Ghulam Ali and Jagjit Singh have been hailed as the undisputed masters of ghazal gayaki today. Their music has crossed borders and established deep artistic connections through India and Pakistan. A few weeks before Singh suffered a haemorrhage and had to be hospitalised, both artists spoke to Shrinkhla Sahai in Delhi, about the changing musical styles, the essence of ghazal, art and politics.
Here’s what the two legends had to say.
How much has your music influenced and inspired each other?
Jagjit Singh: I have been listening to Ghulam Ali sahab’s music for a long time and it always touches my heart. In 1980, we were both performing in London at the same concert. That was the first time we met. I went and met him before the concert. Since then we have shared a special rapport.
Ghulam Ali: We are like brothers. Humility is his habit and he will always place the other person before himself, that is why he is Jagjit….the one who has won the world! A person who is good at heart would always consider other people in the same generous way. First and foremost, an artist must be a good human being.
Ghulam Ali sahab, what do you admire about Jagjit ji’s gayaki?
Ghulam Ali: We are usually asked to comment on each other’s music and I always say this about him, I simply adore his gayaki. We are like brothers and we have the same love and respect for each other’s music. Some specialities of his music are the sweetness of his voice, his individuality of style. He has not copied the style of any other musicians. He has a very unique style which he has developed over the years, and which is only, quintessentially Jagjit. That is the strongest point, he has his own musical identity.
After 26/11, did you ever face any problem in performing in India? It had become increasingly difficult for Pakistani artists to get permissions to come to India…
Ghulam Ali: We always pray and hope for peace and togetherness between all countries. We were always one, we are one and we will remain one. Our sur is the same. Then how can we fight over differences? I felt deeply hurt when this incident happened. I was away on a tour performing in Hong Kong, I think. At that time also, I had said that what happened is wrong. It shouldn’t have happened.
Do you think that art and music are also becoming politicised and artists often become soft targets in such situations?
Ghulam Ali: When two artists from the two countries get together it also becomes a huge crowd puller and public gets together which often creates security problems. But this fear is unfounded. We often present this geet ‘Dono mil kar sur dikhlaaen, sab ko pyaar ki baat bataayen.’ So, as musicians we always try to spread the message of peace and harmony. Music always gets people together, now both of us have performed so many times together in Kolkata, Bangalore, Delhi, and it is a very special feeling.
During such political upheavals what do you think is the role of art and the artist towards society?
Jagjit Singh: The artist should continue his art. He should not compromise.
Ghulam Ali: In fact at such times, the artist should be encouraged and not prohibited. Art is something that goes beyond boundaries. Even if we don’t get a visa, our music will reach people across borders.
Jagjit Singh: True! And music is something that brings people together. Now there is a huge craze for sports in both countries. But sports is about competition. Music is not about competing, it is about appreciation. If Ghulam Ali sahab sings a soulful geet, audience in India will also say ‘wah wah’.
Do you think that the popularity of the ghazal is decreasing, specially with today’s youth?
Jagjit Singh: The performance of the artist counts, it is not about the musical genre only. If the artist is committed to his/her art and is good at it, he will definitely get his share of the limelight. I would say it is not so much about the genre as it is about the performer. It is not that youngsters don’t enjoy ghazals, it is just that they don’t get enough exposure. Media is focusing on other forms of popular music, where is the ghazal in their scheme of things? Then how can youngsters be expected to remain unaffected by that trend? Today, media does not have that sense of responsibility towards literature, other musical forms, socially relevant art. Secondly, Urdu is hardly taught in school or college level in India. So, young people don’t even have a grasp or attachment to the language.