Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Voice That Gave Us Courage Is No More: Jagjit Singh

Jagjit Singh (1941-2011)
Jagjit Singh, one of India’s best loved and widely known singers of the past thirty years, passed away yesterday morning leaving millions of fans stunned and saddened.

I discovered Jagjit Singh’s music when I returned home to Allahabad for a brief visit in the winter of 1983. This was the very beginning of the cassette revolution in Indian music. A revolution that shook up the music industry lock, stock and barrel and broke the iron grip of a handful of record companies who seemed to think there were only two types of music in the world: classical and Bombay filmi songs.

I was amazed to find small shops on every corner of Allahabad’s posh Civil Lines district selling hundreds and hundreds of cassette tapes of a staggering array of musical styles: devotional music (qawwali, bhajans, kirtans) salacious pop music in local dialects and a few European/American pop bands. But by far the most popular form of music was something the shop keepers crudely called, ‘ghajal’ substituting the Sanskrit ‘j’ for the Arabic ‘z’.

From one shop came two of the most mellifluous voices I’d ever heard. They drew me inside instantly. In response to my question about who the voices belonged to I was handed several cassettes. On the cover were photos of what looked like a boring middle class couple called Jagjit and Chitra Singh. I bought all four and commenced one of the deepest love affairs of my life.

Ghazals like Us Mor Se Shuru Karein Phir yeh Zindagi (Let’s Begin Life Again from That Turning), Uski Baatein Bahaar ki Baatein (Her Words are the Words of Spring), Kaun Kahta Hain (Who Says So?) and especially, Woh Kaghaz ki Kashti (That Paper Boat) became the soundtrack of my inner world for the next couple of years. I sang them to myself at least once a day. The tapes were constantly in my Walkman and I used each ghazal to improve my Urdu vocabulary which as a graduate student was a high priority.

Without a doubt the greatest thing about Jagjit Singh was his voice. It exuded calm, assurance and safety.  Like a father’s words of comfort, it delivered a totally unexpected gift--peace.  This is a very rare quality in a singer. Sure the music and instrumentation was tasteful, never outlandish or exotic, and that added to the restful aura of their music. But above all it was Jagjit’s voice that cut through whatever stress, whatever anxiety I was feeling and gently grazed my heart. 

Jagjit and Chitra were probably the most famous Indian singing act in the 1980s and 1990s. They travelled the globe and sold millions of cassettes. Their leading contribution to the democratisation of the Indian music scene cannot be overstated. And without them elevation of the ghazal to the status of India’s most popular musical genre (after Bollywood) would have not happened. 

In the mid 1990’s Chitra stopped singing publicly after the death of her son in an accident. How, we all wondered, could Jagjit carry on without her? We all loved their intimate, intuitive and absolutely in-sync way of singing together. I always felt that their love lyrics were sung to each other. Jagjit just wouldn’t be the same without ethereal Chitra. But he carried on and continued to find new fans and enthral us old ones.  He sang for films and in the later years experimented with some very modern studio-derived doodlings. But whatever he did he did with taste and integrity. And that warm soothing voice.

As I write I’m listening to one of my favourite J&C ghazals Manzil Na De Charagh Na De /Hosla to De (Give me not the destination nor the lamp/ Just give me courage).

Giving courage. That was the vocal legacy of the great Jagjit Singh.

            Track Listing:
            01 Baat Niklegi To Phir Door Talak Jayegi
02 Bahut Pahele Se Un Kadmo Ki Aahat Jaan Lete Hain
03 Who Kaghaz Ki Kasthi (Original)
04 Aaye Hain Samjhane Log
05 Sarakti Jaye Hai Rukh Se Naqab Aahista Aahista (Live)
06 Humko Dushman Ki Nighaon Se
07 Kisi Ranjish Ko Hawa Do Keh Main Zinda Hoon Abhi
08 Hum Mein Hi Thi Na Koi Baat
09 Mil Kar Juda Hue To Na Soya Karenge Ham
10 Jawan Hai Raat Saqiya Sharaab La Sharaab La
11 Jhuki Jhuki Si Nazar
12 Yeh Bata De Mujhe Zindagi
13 Yun Zindagi Ki
14 Manzil Na De Charagh Na De
15 Yeh To Nahin Ke Gham Nahin
16 Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho
17 Woh Kagaz Ki Kashti (Part – 1)
18 Apni Aag Ko Zinda Rakhna
19 Tu Nahin To Zindagi Men Aur Kya
20 Jhoothi Sachchi Aas Pe Jeena
21 Mera Dil Bhi Shauq Se Todo
22 Aadmi Aadmi Ko Kya Dega
23 Aah Ko Chahiye
24 Kabhi To Khul Ke Baras
25 Saamne Hai Jo Use
26 Dil Hi To Hai
27 Din Guzar Gaya
28 Dekha Jo Aaina To Mujhe Sochna Pada


kokolo said...

More sad news, are good people leaving the planet?

Miguel said...

No Kokolo, that's life and they are going to stay with us here...

In the "good" olden days when internet was slow and we did download track by track I stumbled arcoss Jagjit and Chitra Singh and been listening to them ever since...

not all the time...

but some times we need some sweet sweet music...

peace upon you...


so nice to have you around Ajnabi


ajnabi said...

Yes, they will be here forever you're right. but still we miss them

lonely sherpa said...

Thanks a lot for the post. We will really miss him. Can you please share "Jagjit Chitra Golden Collection Vol. 1" with us?

ajnabi said...

Lonely Sherpa, sorry, I don't have it.