyani.

I hope you enjoy this collection as much I do!

Yaman

Track Listing:

01 Evening In A_ Raga Yaman [Neel Murgai Ensemble]

02 Raga Yaman [Pannalal Ghosh]

03 Zindagi Jab Bhi [Talat Aziz]

04 Raga Yaman [L Subramaniam and Bismillah Khan]

05 Yaman Kalyan (Largo moderato)[ Zubin Mehta and Ravi Shankar]

06 Ehsan Tera Hoga Mujhpar [Mohmmad Rafi]

07 Raga Emen Kalyan [Pt. Pratap Narayan and Kankana Banerjee]

08 Kalyani [Rudresh Mahantappa and Dakshina Ensemble]

09 Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah [Farida Khanum]

10 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of Emen (Yaman) [Ustad Mohammad Omar]

YAMAN

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

Good evening Madam: South Asian Mixtape

IMG_9071 There is a man named Firoz Juma who has a truly amazing collection of South Asian music. Tonight’s post, is one he called Adaab Arz, Begum Sahiba (Greetings, Respected Madam!). I’ve changed the cover art but the selection of tracks is his alone. Mostly semi-classical and mostly from the 1940s and 1950s, the selection covers the icons of India and Pakistan including Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Noor Jehan, K.L. Saigal, Nazakhat and Salamat Ali Khan, Mai Bhagi, Jhutika Roy and on and on.

 

Hats off to Juma sahib, wherever he may reside!

 

Track Listing:

01 Aye Raushniyon Ka Sheher [Faiz Ahmed Faiz]

02 Raag Bhopali [Zohra Bai]

03 Shala Jawaniyan [Noor Jehan]

04 Aao Kanga Kar Gal [Bhagat Kunwar Ram]

05 Mein Kiya Janu Kiya [K.L. Saigal]

06 Khari Neem Khe Neeche [Mai Bhagi]

07 Ghonghat Pat Khol [Jhutika Roy]

08 Tu Kaunsi Badli May [Noor Jehan]

09 Ye Raaten [Pankaj Mullick]

11 Maru Bhaya (Marvi) [Ustad Manzoor Ali Khan]

12 Dhun On Iktara [Saeen Marna]

13 Rakhial Shah Rano [Fakir Ghulam Haider]

14 Awaz De Kahan [Noor Jehan and Surendar]

15 Yahan Badla Wafa Ka [Mohammad Rafi and Noor Jehan]

16 Sawan Ke Badlo [Ustad Nazakhat Ali Khan]

17 Saiyan Bina Ghar (Thumri) [Ustad Salamat Ali Khan]

18 Yaro Mujhe [Salim Raza]

19 Saaghar Royeh [Noor Jehan]

20 Pere Pawandi San [Sushila Mehtani]

21 Us Bewafa Ka Shehar [Naseem Begum]

22 Bhole Se Bhi [Suraiyya Multani]

23 Mujhe Tum [Mehdi Hassan]

♪♫★

Just a Harmonium Player: Naushad

Naushad

 

We regularly speak of Bollywood music as if it was a single sort of thing.  Far too often, the phrase is a coded reference for the big-name playback singers, Saigal, Lata, Noor Jehan, Rafi and Mukesh.  And in the popular imagination (certainly in my own naïve one) the beautiful hits of Bombay’s Golden Era have (wrongly) become almost exclusively associated with the singers who brought them to life for the actors and scenes on screen.

 

But before Rafi or Lata or Shamshad Begum got to the studio the song had been conceived, composed, scored and lyrics written by others.  These men (sadly few women have found space in this particular arena) were known as the Music Directors and as far as the film producers were concerned they were as important, if not more so, than the playback singers. Their names came up in the credits before the singers and usually in bigger letters.  The Music Directors had their favourite poets and writers whom they tapped for lyrics to match the melodies. Indeed, by the 1950s, after the first generation of Indian talkies had passed, several composer-writer teams emerged who worked exclusively together: Shankar-Jaikishan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji being the most popular.

 

Today we tell the story of Naushad Ali, one of the truly great men not just of Hindi cinema but of Indian popular culture.  Though not the first important composer of film music–Ghulam Haider,  Pankaj Mullick and others composed the first great music of South Asian film–Naushad is regarded as standing head and shoulders above his peers during the peak of his creative life.

 

A Muslim boy from Lucknow, Naushad had a family that did not support his love of music. To find relief he ran away to the local equivalent of the circus, the nautanki. A popular form of travelling folk theatre that mixed bawdy song, folk tales and religious guidance, nautanki was until the near total domination of culture by cinema, village India’s main form of entertainment.

 

During this informal apprenticeship, he honed his skills on the harmonium (which he also repaired for additional income) and other instruments.  During his time in Lucknow he watched small teams of musicians compose the ‘soundtrack’ to silent films at the Royal Theatre an experience that proved invaluable to the development of his own career as a composer. The musicians would watch the film through, talking to themselves and making notes about what instruments and sounds would work in which scene. Then when the audience came in they would play their ideas live as the reels rolled!

 

The young Naushad set up his own company, the Windsor Entertainers (he liked the ring of the English name) and after some formal training with a local maestro was confident enough to hang out his shingle as a composer.  But Lucknow was an inhospitable place to make a career given his family’s opposition. So, like so many others seeking Lady Fortune’s hand, he made his way to Bombay.

 

It was not easy. He slept on the streets for months, composing music that was rejected by the studios or that failed to make an impression on the public. He earned little more than Rs.50 a month. Yet, he managed to compose for nearly a dozen films and even had the backing of the successful composer Khemchand Prakash but the ‘hit’ eluded him.  In 1944 the Lady smiled.  With the film Rattan Naushad’s music for the songs Akhiyan Milake and Milke bicchad gayi akhiyan smashed through.  He now charged Rs25,000 a film!  The film had cost just Rs. 75,000 to make but the record of the music itself grossed Rs. 3 million! And this is time when record players and recorded music was accessible to the very  thinnest slice of Indians.

 

Naushad Ali, the harmonium repair man from Lucknow, was now a star.  But when he returned home to get married, he was unable to tell his father and uncles that the music blasting from the loudspeakers was in fact his handiwork.

 

Naushad’s music is steeped in Hindustani classical traditions; many of his great hits are based on ragas.  His years as a travelling musician had taken him all across the plains of northern India where his acute ear had picked up folk rhythms and melodies. Like his Lahori peer, Ghulam Haider, he filled his music with these folk elements, giving his music its distinctive feel.  And though he was steeped in the traditions of north Indian music he was not averse to experimenting with western instruments. It is to Naushad that credit is given for introducing the accordion and clarinet to Hindi film music.

 

Naushad and Rafi

Naushad and Rafi

Naushad not only had an ear for a good folky riff but was an outstanding assessor of talent. His ‘discovery’ of the singer Suraiyya in the 1940s shot her to fame.  And though he worked with everyone from Ameerbai, Shamshad Begum and Noor Jehan, his most memorable work was reserved for the voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi, who were launched to the dizzy heights of all India fame on the back of Naushad’s music.

 

The number of iconic films Naushad scored is staggering: Mother India, Mughal-e-Azam, Baiju Bawra, Andaaz, Deedar, Ganga Jumna to name just a few.  The massive success of Baiju Bawra marked the pinnacle of his folk-music phase, henceforth, his music would be known for its elegant and rich classical undertone and nuances.

 

The Age of Naushad stretches from 1944-1960 a sixteen-year period when no one could come close to his accomplishments. Yet as the 60s brought new sensibilities and a fresh generation of composer willing and eager to introduce western dance, baila, jazz and even rock music into the mix, Naushad was increasingly marginalised.  And though his star faded and was completely extinguished in 2006, his reputation and contribution to the development of what we now all refer to as Bollywood music is universally acknowledged and praised.

 

Enjoy this slice of early Bollywood music from the masterful Naushad.

 Naushad Naushad_0001

            Track Listing;

AAJ KI RAAT MERE DIL KI SALAMI LELE

AAJ PURANI RAAHON SE

AAJA MERI BARBAD MOHABBAT KE SAHARE

AAYE NA BALAM WADA KARKE

AYE HUSN ZARA JAAG TUJHE ISHQ

BETAAB HAI DIL

DHOONDO DHOONDO RE SAJNA

DIL KI MEHFIL SAJI HAI CHALE AAIYE

DIL-E-BETAB KO SEENE SE LAGANA

DO HANSON KA JODA

DO SITARON KA ZAMEEN PAR

DUKH BHARE DIN BEETE RE BHAIYA

DUNIYA NE TERI DUNIYA WALE

GAAYE JA GEET MILAN KE

GIN GIN TARE

HAMEEN SE MUHABBAT

INSAAF KA MANDIR HAI YEH

JAB USNE GESU BIKHRAYE

KAL KE SAPNE AAJ BHI AANA

KOI MERE DIL MEIN

KOI SAGAR DIL KO BAHLATA NAHIN

KYUN UNHEN DIL DIYA

MAIN DIL MEIN DARD BASA LAAI

MARNA TERI GALI MEIN

MERE JEEVAN SAATHI

MERI KAHANI BHOOLNE WALE

MIL MIL KE GAAYENGE

MORE SAIYAN JI UTRENGE PAAR

PANCHHI BAN MEIN

TARARI TARARI

TASVEER BANATA HOON TERI

TERE SADKE BALAM

TERI MEHFIL MEIN KISMAT AZMAKAR

TU GANGA KI MAUJ

TU MERA CHAND

TUJHE KHO DIYA HUMNE PANE KE BAAD

TUMHARE SANG NAIN BHI CHALOONGI

YEH GOTEY DAR LAHENGA

ZINDAGI AAJ MERE NAAM SE

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