The Unforgettables’ quietly sailed into the LP racks of music shops. There were 10 ghazals in the album, sung by a couple called Jagjit and Chitra Singh hit music stores. Essentially a ghazal album, its emphasis on melody and Jagjit’s fresh voice was a departure from the prevalent style of ghazal rendition, which was heavily based on classical and semi-classical Indian music.
During 1970s, the art of ghazal singing was dominated by well-established names like . However, Singh was able to make his mark and carve out a niche for himself. In 1976, when music debuts were not marked by noisy promos, an album of ghazals by the name of skeptics had their own reservations; purists scorned it, but it was widely successful among listeners and the album set new sales records. Each of those songs was marked by a rare freshness and lilt, his voice deep and golden, hers clear and sharp.
In 1967, Jagjit met Chitra, also a singer. After a two year courtship they got married in December 1969. They epitomize the first successful husband-wife singing team. Jagjit and Chitra Singh have made immense contributions to ghazal music and the Indian music industry in general. Successful releases of the duo include Ecstasies, A Sound Affair and Passions. While these albums were breezy, Beyond Time released in the opening years of 1990s was experimentation with sounds.
Till then, Indian ghazal lovers had only two options-the filmi stuff which could be very good or mediocre and the unalloyed classical singing of the kind Begum Akhtar took to great heights. The album came as a rare and refreshing experience because the compositions were catchy and contemporary, the singing was flawless and the ghazals themselves eminently hummable. It wasn’t the classicist’s cup of tea but it clicked.
This is not to say that it was lightweight or shallow but it could engage and befriend the listener. You had to be a curmudgeon not to enjoy Meri zindagi kisi aur ki, Koi paas aayaa sawere sawere or Badi haseen raat thi. “He was a pioneer because he broadened the base for ghazal, took it to lay music lovers.
He did this by bringing in western instruments like the guitar into ghazals, introducing instrumental interludes , experimenting with non-traditional rhythm patterns and simplifying the tunes to make them very melodic ,” says singer Talat Aziz, who was mentored by Singh back in the late 1970s (he composed Aziz’s first album). Impressed by the huge fan following Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali found in India, HMV had launched Singh as a potential Indian ghazal icon.
The singer’s golden voice drew fans in droves. His success also paved the way for younger ghazal singers like Pankaj Udhas, Anup Jalota, PeEnaz Masani and Chandan Das. Singh’s bhajans and Punjabi songs, both folk and poetic (he set rebel poet Shiv Batalvi to music) had an immense following too. Most of the earlier albums of Jagjit Singh had English titles. Later, these had Urdu names like Sahar (meaning “Dawn”/”Morning”), Muntazir (meaning “In waiting”), Marasim (meaning “Relation”/”Relationship”/”Affinity” ), and Soz (meaning “Pathos”).
Besides ghazals, Jagjit Singh has also sung bhajans and Gurbani (Hindu and Sikh devotional hymns respectively). Albums such as Maa, Hare Krishna, Hey Ram…Hey Ram, Ichhabal and also Man Jeetai Jagjeet in Punjabi, put him in the league of Bhajan singers such as Mukesh, Hari Om Sharan, Yesudas, Anup Jalota and Purushottam Das Jalota. The soothing effect that Jagjit’s voice has on frayed nerves, prompted psychiatrists in metros to prescribe them as stress relievers.
Snagging a pass for any of his public concerts was considered a tough feat. Jagjit Singh’s work for Bollywood-particularly for Aavishkar, Arth, Saath Saath and Prem Geet-was remarkably grave and unfilmi. He composed the music for the last three films and produced unforgettable gems like Hothon se chhoo lo tum (Prem Geet) and Tum ko dekha to yeh khayal aaya (Saath Saath). Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth was defined as much by its superlative music as its theme, and Koi yeh kaise bataye, Jhuki jhuki si nazar and Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho rank among some of the best songs of the ’80s.
On 10 May 2007, in a joint session held in the historic Central Hall of India’s Parliament (Sansad Bhawan), Jagjit Singh rendered the last Moghul Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s famous ghazal “Lagta nahin hai dil mera” to commemorate the 150th anniversary of India’s First War of Independence (1857). President A P J Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and dignitaries including former Prime Ministers, Members of Parliament, Foreign Ambassadors and High Commissioners were in attendance.
His score for Gulzar’s TV serial Mirza Ghalib stands on its own as an album. Through a life marked by devastating tragedies-he lost his son 19-year-old Vivek in an accident and his step-daughter Monica committed suicide two years ago-the one thing that stayed with him was his music, and his popularity as a live performer never flagged. (Chitra had given up singing after their son’s death.) Just last February, Singh celebrated his 70th birthday with a musical evening at Mayfair rooms.
Jagjit Singh underwent surgery after he suffered a brain hemorrhage. Doctors at the hospital performed an emergency surgery on Singh. Dr Ajit Menon, a cardiologist, Lilavati Hospital, said, “He suffered a brain hemorrhage and underwent a surgery to remove clots in his brain. His condition is critical”. The doctors continued to monitor him in the intensive care unit. He was breathing with the aid of a ventilator. Singh had a history of heart ailments. In January 1998, he suffered a heart attack, which led him to quit smoking. In October 2007, he was hospitalised following blood circulation problems.
Before this illness, his last major concert was held on 16 September 2011 in Nehru Science Centre, Mumbai. His last concert was held on 20 September 2011 in The Indian Public School, Dehradun. He died on 10 October 2011 at the age of 70 in Mumbai at Lilavati hospital.
And unto light would all human soul shall rest……