What can I say about Ghulam Ali? The Ghazal Maestro is a magician. His voice – mellifluous yet macho, makes your mind lose track of time, space and person. I can personally vouch for it - it was him singing Chupke Chupke Raat Din on my car cassette deck when I lost my way on my first-ever solo car trip from Sharjah to Dubai – taking three hours to complete a thirty minute journey because I just couldn’t bring myself to remember the directions, my mesmerized mind refusing to come out of that haunting musical spell.
Ghulam Ali’s father was himself a singer and a sitar player, hailing from a small town in Sialkot district from Pakistan’s Punjab province. He was a big fan of the great Indian classical maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb and that’s why he named his son after the great singer. Little did he know then that Ghulam Ali- his son would go on to become a legend himself, albeit in a different musical genre.
After taking his first musical lessons from his father, Ghulam Ali went on to train with ustaads like Bade Ghulam Ali, Bade Mubarak Ali and Karamat Ali. This classical training formed the base for his later foray in ghazal singing and composing. Since 1960 when he made his debut on Lahore radio station, Ghulam Ali has gone from success to success and with the great Mehendi Hassan, he is regarded as the path-breaker in ghazal singing.
“I love challenges. The more difficult the composition, greater joy I get to compose and sing it.”- when he says this to the audience before singing an exquisite gem of a ghazal like Humko Kisne Ghum Ne Maara, one starts to understand the musical philosophy of this man.
Asha Bhosle- with whom he had done a brilliant album – Meraj-E-Ghazal, counts him in her list of favourite singers and says, “His singing is quite different from Mehendi Hassan. If Hassan- saab’s music soothes your soul, then Ghulam Ali’s singing disturbs the mind with its intensity. It makes you forget everything.”
None of his ghazals are easy-going, populist fares. Each one is laced with intricate aalaps, murkis and taans. His voice caresses the words, bringing out each and every poetic nuance making them imprinted on mind. The swings and swerves, the curls and curves – his singing is erudite and elegant; at the same time it is exciting and enchanting. No wonder he has been hailed by both- the connoisseur as well as the commoner.
Listen to the way he makes the words float like waves in Dil Mein Ek Laher Si Uthi Hai Abhi; look how the time stands still when he renders Faasle Aise Bhi Honge; feel the lingering doubts in lover’s mind when he sings Tumhare Khat Mein Naya Ik Salaam Kiska Tha; experience the heady exhilaration when he says Mastana Piye Jaa Yun Hi and immerse in the misty romanticism of his Kuchh Din To Baso Meri Aankhon Mein; that’s Ghulam Ali at his best.
True, the advancing age has taken away some of the sheen; true, his recent ghazals are not a patch on his earlier classics but still the magic is very much there. Give him an audience any day and he is bound to thrill them with his unique brand of music. He says, “Performing in front of an audience is my favourite way of singing. The response and reactions are instantaneous. That appreciation gives me the greatest creative satisfaction.”