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Remembering the legend

June 13, 2012

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KARACHI, June 13: Mehdi Hassan’s death shocked the entire country, particularly those in the realm of art.

Speaking to Dawn, poet Iftikhar Arif said, “When it came to sureela pun there was no other singer like him. He had a complete voice, which means he explored all the possibilities of ghazal gaeki. People think that the tradition of ghazal singing is an old one; it is not. Brought in vogue by the likes of Begum Akhtar and Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, ghazal-singing as a genre had been just 40 or 50 years old when Mehdi started dabbling in it. After them a lot of vocalists tried their hand at ghazals, but it was Mehdi Hassan who set the real tradition. He was singing at a time when artists like Roshan Ara Begum, Iqbal Bano, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and Farida Khanum were also displaying their talent, but none could match him.

“It has to be acknowledged that Saleem Gilani at Radio Pakistan’s Central Production Unit had a big role in promoting Mehdi Hassan. Khan Sahib was groomed there. Mehdi Hassan’s elder brother pundit Ghulam Qadir was Radio Pakistan’s staff artist. He also had a part in his growth. Mehdi Hassan sang beautiful ghazals like ‘Chalte ho to chaman ko chalyey’ and ‘Ye dhuan sa kahan se uth’ta hai’ and in his later years Parveen Shakir’s ‘Ku ba ku phael gaee baat’. Even when he sang for films, he retained his style. He was an artist bathed in sur. Today there is utter silence in the world of ghazal singing. He was the last prominent voice in that genre.”

Writer Anwar Maqsood said: “When I used to work for EMI, I interacted a lot with Mehhdi Hassan. We used to crack jokes and have fun, apart from talking about music. People remember him only as a ghazal singer; he was a singer. He began his career by singing classical ragas. The first film that he did as a playback singer was Shikar; it had songs written by Hafeez Jalandhari. He immediately became a ‘hit’ vocalist. If he had only sung classical music, he would still be known as one of the greats. He was very sureela and fortunate that he was praised in his lifetime. The way Faiz Ahmed Faiz took Urdu to the common man, Mehdi Hassan introduced ghazals to the common man.”

Media person Javed Jabbar said, “Mehdi Hassan’s voice embodied the texture, the character of both classicism and the ability to touch people’s hearts at the popular level, which is a rare combination.

“He had the capacity to reflect the finest in the basic norms of classicism and at the same time was able to express something that a common person could respond to. He fused the two things very well. To boot, he made us proud as Pakistanis — a voice that could be heard and respected in other countries.

Singer Ali Zafar said, “Some artists transcend time and all other dimensions. Mehdi Hassan was one of them. He will always be with us and will live forever in our hearts and minds. As far as his singing goes, it wasn’t confined to a certain generation.

We were equally mesmerised by that. In my career, as I went deeper into music, the more I realised what and who he was. I included one of his numbers in my album. These days I am practising a ghazal ‘Shola tha jal bujha hoon’ sung by him.”

Singer Salamat Ali said, “He gave a lot to the world of music. The way budding poets take islah (lessons) from their senior poets, singers took islah from his work in music. He introduced quite a few new ragas. There were so many scales that he made readily listenable for music lovers. No one in a century has been able to achieve what he has accomplished. Ghazal means conversing with the beloved. And this is what he effectively conveyed through his art.”

Pop singer Fakhir said, “I was devastated to hear the news of his demise. His contribution to the world of music, particularly with respect to the Urdu language, is immense. He also showed us that there’s no shortcut to success.”—Peerzada Salman