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 .

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

...Of Sunlit Perfection

Stephen Fry once wrote about the works of PG Wodehouse, "You don't analyze such sunlit perfection, you bask in it". Well I'm going to break one of Fry's rules here. The reason is simple; when you've found something absolutely perfect and you want to share it, you can't just simply thrust it on the unsuspecting public without a bit of an introduction. Also, it's been months since I've written anything and I need an excuse to write.

Ever since Mehdi Hassan Sb passed away a couple of months ago, I've renewed my interest in his music. Sadly, this is not the first time someone's death has brought about a rediscovery of their work ; the same happened after the deaths of Johnny Cash, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Bismillah Khan and many others. What I was especially interested in this time around were some of the earlier recordings of Khan Sahib's; from the '50s onto the end of the '70s, when his voice hadn't mellowed down and he was capable of startlingly beautiful feats of vocal dexterity that were gradually replaced with astounding vocal control and wonderful emotiveness as the years wore on.  The recording that had sparked my interest in Khan Sb's recordings from the earlier part of his career was Nasir Kazmi's "Woh Dilnawaz Hain Lekin Nazar Shanaas Nahi", which was released by EMI sometime in the late '70s. I would've loved to share a link etc but the wonderful YouTube ban prevents me. Suffice to say it was wonderful, and the effect of Khan Sb's crisp voice accompanied by a wonderful orchestra comprising of Eastern and Western instruments was oddly hypnotic.

After Khan Sb's death, I began looking for these recordings in earnest; another reason being my woefully deficient collection of Khan Sb's recordings, which numbered in barely a dozen albums of varying quality. Thankfully I knew where to look , and soon I had a healthy number of recordings, which I began listening to non-stop; the result being thatI signicantly increased the numberof my favorite Mehdi Hassan ghazals. One recording however, instantly stuck out, and deserves a mention in my Instant Infatuations post . This one recording is probably the most perfect example of Khan Sb's brilliant '70s voice, and comes as close to perfection as I can imagine. - Note that I'm again using hyperbole here, a rather stubborn habit.

Sounding almost like Talat Mehmood, surrounded by an orchestra of singing trombones, a simple cascading sitar and a recurrent tap on the triangle, Khan Sb sings Jigar Muradabadi's famous ghazal "Kaam Aakhir Jazba-e- Be Ikhtiyar Aa Hi Gaya" imbueing each syllable with tons of feeling, wonderfully modulating his voice through the rather complicated melody. There are dozens of small flourishes that immediately catch your ear, tiny brushstrokes that a lesser singer might not have contemplated, let alone attempted.

Highlights for me are the beautiful - and unusual for Khan Sb - high note on the fourth syllable 'be-ikh-ti-yaar", that wonderfully elucidates the poet's -and the singer's - state of "be ikhtiyari". The breath control and the timing of each breath is matchless, providing both mellifluousness as well as demonstrating his wonderful mastery over 'bol-baant'. He devotes an entire breath to the word "tarrpa" in the first verse, using a slight vibrato that seems pregnant with 'tarap' . Then there's the wonderful cascade of descending notes at the end of each verse. Khan Sb's attention to 'talaffuz' and adayegi is demonstrated by his insistence on clearly enunciating the hard 'q' sound at the end of the high note on the phrase "me'raaj-e-shauq". There's dozens of other similar touches in this short but wonderful performance that highlight Khan Sb's stature as the preeminent ghazal singer of the last century.


Mehdi Hassan - Kaam AKhir Jazba-e-Be Ikhtiyar Aa Hi Gaya - Jigar Muradabadi


And in case anyone thinks Khan Sb's latter years were anything short of wonderful, here's another example of that same sunlit perfection in a selection from the amazing 1990 concert at the Royal Academy of Music, at which Khan Sb shared the stage with Ustad Sultan Khan on Sarangi and Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan on Tabla. Khan Sb presents a ghazal of Sufi Tabassum's to the traditional 'tarz' of Heer Waris Shah, to delightful results.

Mehdi Hassan - Ghazal Ba-Tarze-Heer, Raag Bhairvi