Oh Maestro..!

      27 Comments on Oh Maestro..!

His voice has been called velvety; it has been likened to silk.

During 1970s, the art of ghazal singing was dominated by well-established names like Noor Jehan, Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan. Ghazals fall in the category of semi-classical music and bear the stamp of classical structure, elements and style. The common man couldn’t connect with the poetry, because its essence and pathos were lost in the technique and process of rendition. It was a rare mind that could piece together the lyrics of the ghazal from the maze of classical music elements.

In 1976, a young couple released their first ghazal album. There were many ‘firsts’ associated with this album. Not only was this their first album, this was also the first time a husband- wife singing duo had appeared in Indian musical scene… that too in the ghazal category. Their style was completely different from the prevalent style of ghazal singing. They were pioneers and path breakers on many counts.

The world did make room for these non-conformists, but not before the customary, grinding years of struggle. These years saw many rejections, including one by India’s state owned (at that time the only) television channel. With the release of their debut album, the years of struggle were laid to rest. Jagjit and Chita Singh had come to stay, and to rule. In the intervening years since the debut until now, the flighty, transitory taste of the country traversed a tapestry of musical styles with predominantly western influence. Yet, Jagjit and Chitra Singh continued not only to hold their place, but to climb ever upward. They have enjoyed enduring and constant success for over three decades.

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.

~Maya Angelou

Speaking of his departure from the norms of ghazal singing, Jagjit Singh once said that for him the most important component in a ghazal was the lyrics. The music and the singer’s prowess in classical (traditional) singing were of secondary importance. He did not think it right, he said, that the essence of the poetry should be diluted because the singer wishes to demonstrate his own craft. The music and the singer’s rendition must serve as a frame for the ghazal. While the frame could be beautiful by itself, it was still merely a prop. A beautiful prop enhances and multiplies the value and experience of viewing a painting. Similarly, his music was also a prop for showing a ghazal to its best advantage. He tried to add depth and color to the poetry when he sang- and he always succeeded.

My first experience of the duo’s magical voice was through an ancient mono-cassette player. The inadequate and technologically pedestrian amplifiers detracted severely from the beauty of their voices. With repeated playing, the tape ribbon developed minor aberrations while the play head collected soot because the cover of the unit had broken off. This accumulated dust added a tinny screech to the soul-filling music that emanated from that belabored player. And yet.

The sheer depth of their melodies and their rich, velvety voices spoke of my inner-most aches. Their voices trembled in the awed silence of my teenaged heart. I was too old for my years- so I was told. All the confusions teens naturally go through, I went through in high relief- so to speak. Through their ghazals, they spoke to me, laying my confusions bare. It was as if the doors in the dark chambers of my soul were flung open with a firm hand. These open doors allowed the sunshine of acknowledgement to light the dismal corners of my consciousness. Their voices were the solace, their solace was the validation; their validation was the very breath of life to me.

With that first album, the duo and I forged a bond to last a lifetime. A bond that is as strong as it is resilient and durable. Even today when things are not going well, I am driven to play one of their compositions. I listen and I am soothed. I am given the courage to stand up and walk my path again. I know that this relationship between us is frozen. It is as constant and predictable as the rising of the sun.

Chitra Singh stopped singing after the couple lost their only son to a road accident. That incomparable voice, which even today moves me to tears when I hear her solo numbers like Jab naam tera pyaar se, Kabhi to khul ke baras, Safar mein dhoop to hogi or even eka na ek shamma silenced itself in protest against the senselessness of the universe. Her voice is so pure and melodious, her renditions so seemingly effortless that listening to her is like riding on the silken threads of her voice in the cool breeze of a balmy summer evening. For her to stop singing was certainly a bad blow.

Jagjit Singh carried valiantly on. His album with Lata Mangeshkar, called Sajda, has some beautiful and haunting ghazals. His Kabhi youn bhi to ho speaks of a poignancy and longing so deep, that words cannot contain them. The yearning washes over you with the prodigious immensity of an ocean in a storm and leaves you speechless and still. Of his bhajans, Hey Ram is surely the best known. The nazms I like best are Baat nikelegi to fir, Tere Khat and Shayad.

Jagjit and Chitra Singh did not pen the ghazals they sang. They sang ghazals, nazms and bhajans written by stalwarts of the poetic world. Jagjit Singh’s album with Gulzar, called Marasim, is certainly a masterpiece. Every ghazal in that album is alive with passion. They gave voice to the verses of renowned poets including Mirza Ghalib, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Ameer Meenai, Kafeel Aazer, Sudarshan Faakir and Nida Fazli.

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.

~Victor Hugo

While Jagjit and Chitra cannot be given credit for the beauty of the lyrics to which they gave their voice, they must certainly be given credit for making those words come alive. Their music and voice added many layers of emotions than could not have been conveyed by words alone. I wonder how many of us would have loved the poetry if it hadn’t been brought to vibrant life through them.

Jagjit Singh is no more now. His last concerts were held on 16th September 2011 at Nehru Science Centre in Mumbai, on 17th at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi and on 20th September at The Indian Public School in Dehradun. On 10th October 2011, this giant ceased to be.

For over three decades, his music has delighted people across all borders of demography. He has given voice to the hopes, yearnings and disappointments of billions. That incomparable voice, soothing and empowering together, has lost itself in eternal silence. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl has quoted a German poet who said What you have experienced, no power on earth can take away from you.

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

~Aldous Huxley

Jagjit Singh will sing no more, it is true, but the vast legacy he has left behind can never be taken away from us.

I am happy he walked the earth, I am grateful he gave company to uncountable moments of loneliness and loss which visit all lives. I am grateful to the solace his velvet voice gave… a voice which spoke to the listener… telling him he is not alone… that other hearts have ached with the same love, other eyes have shed the same tears of parting. He did not go to his grave with his music still in him, but poured out his bounty before he departed. May God bless him!

Peace be to your soul Jagjit Singh..!!

Note: This piece was written for the Jagjit Singh’s first death anniversary and was published in Fried Eye– a variety feature eZine.

Oh Maestro

A humble to my favorite ghazal singer #JagjitSingh, on his birthday today. The post was written a year after he passed on.
Happy Birthday #JagjitJi! Thank you for the magic you continue to create in my life. You are truly immortal!



27 thoughts on “Oh Maestro..!

  1. Rainbow Hues

    That’s a great memory down lane…I guess, hardly any music lover did not like listening to his music. He touched the soul of every music loving Indian.

    May his soul rest in peace.

    1. Dagny Post author

      Oh but I’ve met a few weird people who sneered at me for loving his ghazals. According to them, he is a quack artiste. Idiots! 😀

        1. Dagny Post author

          Nothing creates a deeper bond than a mutual agreement of people’s idiocy. I am well pleased with the world today. 😀 😀

  2. Haneef Muraad

    Jagjit Singh had a caressing voice. I still get emotional whenever I hear his Yeh Daulat bhi le lo.

    I thought Chitra Singh suffered in comparison whenever she sang a duet with him especially in live programs.

    Happy Diwali and a Happier New Year.

    1. Dagny Post author

      Jagjit Singh did have a very caressing voice. Chitra’s voice was very melodious but it lacked the caress his voice had. Her voice only shone in her solo numbers. Hauntingly beautiful.

      Wish you a happy new year too. 🙂

    1. Dagny Post author

      I am so glad I posted this. Glad to know you are a fan too. But then, I really shouldn’t have been surprised. You had to be his fan. 🙂

    1. Dagny Post author

      Privy, We all ‘own’ him in our distinctive ways. For you it is Tumko Dekha… for me it is Kabhi Youn bhi to ho. But its all him ultimately.

      So pleased to see you here. 🙂

  3. reekycoleslaw

    The Unforgettables was their first album. We still have the gramophone record from that time. And it is such a pity that Chitra Singh stopped singing so early on. Kabhi toh khul ranks as one of the most beautiful pieces of words and music I have ever heard in my life.

    1. Dagny Post author

      I think they went from strength from that first album. You are so lucky to have a gramophone record of that album! I remember I had a cassette tape of their Live at Albert Hall album. Awesome!

      1. Rickie

        Yeah, I think they did plenty of great work, but I think the originality of The Unforgettables was probably never peaked. Every single ghazal and nazm, and their treatment, is novel and exceptional.
        Yes, we do have a Live album as well…2 record set. Though I don’t know if that’s called Live at Albert Hall. I think the one we have is called Come Alive…or something like that.

        1. Dagny Post author

          You and I call them innovative and novel. Yet, I have had some people complain that Jagjit Singh has a typical style and there is no change in his music or his rendition. I’ve always wondered what those people meant. To me Jagjit and Chitra Singh were always new, always fresh. In 30 years that has not changed for me.

  4. shail

    Amma’s Jagjit Singh. That’s what my children call him 🙂 That’s the title of the post too that I wrote about finding him and his music. He knows not how much he has helped me through life.

  5. Rachna

    I have heard a few ghazals of Jagjit Singh only through film songs. I never really bought his other albums. Soulful singing, definitely and a loving tribute from you.

    1. Dagny Post author

      You missed something beautiful Rachna. Try youtube someday when you have time. Or I might share my playlist if you so much a bat an eyelid at me. 😀

  6. Amit

    I still listen to Mirza Ghalib at times during my journey home. ‘Aah ko chahiye’, ‘Ye na thi hamari kismat’, ‘Dil-e-naadaan’, ‘Dil hi to hai’, ‘hazaroon khwahishain’ are my all time favourites.
    I always wanted to see a live concert of Jagjit Singh but he passed away. This will always remain an unfulfilled wish.

    1. Dagny Post author

      I too wanted to attend his live performance but it never happened. They came to my town only once… and I was then yet a kid. Still, I hear them in the silence of my soul. 🙂


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