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With a little help from Gulzar

music Updated: May 18, 2012 12:30 IST
Amitava Sanyal
Amitava Sanyal
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

New album from Gulzar, Bhupinder and Mitali
Saregama, Rs. 170
Rating: ***1/2

The number of musicians pitching albums with the serene face of Gulzar on the cover is on the rise. When his mug first appeared on jackets alongside the bee-stung lips of RD Burman and Asha Bhosle, the thin-lipped lyricist was taken to be the lesser mortal. But his growing stature is being literally reflected on new covers.

Not long after his mug graced a refreshing re-issue of his teleserial, Mirza Ghalib, we have one where he is seen wearing the same starched white kurta standing next to the cut-out busts of Bhupinder Singh and his wife Mitali. Gulzar towers over Bhupinder, who stands a bit taller than Mitali. The view stands for the contribution of the three to the project, in the order of merit.

When an album called "Aksar' (Often) opens with songs that put you to sleep, you see it as warmly as the glow of a zero-watt bulb. In "Kahin to gard udey' and "Mere taathon pairon mein', Bhupinder's voice sounds swaddled in velvet, wrapped in muslin, and dunked under layers of instrumentation.

"Neeli neeli ankhiyon se', the third song and a duet, is the first one that gets going on a pumped up beat with a tabla and a bass drum. A guitar solo that comes in after 2:30 in this 7-minute song goes on an eyebrow-raising jazzy departure from the straightforward raag-based tune. It's not clear whether it's by Bhupinder himself or by Amandeep Singh, both of whom are mentioned in the common credits. A similar, foxy interlude comes in after 4:00 in the next song, the slower, more bluesy "Aisi maddham si bolti hai raat'.

My favourite is "Khushboo jaise log', which tells you, with its sharp turns up and down, why Bhupinder's is one of the best voices in India for ghazals. Mitali's dulcet voice is best framed in "Kal ki raat giri thi shabnam'. In ways more than one, it's quite a family album.

The sultan takes a bow
Ustad Sultan Khan
Four unaccompanied alaaps on the Ustad's sarangi
EMI / India Archive Music, Rs. 245
Rating: *****

Some songs or albums can be like characters in a book: they inhabit your soul for days and then demand to be written about. Sometimes, the unbearable heaviness of the obsession pushes things out in the open without justification or context. Sultan Khan's unaccompanied sarangi — recorded for the New York-based India Archive Music in 1994, released in India in 2005, and re-distributed to select retail outlets in recent months — is an album capable of provoking such a whim.

Atypically, the album has only the alaaps, or introductions, to four raags — Basant Mukhari and Lalit, which are slotted as early morning raags, and Shuddh Sarang and Bhimpalasi, which belong in the afternoon. All the expositions cut through the soul with the precision and ease of an ice-saw. The intensity of the sarangi, which is considered as the instrument closest to the human voice, comes through nakedly in these anadorned recordings.

The album, however, needs to go out with an advisory: it can cause serious mood swings. Its depressive lows may be as sharp as its elatory highs. So it's perhaps best enjoyed in a padded cell.

Single of the fortnight
Indian television seems to have found a new way of commercialising our obsession with music. First came the antaksharis, talent hunts and other musical game shows. The new formula seems to be about allowing us a peek into artistic collaborations, especially between Indian and Western sounds.

The critical success of Coke Studio and the Dewarists had much to do with this curiosity. Now we have MTV Sound Trippin, in which Sneha Khanwalkar, composer of Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye, goes out to record bits of sound from real and surreal India and then fashions songs out of the samples.

For the first episode, she goes to Ludhiana to record sounds as diverse as the making of cricket bats and the conducting of the so-called rural Olympics in Kila Raipur. She mixes them with the voice of a pair of qawwali-trained sisters, and then goes to work on laptops. The mash that comes out the other end of the blender is "Tung tung', an attractive "traditional-yet-modern' song that fits Real India's conception of a matrimonial jackpot.

If you haven't watched it on TV yet, catch it at bit.ly/tungtung.