I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Sunday, September 9, 2007

...Of Me And The Greatest Singer In The World

Pavarotti died last week,aged 71."Big Luciano" was the greatest living singer in the world,they said.A gentle giant,the "Man OfThe High Cs" had delighted audiences around the world with his operatic feats.They called him the liberator of the opera,Caruso for the masses,the greatest singer you'll ever hear..

The greatest singer I'll ever hear ??

Can't agree with that one.I have heard a greater singer,but only one...

Roy Orbison....close.
Billie Holiday....hmm.
Elvis Presley....near.
Mehdi Hasan....almost there.
Dylan...no,serously ?

Nope,it isn't one of these spellbinding crooners,it's a barber's son from the Punjab,and his name is Rafi.


Mohammad Rafi,to be precise.The greatest singer I've ever heard,and ever expect to hear for that matter.


The first time I heard him ??

Can't remember,probably waaay back when God was stuffing my oversized soul (if you can call it that) in a body (a very loose way of describing it) three sizes too small.For as long as I can remember,Rafi's been the ONE SINGER for me.As I sit here listening to him,faint memories appear.Me singing "Chaudhvin Ka Chand" as I come out of the loo and the whole family gaping at this towsled,nine year old Son of Belial,their minds filled with the thoughts of the horrible excesses to come.Sixth grade,school bus,kids laughing themselves silly as I try to do a "Shammi Kapoor Shake",singing "Baar Baar Dekho".


Everywhere,in my house,in the orange groves back in Sargodha,in hospitals,on deathbeds,in my hostels(as my long-suffering dorm mates can testify),I've had Rafi songs on my lips.What is it about this man,short,slightly dumpy,bowlegged and balding,that's ruled my mind for ages and ages...


Well,for one thing,it's the person behind the voice.


Born in 1924 to a barber in Amritsar,he was discovered singing,as the apocryphal story goes,while cutting hair in front of Government College Lahore.Whatever the truth may be,he was one helluva discovery.From his debut in 1946,Jugnu I think it was,or Anmol Ghari maybe,he was immediately noticed.As the forties rolled on to the fifties,he slowly gained clout in a very competitive field of Playback singers.There are six giants in the field of male Playback singing in the golden days of Indian cinema;Talat Mehmood,Rafi,Hemant Kumar,Mukesh,Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey,each one a giant.As the decade started,it was Mukesh and Talat who ruled the roost.But by it's end Rafi had supplanted them,and was the undisputed King.


The sixties were HIS DECADE,with each and every film having at least two or three of his songs.The gems produced in this ten year span are impossible to count,each one better than the last.An innumerable number of music directors,actors and film makers got their breaks because of him.From O.P Nayyar's surprisingly modern scores to Naushad's towering classical compositions.From Shankar-Jaikishan's orchestral odysseys to Salil Chowdary's unbelievably complex tunes,Rafi's voice graced them all.Then there were the leading men,Shammi Kapoor,Dilip Kumar,Bharat Bhushan,Manoj Kumar,you can only think of them singing in Rafi's voice if singing at all.Even Raj Kapoor and Amitabh Bacchan,for whom the voices of Mukesh and Kishore Kumar respectively seemed tailor-made,have a couple of Rafi songs picturized on them,and his voice fits them perfectly.


As the sixties ended,a number of factors lead to a sharp decrease in Rafi's songs.The older heroes had aged,the music had changed,Kishore Kumar had found his element(and what element that was!).And there was a Hajj pilgrimage where he was told against singing so he went off to London for a rather long sabbatical.Whatever the reason,Rafi gradually faded from the scene,singing an occasional tune,until 1976.That was when he returned,his voice unravaged by the absence,instead,possessing a sharpness that hadn't been there before.There were new,younger leading men,the music was just right and the hits started flowing again.With songs like "Kya Hua Tera Waada","Chaand Mera Dil" and "Dard-e-Dil",he took India by storm yet again.And just as the comeback was kicking into high gear,he died.A massive heart attack and the great voice was silenced at the rather young age of 56.

As a person,well... Simple,pure-hearted,always with a smile on his face.Talking with a gentle rustic accent,this shy family man was almost too nice to survive in the cut-throat world of Indian cinema...

Rare Interview


The voice now.


How can one man sound drunk,giggly,heartbroken,sly,indifferent,pleading,appeasing,humble,proud and God-knows-what,almost at will ? That's what he did,over and over.With a voice in turns like a slow moving majestic glacier,a rowdy bar-night,a sharp sword point and a hundred other things.I once heard somebody describe is as "honey slowly flowing on the edge of a knife".The low notes,where an average singer's voice gets lost in his underthingies,Rafi just effortlessly glided past.And on the high notes,well that's a whole different story.


There's this story about the recording session for "O Duniya Ke Rakhwaale",the notoriously difficult Naushad masterpiece from "Baiju Bawra".It has some pretty high notes in some very unconvenient places,and in the end is the big lollalpaloosa.A long C-note that would give any singer a rupture that would put to an end any hopes he might have had about raising children (recurring topic,ain't it Dr. Freud?).The story goes that when Rafi hit that final note,Naushad had to put a hand to Rafi's throat for fear he might injure it.


And here's the truly amazing part,I've seen performances of that,and many other songs (god bless youtube!).There's Rafi,Sherwani-clad,holding the lyrics in his left hand,a smile on his face,singing almost effortlessly.And when the high-notes come,the only indication of their presence is a raising of the eyebrows,and that is all.Amazing,truly amazing.Hope I can put up a couple of links on youtube,judge for yourself.

Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki

O Duniya Ke Rakhwaale

Madhuban Main Radhika Naache Re

The most important thing in singing,besides a voice,(not such a simple thing,as Simon Cowell will gladly tell you),is Range.And range was Rafi's middle name.From ghazals,riding songs,Beatles 'inspired' guitar ditties,Elvis style rockers,classical compositions to the truly haunting free verse pieces in Guru Dutt's Pyaasa,he sang them all.And with such elan that it takes your breath away...


Now I'm not a singer,not unless warbling in front of your class on a Coke high counts as singing,but Rafi songs are my forte.They take it out of you,i know.But the pleasure of singing,and better still,singing along is one I would not trade for anything.Sometimes,when my throat's in a good mood and it's been at least three weeks since my last bout of Pharyngits,I can sing a Rafi song like it should be sung.And that's all it takes to make my day....



Song Of The Week,"(Most Likely)You'll Go Your Way,Bob Dylan remix by Mark Ronson.
Movie Of The Week,"The Departed"
Book Of The Week,"On The Road",Jack Kerouac.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

....Of A Strategically Placed Kick Versus A More Humane Treatment

"....And that,doc is why my brain's frozen up.I can't seem to write anything,my life's full of ennui and my football team's got just about as much chance of winning as a blind man in a dark room trying to shove a pound of melted butter in the ear of a wildcat with a red hot darning needle !!"

"Aah,jus,I can see the sypmtoms quite clearly my child.Eet ees a vairy common malady,but one that ish easily cured.Yes..."

"Oh thank heavens doc,what's the treatment?"

"Very simple,dear child.I will administer what we call in medical terms,a "Kick up the nargles!!"

"A WHAT ??"

" A kick up the nargles,my child.Simple yet effective."

"But wouldn't that hurt,and what about the damage to my err,you know what I'm referring to."

"Aah,yes.It's not all pleasant,as several of my patients tell me.But that's the whole point.And as for the damage.Well you don't have to worry about that,we both know that all those years of listening to Dylan have left you sterile already.So vee cannot do any more damage,hein.."

"Are you sure doctor there isn't any other cure ?"

"No mein child,it iss ze only way."

"Aah well,what's gotta be done's gotta be done.Hoof away doc."

"Excellent mein child,excellent. Now if you would just bend over.A little more.Just a little more.There,that's perfect.
And ze one ,and ze two and ze......"

No such luck,dear reader,it was just a dream.Too bad,you say.You would have liked to see me kicked up the nargles,wouldn't you? I'm sure you would.But thankfully that didn't happen.Unlike the good doctor,I found a more humane means of relieving my symptoms.It's called a Big Weekend !!

A series of unfortunate events had prevented me from coming home last week,and that had ripened my already magnificent grouch to a finer vintage.I felt that it was time matters were taken into my own hands,and an escape was plotted.A slightly fictitious excuse,and voila ! I had an extra day's leave along with the weekend.Another excuse once I got home,and I barely escaped going to a wedding in Lahore with my folks...

Finally,HOME ALONE !!!!

I had prepared well,a whole horde of movies including one that I had been waiting eighteen years for.Well not me personally,but you know what I mean.There was food in the fridge,comfort food! And the weather was as perfect as it could ever be.

Did it work ? By Golly It Did !!

Just to test if my brain had been de-barnacled,I sat down to write a synopsis-precis to a story a friend had sent me.I was hesitant,wondering if anything would click into place or not.It took work.And coffee.And frequent trips to the loo.But finally the gears started clicking,and there I was...

If anyone else has the same problem,here's the prescription.See if it works,otherwise the good doctor's foot is always an option...

Rx

The Simpsons Movie - Single Dose
The Clockwork Orange - Single Dose
High Fidelity - Two doses.King Size.
The 40 Year Old Virgin - Liberal Doses
Smiles Of A Summer Night - Single Dose,Stat.
The Lavender Hill Mob - Single Dose,taken slowly and luxuriantly

Ray Charles - No less than three albums
Beethoven - The Third,Fifth Seventh and Ninth Synphonies
Stephen Lynch - For symptomatic relief,as needed.

Perfect weather,if available...

There,try it.And do come back for follow-up.That'll be nine hundred rupees.Please pay the receptionist on the way out.

Thankyou for coming.....



Movie Of The Past Few Weeks,"The Lavender Hill Mob,(1951)

Songs Of The Past Few Weeks,If I Were Gay,Stephen Lynch.Sun Le Tu Dil Ki Sadaa,Rafi.Slow Train Coming,The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar,Bob Dylan.

Books Of The Past Few Weeks,"Irmeghan-e-Hijaz",Iqbal."WLT",Garrison Keillor."Leaving Home",Garrisson Keillor