When mood and melody merged
With a voice like raw silk, Pakistani singer Farida Khanum left the audience asking for more
PHOTOS: S. R. RAGHUNATHAN
GEETS AND GHAZALS Farida Khanum's music triggered myriad images and memories in her audience
When Farida Khanum performed in the city for the first time, providing a rousing opening to The Hindu Friday Review November Fest, she seemed as full of anticipation for Chennai as Chennai was for her. And Chennai lived up to its culture-crazy name. Walks of life, ages, languages criss-crossed, as the jammed streets outside the Music Academy gradually subsided into a packed auditorium that gave the veteran Pakistani singer's three-hour concert an enthusiastic hearing culminating in a standing ovation. Some were still not satiated, and waited in queue for another half hour to get close to her, take photographs and get albums autographed.
Perhaps considering Chennai's `classical' reputation, she began her concert not with any of the ghazals she is famous for, but with a classical rendition in the raga Desi Todi, "Ja Pardesava". It, however, had her trademark style and reflected her classical training in childhood under the Patiala gharana stalwart Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan. Starting at a brisk pace that became brisker, she embellished it with short swara passages. Though her voice took a while to warm up, perhaps due to the climate change and constant travelling, the fearlessness, the familiar bulandi, was very much in evidence.
Paying tribute to South India's long history of arts and to the great musicians of the sub-continent such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Vilayat Khan and a host of others, she next presented a ghazal of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Referring to the poet, who died in 1984, as the "Ghalib of contemporary times," she chose the ghazal "Yun Saja Chaand". Nostalgia was everywhere. The listeners burst into applause at all the significant lines.
Farida had already made her fans laugh by assuring them she would sing "Aaj Jaane Ki Zidd Na Karo", a ghazal of Fayyaz Hashmi, later in the concert, but she decided since the demand for it was so vociferous, she might as well present it early on.
Later, as she sang a Desh composition and one in raga Kamod, which she recounted was a composition of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who had taught it to her, her voice came into its own. That `raw silk' quality, husky and sweet, yet laced with a thousand aching desires, triggered myriad images and memories. They came to a crescendo with "Mere Hamnafas Mere Ham Nawaaz", where mood and melody merged seamlessly.
A few geets later, she decided to do away with the scheduled intermission. It seemed that no one minded. They were all eating out of her hand anyway. But by 9.30 she did give a break. Refreshed, she pulled out another favourite, "Dil Jalaane Ki Baat Karte Ho". Later came a beautiful Pahadi.
Her accompanists, Shabbir Hussain on the tabla, Liakat Ali Khan on the sarangi, Sashi J. Acharya on the sitar, Sriram on the harmonium and Subhikhsha on the tanpura, provided impeccable backing. Though Hussain is the only one who accompanies her regularly, and the other instrumentalists had to be arranged at a day's notice due to a problem with the scheduled artistes, they rose admirably to the occasion. While the Chennai-based Acharya and Sriram provided tuneful fillers, it was Liakat, flown in from Mumbai, who followed her like a shadow, exemplifying the power of Indian music at its improvised best.
The audience could not have enough of Farida. She rounded off her concert with famous Punjabi numbers like "Latthe di Chaadar" and others, but they would not let her go without singing "Dama dam Mast Kalandar."
As one wondered who was the bigger star, Chennai's music-intoxicated public or Farida Khanum, the artiste, somewhat overwhelmed, said the evening would remain in her memory forever.
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