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, it was painfully evident at the 2012 GIMA tribute to Jagjit Singh, titled Yaadon Ka Safar, that few singers could convincingly render cover versions of Singh's ghazals in a live stage setting.


Ghazal and Atmospherics 

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. The ghazal 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 creates 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, Hai Lau Zindagi gained fame when it played as a title for Nalini Singh's 90's news series Hello Zindagi. Gulzar has penned the lyrics.


Ghazal's Golden Decade
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 para.

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...).

Of Simpler Times
Jagjit Singh almost single-handedly brought a modern sensibility to the ghazal. His approach never tarnished the ghazal's core spirit.  Singh was wisely measured yet flexible enough in the use of the guitar, piano and other light accompaniments.

The words are a ghazal's adornment, hence anything gimmicky will only stall proceedings. No remix or other cosmetics will suit its richness and purity. If such changes are induced, it will then no longer be called - ghazal. There lies its luminance, yet there dwell the shadows of its impending obscurity.

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