Narendra Kusnur's music musings …


Popular Problems/ Leonard Cohen

Genre: Singer-songwriter

Label: Sony Music

Rating: *****

QUITE clearly, Leonard Cohen defies the concept of growing old. The Canadian singer-songwriter turned 80 on September 21, and at an age when many of his contemporaries would have lost much of their compositional charm, he has produced one of the most remarkable albums of his career. His 13th release ‘Popular Problems’ is a worthy successor to his 2012 effort ‘Old Ideas’, and it’s another of those collections that keeps sounding better on repeated hearing.

‘Popular Problems’ has nine songs, and at less than 36 minutes, is rather short too. None of the tunes crosses the five-minute mark, and yet, they’re filled with so much depth that they seem much longer. Most important, Cohen’s voice seems to get deeper and even more haunting, with that chronic bronchitis growl that makes him so inimitable.

Like in most of his earlier work, the songs talk of love, sex, religion, politics, war, despair and depression, using some outstanding imagery. While one number ‘A Street’ has been co-written by Anjani Thomas, seven have been penned in partnership with Patrick Leonard. ‘Born In Chains’, which has been doing the live circuit for four years, is Cohen’s only exclusive piece of songwriting.

A highlight of the songs is the minimal use of orchestrations, with soft drum brushes, soothing violins, graceful horns and just-about-adequate organs playing pleasantly in the backdrop. The use of female choruses is a regular feature, as the back-up singers repeat the main lines either in isolation or at cross-harmony with Cohen’s voice. If one has to criticise something about this album, it has to do with the ordinariness of its cover artwork. The rest falls perfectly in place.

The singer is in form from the opening number ‘Slow’, singing “I’m slowing down the tune, I’ve never liked it fast, You wanna get there soon, I wanna get there last” in his trademark style. The second piece ‘Almost Like The Blues’ is a dark, anti-war lament, with the lines “There’s torture and there’s killing, And there’s all my bad reviews, The war, the children missing, Lord, it’s almost like the blues.”

On initial hearing, ‘Samson In New Orleans’ may sound like one of the album’s weaker spots, but that’s because it’s too trademark Cohen in tune and structure. Over a few hearings, this song about the Katrina aftermath impresses with its melancholic violin stretch and infectious back-up vocals. With its charming synthesiser line, ‘A Street’ impresses with the words “I cried for you this morning, And I’ll cry for you again, But I’m not in charge of sorrow, So please don’t ask me when.”

What’s amazing is the way the style of the songs changes as the album progresses. The piano-backed ‘Did I Ever Love You?’ is a hymn-like tune questioning the depth of a relationship, whereas ‘My Oh My” just has the right tinge of the blues, with Cohen altering the way he sings the main words remarkably. The other war-related song ‘Nevermind’ is one of the album’s strongest parts, as he sings, “I had to leave my life behind, I dug some graves you’ll never find, The story’s told with facts and lies, I have a name but never mind.” A funk blues backdrop and Arabic vocals give this piece its own distinctness.

On ‘Born in Chains’, Cohen gets into a gospel flavor, singing “I was born in chains but I was taken out of Egypt, I was bound to a burden, but the burden it was raised, Oh Lord I can no longer keep this secret, Blessed is the name, the name be praised.” With its charming violins and pleasant acoustic guitar, the concluding track ‘You Got Me Singing’ traverses country territory. Referring to his famous tune ‘Hallelujah’, Cohen sings, “You got me singing, Singing the Hallelujah hymn.”

Though Cohen has written some pathbreaking songs in his career, he hasn’t been too prolific for most part, sometimes giving gaps or seven or nine years between albums. But the heartening thing is that he’s come out with two great albums in the space of two years and a half. Both ‘Old Ideas’, reviewed earlier in this blog on April 30 2012, and ‘Popular Problems’ complement each other. Like wine, Cohen’s charm is increasing with age.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


Hypnotic Eye/ Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Genre: Rock

Sony Music-Warner/ Rs 499

Rating: ****

THOUGH he released his debut album way back in 1976 and eventually became one of the biggest-selling artistes in rock music, Tom Petty debuted at number one on the Billboard charts for the first time only recently, with his 13th recording ‘Hypnotic Eye’. Released in late July, the 11-track set features his band Heartbreakers yet again.

Petty’s music is rooted in classic rock ‘n’ roll, with doses of the blues and American folk thrown in. As such, it is a very pure sound, filled with charming guitar lines, played here by old-time companion Mike Campbell. In fact, with his brilliant and consistent riffs, Campbell is as much the star of this album as Petty.

To be sure, the album begins on a rather commercial and not-too-great note on the first two numbers ‘American dream plan B’ and ‘Fault lines’. While the former is a David Bowie-like piece with ambition-filled lines like “I got a dream I’m gonna fight till I get it right,” the latter is an expression of personal turmoil.

There’s nothing extraordinary about both these tracks, but Petty hits the right note from the third piece onwards. ‘Red river’ has smart guitar solos, an abrupt change in tempo and catchy lines like “So meet me tonight at the Red River, Where the water is clear and cold, Meet me tonight at the Red River, And look down into your soul.”

With its jazz feel and moody riffs, the slower ‘Full grown boy’ is one of the album’s highlights, with Petty singing in a manner reminiscent of Bob Dylan. On ‘Take what you can’, he increases the tempo, uses a sound akin to Neil Young’s Crazy Horse band, and sings “Take what you can, All you can carry, Take what you can, And leave the thoughts behind.”

For more variety, the outstanding ‘Power drunk’ is pure blues with some first-rate slide passages, and ‘Forgotten man’ gets into hard rocking fuzz guitar space, with Petty’s voice filled with anguish on the words “I feel like a forgotten man.” ‘Sins of my youth’ is a simple, nostalgia-filled song with a pop feel and a mellow guitar portion.

The quality drops slightly with ‘You get me high’, which has a very predictable structure and lacks an extraordinary hook. But Petty is in super nick on ‘Burnt out town’, another Dylan take-off with a blues pattern, raw harmonica, tight guitars and Benmont Tench’s smooth piano.

The icing on the cake comes on the last track ‘Shadow people’. Though lengthy at six minutes and 40 seconds, it’s the kind of song which grows on repeated hearing, thanks to its organ, guitar and bass backdrop, and the catchy line “Shadow people in shadow land.”

The end result is an album that’s definitely one of Petty’s better ones, especially over the last two decades. It’s got the compositions, it’s got the guitars, it’s got the variety and most important, it’s got the meat.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


Today, October 7 2014, is the birth centenary of ghazal empress Begum Akhtar. A tribute

Woh jo hum mein tum mein qaraar tha, tumhe yaad ho ke na yaad ho

Wohi yaani vaada nibaah ka, tumhe yaad ho ke na yaad ho

THE year was 1986, and it was the first time I was hearing, or rather overhearing, the divine voice of Begum Akhtar. I was 22 plus, and till then, I had been exposed to ghazals in a limited manner, mainly through the songs of Jagjit-Chitra Singh, Ghulam Ali, Rajendra-Nina Mehta, Pankaj Udhas and Talat Aziz. I had heard only a few songs of Mehdi Hassan, and my tastes were more inclined towards rock bands like Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues.

Abhay Kant, a journalist colleague who stayed in the neighbouring room in Jaipur, was obsessed with Begum Akhtar, and would play her songs late into the night. I barely paid attention, and at times, even got irritated with him. But once, after ending a round of Pink Floyd, I caught a few strains of ‘Woh jo hum mein tum mein’ playing through his window. The curiosity increased, and after a few days, whenever the ghazal queen played next door, I would ensure that the rock fraternity didn’t disturb her.

A few days later, I sat with Abhay for a Begum Akhtar session, and he patiently, but unsuccessfully, tried to explain the meanings of the difficult Urdu words that regularly came up. The songs that made some sense included ‘Ab chalakte hue saagar dekhe nahin jaate’, ‘Ae mohabbat tere anjaam pe rona aaya’, ‘Deewana banana hai toh to deewana bana de’ and ‘Dil ho to hai na sang-o-kisht’. He tried to explain the style of the poets, but at that time, I was never too interested, showing some expression only when the name ‘Ghalib’ was mentioned. He seemed to be in fashion, after all.

Abhay had seven or eight ghazals in his collection, and as long as he stayed there, I received an occasional dose of Begum Akhtar. He suddenly left for a job in Delhi or Patna, and for another four years, I did not hear that golden voice. When I relocated to Mumbai in late 1990, I picked up two cassettes from Rhythm House, just to give them a shot. That was when the craze actually began. Over the years, the two ghazal singers who’ve had the major impact on me are Mehdi Hassan and Begum Akhtar.

FOR the true appreciation of ghazals, a few things are required. The first aspect involves the basic composition. After all, a ghazal with a melodious and distinct tune is more likely to create an impact. For the listeners, additional knowledge of classical raags and taals will help, though in this genre, one may argue that it may not be as necessary as it is with Hindustani classical or Carnatic music. Since the ghazal is a lighter form, a catchy tune can instantly attract the listener, whether or not he can identify the raag.

Secondly, and more important, one needs to have a basic understanding of the Urdu language, or at least the desire to comprehend the words used. Since many poets, mostly the classical ones, tend to use complex phrases, one may need to keep referring to a dictionary or the Internet. But without understanding the true meaning of the words, one can never get the exact gist of the ghazal. In a related sense, it is important to know the mood of the piece, whether it is romantic or political or emotional or even satirical.

Next comes the technicalities of writing. One must be able to distinguish between a ghazal, which uses rhyming couplets, a nazm, which uses free poetry, and a geet, which is more of a simple song. One should be able to identify a qataa (which has two shers) and a rubaai (which uses a four-line format). One should be able to define the matla (the opening couplet), the makta (the last couplet), the behr (metre) and takhallus (the writer’s pen name, often used in the makta). Equally important, one should understand portions known as kaafiya and radeef, which are used for rhyming, and other forms of writing jargon like misra-e-oola (first line of a couplet) and misra-e-saani (second line).

While these terms may sound too highbrow to the lay listener, the fact is that they are actually very simple to understand and are essential to enhance true appreciation.

Finally, the singer’s own style plays a supreme role. The texture of their voice and the soulfulness with which they express words distinguish them from the others. Though one hears the singer’s voice first, normally before one gets into the verbal depths, the truth is that only a great voice will make you want to come back to the song, irrespective of how deep its meaning is.

The choice of poetry, the uniqueness of the composition and the singer’s manner of expression all combine to increase the beauty of the ghazal. And this is where Begum Akhtar displayed her own style. Her voice brimmed with pathos, the musical compositions and arrangements set the right mood and the words were powerful enough to leave a lasting impact. And it wasn’t only in ghazals that she was the master – her rendition of light classical thumris and dadras (like ‘Ab ke saawan ghar aaja’, ‘Koyaliya mat kar pukaar’ and ‘Hamri atariya’) was exquisite too.

LET’S now specifically look at Begum Akhtar’s choice of poetry. If one examines her repertoire, one notices two things. One is that she has sung the work of most of the top-notch poets extensively. The second is that she used a good mix of classical and 20th century poets.

Leading her list of great poets was the 19th century master Mirza Ghalib. Here, her selection included the gems ‘Dil hi to hai na sang-o-kisht’, ‘Aah ko chahiye ek umr asar hone tak’, ‘Yeh na thi hamari kismat’, ‘Ibn-e-mariyam hua karey koi’, ‘Koi umeed bar nahin aati’ and ‘Daayam pada hua tere dar par nahin hoon mein’.

There was a certain magic in which she presented Ghalib’s shers, one example being from ‘Dil hi to hai’. The matla goes:

Dil hi toh hai na sang-o-kisht, dard se bhar na aaye kyon

Royenge hum hazaar baar, koi hamein sataaye kyon

Then, one of the shers is:

Dair nahin, haram nahin, dar nahin, aastaan nahin

Baithe hain rehguzar pe hum, gair hamein uthaaye kyon

Here, ‘aaye’, ‘sataaye’ and ‘uthaaye’ are the kaafiya and ‘kyon’ is the radeef. And to get a truer understanding of its meanings, ‘sang’ means stone, ‘kisht’ is brick, ‘dair’ is temple, ‘haram’ is mosque, ‘dar’ is gate and ‘aastaan’ is doorstep.

Of the other classical poets, Mir Taqi Mir was represented by ‘Ulti ho gayee sab tadbeerein’ and ‘Dil ki baat kahi nahin jaati’. The former has a famous makta:

‘Meer’ ke deen-o-mazhab ko ab poochte kya ho unne to

Kashka khencha dair mein baitha, kab ka tark Islam kiya

‘Deen-o-mazhab’ means religion or religious beliefs, ‘kashka’ is the Urdu equivalent of ‘tilak’, ‘dair’ is temple and ‘tark’ is renounce. ‘Meer’ is the takhallus.

From the older generation of poets, Begum Akhtar’s rendition of Daagh Dehlvi (‘Uzr aane mein bhi hai’ and ‘Rasm-e-ulfat sikhaa gaya koi’) and Momin Khan Momin (‘Woh jo hum mein tum mein qaraar tha’) are well-known too.

Among the 20th century poets, she excelled at Faiz Ahmed Faiz works like ‘Aaye kuchh abr kuchh sharaab aaye’, ‘Donon jahaan teri mohabbat mein haar ke’ and ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’. The first ghazal begins:

Aaye kuch abr kuch sharaab aaye

Uske baad aaye jo azaab aaye

‘Abr’ is cloud and ‘azaab’ means agony or anguish. One of the popular shers is:

Kar raha tha gham-e-jahaan ka hisaab

Aaj tum yaad behisaab aaye

And the makta is:

‘Faiz’ thi raah sar-basar manzil

Hum jahaan pahunche kaamyaab aaye

‘Sar-basar’ means entirely. In this ghazal, ‘sharaab’, ‘azaab’, ‘behisaab’ and ‘kaamyaab’ are the kaafiya, and ‘aaye’ is the radeef. ‘Faiz’ is the takhallus.

Two 20th century poets that Begum Akhtar sung outstandingly were Shakeel Badayuni and Sudarshan Faakir. While the former wrote ‘Mere humnafas mere hum nawa’, ‘Ae mohabbat tere anjaam pe rona aaya’, ‘Khush hoon ke mera husn-e-talab kaam toh aaya’ and ‘Door hai manzil raahe mushkil’, the latter penned ‘Kuchh toh duniya ki inaayaat ne dil tod diya’, ‘Ishq mein ghairat-e-jazbaat ne rone na diya’, ‘Ahal-e-ulfat ke hawaalon pe hasee aati hai’ and ‘Apnon ke sitam humse bataaye nahin jaate’.

Let’s take the first one by Shakeel:

Mere humnafas mere humnawa mujhe dost banke dagaa na de

Main hoon dard-e-ishq se jaan-valab mujhe zindagi ki duaa na de

‘Jaan-valab’ means ‘brink of death’. Later in the ghazal, we have the famous couplet:

Mera azm itna baland hai ke paraaye sholon ka darr nahin

Mujhe khauff aatish-e-gul se hai, yeh kahin chaman ko jalaa na de

‘Azm’ is conviction’ and ‘baland’ is strong. ‘’Dagaa’, ‘duaa’ and ‘jalaa’ are the kaafiya and ‘na de’ is the radeef.

Finally, let’s take the example of Faakir’s ‘Kucch toh duniya ki inaayaat’. It begins:

Kuchh toh duniya ki inaayaat ne dil tod diya

Aur kuchh talkhi-e-haalaat ne dil tod diya

Hum toh samjhe the barsaat mein barsegi sharaab

Aayi barsaat toh barsaat ne dil tod diya

‘Inaayaat’ is blessings, and ‘talkhi’ is bitterness. This ghazal has a complex structure, with ‘inaayat’, ‘haalaat’ and ‘barsaat’ being the kaafiya and ‘dil tod diya’ forming the radeef. Unlike other ghazals where the couplets are independent of each other, the first two couplets tend to merge in this one.

WHILE these were some of the poets Begum Akhtar was known for, she has also sung the works of Ibrahim Zauq (‘Laayee hayaat hamein’), Jigar Moradabadi (‘Duniya ke sitam yaad na apni hi wafaa yaad’), Ali Ahmed Jaleeli (‘Ab chalkte hue saagar’) and Taskeen Qureshi (‘Kis se poochein humne kahaan’).

Listening to her ghazals is quite an addiction, and the more one hears them and the deeper one gets into the intricacies, the more enchanting she sounds. Today, on her birth centenary, one can only hope her music is carried forward to the next generation.

Many of them may start off the way I did, listening to her voice simply because someone else was playing it. Or they may begin by experimenting on YouTube, and somehow getting into the basic rules of ghazal appreciation. Though times and listening tastes have changed, one can at least hope this happens.

I personally haven’t been in touch with Abhay Kant after 1986 and am clueless about his current whereabouts. But there’s obviously one thing I am eternally grateful to him for – Thank You for Begum Akhtar. How can one forget those nights when her voice came from the neighbouring window, singing Momin’s immortal lines:

Kabhi hum mein tum mein bhi chaah thi, kabhi humse tumse bhi raah thi

Kabhi hum bhi tum se the aashna, tumhe yaad ho ke na yaad ho


SD Burman and Majrooh Sultanpuri

TODAY, October 1, is the birth anniversary of two of Hindi film music’s most creative and consistent artistes. While music director SD Burman, born in 1906, continued to weave reams of melodic magic till his death in 1975, the 1919-born lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri remained active for over five decades, till he passed away in 2000. And the best thing about both these geniuses who shared birthdays was that they combined to create many outstanding songs together.

In Hindi cinema, a few combinations of music director and lyricist have reigned supreme. Naushad and Shakeel Badayuni, and Shankar-Jaikishen and Shailendra were the earlier successes. Before his best work with Majrooh, SD and Sahir Ludhianvi were a fantastic team, till they parted ways after the magnificent ‘Pyaasa’. Later, Sahir was to do some phenomenal work with Ravi. For his part, Madan Mohan’s work with Raja Mehdi Ali Khan was exceptional. In the 1970s, RD Burman paired very well with Anand Bakshi and Gulzar, and also with Majrooh in the Nasir Hussain productions. In more recent times, AR Rahman/ Mehboob Kotwal and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy/ Javed Akhtar are two examples of combinations that have clicked.

In their day, the SD-Majrooh collaboration was special in its own way, one of their last being in the Amitabh Bachchan-Jaya Bhaduri film ‘Abhimaan’. Over the years, of course, a large chunk of their films featured Dev Anand, examples being ‘Paying Guest’, ‘Nau Do Gyarah’, ‘Kala Pani’, Manzil’, ‘Solva Saal’, ‘Bombai Ka Baboo’, ‘Baat Ek Raat Ki’, ‘Jewel Thief’ and ‘Teen Deviyan’.

A highlight of most Dev Anand films was the high quality of music, and these were no exception. ‘Paying Guest’ (1957) had gems like Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Chand phir nikla’, Kishore Kumar’s ‘Maana janaab ne pukara nahin’ and the Kishore-Asha Bhosle hit ‘Chhod do anchal’. ‘Nau Do Gyarah’, from the same year, had Kishore’s ‘Hum hain raahi pyaar ke’, th Kishore-Asha duet ‘Aankhon mein kya jee’ and the Mohd Rafi-Asha charmer ‘Aaja panchi akela hai’.

The following year, 1958, saw the two combine in ‘Solva Saal’ and ‘Kala Pani’. While the former had Hemant Kumar’s ‘Hai apna dil toh awara’, and the latter had Rafi’s ‘Hum bekhudi mein’ and Asha’s ‘Nazar laagi raja’. In 1960, the Dev Anand film ‘Manzil’ had the Rafi-Geeta Dutt beauty ‘Chupke se mile pyaase pyaase’, Manna Dey’s ‘Humdum se gaye’ and Hemant Kumar’s ethereal ‘Yaad aa gayee who nasheeli nigahen’. In ‘Bombai ka Baboo’, Mukesh sang the unforgettable ‘Chal ri sajni’.In the 1962 movie ‘Baat Ek Raat Ki’, Hemant Kumar sang the marvellous ‘Na tum hamein jaano’, with Suman Kalyanpur doing a version too.

The SD-Majrooh-Dev Anand combine had two more masterpieces. In the 1965 film ‘Teen Deviyan’ we heard Kishore singing ‘Khwab ho tum’, the Kishore-Asha song ‘Arrey yaar meri’ and the Kishore-Lata tune ‘Likha hai teri aankhon mein’. In 1967, Shailendra was to do ‘Jewel Thief’. He fell ill, and contributed only ‘Rula ke gaya sapna mera’. Majrooh took over and chipped in with Kishore’s ‘Yeh dil na hota bechara’, the Kishore-Lata gem ‘Aasman ke neeche’ and Asha’s ‘Raat akeli hai’.

Besides the Dev Anand films, SD and Majrooh combined on such classics as ‘Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi’ (which had Kishore’s ‘Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi’, the Kishore-Manna Dey song ‘Babu samjho ishaare’ and the Kishore-Asha superhit ‘Haal kaisa hai janaab ka’) and ‘Sujata’ (which had Talat Mahmood’s unforgettable ‘Jalte hain jiske liye’, Geeta Dutt’s ‘Nanhi kali sone chali’, Asha and Geeta’s ‘Bachpan ke din’ and SD’s own rendition of ‘Sun mere bandhu’). The Lata song ‘Pawan deewani’ from ‘Dr Vidya’ was a major hit too.

The two of them also worked in films like ‘Lajwanti’, ‘Sitaron Se Aage’, ‘Talaash’, ‘Phagun’ and ‘Sagina’ (remember ‘Saala mein to saahab ban gaya’?) But their biggest hit arguably was in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1973 film ‘Abhimaan’, which had ‘Tere mere milan yeh raina’ (Lata-Kishore), ‘Teri bindiya’ (Lata-Rafi), ‘Lutey koi man’ (Lata-Manhar Udhas), Kishore’s ‘Meet na mila’ and three Lata solos ‘Nadiya kinarey’, ‘Ab toh hai tumse’ and ‘Piya bina’.

Forty years after its release, ‘Abhimaan’ is still considered to be among that all-time great soundtracks. Appropriately, it was the result of the creative combination of two geniuses who had the same birthday. As a team, SD Burman and Majrooh Sultanpuri made a contribution that was timeless.



Music: Vishal Bhardwaj

Genre: Hindi film

Label: Junglee Music

Rating: ****

AS a music director, Vishal Bhardwaj has numerous individual hit songs to his credit, but in terms of overall consistency, one usually thinks of his earlier films ‘Maachis’ and ‘Godmother’. In his latest directorial venture ‘Haider’, he returns to that form once again.

Inspired by William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, the Shahid Kapoor-Shraddha Kapoor film is set in Kashmir. As such, the music is a neat blend of Kashmiri folk tunes, Urdu lyricism and western sounds. The best part is that it is versatile, with a good mix of mass-friendly and soulful numbers.

Barring two pieces by famed Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the lyrics have been written by Gulzar, mostly in his inimitable style. Though Bhardwaj uses his regular favourites Vishal Dadlani, Sukhwinder Singh, Suresh Wadkar and wife Rekha Bhardwaj, the inclusion of Arijit Singh on two tracks lends freshness.

The album begins with the guitar-fuelled ‘Aao Na’, a grungy rock number sung energetically by Dadlani. With lines like “Arrey aao na, ke jaan gayee, kahaan gaya, so jaao, arrey aao na, ke thak gayee hai zindagi, so jaao”, it’s the kind of song that will instantly appeal to youngsters.

Sukhwinder is in great form on ‘Bismil’, a stage song which effectively changes tempo and makes good use of rabab, violins and oud, blending Kashmiri folk melodies with Middle Eastern sounds. The album also features ‘Ek Aur Bismil’, a rearrangement of the song with a more Arabic feel.

The other songs cut down the tempo. ‘Khul kabhi’, sung with emotion by Arijit, has shades of late 1990s AR Rahman, and is embellished by Gulzar’s words that go, “Khul kabhi to, khul kabhi kahin, main aasmaan, tu meri zameen, boond-boond barsoon main, paani-paani khelun-kheloon aur beh jaaoon, geele-geele hothon ko main, baarishon se choomoon, choomoon aur keh jaaoon, tu zameen hai, tu meri zameen.”

‘Gulon mein rang bhare’, a Faiz Ahmed Faiz ghazal popularised by the legendary Mehdi Hassan, has been sung by Arijit here, changing the sequence of the shers. While his rendition is soulful on its own and the arrangements are pleasant, those who’ve grown up on the original may not take to it. Of course, one wonders why so many people are using the song, as we have had adaptations by Mohit Chauhan and KK in the past.

One of the highlights is ‘Jhelum’, sung in raag Puriya Dhanashree by Bhardwaj himself. A moving string back-up accentuates the song which has the lines, “Jhelum Jhelum dhoonde kinara, Jhelum Jhelum dhoonde kinara, Dooba sooraj kin aankhon mein, Sooraj dooba kin aankhon mein, Jhelum huya khaara.”

‘So jao’, a group song featuring Bashir Lone, Bashir Bhawani, Muzamil Bhawani, Mayukh Sarkar, Aalaap Majgavkar and Sourabh Joshi, has shades of the ‘Satte Pe Satta’ hit ‘Pyaar hamein kis mod pe’ in its composition. ‘Do jahaan’, which blends Gulzar’s lines with Kashmiri folk lyrics, has been sung by Wadkar and Shraddha Kapoor. While singing in the local dialect, the actress shows a pleasant voice but wavers a bit – a full-time singer would have done wonders.

The album concludes with Rekha Bhardwaj singing ‘Aaj ke naam’, which is basically the same as Faiz’s nazm ‘Intesaab’. Here again, if one has heard the older version sung by Nayyara Noor with recitation by Shoaib Hashmi, this one seems a bit plain. However, those hearing it for the first time should be impressed by the sheer power of the poetry.

Overall, the most impressive thing about the soundtrack is that it echoes a feel of Kashmir effectively. Add to that a good variety of songs, and this becomes one of Bhardwaj’s best scores.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

u srinivas

TODAY, September 19, has to be one of the saddest days not only for Indian music, but for world music as well. At the untimely age of 45, phenomenal mandolin exponent U Shrinivas has passed away, leaving behind a treasure trove of melodies that only he could present. He had such a mastery over his instrument that every time one saw him on stage, one was stunned by the sheer beauty and perfection he displayed in playing those notes.

A week ago, one had heard he had been hospitalised because of a serious liver condition, and that a transplant was required. The news made the rounds in a limited way in the social media, and those who read it prayed for his speedy recovery. Alas, God has his own mysterious ways, and just when one heard he was getting better, he collapsed. An era was over.

Only a few musicians deserve to be called a legend in the world of music, and Shrinivas is one of them. He was one of those who impressed both the serious listeners of south Indian Carnatic music, with his nuanced exploration of the ragas, and yet had a huge following among admirers of experimental crossover music and fusion. In either genre, he played magically and majestically. And yet, for an artiste of his stature, he had no airs, no star attitude, no ego.

Shrinivas’ work with fusion group Remember Shakti, along with guitarist John McLaughlin, tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and kanjira player V Selvaganesh, had a dazzle of its own, whether it was his solo in ‘Maya’, his subtlety on ‘Lotus Feet’ or his accompaniment in the vocal piece ‘Giriraj Sudha’. And while he played with them from the age of 31, he had earlier attracted celebrity followers when he had entered his teens, impressing even jazz guru Miles Davis, who saw him at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1983. George Harrison raved about his playing too, and in an interview given to this blogger for ‘Rolling Stone India’ earlier this year, McLaughlin had said: “I saw Shrinivas for the first time when he was 14 years old, and he blew my mind then.”

Shrinivas was literally born to play the mandolin. A child prodigy, he was first trained by his father Satyanarayana from the age of six, after he saw the instrument in the home studio and became fascinated with it. Later, his father’s guru Rudraraju Subbaraju guided him. He was concert-ready by the time he was nine, and from then on, there was no looking back. His brother U Rajesh is a talented mandolin player too, and the two have often performed together.

The fact that Shrinivas successfully adapted the western mandolin to Carnatic technique and later worked wonders with the electric mandolin speaks volumes for his genius. Yes, many south Indian musicians had played the violin brilliantly over the years, and Kadri Gopalnath had mastered the saxophone. But for the connoisseurs in Tamil Nadu, the mandolin remains Shrinivas’s baby.

Having had his first concert appearance as a nine-year-old at the Thyagaraja Aradhana festival in Gudivada, Andhra Pradesh, Shrinivas went on to do a string of outstanding concerts and release landmark albums. Among his Carnatic recordings, the albums ‘Rama Sreerama’ and ‘Magic Mandolin’ were career highlights. While the former had a 29-minute ragam-taanam-pallavi and ragamalika, the latter featured violinist A Kanyakumari and tabla maestro Zakir Hussain. His rendition of Thyagaraja’s pancharatna kritis in the album ‘Trio Mandolin’ wowed the purists.

On the fusion front, his most memorable work was arguably the 1995 venture ‘Dream’ with Canadian producer Michael Brook. Containing the tracks ‘Dance’, ‘Think’, ‘Run’ and ‘Dream’, it also featured famed violinist Nigel Kennedy and percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. His 2008 album ‘Samjhanitha’ had McLaughlin, banjo master Bela Fleck, Mohan veena player Debashish Bhattacharjee and saxophonist George Brooks, besides an army of top-grade Indian percussionists.

Shrinivas’ album ‘Ilaayaraja’s Classics in Mandolin’ featured the works of the great composer. More recently, his mandolin was heard in the original soundtrack for the film ‘Eat Pray Love’, on the tune ‘Kaliyugavaradana’.

Despite his glory in the field of music, Shrinivas had a sad personal life. Much has been written about his bad marriage and subsequent divorce. But for those who knew him personally, he was the epitome of humility.

He spoke only as much as required and was shy on most occasions. A decade ago, this blogger had approached him for an interview which he politely agreed to. But he spoke very less, and one had to really prod him to say something more elaborate. But then, he never believed in media exposure or public relations. He let his music do all the talking, and that was what mattered.

The world will miss your presence, Shrinivas, but your genius will stay on. The news of your death is something one won’t get over so easily.


Gene Simmons

IN a controversial interview recently published in Esquire magazine, Gene Simmons of the 70s band Kiss declared that rock music is dead. Besides talking of how technology-driven practices like downloading and file-sharing have had an adverse effect on the industry, he says that what’s lacking is the presence of iconic musicians in the newer generation.

On the one hand, Simmons points out, the period between 1958 and 1983 had numerous musicians who were “unanimously considered classic, timeless, revolutionary.” The examples he cites are Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Madonna, the classic Motown artistes, Prince, Pink Floyd, so on and so forth. In contrast, in the period after the 1990s, he thinks Nirvana is the notable exception. “Where’s the next Bob Dylan? Where’s the next Beatles? Where are the songwriters? Where are the creators?” he asks.

Obviously, the interview has generated extreme reactions. While the old-timers would tend to agree with his views, the younger audiences would find the statement far-fetched and old-school, and say that post-1985 bands like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dream Theater and Radiohead are legendary in their own right. To each his own.

But the truth is that as a general statement, what Simmons has said is not off the mark in the sense that the past three decades or so haven’t produced the kind of legends that the earlier period did. After all, most of the new bands just carried forward the sound created by earlier masters like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd.

At the same time, to declare that rock music is dead is preposterous, simply because one hears a whole bunch of younger, talented musicians these days – acts like Muse, Richard Hawley, Wilco, Jack White, the Black Keys and John Mayer. They may not be innovators or path-breakers like the 1960s brigade, but they do produce some great songs and highly listenable albums, and that matters more than anything else.

If one were to extend Simmons’ theory to other genres – both international and Indian – the same conclusion can be arrived at.

Let’s take western classical music, to begin with. Most of the innovation actually took place from the late 18th century to roughly 1950. Today, most concerts feature works of older composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Brahms, probably ending with early 20th century names like Stravinsky, Edward Elgar and Shostakovich. Though later-day composers like Aaron Copland, Benjamin Britten and Karl Jenkins did some amazing work, a majority of the repertoire played belongs to the older creators.

Even among conductors, there is no one in the contemporary lot whose name carries the same weightage as Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, Clive Davis or Georg Solti. A violinist like Yehudi Menuhin, a cellist like Mtistlav Rostropovich, a pianist like Daniel Barenboim, a tenor like Luciano Pavarotti or a soprano like Maria Callas is hard to find today, even though there are scores of musicians who play these instruments brilliantly or have an equal depth in their voices.

In jazz, the biggest innovators thrived between 1930 and 1975 – singer-trumpeter Louis Armstrong, bandleader Duke Ellington, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, pianists Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck and Herbie Hancock, saxophonists Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Stan Getz, guitarists John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola, and jazz-fusion band Weather Report, to name some.

Today, there are hundreds of jazz virtuosos, each of whom beats the other in terms of sheer technique and wizardry. But will they be able to set the standards of the past masters? Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and singer Diana Krall are among the exceptions, rather than part of a recurring trend.

The blues has a similar story to tell. The game changers included Robert Johnson, Elmore James, BB King, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy, who had all peaked before the 1970s began. In country music, when was the last time we had someone of the calibre of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn or John Denver? Or someone like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff in reggae?

A similar argument holds true with Indian music. In Hindi film music, the real path-breaking work was done between 1950 and 1975 by composers like Naushad, Anil Biswas, SD Burman, C Ramchandra, OP Nayyar, Shankar-Jaikishen, Madan Mohan, Ravi and Salil Chowdhury, to be followed by RD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji. Most composers after the 1990s, from AR Rahman and Nadeem-Shravan to Jatin-Lalit and Amit Trivedi, have had their good phases, but those who have grown up on the earlier masters will know the real difference.

In singing, the contributions of Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Asha Bhosle, Geeta Dutt and Talat Mahmood are admired even five or six decades later. Likewise with lyricists like Shakeel Badayuni, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shailendra, Rajinder Krishan, Harsat Jaipuri, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Anand Bakshi and Gulzar.

Move over to Hindustani classical music, and one can safely argue that among vocalists, it’s difficult or even impossible to produce another Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan, Omkarnath Thakur, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, Mallikarjun Mansur, Kesarbai Kerkar, Kishori Amonkar, Jasraj or Parveen Sultana. Yes, there are some really outstanding singers today, like Rashid Khan, Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, Jayateerth Mevundi, Shubha Mudgal, Ulhas Kashalkar, Venkatesh Kumar, Kaushiki Chakraborty and Sawani Shende, but despite their brilliance, it would be unrealistic to say they will replace the older legends.

The same is the case with Hindustani instrumental music and percussion, where sitar maestros Ravi Shankar and Vilayat Khan, sarod monarch Ali Akbar Khan, flautists Pannalal Ghosh and Hariprasad Chaurasia, shehnai king Bismillah Khan, santoor genius Shivkumar Sharma, and tabla greats Allarakha and Zakir Hussain have all done wonders. In Carnatic music, there can never be another MS Subbulakshmi, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman, flautist N Ramani, saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath or the relatively younger mandolin master U Shrinivas. In ghazals, can we have another Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh, Begum Akhtar or Ghulam Ali? Today, Pankaj Udhas is the only ghazal singer who regularly draws a full house.

KEEPING Simmons’ ‘rock is dead’ theory in mind, one can easily declare that classical is dead, jazz is dead, blues is dead, country is dead, reggae is dead, Hindi film music is dead, Hindustani classical is dead, Carnatic is dead and ghazals are dead. All these genres are as affected by downloading and file-sharing as rock music, and none of them produce the kind of icons that one heard 40 or 50 years ago.

Yet, that approach would be rather pessimistic and unfair. After all, in the past two decades or so, there have been various changes in the field of music, right from the kinds of sound created by musicians to the tastes of the audiences to the technological platforms on which the music is available to the way the music is marketed and promoted.

Like in other fields, supply in music is dependent on the demand. Over the years, there has been a drastic fall in the number of serious listeners, and in the number of listeners who are truly passionate about music.

To appreciate in-depth genres like western classical, jazz, Hindustani, Carnatic and ghazals, audiences should be clued in to the nuances. Unfortunately, relatively fewer people today understand the harmonies used in a western symphony, the improvisational technicalities of jazz, the intricacies of a Hindustani or Carnatic raga or the meaning of high-quality Urdu poetry. Overall, music appreciation has become superficial.

To cater to the newer audiences, artistes are forced to adapt or make sacrifices which try to impress with gimmickry or dilute the purity of the art form. In the world of jazz, Indi-fusion and even Indian classical, there has been an increasing emphasis on showmanship, which today’s listeners are sadly relating to and applauding.

These days, people have entertainment alternatives beside music. Many youngsters prefer to spend their time on television, gaming, computers, movies or even window-shopping at malls, as compared to music. Peer pressure also plays an important role. So even if they attend concerts, they will go for a happening rock show, dance music marathon, Bollywood nite or club gig than have a serious auditorium experience.

Unlike in the past, when music lovers collected physical copies of vinyl records, cassettes or compact discs, they store the music digitally on computers and mobile devices today. No matter how hard one tries, these newer avenues just don’t result in the same feel.

Finally, most music that works today does so because it is part of a trend. Electronic dance music (EDM) is the current rage, but the people who listen to that go more for the experience and the ambience than to understand what is being played. The disc jockeys have become superstars, though the crowd cannot often tell the difference of one from the other. Hip-hop grew as a street language and a form of rebellion, but today, people listen to it just because everyone else is listening to it. In India, we have so many fans of Sufi music, when 95 per cent of them don’t understand what the great poets Amir Khusro, Baba Bulleh Shah or Hazrat Shah Hussain talked about.

In contrast to a majority of today’s music, a large percentage of older music had the right feel and emotion. Whether it was rock, classical, jazz or country, Hindi film music, Hindustani, Carnatic or ghazals, it struck a chord and caressed your heart. And because of that, it has had longevity. Even today, we still listen to ‘Aradhana’ or ‘Abhimaan’, when we have almost stopped hearing last year’s biggest hit ‘Aashiqui 2’.

DESPITE the fact that everything goes in favour of the older music, would it be fair to say that rock – or any other genre – is dead? Maybe it isn’t as charming as it once used to be, but it still has its moments.

Iconic or not, path-breaking or not, every generation has its own set of highly talented musicians. If today’s lot hasn’t been able to create the same kind of revolution, it’s because their predecessors practically did everything. Over the years, whatever needed to be innovated in music, has already been done. Today, there is hardly any scope for creating a new sound or sub-genre, without being in some form influenced by the past.

As such, it would be ridiculous to expect contemporary musicians to have the same kind of landmark achievements as the previous lot did. As long as they produce good music, it shouldn’t be matter. If they don’t, one always has the option to listen to someone else. With the right ear and approach, one will always find a lot of good things to hear. It’s important to have an open, progressive mind and give today’s music a chance.

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