27 Nov 2012

Goodbye, Ghazal? (Part I)


With the passing away of Jagjit Singh (October 2011) and Mehdi Hassan (June 2012) and no torchbearer in sight for this sensitive music form, the ghazal looks all set to glide into musical history. The poetry may yet survive, there is no financial compulsion or consequential audience that deters a poet to write, they will always write.

Popular Hindi film music no longer endorses this music form. It's been eons since a ghazal was part of a film soundtrack. Moreover, what was painfully evident at this year's GIMA tribute to Jagjit Singh, titled Yaadon Ka Safar, few singers could convincingly render the ghazal in a live concert setting.

The ghazal is for quiet reflection, thus even the love songs have a haze of melancholy.It needs as much intent attention as listening to a Ravi Shankar sitar sequence. It is an evening rest, a quiet couch, and there lies its singularity. The magic is in the way the words unfold in the vocals, the lingering, leisurely music that builds the atmosphere. No popular thump of percussion here, for the couplets add enough punch that any other additional emphasis in instrumentation would surely kill the composition.

The song featured below gained fame when it played as a title for Nalini Singh's 90's news feature Hello Zindagi. The lyrics are by Gulzar.


The 1980's was a golden period for ghazals, and if you revisit the records of this period, you are bound to hear the singer explaining the meaning of certain Urdu words, or requesting the listener's attentiveness to the subsequent paragraph. Sensing the audience's mood, artists like Jagjit Singh used anecdotes and jokes midway, and then seamlessly cut back to the song. Note Anup Jalota's baritone commentary in his classic Chand angdaeyaan le raha hai... (Roughly translated as - The moon is stretching its arms...).

The words are a ghazal's adornment, hence anything gimmicky will only stall proceedings. One may say that the purity of form has stagnated the audience base, but certainly not the form in itself which is flexible enough in its beauty and use of the guitar, piano and other modern light accompaniments. But the core of the ghazal is such that, no remix or other cosmetics will suit it. If such changes are made, it will then no longer be called - ghazal. There lies its luminosity, yet there lie the shadows of its public obscurity.

(To be continued) 
Click here for - Goodbye, Ghazal? (Part II)

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