Posted: 05 July 2006 at 11:11pm | IP Logged
Articles on Mehdi Hassan
Posted on RMIC by Khawaja Naveed Aslam
Written by Saeed Malik in The Nation Midweek
Reproduced here for educational purposes only
Mehdi Hassan's stylistic songs
I have known vocalist Mehdi Hassan for about 40 years. It was courtesy Ibrahim Khan, son of Ustad Sardar Khan Delhiwale that I first met this stylist crooner in 1959. Thereafter, I bumped into him on different occasions at the premises of (old) Pakistan Arts Council, where he used to practise his art. I cannot forget one particular occasion when he was totally engrossed and had been completely transported while rendering a kafi of Baba Bhulley Shah.
Later, he visited me on a few occasions in my part-time business office at Shah Alam, riding his powerful motorcycle. We used to confabulate on music and the state of affairs in the local film industry. Then, he shifted to Karachi and our contacts remained suspended until such time when he returned to Lahore to lend his voice for the recording of film songs. Since then, off and on, our paths crossed in Lahore and abroad at various concert halls.
Being a student of music, I have keenly watched his progressive grooming, especially his distinct style of ghazal-singing, during the past 40 years. Unquestionably, he has contributed so much to the refinement of melodic culture of Pakistan that his name will, forever be enshrined in the annals of music of South Asia.
During the past six decades, the melodic evolution of ghazal in the Sub-continent, especially Pakistan, has been so profound as to put this neo-classical melodic genre in the ambit of an esoteric art form. Like folk music, which caused the spawning of classical genres, the meter-oriented ghazals sung much before 1947, metamorphosed into thumri-ang elaborations, paving the way for melodists to compose and render ghazals in the neo-classical style.
Before partition, Akhteribai Faizabadi, Mukhtar Begum, Afzal Hussain Nageenawale and Barkat Ali Khan, to name a few vocalists, took the art of ghazal-singing to a new height of popularity. After August 1947, Ustad Barkat Ali Khan (till his death) Farida Khanum, Iqbal Bano, Ijaz Hussain Hazarvi, Ghulam Ali and Mehdi Hassan made wholesome contributions to the further refinement of melodic ghazal, adding a new tangent to this music-literary genre.
The art of ghazal-singing has now assumed the status of the most popular mode of melodic expression in the vocal variety. The role of films, radio, television and stage cannot be minimised which took this genre to every nook and cranny of the Sub-continent, notwithstanding the wide diversity in languages and dialects spoken in its length and breadth. In spite of the fact that this mode of melodic expression is fast racing towards classicism, lay music buffs in millions have turned into its votaries. One composer of film songs, who worked hard in popularising melodic ghazal in the Sub-continent, and who can be singled out for his colossal contributions, is the late Madan Mohan. His ghazal compositions, sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, have abundant appeal and radiate irresistible sonic charm.
But one vocalist who should be given much credit for the furbishing of the melodic content of ghazal is Mehdi Hassan, whose matchless voice and unique performing skill has taken it to such glorious heights as were not touched by any other mode in the past.
Since the invention of gramophone discs, the melodic rendition of ghazal has covered a long distance after its modest beginning in the late 20s, culminating in its current highly-sophisticated form. Consequent upon the rapid progress in its melodic refinement, the modern ghazal-singing style has earned for itself deserved acclaim and recognition, despite intrinsic difficulties and multiple complexities of its varieties and their esoteric formulations which, for many, are not easy to learn.
Taking off from a position of an unimportant adjunct to light classical music (thumri-oriented style of rendition) at the turn of 20th century, it has now reached the apex of glory. The art of ghazal-singing did not enjoy a high status in the hierarchy of classical melodists in old days, because its metrical system was thought to be suited only for poetical expressions, and not much consideration was given to its melodic potential and the consequential incantatory impact on the listeners. Not considered suitable for musical elaboration, it remained dormant in the melodic culture until the advent of gramophone discs and motion pictures, when development of music took a sudden and sharp turn, mainly through the efforts of sensitive original composers whose creative ingenuity added much to this new form. Essentially a verse of lyrical and melodious charm, Urdu ghazal also conveys intensity of emotions and rhythmic grandeur. That it has enjoyed immense popularity among music buffs of all hues and melodic pursuits points to the fact that it is the end-product of a synthesis of poetry and music; a blend of poetic and musical sensitivity; and a co-mingling of sound and sense.
In ghazal, the poet creatively and sensitively uses the language to convey the subtleties of his thoughts and emotions. Originally, it encompassed stray thoughts of a lover, pangs of separation and longing for a reunion of lover and the beloved, or expression of sensations of pain (melancholia) and pleasure (sparkling joy). Later, poets introduced fresh motifs and symbols and furbished the diction of their ghazals with their individual literary and poetic skill. A few among them sprinkled philosophic ideas into their verses, while others added revolutionary fire into their poetry, or tinged their creative expressions with highly communicative emotional lyricism.
Employing all these emotional and linguistic resources, an intelligent vocalist adds to ghazal yet another tangent; that is, the melodic interpretation of what the poet originally meant to convey through his poetic expressions. The melodic interpretations vary from one singer to another. The more control a vocalist has over his vocals and melodic expressiveness, the better and enduring is the effectiveness of his renditions.
It requires hard training under the supervision of a competent mentor to acquire the skill to render a ghazal (which lexicographically defined means a conversation with a woman) in its prevalent neo-classical style. Therefore, it is the forte of only a few vocalists, Mehdi Hassan being the most prominent among them. Because of the sophistries of this melodic mode, very few vocalist feel competent to sing ghazals. Female ghazal singers in Pakistan have now become a rare breed. The ageing Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanum are the only female singers in the country who can practise this difficult art.
In ghazal-singing, delivery of words are of utmost importance, while music frames and embellishes the poetry. Understandably, therefore, impactful ghazal-singing is possible only with correct pronunciation and a clear perception of the meaning of the poetic content which should be backed up by a judicious inter-mingling of melodic inputs and poetic expressions. Vocalist Mehdi Hassan, like Farida Khanum and Iqbal Bano, sings the words of a ghazal clearly and distinctly, without putting unnecessary stress on them, vocalising these as they are commonly spoken. His insight in the meaning of the ghazal and the perception of the poet makes his rendition penetrating, thereby creating an incantatory impact on his countless fans. Mehdi Hassan is one of those competent ghazal singers of Pakistan who can be counted on the fingers of just one hand. He has regaled his listeners for well over 40 years. During this period, he recorded hundreds of songs for the films and an increasing number for radio and television. His major contribution, however, has been to the refurbishing of ghazal-vocalisation in which he has evolved a style which became the envy of his contemporaries on both sides of the Wagah border. A large number of young melodic aspirants in Pakistan and India try to emulate his style of ghazal-singing with pride, and a great deal of respect for Mehdi Hassan.
A pride of our melodic culture, Mehdi Hassan's talent is acknowledged the world over. He is one of those few melodists who have introduced and popularised Pakistani melodic culture in the countries of the Middle East and Europe, not excluding the United States of America where he goes annually to spend sometime with the members of his family who have settled there. With his individualistic style, which represents the inherent strength and potential of our melodic culture, he has put up an impregnable wall of defence against Western cultural onslaught. Votaries of his style of ghazal-singing are not worried much about the future of our music. As long as vocalists of the calibre of Mehdi Hassan are around, the future of Pakistani music is in safe hands, they contend.
Mehdi Hassan is a scion of a well-known family of professional musicians from Rajasthan (India), a majority of whose member migrated into Pakistan soon after the partition of the Sub- continent in 1947. With regular training under the supervision of the elders in the family, and having the ability to benefit from the melodic wisdom of others, he has succeeded in chiselling his melodic personality, which is now recognised all over the music world, especially in Pakistan and India. He has reigned supreme in the world of showbiz for about four decades. For the past few years, the debilitating impact of an advancing age and an imbecile physique are having telling effects on his vocals.
Discerning listeners can easily detect the areas of his vocalisation which are being adversely affected by old age and poor health. If he is still able to cast an hypnotic spell on his listeners, it is due to his long experience, creative ingenuity and performing skill which compel the listeners to pay rapt and respectful attention to his melodies. A large number of his shagirds (pupils) are currently practising the art of ghazal- singing in Pakistan but none, including his son Asif, has yet acquired enough expertise to claim succession to this great melodist after his retirement.
Edited by Qwest - 05 July 2006 at 11:12pm