Saturday, November 05, 2005

One more stunning piece from the Nusrat Saab gharana! I am delirious with joy about discovering 'Jiya dhadak dhadak' from Kalyug (a new movie from the Mahesh Bhatt stable).
The song brings back memories of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the man of whom it was once said:
“(When I heard his music) I felt a rush of adrenaline in my chest like I was on the edge of a cliff, wondering when I would jump.”
When he passed away I remember our entire gang mourned his death as the death of the 'mainstream-ing' (if such a word exists) of Sufi music.
Sufi music which became a rage in the 90s and continues to enthrall to date, was given its irresistible charm by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (henceforth referred to as Nusrat Saab).
He made Sufi music more mainstream by simplifying the music and innovating with the format. More importantly, Qawwali, a form of devotional Sufi music, had hitherto been sung mostly in Urdu. It was Nusrat saab who popularised the Punjabi version of Qawwali (the Pakistani Punjabi) that made it easier for the Indian public to identify with Sufi music.
I remember the first time I encountered a Nusrat saab composition. It was this number called 'Jhoole jhoole lal'.
I loved so many things about that number - the rhytmic up-down quality, the improvised sargams, the unabashed high pitch singing, and a small quirk that I noticed him carry through many of his songs...a slight breathlessness that was brought about by someone of his girth doing an Alaap.
I loved the fact that unlike a lot of other forms of music, Nusrat Saab was not too fussed about 'perfection'. This showed in the rampant experiementation that he indulged in.
Apparently, when Nusrat Saab toured in foreign countries, he would watch television commercials in order to identify the melodies and chord progressions popular in that country. He would then try to pick similar sounding songs from his repertoire for his performances.
He would inject sargam improvisations into the qawwali to retain the original 'elusiveness' of qawwali music and also as a contrast to the rather simple lyrics.
What all this meant was that with his music, he moved ordinary, untrained (in music) people like me to that state Sufis call 'ishq', or the harmonic coexistence of earthly passion and divine love -- even though most listeners (like me) were unfamiliar with the Punjabi /Urdu lyrics.
Then, over the years, I became an avid fan of the Nusrat Saab school of music. I felt a curious blend of irritation (about the fact that his work was blatantly plagiarised by many Bollywood music directors) and pleasure (because that made his brand of music more popular with a broader listening populace).
The highlight was when he decided to enter Bollywood to counter the plagiarists with his first movie - Aur Pyar ho gaya.
Though the event itself delighted me, I was a tad disappointed with the result.
Nusrat Saab for some reason stayed away from the Sufi feel and instead focused on popular Bollwood melody. Possibly in those days, a Sufi number could only be a 'filler' song and not a song picturized on the hero. The hero had to have the conventional soft, smooth voice (even if it was Dara Singh in his hero days) and Sufi music did not qualify because it had an 'edgy', full-throated feel. The album had only three numbers that were reminiscent of the great Nusrat Saab - 'Meri Saanson mein', 'Hum se rahoge' and 'Zindagi Jhoom kar'.
Nevertheless, it was a memorable album that still occupies a place in my favorites collection despite a severe onslaught from a whole lot of other inspiring albums over the years.
Soon however, Bollywood became more open to the Nusrat Saab way of singing and even though to date we do not have too many Sufi songs being 'sung' by the hero (it is more a background song), we had more Sufi numbers being composed and topping charts.
And some of the best work that I have had the privilege to listen to was composed by Nusrat Saab.
“Sanware ... Tore Bin Jiya Jaaye Na” - a duet with Humaira Channa from Shekhar Kapoor’s ‘Bandit Queen’, is an example of his ability to provide just the right amount of background emotion to a controversial subject. The use of ravines and rugged country by Phoolan Devi, the Bandit Queen, to escape the law is impressively depicted by Nusrat Saab's use of high octaves and lingering cadences.
"Afreen, afreen" with one of my favorite artists (I use the term deliberately) - Javed Akhtar.
"Piya re", "Tere bin nahin lagda" (an all-time favorite), and many more.
When he passed away, it left me stunned. Who would carry the legacy forward? Would Sufi music fade into oblivion?
And then came two fine singers - one from the same gharana and in reality, the inheritor, and one outsider who worshipped Nusrat Saab from afar (an Ekalavya of sorts). The former is Rahat Fateh Ali Khan (his nephew), and the latter Kailash Kher.
The former is known for some stunning numbers of his own (the most popular being 'Laagi tumse mann ki lagan' from Paap) and the latter has the brilliant 'Allah ke bande' and 'Yunhi chala chal' to his credit.
The same improvisation, the same rustic feel, the same wholehearted, open-hearted singing.
And a few days ago I discovered a lovely number by the former - 'Jiya dhadak dhadak' from Kalyug. And apart from all the afore mentioned similarities, what almost made me poignant for just a minute was the slight loss of breath that is un-self consciously repeated throughout the song everytime the singer says 'Jiya dhadak dhadak'. That did not stop him from singing at that pitch...just like Nusrat Saab.
I guess some good things never do end, do they? And thank god for that!