Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan

"When Kale Khan died, the elders of the clan lamented that the glorious era of Patiala vocalism had come to an end. This remark stung Ghulam Ali. He started practising round the clock to prove them wrong. And the rest, as they say, is history."
"It is well known that Ghulam Ali was trained in vocalism as well as on the sarangi. In his early youth, he made a living as a sarangi accompanist in Bombay as well as Lahore. However, he gave it up as soon as his career as a vocalist took off. His early years as a vocalist - sometimes supporting his father - were limited to engagements in Punjab and Kashmir, and very few people outside the region had heard of him. His big break came when he was almost 40 - at the Vikramaditya Music Conference in Bombay (1944). He stole the show with brilliant renditions of khayala, thumari and bhajana. The news of this conquest spread all over the country. Overnight, he became Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and thereafter, for over two decades, no major music festival in non-peninsular India was conceived without his participation."
"In 1953, the celebrated Carnatic vocalist, G. N. Balasubramaniam (GNB), organised, for him, a concert tour of south Indian cities - in those days, almost alien territory for Hindustani musicians. At first, the stark contrast between the ascetic culture of Carnatic vidvans and Bade Ghulam Ali's majestic personality, raised considerable scepticism. South Indian connoisseurs needed just one concert to change their mind about Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and to hail him as a 'bhagavatar,' the highest honorific conferred on singers in the Carnatic tradition."
"Bade Ghulam Ali became an important pillar of Hindustani music so speedily that few know of his having been a Pakistani national for over a decade after Independence. His home was in Lahore, while his audiences were in India, which he could visit for only limited periods each year. Neither government obstructed his movements across the border; but neither formally acknowledged his stature. During that period, even the mention of his name was prohibited on All India Radio. His application for Indian citizenship was pending when, in 1957, the Chief Minister of the erstwhile Bombay State, Morarji Desai, was charmed by his music and took up his case with Delhi. Desai not only got his nationality papers through, but also gave him a comfortable residence in Bombay, along with ancillary facilities. The ustad remained a resident of Bombay though, in later years, he developed a substantial presence also in Calcutta."
(Deepak Raja in 'Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within change,' p. 237 DK)

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