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'Music is therapeutic'

Jagjit Singh was instrumental in reviving popular interest in that beauteous musical tradition, the ghazal. His rich voice, rapport with listeners, and sound classical foundation earned him the title, King of Ghazals. He has endured personal tragedies, which have made his music more poignant than ever.


Jagjit Singh continues to mesmerise his audience.

JAGJIT SINGH, the king of ghazals, is the most popular Indian ghazal singer. Born in Rajasthan, a land rich in musical traditions, he learnt music from Ustad Jamal Khan of the Seniya Gharana. He came to Bombay as a 26-year-old to try his luck in the music industry. His highly expressive style led him to specialise in ghazals. He was probably the first to achieve star status as a ghazal singer in the country. According to him, ghazals, rich in Urdu poetry, are the most evocative form of verse and embrace the entire range of human emotions.

Singh's first album was The Unforgettables, in 1976. Since then, he has had dozens to his credit. He has been honoured with several awards, including one from the Sahitya Academy in 1998 for popularising Mirza Ghalib's poetry. The same year, he won the Madhya Pradesh Government's prestigious Lata Mangeshkar Samman.

Singh's rich timbre and empathetic rendition of ghazals have won him a huge fan following, and he was responsible for creating renewed interest in it. He uses his classical base and modern sensibilities to interpret ghazal's nuances. He was the first to use Western instruments with great effect in ghazals. He also takes a lot of care in creating his albums, involving himself in every stage. The 60-year-old singer was in the City recently for a performance organised by the Sri Aurobindo Aradhana Trust. Excerpts from an interview:

Q: What would you say is the reason your performances are so popular with all age groups?

A: It is important that one is able to adapt oneself to the mood of the moment. An artiste needs to communicate with the audience; therefore, one must leave all preconceived notions behind. You have to be able to bring the audience to your level whether they are young or old. Q: You have several albums to your credit and have also worked on music in several movies. What do you feel gives you more satisfaction?

A: Well, creating one's own album and working on the music for movies are two different things. In a movie, one has to create according to the picturisation and the mood of the song. In an album, on the other hand, one has more freedom to create. The advantage of doing music for films is that one gets more publicity and exposure. Though in an album the only factor critical for success is the music, in a movie, even if your song is good, it depends a lot on the movie's success.

Q: You have a background in classical music, and trained vigorously for several years. Do you believe that it is necessary for a performing musician to have a foundation in classical music before setting out to become a ghazal or pop artiste?

A: Definitely. The strong base in classical music is very essential for success in music. The artistes who get into music without formal classical training may do well for a while, but after that they fade away. To survive in the industry today, it is important to have a good grounding. It gives one a broader base and trains the voice thoroughly.

Q: What do you think of the younger generation of artistes and the music scene today, where everyone wants to be an artiste?

A: Everyone does not want to be an artiste, everyone wants to be a star! That is where the problem lies; they want quick success and try the easy way out. With the kind of pressure young people face today, it is not entirely their fault. There are very few committed teachers; everybody wants money for their services. Artistes are not financially supported in this country, and, therefore being a musician or a dancer is not a financially viable option.

Q: Then where are the committed artistes? What is the option left for young people interested in pursuing the arts?

A: The well-known successful artistes have a responsibility towards the next generation. These older musicians, dancers, and other artistes must train the next generation and do it for free. In the past, a student was only taught if the guru saw real potential in him. Now everybody and anybody can learn, provided he has the money to pay.

Q: What is your opinion on the pop scene in India? Do you think every musician has to graduate into creating pop music because it seems to be the most popular thing today?

A: Not at all. Every genre of music will always have its own fan following. The ghazal will never die. The artistes who move to pop music probably see no other option for themselves. One has to realise that survival does not mean changing styles. Within the chosen framework one can be creative and still do well.

Q: What was the one moment in your career that you would consider the most striking and memorable?

A: When my first album, The Unforgettables, was released, it was the most memorable moment in my career. It was then that I realized that I could move on my own and didn't have to depend solely on the film industry. Then I found film directors approaching me on their own.

Q: Your wife Chitra used to sing with you until the death of your son. Did you also at that time ever think of giving up music?

A: Not at all. On the contrary, my music was my greatest strength. I used my music to get over the grief I was going through. During my tour in the US, which was immediately after that, it was exceptionally hard to deal with the tragedy. Constantly being at my music helped me deal with the tragedy. Music is very therapeutic.

SONIRA GULHATI

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