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Hypnotized by 'ghazal' music

Sebastian Partogi
Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Wed, May 17, 2017 | 09:05 am
Hypnotized by 'ghazal' music

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (A Million Wishes) concert by an Indian musical ensemble paying tribute to the country’s late composer Jagjit Singh is quite a treat. (Teamwork Production/File)

Performances showcasing world music are quite rare in Jakarta, making a recent concert called Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (A Million Wishes) by an Indian musical ensemble paying tribute to the country’s late composer Jagjit Singh quite a treat.

On May 6, people packed the Ciputra Artpreneur theater at Lotte Shopping Avenue, Kuningan, South Jakarta, to forget the hectic city life for a moment. The Jakarta show kicked off the ensemble’s 2017 world tour. Previously on Sept. 9, the concert premiered at Esplanade Concert Hall in Singapore.

On the stage were composer and singer Shekhar Ravjiani, who sang and played the Indian harmonium organ, violinist Deepak Pandit, guitarist Sanjoy Das, keyboard player Atul Raninga, tabla percussion player Abhinav Upadhyay and percussionist Normal Pawar

Ravjiani is a well-known musician who has composed soundtracks for over 65 films, including the 2013 action-comedy film Chennai Express starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, with his partner Vishal Dadlani. He has also sung a number of songs, including “Radha” and “Meherbaan,” which have become popular in India and around the world.

He was trained in music by none other than Singh himself, along with Ustad Niaz Ahmed Khan. Born in 1941 and having passed in 2011, Singh was a composer well known for the ghazals (poetic songs with couplets and a refrain with each line sharing the same meter). Known as the ghazal king, the singer, composer and musician gained critical acclaim together with his wife, renowned Indian ghazal singer Chitra Singh.

Thematically, ghazals mainly discuss the concept of spiritual love that goes beyond any physical or sexual desire, although their themes have evolved in many different variations over the years.

“We live in an era where people are constantly living in chaos and are looking toward music and the arts to help them make sense of things,” Ravjiani said.

Big applause: Performers thank the audience after presenting a tribute concert to Indian ghazal legend Jagjit Singh at the Ciputra Artpreneur theater in South Jakarta.(Teamwork Production/File)

He said due to ghazals’ predominant themes of love and spirituality, he believed there was no better genre than ghazals to really speak to people and help them find peace.

“The finer nuances of the genres, unfortunately, have been lost, and there is a need to familiarize people once more in the art of appreciating a good, refined ghazal,” he said.

The Saturday concert went on for 120 minutes, featuring 13 songs of long duration that sent the audience into a meditative state. Minimalist lighting with a predominantly blue-and-white theme also seemed to seek to enhance such a meditative feel among audience members.

Most of the songs performed during the concert were down-tempo, but some of them had enough beats to send the audience, most of whom were members of the Indian community in Jakarta, into dance.

The opening number, “Hoshwalon Ko,” started with a solo violin intro from Pandit, who played with Singh for 23 years and arranged the music for more than 70 of his albums. The solo intro alternated between the instrument’s lower and higher registers with amazing speed and precision. 

Listeners familiar with jazz music could probably sense a jazz-like influence in terms of how the musicians interacted with one another, with long solo improvisational parts. They spontaneously sang in perfect pitch, in unison with the musicians during a number called “Hum To Hain.”

The concert reached its climax during the final segment featuring “Ahista Ahista” when the instrumentalists segued into a call-and-response jam session, sending the audience to an endorphin high with some acrobatic improvisations, before fusing together into a harmonious segment once again and thereby concluding the song.

The audience cheered loudly to respond to this uplifting conclusion.

Ravjiani, who attended more than 100 of Singh’s concerts and was present at almost all the recording sessions of the late maestro’s albums, said despite some seemingly improvisational parts of the concert, he actually attempted to retain the same essence of the songs and performed the concert exactly the way Singh used to do it.

“I am very excited to [offer] a few hours of bliss, a very special musical journey that I hope will transport them to a peaceful and harmonious world, away from the chaos surrounding us,” Ravjiani said.

On that tranquil evening in Jakarta, the audience sang harmoniously, taking their minds away from all the noise of the city.