Friday, May 13, 2005

Off-key

When you are on a roll, you expect all things to go on track. After having purchased the house and having am impending trip that is guaranteed to be great, the intermediate weekend was setup to be a memorable one. Do you know how it feels to stand on the verge of a lifelong dream coming true? The thrill, the excitement, the anticipation. I experienced all three last weekend when my favorite ghazal singer was due to perform in Seattle. None other than Ghulam Ali.

Slight background. I was brought up on Ghulam Ali ghazals that my Dad loved. I had a huge collection of his recordings that would play regularly (this was before we woke up to TV being a 24-hour phenomenon) to the point that I knew each ghazal, each sher, each harkat intimately. Ghulam Ali was the reason I took interest in ghazals and Urdu per se. Ghulam Ali was the reason I sat on entire summer in Austin making a list of all the ghazals I knew, pryed out a list of words that I did not understand and diligently went through a Urdu-Hindi dictionary till I figured the meaning of each and every one of them. To me, he is the GOD of ghazal singing. His choice of ghazals, the semi-classical nature of his renditions, his ability to create a mood reflective of the ghazal is beyond eveyone else. Jagjit Singh is for the hoi-polloi and Mehndi Hassan is good without being great.

Hence, when I heard (about 3 months back) that Ghulam Ali was going to perform in Seattle, I was ready to bear Talat Aziz (you know, we are in the friendship phase and all that). I must have been one of the first to buy the tickets for the concert and was shaping up to enjoy the concert fully. Here’s in fact what transpired.

7.30: the concert was supposed to start. Nothing happened
7.45: people streaming in
8.00: still nothing
8.15: still nothing
8.30: Mr. K.P. Singh walks up to the stage to introduce the performers. Now, K.P. Singh is a ‘promoter’ (not the boxing kind, the guy brings these artistes over here) and he will have a great role to play as we move ahead in the evening
8.45: After a 15 minute introductory tirade and a song rendered by some local talent (yup, nothing short of a rock concert), Talat Aziz and Ghulam Ali come onto the stage
9.00: They launch into a ‘combined’ rendition of ‘Dil mein ek leher si’ and one of Talat’s ghazals. The idea being that both were in the same raag (don’t remember which one) and one was picking up from the other. The exercise came off as very lame. Ghazals need a mood to build on, this is not fodder for jugalbandi.
9.30: After one more ghazal combo which included ‘Chupke Chupke’ (how can you!!!!!!), Mr. K.P. Singh saunters onto the stage fully aware that an hour of the concert has been lost and that we should make up for lost time. So, what does he do? The artistes honoring ceremony starts. For each artiste, this is a the sequence of events
-- Singh announces the name and says 2 lines about him
-- Singh then asks another ‘promoter’ to come up and give a token. He says about 15 lines about the promoter and how he has come all the way from Las Vegas
-- Promoter comes up on stage and gets one photograph with the artiste after he has given the memento
-- This goes on for all artistes. In the middle of all this were also the reading of a plaque that was awarded to Ghulam Ali and Talat Aziz by the governor of Illinois and another for K.P. Singh
It was sickening to see these people saunter in at their own speed, come up with the sole intention of a photograph with the singers
10.00: After 30 minutes of this nonsense, Talat Aziz starts his solo performance. He surprised me, since I had no expectations whatsoever. He at least tried to create a semblance of an atmosphere.
10.45: 45 minutes of Talat Aziz later, the stage was set for the maestro. The expectations were heightened even though it came with the painful knowledge that we were over an hour behind schedule and that would mean that he would be singing lesser than expected. He came on stage and sang a Punjabi song. Fair enough. I have heard several of his Punjabi songs on tapes. Maybe that’s what the audience wants. Ok, first song up. Now lets hear something nice. What followed next? Another Punjabi song, and another and another. The first 20 minutes of the precious time was lost to Punjabi songs and not without reason. The audience was never meant for ghazal enthusiasts. This was meant for middle aged Punjabi men (both Indian and Pakistani). What followed made me almost get up and walk out in frustration. Ghazals on steroids is the only way to describe it. The audience shouted out 8-9 of his most famous songs and he sang them without a break like a sword was hanging on his head. Not one ghazal was sung properly, not one song entered my heart. It was a waste of $25 and the breaking of a dream. I was taken for granted and taken for a ride. Yes, he is Ghulam Ali, but that does not allow him to rest on his laurels. You are here to perform to your capacity, not be a pale shadow of yourself.
11.20: 35 minutes of Ghulam Ali later, Talat Aziz joined him for a finale. I waited politely till they finished singing and walked out with a lot of anger in my heart.

Moral of the story. I am going to stay away from the concerts of these big guys. For most of these guys, US trips are money-making enterprise where the desperate and illiterate NRI audience can lap up whatever they dish. (Jagjit Singh sang bhangra in his ghazal concert last year, by the way). It wouldn’t have mattered so much had it not been Ghulam Ali. Oh well, c’est la vie!

8 comments:

sd said...

"Chupke Chupke " - One of my father's and my fav. songs of Ghulam Ali - My father is also a great Ghulam Ali fan....pretty disappointing for you...the only thing to do I guess is to listen to his records..and feel those stuble variations that only he can create...

Ragini said...

That is soo sad !

Akruti said...

Unfortunately he proved to be only a meastro of Ghazas,or say music.It takes a lot to be more than that.i am so sorry to hear of such a situation.U sure have a great passion for music and now i am scared of u coming to my blog:) ia m still a nothing when compared to ur interest and knowledge.

Meenal Mehta said...

oh no and i was thinking i would go to this one..I grew up on the same fare too ...iam happy i went to the ravi-anouska shankar recital at benaroya hall instead...it was a memorable evening ..

iam sorry u had a bad experince.The bit about desperate and illiterate audience is absolutely true...

hopefully he'll reclaim his lost glory in your eyes..

good luck for the tip

Stone said...

nice to know another Ghulam Ali fan :-)

Jay said...

Are you by any chance referring to the great soul...Ghulam Ali ji's tour of Sada - E - Ghazal ? I am not a blogger ... dunno how I even ended up on this thread.. or blog.. but let me share my experience.. after all jaab baat Ghulam Ali ji ki ho rahi ho tau unka fan hone ke naate I cannot simply understand ke he can not be at his best.. agar woh neend mein bhi gaa rahe ho tau bhi he is best and best...

I am completely with you for all your frustation as it only shows how much love you have for our great singer Ghulam Ali ji... when I heard about the concert was going to be organized in USA... around 8 to 10 months ahead of time , I called K P Singh to check on how can I bring the concert to Boston area... later on to my disappointment I never heard a positive reply from him after many voice mails and emails from me...

Later on some where in FEB I heard there was a show in east coast closer to my home... around 300 miles drive from my home at Elizabeth NJ , organised by Malhar Media... I immediately contacted the owner of Malhar Media Mr. Surajit and thanked him for bringing a show closer to where I can attend it... Immediately booked the first row ticket ( I could not get second row as it was only for certain NY NJ bigshot VIPS who have no clue about ghazals or music...).

Similiarly the show started an hour late due to some NY traffic , etc and than it went exactly as u have mentioned.. first a duet by both of them , than only Talat and finally in less than 20 mins everyone shouted they want Ghulam ALi ji.. so he took over..

Now my experience was a bit different here... he didnt haste or made any mistakes in his performances... first he asked the tabalchi to adjust his tabla... than he checked the flute player... and than he adjusted his harmonium... and than he played some famous some not so famous ghazals... inbetween the crows started takin his pictures and i heard him saying that pls dont ... not now .. as he loses the concentration and than the whole mahol bigaad jata hain... and yes he was right.. later he said he will sing to farmaish but let him finish what he had in mind... and than he sung couple of farmiash as well....

Last but not least... after the show was over... the only desire I had was to meet him but didnt knew among thousands of his fans from NY - NJ areas will I get any chance... to my surprise... Mr Surajit in the end when thanking the group , promoters , etc.. In the end I heard two names... one from some guy and other was mine... he mentioned about what a crazy fan I was and about travelling to hear him for an hour or two... Later on I grabbed some courage , tried to approach back stage door and to my surprise I was allowed in and was right in front of my greatest singer, a noble soul... a kind hearted person... and a down to earth guy... just like million other fans... I was thrilled and excited... after that kya hua... yeh kahani phir sahi...

In short we too lost an hour ... but I had a wonderful experience listening to great great Ghulam Ali ji... from the same event but in Elizabet NJ...

Jay - a die hard Ghulam Ali fan... the only ghazal I have not listened by Ghulam Ali ji is the ones that he has yet to sing....

Khyati Danani - Parekh said...

hi Parth...just chanced upon yr blog...and could almost cry for your loss that evening...

and it's like you put on paper a thought i had in mind for a while...about Jagjit being for the hoi polloi(same words in my head:)) and ghulam ali being the Real thing.

Sounds awful!!! :(


I'm still waiting to treat myself to a concert of his...on some special occasion...it's like the right moment hasn't come..lol...but now i'm sorta scared.

Parth said...

@Khyati: Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your kind comments. I can imagine the concerts in India might be better. I have attended Jagjit Singh concerts in India and in Seattle, and the former have been much better, so there might be hope!