Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mehdi Hassan: The "Voice of God" is no more

The legendary Pakistani singer Mehdi Hassan, universally acknowledged as "Shahenshah-e-Ghazal" (King of Ghazal), died on June 13th, 2012 after a protracted illness. The outpouring of grief and the subsequent torrent of tributes testify to the influence of Mehdi Hassan on lovers of music and Urdu ghazal all over the world. The world of music has lost an irreplaceable asset. I wrote a blog post in November 2009 on some of my favorite Mehdi Hassan pieces along with a biographical sketch (I am proud that several people have borrowed facts from that original piece for which I worked hard to dig up authentic information on the maestro's life).

With Mehdi Hassan's passing, most of the formative influences on my musical tastes since childhood have now passed into history with the notable exception of Lata Mangeshkar and Farida Khanum (may they both live long and prosper!). I can never be thankful enough to have been born in a family whose primary mode of interaction to this day are conversation, debate and argument about politics and history and discussion and enjoyment of literature, film, sports and music. This cultural environment and the economic struggles of a "sufaid-posh" middle class family are my dominant memories of growing up. Mehdi Hassan is the quintessential voice of that upbringing. His imbeccable diction, mellifluous voice and sureela-pan will always live in the hearts of those who love semi-classical Ghazal (a genre of which he is a virtual creator).

Here are a few of the obituaries and articles on Mehdi Hassan published since his death. RIP Maestro!! Your music will live forever!

The Guardian - Obituary
Ali Sethi in The Guardian
The New York Times - Obituary
BBC - Obituary
Hindustan Times - Reactions
Express Tribune - News and Initial Reactions
Public Radio International - Tribute

Let's conclude a tribute to the King in the most fitting manner with his immortal music. For the ghazal selection, here is a slightly lesser known beauty. Close your eyes, listen to the words of Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali and the masterful rendition by Khan Sahib. This is an out of the world experience.

Aage barhe na Qissa-e-Ishq-e-ButaaN se hum
Sab kuchh kaha magar na khule raazdaaN se hum

Here's a gem of a film song from the Pakistani movie "Pehchhan". Nisar Bazmi composed the music. My eight year old growing up in a very different time and place loves this song and often requests it in the car. Here is hoping that Mehdi Hassan's music will be discovered and loved by many generations yet to come.

P.S. I will mention it here to remind myself but will write some other time about my passing encounter with Mehdi Hassan when I was a young boy and he stopped his car at seeing my father and I standing by the side of the road near our VW beetle that had just broken down on us!!


A reader from Delhi said...

Mehdi Hassan's singing was like Lata Mangeshkar's in being 'impossibly beautiful' (Ali Sethi's words).

And not just for ghazals - thanks to youtube I found his rendition of the Rajasthani folk staple Kesariya Balma and i think it's just sublime.

There was so much hyperbolic praise when Jagjit Singh died. He was a great singer of course, but Mehdi Hassan is in an entirely different class

Fawad Zakariya said...

@reader from Delhi, I couldn't agree more. Mehdi Hassan was in a different league. With all due respect to Jagjit, he was more of a popularizer than a first rate vocalist.

And yes Khan Sahib was not only a ghazal master. Kesariya Balam is indeed beautiful but if you followed the link to my old post the last piece "Dukhwa Mein, Kaase KahooN" is a semi-classical gem in Raga Tilak Kamod as is "Umad Ghumad Ghir Aayo Re" in Raga Desh.

Anonymous said...

Hi Fawad,
surfed in thanks your entry on Amartya sen and found this gem.

I think what makes Mehedi Saab peculiar, distinct and the leading light of ghazals is the fact he was able to infuse classical music in ghazals. Moreover, to the untrained ear the classical part was just enough not to put the him off at the same time a trained ear could appreciate the gamaks the meends etc.

I wish you had posted his pashto/farsi renditions too.

You have a great blog keep it up!

Fawad Zakariya said...

Hi Ashu, given that pretty much anybody who shows up up here is accidental it is always a pleasure to find a new reader who gets something out of the random mish-mash of my blogposts. Thanks for your kind comments.

Hopefully you will visit again!

Unknown said...

Lovely blog..lovely choice of songs..loved the choice and where do i find that illustration of your encounter with mehdi saheb.