How Jagjit Singh redefined the modern ghazal

It was two years after Jagjit Singh’s first album came out in 1965 that the Ghazal king met Chitra during a recording.

They were opposites: while Jagjit was a Punjabi Sikh, Chitra was a Bengali. Jagjit was, musically speaking, a trained classical singer – he learned the ropes of prominent styles of Hindustani classical music, including Khayal, Thumri and Dhrupad from Ustad Jamaal Khan of Senia Gharana.

On the other hand, Chitra was a natural, with no formal training.

When the two first met, Chitra refused to record a jingle with Jagjit. She later recalled in an interview to Filmfare: “I told the music director that his voice was heavy and that I wouldn’t be able to sing with him.”

Chitra later took the mic reluctantly.

The rest as they say is history. Jagjit and Chitra became a hit both inside the studio as well as outside it.

They were soon termed the “Ghazal Couple” and married in 1969.

Thus began the journey of one of the most prolific and beautiful of collaborations in the history of Indian music.

Their singularly unique voices and singing styles complemented each other in every possible way-Jagjit’s heavy baritone contrasted beautifully with Chitra’s sharp voice.

While Jagjit’s voice was like a silent blue ocean, Chitra’s gurgled and danced like a playful fountain and a rivulet.

The couple’s first ghazal album The Unforgettables (1976) went on to become the highest-grossing one in the genre, particularly when there was hardly any market for ghazals.

Blending chorus and instruments in innovative ways, the album made Jajgit and Chitra household names. “Baat Niklegi Toh Phir Door Talak Jayegi” and “Sarakti Jaaye Hai Rukh Seare” are truly unforgettable milestones of ghazal singing.

Jagjit collaborated with Lata Mangeshkar in Sajda and poet-lyricist Gulzar on several occasions.

His album Kahkashan (1991) also drew rave reviews. Jagjit always wanted to become a playback singer like Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey.

His voice drew universal acclaim and was instrumental in making scores of films like Arth and Saath Saath chartbusters.

Jagjit said: “I was determined to polish up the genre and make it more acceptable to modern tastes, so chose simple poems and set them to simple tunes. I also introduced western instrumentation to make them livelier.”

I still remember how people from far-off places would throng at the concerts of Jagjit and Chitra. I often used to accompany my father MR Khairi, who was a ghazal lover, and my mother Anjuman – a ghazal singer in Patna.

The musical nights, held during Dussehra celebrations in Patna, are etched in my memory.

The sessions would start late evening and extend to the wee hours, sometimes to the mornings, with people asking for more even with the sun high up on the horizon.Jagjit Singh’s contribution to the revival and popularisation of the ghazal is indisputable.

He chose poetry that was easy for the masses to understand; his intricately carved rendition of every word and its unique weight stemmed from his deep understand of Urdu poetry.

His music for the serial Mirza Ghalib (1988) made his voice synonymous with the 19th century poet.

In fact, he even sung several of Ghalib’s ghazals lesser-known and philosophically complex ghazals, ones that require some understanding of Islamic theology, for instance:

Baazichaye atfal hai duniya mere aage

Hota hai shabo roz tamasha mere aage

(The world is like a playground to me

Where I see children frolic day and night)

Jagjit Singh is the most successful ghazal singer and composer of all time – in terms of critical acclaim as well as commercial success.

He defined the modern genre of ghazal singing.

Although some might dispute this claim and say his singing was not as classically-based as say Ghulam Ali’s or Mehdi Hasan’s, the fact is that the range and breadth of Jagjit’s work is indeed genre-defining.

But life, like art, is elusive, just as he once sang:

Duniya jise kahte hain jaadu ka khilona hai

Mil jae to mitti hai kho jae to sona hai

The Article First Appeared In DailyO

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