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

Ghazal Queen: Iqbal Bano

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Iqbal Bano

 

I read an amazing article this morning. It is an exposition on the ghazal, its dominant status in the world of serious Pakistani music and its sublime ability to express the deepest feelings of both the human and divine heart. The article includes a number of ghazalein that are interpreted by qawwals as well as ghazal singers and is definitely worth 20 minutes of your time. In fact, almost everything the writer Musab bin Noor does is worth reading.

 

As I listened to the ghazalein and reflected on the article (so full of information) my mind turned towards Iqbal Bano one of the subcontinent’s most accomplished singers who awed, excited and challenged her audience for half a century. This obituary from The Guardian provides an excellent summation of her life.

 

Indeed, with two outstanding pieces of writing like these there is little need for me to stumble around for words that do justice to the artistry of this important musical voice.

 

This selection of ghazalein is another of the gems from the treasure chest of Radio Pakistan archival material released in a massive 57 CD box set under the name Music Pakistan. If you’ve been following me around the net for the last several years you no doubt have heard of this collection. The more I listen to these CDs the more I appreciate just what a massive contribution to music they are.

 

A few years ago I wrote a piece on Iqbal Bano and shared another CD from this collection, of her singing thumris. If you’re interested I’ve updated the link there and you can enjoy that set as well!

Iqbal Bano vol 1 copy

Iqbal Bano vol 1_0001 copy

Track Listing

01 Hum baagh-e-tamanna mein

02 Ub kay hum bichhray

03 Jaaenge jeete ji

04 Tu bahar-e-naghma-e-nur

05 Mohabbat karne wale

06 Kitni taskin hai wabasta

07 Woh is ada se jo aaye

08 Ishq minnat kash-e-qarar nahin

09 Laayi hyat aaaye qaza10 Mujhe su bhula chuke hain

11 Diya hai dil agar us ko

12 Kab therega dard

13 Jis tarah tund hawa

14 Koi had nahin

Iqbal

Lost Heiress: Mehnaz Begum

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Some of you may know that I am currently writing a book on Lollywood, the not-very-original sobriquet for the movie making industry of Pakistan based in Lahore.

 

As I continue to dig and uncover more information about this rather unknown industry and cultural enterprise I am discovering all sorts of new singers, composers and musicians.* Or re-discovering some that I knew a bit about previously but hadn’t necessarily associated with filmi music.

 

Mehnaz Begum is one such artist and it is a great privilege to share with you some of her wonderful singing in this post.

 

Mehnaz Begum was born (1950) into a family which had a very particular musical heritage. As the Mughal Empire began to weakened after the death of Aurangzeb Alamgir, who exhausted its authority with incessant expansionary wars in the Deccan, smaller principalities and ‘kingdoms’ across the subcontinent began to exert power in their regions. One of the most important and prosperous of these was Avadh, which had its capital in the city of Lucknow. The Avadhi rulers were Shi’a, a major branch of Islam that pays special allegiance to the Prophet’s (PBUH) son-in-law Ali and grandson Hussain. Significant ritual and spiritual space is given to commemorating the

Martyrdom of the latter at Karbala [present day Iraq] during the month of Moharrum.

 

Two distinct but related forms of artistic expression developed in Avadh that were used to accompany Shi’a religious practices: marsiya and soz khwani. Marsiya is elegiac poetry recited in praise of Hussain and other Shi’a martyrs. The poems are recited or sung a cappella and solo as inspiration for the faithful to persevere in their spiritual lives. Generally, marsiya is classified as a poetic, rather than musical genre.

 

Soz khwani is a modified and refined form of marsiya. An innovation of the 19th century it is a consciously melancholy music and as such, and given the occasion, it is considered jayiz (permitted) by Shi’a orthodoxy. Unlike marsiya soz khwani involves [the] singing of poetic content without instrumental or rhythmic support, but a group of accompanying vocalists hums along [with] the lead singer, maintaining emphasis in the ground notes of the composition and producing a drone-like effect that helps the lead singer to stay on pitch.  (The Last Avadhi Songstress by Sheraz Hyder, TFT Feb01-07, 2013)

 

Interestingly, the Nawabs of Avadh not only tolerated women singers but actively encouraged a cohort of females to perform soz khwani for the royal women. Mehnaz’s mother, Kajjan Begum, was one of these. She grew up and was trained in the feudal estate of the raja of Mahmoodabad in Avadh by her mother Imam Bandi one of the first Indian singers to be recorded in the early 20th century. Though Imam Bandi and Kajjan Begum and other female soz khwan were primarily trained in the signing of lamentations they also became well versed in other forms such as thumri, dadra, Banarsi ang, tappa and hori.

 

When Mehnaz came on the scene in the mid-1970s, primarily as a playback singer for films, her early exposure to such a rich tradition and lineage of music, allowed her to find an audience as a ghazal singer as well. That she was successful in both spheres—film and ghazal—is an impressive testament of her talent, for in films she had to contend with the iconic Madam Noor Jehan and in ghazal with the storied voices of Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanum.

 

As I’ve listened to her with more intent in the past few weeks I am coming to the conclusion that Mehnaz’s voice is one of the most beautiful and pleasing I’ve heard. It is full of melody, lilt and a deceptive softness that is actually power under masterful control.

 

The collection of ghazals I share today is one of the fabulous (and now out of print) 57 CD Box Set of Pakistani music produced by Shalimar Records. According to critics and fans with more awareness and experience than myself this particular CD also contains some of the best examples of popular ghazal singing ever recorded.

Mehnaz Begum Mehnaz Begum_center

Mehnaz Begum_back

Track Listing:

01 Kaise Kaise Khwab

02 Ishq jab Zum Zama

03 Jo Dil mein Khatakti

04 Ab Dekhiye kiya Haal

05 Shaheed e Ishq Hue

06 Zahir ki Aankh

07 Lutf Woh Ishq Mein

08 Rang batain karein

09 Tu Uroose Shaam

10 Hazar Gardish Sham O Sahar

11 Kissi ki Yaad Ko Dil

12 Be tabiye Dil

13 Gham mujhe

14 Garehe So bar

15 Ashk aankhon mein

16 Ho teri yaad ka

 

Mehnaz

 

*I have another blog where I share music that is specific to Pakistani films which I invite you to enjoy.

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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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

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.

 

rafi ghazal front

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