In the last decade or so listeners have been showing a lot of interest in ghazals written, tuned and sung in Malayalam and a number of such albums have come out to the delight of those who love this genre of music. Malayalees, especially from the Malabar area, has a tradition of loving Hindustani music including geets and ghazals and there was a rich culture of music clubs/groups and ‘mehfils’ where, along with Hindi film songs, the ghazals of Mirza Ghalib, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali and so on had found a prominent place. In the 70s and 80s the ghazals of Jagjit Singh, Pankaj Udhas, Talat Aziz, Anup Jalota and others were very popular among even the young generation and they continue to be so. Among filmy ghazals the soft,romantic, often grief filled ghazals of Talat Mahmood were a rage among the young and old.
As far as the ordinary Malayalee listeners were concerned, their exposure to Malayalam ghazals was limited mainly to those filmy compositions, in Hindustani ragas of Baburaj like, for example, ‘Surumaezhuthiya mizhikale”, ‘Oru pushpam mathramen”, "Prana sakhi njan” and so on. It was often pointed out that the main hurdles in the way of ghazals being made in its traditional format in Malayalam were two. First, the limitations of the language and words which make it difficult to fit them strictly into the framework/rules of ghazals. Second, the reluctance of Malayalam poets, especially the prominent among them, to allow their poems to be tuned in ghazal style as they feared that it may result in loss of beauty of their poems. But with the realisation that the strict adherence to the rules of ghazal is limiting its universal appeal and confining it to a sort of ‘experts’ zone,’ more composers started to compose ghazals in Malayalam. Poets also started to shed their inhibitions to associate with ghazal making.
It was the pioneering efforts of Cochin based singer Umbayi during the last more than a decade to compose, sing and release albums of Malayalam g that gave a huge impetus in this direction. His first album PRANAMAM was released in 1998. It contained nine poems, of Venu V. Desom, tuned in Hindusatani ragas and rendered by Umbayi himself. While all of them captured the attention of listeners, ‘ Ethrasudhamayam, ‘Manasse neeyen’ and ‘Oru nokku kanuvanai’, were, to me, the most impressive. In the wake of the success of ‘Pranamam’,Umbayi came out with his second album GHAZALMALA with ten compositions of lyrics by poet Yousafali Kecheri. This album was a bigger success and gave Umbayi a lot of recognition and space in the media. What struck a chord with the listeners is his beautiful voice and the feeling and bhav he imparted to the ghazals. ‘Veendum padaam sakhi’, Nilave kanduvo nee’and ’Manaswini madhumalini’ are outstanding ghazals for the sweetness of the voice, lyrical charm and beauty of the compositions.
Then followed the album ORUMUKHAM MATHRAM with ten ghazals from the lyrics of poet Pradeep Ashtamichira. The ghazals were sung by Umabyi and singer Gayatri. The best of the lot is the one by Umbayi and Gayatri, 'Priyane nee pournamiyakumengil”(പ്രിയനേ നീ പൌര്ന്നമിയാകുമെങ്കില് ഇവിടെ ഞാന് രാപ്പാടിയാകാം), the sweetness of Umbayi’s voice and trained singing of Gayatri coming to the fore.
In association with poet Sachthanandan Umbayi composed and released the album AKALE MOUNAMPOL . All the nine ghazals penned by Sachthanandan were rendered by Umbayi in his characteristic style , the title song and ‘ Ekanthamee muri ‘ impressing the most. The next album by Umbayi was ITHUVARE SAKHI NINNE KATHIRUNNU with nine compositions of poems of Pradeep Ashtamichira which was also well received by listeners.There is also an album ORIKKAL NEE PARANJU in which Umbayi gives nine ghazals out of lyrics penned by East Coast Vijayan. The ghazals were rendered by Umbayi and the talented singer Manjari.
The long cherished desire of Umbayi to create ghazals out of the lyrics of the great Malayalam poet O.N.V. Kurup bore fruit when they joined together to create the album PAADUKA SAIGAL PADU. All the nine ghazals rendered by Umbayi in the album brought the best out of Umbayi and they are examples for lyrical charm, beauty of composition and voice together resulting in great music. The title song,’Paduka Saigal Padu’(പാടുക സൈഗാള് പാടു, നിന്റെ രാജ കുമാരിയെ പാടി പാടിയുറക്കു ))inspired by K.L.Saigal’s “Soja Raj Kumari’ is the best of the lot invoking nostalgia in listeners.The success of this album led the duo to create another album NANDI PRIYA SAKHI NANDI again well received by ghazal lovers. The ghazal “ Puthiyoru ragam paduka Tansen”(പുതിയൊരു രാഗം പാടുക താന്സെന്) is again nostalgic for listeners who love old Hindi film songs.
What made the efforts of Umbayi noteworthy was the sincerity with which he stuck to his task of creating ghazals in Malayalam as well as popularising ghazals in general. Through his several interviews in the TV channels he was able to explain the intricacies of ghazals to listeners and create an interest in them. He never used electronic instruments in the background or allowed the voice to be hampered/modulated by electronics and he always tried to compose within the traditional framework. The beauty of human voice is all there to enjoy in Umbayi’s ghazals.
Close on the heels of Umbayi others also came out with ghazal albums in Malayalam, two of the notables among them being ‘NEEYUM NILAVUM’ and ‘ALAKALKKU’ both by that highly gifted singer-composer Shahabaz Aman with Gayatri giving the female voice support. Shahbaz Aman is endowed with a rich, versatile voice which he used with great effect in all the ghazals he sang in the first. The solo by Gayatri, ‘Puzhayude geetham kelkkam’, penned by Poovachal Khader, is a haunting number.The album ‘ Alakalkku’ has lyrics by prominent poets like Kamaladas, Sachitanandan, D.Vinayachandran, Rose Mary, Kadammanitta and so on. The compositions are serious and within the rules making them more attractive to the experts/connoisseurs eventhough the voice and style of singing make ordinary listeners also to take note of them.
Two other notable ghazal albums are GHAZALUKAL POOKKUNNA RATRI and ETHRA MADHURAMAI PAADUNNU NEE . The first is an album of nine ghazals composed by Dr. Muhammed Shakeel using the lyrics of Sri O.N.V.Kurup and rendered by Hariharan, Vani Jayaram, Jayachandran, Aparna, Dr.Muneer and Dr.Shakeel Muhammed himself. The two ghazals ,viz., ‘Ghazalukal pookkunna ratri’ and ‘Enguninnethiyen’ by Hariharan are, in fact, a demonstration as to how a ghazal is to be rendered if one can forget the pronounciation of Malayalam words. All the ghazals are endowed with lyrical charm and the rendering of ‘Pularkala pushpame’ by Dr.Shakeel Ahmed and’Onam pinneyum vannu poyi’ by Aparna could stand up to the illustrious singers of the other ghazals. The other album ‘Ethra madhuramai padunnu nee’is by the upcoming Hindustani singer Nisa Azeezi . Of the nine ghazals penned by different poets and composed by Nisa Azeezi herself and a few others, two,viz., Neela nilavinte’ (lyrics. Alankode Leelakrishnan) and ‘Ariyatha bhazhayil(അറിയാത്ത ഭാഷയില് കേള്ക്കാത്ത ശബ്ദത്തില് എത്ര മധുരമായ് പാടുന്നു നീ) ’ penned by T.P.Rajeevan and composed by Nisa are the most appealing. The singer has a unique voice and style reminding us of the great Parveen Sultana and this is an album worth listening to.
There is one more album which came to my notice recently. It is ENIKKU NEEYENNUM , an album of ten ghazals from Jubilee Audios. Music is by Najeeb and lyrics by Sasi N, Nair andP.L.Sreedharan. The singers are Jayachandran, Jithesh and Gayathri. The beautifully rendered ghazals are a welcome addition to Malayalam ghazals.
In the current year there were two other releases of importance, The first is ENNUMEE SWARAM , containing eight ghazals penned by Rafeeq Ahmed and composed by Jithesh Sundaram (Jithesh, who rendered the beautiful ghazal ‘Rangath teri zulfon ki’ in Malayalam film Megha Malhar), the well known ghazal singer and disciple of Sri Anup Jalota, and who hails from Thalassery. One ghazal is rendered by Pankaj Udhas and another by Anup jalota. The others are by Jithesh himself. To me the best of the lot is ‘Rathriyil mazha'(രാത്രിയില് മഴ പെയ്തോഴിഞ്ഞുവോ നേര്ത്ത തെന്നലകന്നുവോ .....) by Jithesh in his silken voice. The album, on the whole, is well made and well presented in an attractive folder. The other recent album is MRIDU MALHAR of eight ghazals composed and rendered by Pt.Ramesh Naryanan using the lyrics of Vijay Sursen with female voice by Sujatha. The composition complying with the rules of Ghazals is again a connoisseurs’ delight but a must listen album for those ghazal lovers who want to know the style of ghazals more.
I have to mention also about another album, in fact a music video, released by East Coast, containing nine ghazals rendered by Venugopal, Gayatri and Sangeetha and composed by T.C.K. Calicut using the lyrics of P.M.A. Samad. The 'sangeetha madhurima' rendered by G.Venugopal and picturised on him is very pleasing.
It is encouraging to see that more and more Malayalam ghazal albums are coming out . Yes, ghazals are for those who also love the purity of human voice, clarity of expression, beauty and content of lyrics, style of rendering especially of nuances, richness of tradition and so on. They are for serious concentrated listening.
One last line; let us have more ghazals in Malayalam. But please spare us the agony and embarrassment of listening to stalwarts, not knowing Malayalam, struggling with and mutilating words.
Tail piece: Ghazal for Ghazalians, Lajjavathiye for Lajjavathiyans, Kolaveri di for Kolaverians. There is enough space for all to play.