A Legacy of Musical Diversity

October 10 was Jagjit Singh\'s death anniversary and City Express salutes the maestro for his contribution to the composite culture of India and to Urdu poetry

Published: 18th October 2014 06:03 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th October 2014 06:03 AM   |  A+A-

BANGALORE : Hazaron khwahishein aisi ki har khwahish pe dam nikle Bahut nikle mere arman lekin phir bhi kam nikle (thousands of wishes and each a matter of life and death..many desires fulfilled...and yet not all of them)

Like Ghalib, Jagjit Singh too was a man who found many gifts and suffered many life blows. But in the end, what both men are remembered for is the life blood they infused in the tradition of Urdu poetry. Singh was not a poet but he understood poetry like few of his peers did. He single-handedly revived mass interest in Pakistani poets like Ahmed Faraz, in contemporary Indian poets like Bashir Badr and the sonorous voices of Ghalib and Kaifi. And even in little known talents like Madan Pal.

October 10 was his death anniversary and we list five of his outstanding contributions to the composite culture of India. Think about it. He was a Sikh, mainstreaming forgotten Urdu poets in a country where the ghazal is fast becoming a marginalised idea. And here is what we are indebted to him for.

Making non-film music popular

Be it Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalwi's songs (Maye Ni Maye Ik Shikra Yaar Banaya, Yaar Adeya and many more) or Gulzar's nazms and ghazals (Marasim and other albums), or Shabad Gurbani (Sikh spiritual poetry), or Punjabi folk songs or bhajan albums, whatever Jagjit Singh sang, people listened with all their heart. His work spanned India's rich musical heritage and showed us that when unheard melodies and words are given the respect they deserve, they become a part of us forever. His concerts were a crash course in all that Indian music stands for. He would stop singing a ghazal suddenly to explain the meaning of, 'mehtaab.' Bring the house down with his rendition of Punjabi tappe to the beat of a dholak. Bring people to tears with his film songs like, Chitthi Na Koi Sandes and make them smile at the way he reinterpreted the sound of the payal in Hothon Se Choo Lo Tum.    

Modernising ghazal without diluting it

In 1987, Jagjit Singh recorded Beyond Time, the first digital CD by an Indian musician in London and till date those haunting ghazals set against a backdrop of stormy waves sound mint fresh. Singh had an intuitive understanding of not just poetry but also of modern instrumentation that had never been a part of ghazals.The use of light orchestral layers, signature grooves and guitar chords ensured that you experienced poetry as if it was sunshine in winter and rain in summer. When he sang, Maine Khushboo Ki Tarah Tujh Ko Kiya Hai Mehoos, you really could smell roses in the melody and in his voice.

Giving a new dimension to film music

We heard his voice first in the background score of Basu Bhattacharya's film Aavishkar (1974) where he sang Wajid Ali Shah's elegy to a lost world, Babul Mera Naihar Chuto Jaye.' Chitra Singh's voice was also heard for the first time with his in this track.

His most famous cinematic collaboration though was with Mahesh Bhatt and Kaifi Azmi in Arth (1982) with ghazals like Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho and Koi Yeh Kaise Bataye that initiated listeners into a new kind of understanding of what a film song could sound like. The music of Saath Saath (1982) though composed by Kuldip Singh, is now a milestone because Jagjit Singh breathed life into Javed Akhtar's poetry. Prem Geet (1981) was another succesful album and many others followed.

Melding the male and female narratives in ghazal

Before Jagjit Singh, ghazal was a soliloquy but he turned it into a conversation when his wife Chitra Singh joined him as the other narrator of love and life. An interesting experiment with ghazal is in the famous composition where he sings Ameer Minai's Uski Hasrat Hai and she sings Ghalib's Meherbaan Hoke Bula Lo. In this one ghazal, they bring two poets together and speak of love in two voices without one discordant note. It was because of the Jagjit Chitra pair, that we saw the emergence of other singing couples like Rajendra and Neena Gupta and Bhupinder Singh and Mitali.

According respect to lyricists and young singers

The music industry in India is notorious for short-changing talent but Jagjit Singh made it a point to pay lyricists a part of his earnings. He encouraged young singers like Mohammed Vakil and Vinod Sehgal and gave Sehgal in particular a break in Kehkashan, his classic album celebrating contemporary Indian poets and in Mirza Ghalib. It is another matter that even after singing a few stirring tracks for Singh, Sehgal found no takers for his formidable talent and had to return to his hometown in Punjab. Another singer he encouraged and who made it big to some extent was Talat Aziz.

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