“I Want to do Good Deeds and
Not only Produce Good Music”
The Tribune, Jan, 3rd, 1999
From the mid-seventies, Jagjit Singh has mesmerised ghazal and nazm lovers all over the world. What sets him apart from the rest of the pack is not only his unique style of rendering ghazals and nazms, but his choice of lyrics. Whether it is Yeh kaagaz ki kishti, yeh barish ka pani or Dost ban ban ke mile mujh ko mitane wale, the philosophical quotient of the lyric combines artfully with a lilting tune and a sonorous voice to create the magic that is Jagjit Singh.
The ghazal maestro, along with his wife Chitra Singh, started a trend of making non-filmi music popular and saleable. Till date, he has cut about 30 LPs and has performed all over the world.
Belu Maheshwari recently met him for an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
Can you recollect some childhood memories that have left an indelible impact on you?
Memories are normally personal, disjointed and mostly not mentionable. I lived in Ganganagar, where my father was a government employee. I had a good childhood. We are seven brothers and sisters. I did my F.Sc from Ganganagar. Our childhood was in someways different from that of children today. We were not laden with the burden of the school bag. We were committed to studies but also managed to play games.
How did you become a singer?
My father must have noticed a spark of talent in me. So from class V or VI, I was given regular music lessons. Even when I shifted to Jalandhar to do my graduation from D.A.V. College, my singing lessons continued. The tanpura and harmonium became a part of my life. I used to take part in all the competitions. Then I joined Kurukshetra University to do my M.A. in history in 1963. During this period, I realised that I wanted to be a full-fledged singer. My parents were keen that I should sit for the competitive exams and have a stable career, while music continued to be a hobby. But in 1965, I ran away to Bombay to begin my life as a singer as that is what I wanted to be.
Was the journey to the top smooth or arduous?
Like any other struggler, I too had my share of trials and tribulations. I had no godfather. It was an up-hill task. When I reached Bombay, I lived for some days with Mohan Khote, a boy from Ludhiana, before shifting to a hostel called Sher-e-Punjab. Those days our needs were not great, we could manage with Rs 100 to 150 per month. In the beginning, I took any singing assignment that came my way — be it jingles or singing at weddings and parties to keep myself afloat.
Did you ever get the feeling that you will be a star one day ?
I knew as early as ‘63 that I have the potential to be a singer but the feeling that has never come (and should never) is that I am the best. That is the ruin of an artiste. I had the confidence in my ability to work, I had assessed myself vis-a-vis established singers, I knew those on the scene — woh kitne pani me the.
Did you try your luck at becoming a playback singer in films?
Yes. This is the first step for most singers. I soon realised I could not break the strangle- hold of established singers like Rafi, Mukesh and Manna Dey. Unlike now, when youngsters have ample opportunities in the TV and different music companies, we had very few channels to explore. If some music director allowed newcomers to sing, the established stars boycotted him. The monopoly also existed among male singers. I realised my voice was too bass for film music. It was meant for a certain kind of music and not for the loud, shrill numbers needed in popular films.
Can you guide would-be singers as to what course they should follow to be accepted?
One should be able to judge one’s potential. By listening to others, you can assess your own strength and weaknesses. If you are outstanding, the path to success is easy. If you are on a par with established names, to make a breakthrough is a little difficult. If you are below par, you can make it only through a godfather and that too for a limited period. Just winning competitions does not mean you are outstanding. Many youngsters are misguided about their own potential. These so-called ‘competitive’ programmes on TV are just an eyewash. The producer has to run his programme and so they make tailor-made software.
When did your first album come out and how much were you paid for it?
The Unforgettable, my first album, came out in 1976. I was not paid lump-sum. I get a royalty, so even till today I am earning from my first album. Till now, I must have made Rs 30 to 40 lakh on the album. Even now people ask for Baat niklegi to phir door talak jayegi’ or Sarakti jaye hai rukh se nakab ahista ahista to be sung.
What is the process of cutting a disc?
I first select the poetry, tie up with a music company and then compose the music. I choose poetry that is easy on the ears and understandable. The thought should be provoking — whether emotionally or philosophically. While composing music you gauge the mood of the poetry and accordingly select the raag and the taal. We try to use new electronic sounds to be in tune with the times. Now the recording techniques are different. During our initial years, we recorded on one track— all the musicians (instrumentalists) had to play together. Because of synthesising, you can play each track separately and later mix the sounds. After that we do placing. This means that if a ghazal is in one raag, we do not totally change the next number. The scale (musical) should not jump, meaning odds should not follow. We have to play with emotions, for instance, we cannot have only sad songs on one side of the album. Last comes the packaging and marketing.
After cutting your first album, success seems to have come quick and fast to you…
Success did not come fast. It came after more than 10 years of struggle — from 1965 to 1976. As soon as The Unforgettable was released, Chitra and I went on a long tour abroad. When we came back six months later it was selling, but we missed out on the initial reactions. After that, practically every year I have cut a disc. So, I am used to the bouquets and the brickbats.
After cutting 30 LPs are you saturated, or can you still sustain the same level of enthusiasm?
Over the years I have matured, my voice has become deeper. My focus has changed. In your youth, you run after glamour, money and sex. Now you assess life much more dispassionately. As for changes in oneself they creep in so slowly that we cannot make out, others who see us can.
Which of your albums has been the biggest hit till now?
That is difficult to say because all are selling till now. As for the economics, it has changed with time, as the music market has grown and my popularity has increased. In our times, the initial launch was of 10,000 LPs. And if they sold, it was a best-seller. Now, the initial launch (first day launch) is of 3 lakh. If all get sold, then it is a hit.
As a stage artist, you are moody and tend to lose your cool. What do you expect from your audience?
The audience should have some manners. Aisa hai, if I go to a village and expect this, I will be wrong. The audience should be seated before a song starts and not become rowdy and keep insisting on their farmaish being sung. When the request round starts, they can ask for a song of their choice. In foreign countries no one stirs between songs. Our audiences go to a concert to have a nice time, it is a mela atmosphere. The singer needs concentration and respect. Only then can he give his best. We have VIPs walking in at all times, eatables coming in. You cannot say anything, because the V.I.P. might be from the electricity department. Your mike might not function if you say anything.
Many times you have announced that Chitra will sing but this has not happened?
She has started practising. When she gets into the mood, she may cut a disc but will not sing on stage. She will not come on stage again.
You suffered a major tragedy, the loss of your only son. What has sustained you all this while?
Either you give up totally and stop living,or if you are living, you should work. You should make the tragedy a force to propel you to greater heights. Everyone has to go. You have emotional attachments but kamjor nahi banana chahiye. Chitra could not do it, she wants to start singing but can’t gather courage. From the beginning, I had thought work should continue. It should become better. My nasha is work, money is not important. Today, what I ask I get, but I should not exploit that position.
Among the younger lot who do you think is good?
Mohammad Vakil from Jaipur, Jaswinder Singh from Bombay, Tausif Aktar, Ghansham and Jaspreet Narula are all good. Ghazal singing is not easy. It is hard work. The newcomers do not want to work hard but want instant success and short-cuts to success.
How justified are remix songs?
People who have nothing creative to give and want a name, use this mode. They choose a popular number and, with some sound variations and video filming, do a remix job. Let them, because the original will always be better.
What are your regrets and what is your biggest need?
My regret is that initially I wasted a lot of time. I was confused and kept groping and could not find the right path easily. I could have accomplished much more if I had started earlier. Work should be appreciated and I should be loved. My biggest need is the need to be loved.
Any dreams or aspirations left?
I have seen everything, done most of the worldly things. I want to do good deeds and not only produce good music. I want to be a socially conscious person and help genuine causes.