Breathing new life to the ghazal
With the Jagjit Singh concert having come to an end and Mehdi Hassan having rendered his last ghazal, many lovers of the musical genre now believe it is time to live in the past.
One is not forgetting Ghulam Ali, Farida Khanum or the reclusive Madhurani, but an era has passed; there are no two ways about it. But who is to say the new dawn won't be as memorable?
There is no wave like the one we witnessed in the early Eighties - the world has changed far too much for that to happen again - but there is a world beyond Pankaj Udhas, Talat Aziz, Ashok Khosla, Bhupinder and Mitali Singh, and Chandan Das. In singers like Jaswinder Singh, Sudeep Banerjee, Shoma Banerjee, Sudhir Narain and Mohammed Vakil, there is plenty of promise.
Then, there is Radhika Chopra.
She is not as well known as her smouldering talent warrants, but that is more a comment on the Mumbai-centric media than on anything else. With a voice that has the freshness of the morning breeze and a tonal quality that is given only to the chosen few, this Delhi based singer is, to the discerning ear, ghazal's future.
She stands apart, and it is not just because she still clings to the traditional style of ghazal singing, one that is now almost extinct in the age of the geet numa ghazal. Radhika's renditions drip soul; there is an air of refined and easy confidence in her renditions that often escape even veterans.
"I have been extremely fortunate to have the ability to emote through my music," the singer, who has a doctorate in Hindustani music, said in an interview. "God has been very kind to me and has gifted me with a good voice. It is not something I take for granted. I do a lot of riyaaz."
Years of training in thumri and dadra under Shanti Hiranand, herself a disciple of Begum Akhtar, has given her the kind of vocal dexterity and suppleness that is rare, but Radhika does not see the ghazal as a vehicle to display her musical prowess. Here is a singer who uses her voice to soak in and mirror the poet's thoughts; the showboating is left to other singers.
Quite understandably, the singer is inspired by Mehdi Hassan and Jagjit Singh, singers who swore by soul and emotion. "I have been inspired by many legends," Radhika says. "Besides Begum Akhtar, I have been a huge fan of Mehdi Hassan, Farida Khanum and Jagjit Singh. I have tried my best to learn whatever I could by just listening to these great artists."
Radhika loves singing the legends - catch her on Youtube singing Faiz Ahmed Faiz's "Tum Aaye Ho Na Shab-E-Intezaar Guzari Hai" or "Mujh Se Paheli Si Mohabbat" - and it is easy to see how comfortable she is with Urdu. The voice is well groomed and the diction is spot on, as is to be expected from someone who grew up in Kashmir.
"I have had proper 'taaleem' of the language," she says. "I enjoy the works of poets like Ghalib, Daagh, Dard, Mir and Faiz. It is slightly difficult to understand their thoughts without the proper knowledge of Urdu, but I enjoy rendering their master pieces."
The singer is equally at ease singing modern day poets as well, as her rendition of ghazals and nazms by Indira Varma and Ameeta Parsuram in albums such as "Hum Umr Khayal" and "Jo Aaj Tak Na Keh Saki" proves. Ghazals such as "Hazar Khwab Liye Ji Rahi Hain," "Tere Khayal Ka Charcha," "Subeh Roshan Ko" and "Tu Samajhta Hai" are classics, gems waiting to be discovered by a wider audience.
"Parveen Shakir, Gulzar, Basheer Badr, Qateel Shifai, Ahmed Faraz and Rajesh Reddy are really good," says Radhika about modern day poets. "A ghazal must touch my heart; only then can I compose and sing it from the heart. There is also the singability factor; sometimes a very touching ghazal or nazm is difficult to compose."
She has the ability and a voice that may, one day, bridge the distance between the traditional and the popular, but Radhika is not willing to change her raga-based gayaki, handed down from Begum Akhtar through her guru, to court popularity. The legacy, she says, has to be carried forward.
"The influence is inevitable as my guru is a disciple of Begum Akhtar,' says the singer. "I have had training in Hindustani classical music and have a fair knowledge of ragas. I like to put that to use while composing the ghazals. I know the traditional style is not for the masses, but I am happy with it. That is what matters the most."
"Singing, to me, is as important as breathing," says Radhika. "I hope I will keep singing till my last breath. The ghazal, I am confident, will always be an important genre. I hope that big music companies too will cooperate and encourage artists like us."
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