Monday, August 1, 2011

Dissolute Heart: Ghulam Ali

Ghulam Ali is one of the best loved singers in South Asia. His ghazals are stupendously popular across both Pakistan and India and indeed, it is said, ‘you’ve not heard music until you hear Ghulam Ali sing a ghazal.’  Although his ghazals have sold multiple millions and his style and lyrics are accessible to the casual listener, his musical pedigree is rooted in the Hindustani classical tradition.  Named after one of India’s greatest classical vocalists Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan with whom he studied as a lad, Ghulam Ali, takes the musicality and lyricism of his music very seriously. He is one of those artists who is both immensely popular and critically adored.

Here is a snippet from a radio interview in which he opens up about his childhood and approach to singing.
Ghulam Ali
I was born in 1941 in Pakistan's Sialkot district. I was six at the time of the Partition. I have foggy memories of people crossing the border. Once, when I was six or seven years old, I was humming a song in the class and my master Ebrahim noticed and called me. I was terrified and afraid he would punish me. But he just asked whether I was Daulatbhai's son. My father was also a musician.
Then he asked me to sing the song I was humming. I sang the song and my master, also a singer, was very impressed by me. At the age of eight, my father gave me a raaga and asked me to rehearse it on the harmonium. I worked on it for a month and learnt it. My grandmother was very angry with my father because she felt that he was overstretching a small child like me, but my father explained that my age was the right time to build the base in music. 

My name 'Ghulam' was given by my father, a great fan of Bade Ghulam Ali Khansaab. He used to live in Lahore. I had always been listening to Khansaab, since childhood. My father used to take me to Lahore, 100 km away from our village. We used to travel first in a tonga, and then take a bus to Lahore.
Bade Ghulam Ali Khansaab used to sit near Lahore Shahi Masjid on a charpoy surrounded by people. He used to talk about music and his singing used to give me goose bumps. After the Partition, Khansaab came to India. He used to come to Pakistan once a year to meet his younger brothers. Once, he had gone to Kabul for some music function, and my father also attended. He requested Khansaab to take me as a student. He in turn asked me to sing and I was terrified. I recalled a little of what I had heard of Khansaab's own thumri and sang it.

He was pleased seeing my dedication to music. He told my father he would baptise me as a student. He was based in India and said I would learn under the guidance of his brothers, who were based in Lahore. I stayed in their house. There were other students and we had to do household chores like filling water, washing vessels etc. We never had any specific time for learning. We were taught in between the work.
I was a good student. Whatever they used to teach, I would retain it. Once I was rehearsing on the terrace, and a person from Radio Pakistan had come to meet them. He heard me and was very impressed. I was called down and he asked me whether I wanted to sing on the radio. In those days singing on the radio was very prestigious.
I replied that if my teachers permitted it, I would come. When I was called to the radio station and they started my audition, they stopped me mid-way. I thought they had rejected me, but the station director and deputy wrote 'Excellent' as their remark. I was only 14 years old when I started singing for a children's programme for Pakistani radio. In six months, I progressed to the topmost level.
Mohammad Rafi: The entire world listens to me. But I listen to Ghulam Ali

Everyone has their favorite Ghulam Ali ghazal. Mine is the title track of tonight’s post, Yeh dil yeh pagal dil mera (This heart, this mad heart of mine) also known as Awaargi. It is an absolute masterpiece of forlorn and mad love and the devastation that accompanies that state of heart. But equally high on my list is the second track Jin ke honton pe haseen on which he is accompanied by one of the most masterful tabla performances ever put to tape. Unfortunately, it  is cut short as this selection is from a home-recorded mehfil in Rawalpindi, and thus the audio quality is pretty basic.

It is still highly highly highly enjoyable and if you are a fan this will be a selection you’ll return to again and again. If you are new to Ghulam Ali this set is less accessible than some of his more popular recordings but still worth the time.

So until next time…ladies, gentlemen, khawateen aur hazraat: Ustad Ghulam Ali.

         Track Listing:
01. Yeh Dil Yeh Pagal Dil
02. Jin ke Hoton Pe
03. Qurbaton mein bhi judai
04. Wo ek khwab mein taskeen
Listen here.

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