THE STRINGS THAT PULL
Pakistan’s music industry is chaotic, but its stars stun with their talent. Indian audiences can’t be grateful enough.
It’s a happy coincidence that just before writing this piece, I was talking to the ghazal legend Ustad Ghulam Ali on the phone. We were chatting about music, and I asked him how and where I would have the honour of performing with him. He laughed and said that we could jam right then over the phone. Such is the camaraderie I share with one of the greatest living Pakistani singers.
My introduction to Pakistani music was when I was studying in Class X. Rajani, the daughter of my guru T. Balamani, asked me to listen to Ali sahab’s ghazals. Initially, I was sceptical of a form of music I wasn’t really keen on exploring. But when I got home and heard his most famous romantic ghazal— Chupke chupke raat din, penned by poet Maulana Hasrat Mohani— it stunned me. I was bowled over by the lyrics and by his impeccable voice, and played the song over and over again. It’s been a while since then, and we have seen many more talented singers and musicians from that land. When I performed at a concert with classical vocalist Shafqat Amanat Ali, I was exposed to another talented singer. Jamming and exchanging musical notes with him and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was an experience of a lifetime. Over the years, I’ve earned a few good friends from across the border.
I believe music has proved to be a strong and creative medium to bring about peace and stability between India and Pakistan. Since music is flexible and surpasses all borders, it has played a pivotal role in healing the frayed relationship. This is exactly why we have so many fans in India following the melodious talent that has come from across the border.
However, I have observed that the Pakistani music industry is a bit unorganised when compared to ours. Our film music is a multi- million dollar business, thanks to its foundation in the world’s biggest film industry. In India, a musician becomes popular when he/ she lends his/ her voice to the superstar of that era. So you have popular singer- actor duos like Raj Kapoor and Mukesh, Rajesh Khanna and Kishore Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Sudesh Bhonsle, and Shah Rukh Khan and Udit Narayan. As Pakistan’s film industry is not that organised, rather, doesn’t have the funds to make movies like ours, music there is a singular medium in itself. Musicians have their own identity, and they have a vast amount of talent in different genres, from the Sufi ghazals of Abida Parveen and Mehdi Hassan, to pop bands like Strings and Junoon. While this is good, the lack of money is making it difficult to flourish.
I have had the privilege of working with a few young Pakistani musicians and singers like Ali Zafar, on his debut Bollywood film Tere Bin Laden. He is a rare combination of good voice and charm, a real powerhouse of talent. I’ve also recorded a song with another upcoming talent Javed Bashir, who I met while performing at the MTV Coke Studio Season II. We in India are already familiar with his hauntingly melodious voice in his Bollywood debut, Piya tu kaahe rootha re from Kahaani.
Finally, I believe both countries are on the right track when it comes to music. We have an organised industry which is hungry for talent. When singers from across the border come here with their skills, a synergy is created by blending it with the vast pool of Indian musicians. Pakistan has a lot to offer, but to flourish and create its own strong identity, musicians need to be organised. A more open mindset as a society will also help in putting it on the pedestal that our industry occupies today.
( As told to Prachi Rege)
USTAD GHULAM ALI ( LEFT) AND LATE JAGJIT SINGH ON STAGE
The writer is one of Bollywood’s finest playback singers