Musicians without borders

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 March, 2007, 12:00am

The tensions between India and Pakistan may be palpable at times, but when it comes to creative collaborations, the countries have never had it so good. Numerous musicians have featured in Hindi films during the past two years, and singers, comedians, writers, lyricists and even Pakistani actors have worked in Bollywood. Such cross-border cultural harmony may seem extraordinary, but Indian singer Talat Aziz begs to differ.

'Creative people don't see boundaries and politics,' the 50-year-old says. 'There are many music lovers in India who greatly appreciate the singers and musicians from our neighbouring countries, and producers have invited singers and writers to work with them in India for decades.

'The late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan flew from Pakistan and sang for filmmaker Raj Kapoor in Delhi in the early 1980s. Similarly, someone like Ghulam Ali is a respected figure among all music lovers, irrespective of their or his origin.'

Aziz has collaborated with Karachi-born Ali in joint concerts for several decades. 'I've been an admirer and friend for years. I met him nearly 30 years ago. The upcoming concert in Hong Kong is a collaboration - a confluence of harmony that has been long in the making.'

The two ghazal singers - each considered among the best in his respective country - will give a one-off concert this Friday at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

The ghazal is said to have originated in 10th-century Persian verse, making its way to India in the 12th century. A poetic form of music, it's sung in delicate melodies, with greater emphasis on Urdu words and language than on tempo and beat.

Some consider it to be an elitist form of music, but Ali doesn't agree. 'The more youngsters attend, the more they seem to enjoy it. Ghazal isn't elitist. It's not just for those who are well-read. It's for everyone who can enjoy good music.'

Ali has performed around the world and has made more than 50 platinum-selling albums during the past three decades. His fan club is mixed. 'I've worked with and met many wonderful Indian artists and it has always been a pleasure to collaborate with them, meet them and exchange ideas,' he says. 'The warmth and love I've received in my concerts abroad, I can't tell you what it means to me.'

At the age of 15, Ali became a protege of classical singer Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. He was taught by Khan's brothers and trained in classical music for years before he started composing and singing professionally. His compositions are raaga-based (traditional melody) and include various innovations.

Aziz, who was born and brought up in Hyderabad, India, learnt classical singing at a young age. He was trained by Ustad Samad Khan and later by Ustad Fayaz Ahmed, then introduced to recording studios by Jagjit Singh. Although Aziz sang on many private, non-film based albums, he eventually began so-called playback singing for Indian actors. He has also acted in films and television shows - but he says music is his first love.

'There are no rehearsals as such for live concerts,' says Aziz. 'You never know what's going to happen, how we adhere to audience requests, and gauge the mood from their reactions.'

From across the border, Ali agrees. 'Live shows are a unique experience every time,' he says. 'I've had requests from audiences to sing their favourite song again and again. They never tire of certain classics. Luckily, I enjoy singing old numbers, and popular choices are my own favourites, too.'

Aziz is confident that Hong Kong audiences will appreciate ghazals. 'Not long ago, I was in Saudi Arabia for a concert and the audience was a very mixed, international crowd,' he says. 'The Russian and the Japanese consulate generals were attending, with their respective people. I thought they would stay for a few minutes and then leave. But they stayed till the very end and, although I'm sure they didn't understand a single word that was sung, they came up to me at the end of the concert to say how much they enjoyed it. At the next concert, there were more Russians and Japanese people in the crowd. What does that tell you about music transcending borders?'

Mehfil - Ghazal concert with Ghulam Ali and Talat Aziz, Fri, 7.30pm, Jockey Club Auditorium, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, HK$175, HK$450, HK$600. Inquiries: 6019 0621/9641 8214