A sound affair: Jagjit Singh

As a packed audience at the Taramati Baradari awaits the ghazal maestro's entry, there are excited conjectures about what songs he will sing.
Discussions about the legend's health (he was only very recently hospitalised). However, the man puts all worries to rest as he greets the audience, and at once breaks into the prelude to a popular ghazal.
What follows is almost three hours of musical marvel, as he sings one famous ghazal after another, hardly pausing, even between songs as he makes the trademark effortless transition from one ghazal to the next. All this, while the entertainer commands the audience's rapt attention, who sing-along some of those immortal Urdu lyrics, applaud as he delivers the refrain of a song, and he laughs, his characteristic laugh as he presents a sher, dedicated to an aged friend's love life, who is sitting in the audience.
Meeting Jagjitji up close, the first thing that strikes you is the impression of a hearty person, who answers questions, not with the political correctness of a diplomat, but with the markedly carefree manner of one who speaks his mind.
He is an entertainer, not just on stage, but off it, as he punctuates his conversation with humour, which can tend to be on the wry side at times, but makes up for it with the gaiety with which he delivers it. Comment on him having brought ghazals from the elite to the masses, with his amalgamation of western instruments into traditional sound, and he says, "It just happened. It's not something I started out doing in a planned manner." But didn't he get his share of scepticism, on the grounds of deviating from tradition? "What is tradition?" he asks, and then adds after a pause, "Tradition is a fake word, used by people as an excuse to avoid progress. What was tradition 50 years ago, cannot be so now. Maybe, 50 years from now, what I've done will be tradition."
Having made evident that he's not a stickler for orthodoxy, he clarifies that he has nothing against the classical raagas, or dhrupad and thumri, being applied to modern fusion songs. He says, "All music is ultimately based on the raagas, and I don't think using them with modern rock or fusion takes anything away from their beauty. If adding a modern instrument and a long-haired guy on the guitar makes young people love it, then so be it!"
However, talking about music in Bollywood and the dearth of ghazals there, he scoffs with a sharp impulsive remark, "Those people don't have any background in ghazals, or in the literature of classical music, for that matter. They just know how to steal and make music."
Again, in a sudden moment of eccentricity (and enjoying the amusement his humour generates) when asked why he changed earlier album titles from English to Urdu- "I pick titles only on the basis of appropriateness. For that matter, I think our (Jagjit and wife, Chitra Singh's) most appropriate title was A Sound Affair. It was all about sound, and you can guess about the affair bit," he chuckles.
Has he softened his stance, that Pakistani singers shouldn't be given added privileges to sing in India, he says, "No, I stand for that. I'm not against them performing here, but why the extra favour? Why is it that when Ghulam Ali performs, he doesn't have to pay any taxes? Rules should be the same for all."
Talking about Hyderabad, he pauses for a while before reflecting, "When I used to come earlier, I would sing in small mehfils now I get to sing in big venues. But, people enjoy music just the same."
The man who has dedicated a lifetime to music is a thorough optimist about the future and popularity of ghazals, "It's not true that ghazals or classical music have depleting audiences. My fans range across all age groups. Even young people love to listen to ghazals," he signs off.
This article is from: Times of India