REMEMBERING MEHDI HASSAN - The Shahansha-e-Ghazal
13 June 2015 marks the third barsi (death anniversary) of Mehdi Hassan (from here on we will call him Khan Saheb). The spontaneous outpouring of grief that resulted in the wake of his sad demise three years ago convinced me that both in life and death, Khan Saheb still remains one of the best-loved, most written-about musical superstars to come from the Indian sub-continent. Every low-brow, middle-brow, high-brow, and even the philistine average Indian Joe (and I suspect, decidedly more than that, his Pakistani counterpart) would have at least heard of Mehdi Hassan, if not actually heard his sublime ghazal music; an astonishingly large number of them would have also heard, and loved his Ranjish hi sahi and/or Rafta rafta woh meri. And virtually every aspect of the legendary ghazal singer’s life and art, elaborately documented by music writers on either side of the Indo-Pak border, has all been in the public domain now. And here are some of the aspects that these writings often bring to my mind.
Khan Saheb’s strong Indian roots and, in particular, his Rajasthani origins; his initial struggle in Pakistan, first as a car/tractor mechanic, and then as a radio artist/film playback singer; his triumph over these adversities culminating in his ultimately being hailed universally as Shahansha-e–Ghazal; his sachha sur and exceptional command over tala; his highly skilled use of musical ornamentation like taan, meend and gamak; his husky, velvety, mellow baritone voice that could seduce any listener anywhere in our part of the world – from Kathmandu to Kozhikode, and Mumbai to Multan; his impeccable diction of Urdu language; his intuitive feel for the bhava (emotional content) of great Urdu poetry; his remarkably beautiful delivery of a verse in measured cadences and with highly articulated phrasing; his deep knowledge of our classical music – reflected in the highly innovative use of the most appropriate ragas in many of the memorable ghazals that he set to music; his astounding ability to move – and touch – the initiated as well as the lay listener at three levels namely, sensuous, expressive and sheerly musical.
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