Legendary singer Ghulam Ali — Part I


First of all singer Ghulam Ali is not be confused with Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan or with Ustad Chotte Ghulam Ali Khan (though there is a link between Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan and Ghulam Ali, which I shall discuss subsequently). The two mentioned classical ustads (vocalists) have been legends in the domain of classical vocalisation. 
I have known and worked with singer Ghulam Ali, more known as ghazal singer, since a lifetime. He and I consider each other as brothers. On the night between March 9-10, 2014 he was the guest at Pakistan Television Corporation’s (PTV) programme ‘Nisf Sadi Ka Qissa’ (story of half a century) hosted by Ammar Masud. This programme is being telecast every weekend with different celebrities in consonance with golden jubilee celebrations of PTV and speaks on the contributions of artists in all the domains of art for which they have contributions for PTV and vice versa. The guest speakers on the life and works of Ghulam Ali were PTV’s former director programmes Farukh Basheer, music composer Mujahid Hussain, Indian singer Hans Raj Hans, singer Taranum Naz and I. Many participants pointed out that Ghulam Ali was not only a proficient singer but an equally proficient harmonium and tabla player. His voice gets along well with the keys of harmonium in the most of difficult permutations and combinations of notes.
The information received about Ghulam Ali’s earlier life was that he was born in the village of Kaleke, Daska near Sialkot, Pakistan in 1940 (research information provided to Ammar Masud mentioned the birth year as 1941). He belonged to a musical family. His father was a vocalist too. Apart from singing he enjoyed playing the instrument Sarangi as well. Naturally the early training was received from his father. Unsatisfied with his own training, Ghulam Ali’s father wanted Ghulam Ali to become a disciple of a great teacher, Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan. So Ghulam Ali was taken to the great legendary ustad who was on visit to Kabul, to take him as his pupil. Initially reluctant because of his busy schedule that had kept him busy, ustad became convinced of Ghualm Ali’s talent only after hearing disciple-to-be sing thumri “Saiyyan bolo tanik mose rehiyo na jaye” and according to Ghulam Ali, hugged him and took him under his umbrella. Ghulam Ali was in his teens then, probably 15. The legendary classical singer Bare Ghulam Ali Khan, hailed from Patiala Gharana of gaiki (singing). 
Here it would be pertinent to provide some brief information on Ghulam Ali’s teacher, Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan. He started his career by accompanying female singers on musical instrument Sarangi. He also used to sing a few compositions of his late uncle Kale Khan. He was a disciple of both Ustad Akhtar Hussain Khan and Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, two scions of the Patiala Gharana. Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan won laurels after his performance in Kolkata. Bare Ghulam Ali Khan’s uniqueness that kept him distinct from his contemporaries was in his amalgamation of the best of four singing traditions: his own Patiala-Kasur style, the ‘Behram Khani’ elements of Dhrupad form of gaiki, the gyrations of Jaipur, and the ‘behlavas’ (embellishments) of Gwaliar. His voice had a wide range. He could move his voice with ease for almost three octaves and that too, effortlessly on all tempos. Despite all this craftsmanship his voice remained sweet and flexible. His raag expositions used to be unlike the traditional longish ones. While he agreed that the beauty of classical music lay in leisurely improvisation that normally takes a longer time, he believed that the audience would get restless listening to long ‘Alaaps’, but since he had to sing for the masses, he used to change the music to what the audience wanted. While in Pakistan, the story resounding in the verandas of radio Pakistan since past five decades is that once he used his umbrella stick to open the door of ZA Bukhari’s office who snubbed him that he didn’t know the etiquettes of entering into an officer’s office. Ustad got annoyed and said that many officers would come and leave but Bare Ghulam Ali Khan was only born once. He was moody and sat in the gardens of radio and asked for microphones to be brought there if the radio desired for his recordings.
Ghulam Ali disclosed in his interview that he was handed over for daily practice sessions to Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan’s younger brothers Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan and Amanat Ali Khan in Lahore. All these great teachers of classical music taught him the finer details of classical music and laid solid foundation for all forms of classical music like ‘thumri’ and singing raags. Due to early cerebral attachment with Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan, singer Ghualm Ali’s father had named him Ghulam Ali as well. Continued

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