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Ghulam Ali's voice expresses the words with soft nuances, and it surely takes a master like him to keep such notes from losing their timbre and turning into melodramatic whispers


'In the last couple of years, he has recorded some indifferent albums like Madhosh which understood neither his genius nor his audience'


'Hope returns to look for itself'

Ghulam Ali makes elegant music from Gulzar's quiet love poetry on Visaal,  an album that stands out from almost all recent ghazal-geet offerings 

Rs 70

Gulzar and Ghulam Ali: their first album together
For ghazal lovers, this is an album hard to resist. It features Ghulam Ali, arguably one of the two great living ghazal singers (the other being Mehdi Hassan), and Gulzar, much acclaimed poet and filmmaker.

Ghulam Ali is far superior to Jagjit Singh and Hariharan, both in the way he handles his voice and his imagination. Jagjit Singh does not much care for improvisation, and tends to simplify and then oversimplify what he sings. Hariharan takes his flexible voice through incredible acrobatics which distract from the words. Pankaj Udhas does not have rigour, and Anup Jalota is lost in the world of bhajans.

Ghulam Ali's most popular ghazal Chupke chupke has a hummable tune. But it looks almost populist when you hear the complex, haunting melodies he made for albums he made with Asha Bhonsle. Numbers like the mesmeric Dayar-e-dil and the sunny Phir savan rut call for repeat listening each time we pull out those classic albums. From a musical point of view, Ghulam Ali is the master of the unpredictable turn of phrase, which he renders with breathtaking ease.

Gulzar has three anthologies of poetry to his credit, and has written the scripts for the films he has directed -- Khushboo, Kitaab, Namkeen and Maachis. His songs-Dil doondhta hai (Mausam) and Tum aa gayi ho (Aandhi) are among my favourites. Do you know that he also made a documentary film on Pandit Bhimsen Joshi in 1992?

Hundreds of ghazal and geet albums have flooded the market in recent years, most of them of dubious value, and so Visaal is a welcome arrival.

Kushboo jaise log mile afsane mein, the opening track, speaks of finding people in songs, their memories like fragrance, and the maza (fun) that pain finds in continuing to talk of them. This is nostalgia with a spring in its step, and in raga Charukeshi.

Sehma sehma darasa rehta hain, which borrows most of its phrases from raga Puriya, takes on unpredictable colours with its use of the shuddh madhyam, which does not belong in the raga. It begins with distant flutes, like in an experiment Pandit Ravi Shankar made in his East Meets West recording. Ghulam Ali's voice expresses the words with soft nuances, and it surely takes a master like him to keep such notes from losing their timbre and turning into melodramatic whispers.

The words talk about loss, amidst meandering and sometimes weeping violins:

Ishq mein aur kuch nahin hota
Aadmi banwra sa rehta hai

Nothing really happens in love
People remain naive as ever

At the end, the flute continues with discrete calls and haunting slides. To Amar Haldipur goes the credit of arranging the orchestra, which is largely lush like in oldtime film songs. You do get the feeling that you could have done with less order and orchestra, especially because Ghulam Ali is such a delight when he is improvising with just a harmonium and a tabla. But you have to admit that the orchestra often plays phrases on this album that catch you unawares and make their way into your heart.

Mera kya tha has a low drones of violins, flute and some piano. The drone in the background seems to be made up with koto and the flute. In this number you realize that Ghulam Ali is no longer attracted to overly flashy phrases, or to racing up and down the scale, or to sudden twists of mood with strange notes added out of the blue. A bulbultara (sadly no credit on the inlay card for any of the excellent instrumentalists) plays with stylish syncopation.

Khushboo gunche talaash karti hai has some heavily packed violin ensembles. The stanzas pick bleak shuddh nishaad notes to highlight the lyrics which sing of the fragrance searching for the flower buds, and also looking for past, lost relationships -- beete rishte talash karti hai. Very succinct in its sense of loss, the sighing resolution comes with

Ek ummeed baar baar aa kar
apni tukde talash karti hai

A hope returns again and again
looking for pieces of itself

Shaam se aaj saans bhari hain/ beqarari hain beqarari hain has violins and piano, but the tune is vintage Ghulam Ali, quirky and touching one at the most unpredictable musical moments. This song I liked the best on this album. A cliched sax bit also comes on in the first interlude. An imaginative flute in the opening and the second interlude adds magic. The second stanza takes on a different turn with a changed madhyam to the raga Kirvani in which the rest of the song is based.

This is a simple love song. The pizzicato notes on the opening stanza tiptoe into the longing tone of the song. The violins (real, not synth) take up the tune and play it with all its grace. You can hear Ghulam Ali accompanying himself on the harmonium on some parts of the song.

Koi atka hua hai pal is based largely on Puriya Dhanasri and the rich violins play interesting layers of phrases along with a flute and a faraway piano. A banjo adds to the texture. There's again an occasional reaching out to the shudhdh madhyam in the tune. The folksy beat restrains the classical temper of the song. The most haunting bits are on the very understated piano.

Humto kitnon ko mahjabeen kehten/ aap hain isliye nahin kehte is the next track, cheerful and teasing, the sort of melody you can visualise Shammi Kapoor singing. It takes the classic lover-moon simile and looks at it from a slightly different perspective:

Chand hota na aasmen pe agar
Hum kise aapsa haseen kehte

If the moon were not in the sky
Who could we compare to your fairness?

This is a flirtatious tune, flutes spryly wandering around, a solo violin and guitar dueting each other, a Romeo of a song. It may remind you vaguely of Ghulam Ali's Dil mein ik lehar si uthi hai abhi.

is Ghulam Ali's best effort after his albums with Asha Bhonsle. In the last couple of years, he has recorded some indifferent albums like Madhosh which understood neither his genius nor his audience. Buy this album for Ghulam Ali's music, and buy it for Gulzar's poetry!

S Suchitra Lata
(additional notes by S R Ramakrishna)

Published on 11 December 2001

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