“Pitch Perfect” Daler Mehndi on his evolution from a popular to a spiritual singer
“Pitch Perfect” Daler Mehndi on his evolution from a popular to a spiritual singerThursday, January 26th, 2017
Daler Mehdi is straddling two worlds with ease – that of pop music and playback singing and that of the Sufi, singing to uplift oneself. Since his hit track “Bolo Ta Ra Ra” in 1994, he has ruled in the first world, in fact, it can be safely said he created the genre Bhangra pop which largely eased out Western music in the discos all over India and even Asianclubs in the UK. But since the last 8-10 years, alongside the popular songs, he has been composing tracks with a spiritual theme, using lyrics of saints like Guru Gobind Singh, Baba Bulleh Shah, and Baba Farid to create powerful rhythm dominated melodies that appeal. He now sings at festivals associated with spiritual music and classical music like the recently held The Scared Pushkar and earlier at the Vasant Utsav in Pune. The titles of some of his recent tracks – “Soul to Supreme” (or Ruh Raab tak) for “Allah Hu”, or “Namo Namo” with the insertion of a stanza of the sacred Japji Sahib, “Mere Ram”, and even “Holi Kheleungi Keh Keh Bismillah” all reveal his overpowering obsession with his Maker.
Speaking of this re-invention of himself as an artist, Daler says, “I have always been spiritually inclined from childhood (he is the son of a Sikh Gurbani singer), and this thread was perceptible in the lyrics of even my pop songs like “Kardi Rab Rab”. But the Sufi numbers that are sung nowadays are to my mind Sufi in name – they don’t embody the spirit. They are sung with a commercial goal of appeal in mind. That’s wrong. True Sufi music is for Him, not to please your audience. Whatever you sing in praise should be in praise only to the Almighty – “tu hi tu hai” (You, and only You). You should not bring in words of aashiqui (love) to please the listeners.
According to him, the current Sufi music is confined to just a few known popular numbers like “Damadam mast Qalandar”, “Kinna sona tenu Rab ne banaya”, “Chaap tilak mose naina milaayeke.” “No efforts are made to include new kalaams”.
The opening words of his “Allah Hu” are poignant – “aakh nam hui, main hoon bismil, har pal yahan, nai mushkil”. (my eyes are moist, I surrender to You, every minute there’s a new problem). He admitted problems do make you recall your Maker more.
His lyrics are powerful direct and simple –“Mere Allah, meri aankh bhar aati hai, besabab mujh ko diye jaata hai dene waala, haath uth tee nahi meri, jholi bhar jaati hai”. (O Allah, my eyes fill over, you give me everything without my even raising my hands to you in appeal)
I ask him who he consider a true Sufi singer. “Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a true Sufi – I am a huge fan. God knows how many births one would have to take to achieve his expertise. His control over rhythm and its play (rhythm di “vand”- interplay) is amazing. “There are many great classical singers, but what he had was unique.”
He recalls the connect Nusrat’s Sufi numbers had with his audience. “He was in Islamabad around 2008 and he had just created “Namo Namo”. Without really thinking it through, after all, his audience was primarily Muslim, and would not relate to the words Namo Namo (means hail the Maker, but essentially in Hindu terminology), he sang “Namo Namo. The audience loved it and insisted he sing it again seven times, and they sang along! One fan said, ‘putta nahin matlab kee hai, lekin lag raha hai, Rab di gal hai’ (I don’t know what you are saying but it seems like it’s something connected with God).”
Analysing why he was now singing more about higher matters, Daler says, “I was unhappy with the way the youth was being misguided.” As a star with influence, he feels it’s his duty to try to bring their minds to something more substantial. “Spiritual music can divert the youth; it should not only be about what brands you are wearing, entertainment, and sensory pleasures.” Rap music is not new – we have had a tradition since the music of Radha Krishna, he points out. He elaborates, in the Dasam Granth of Guru Gobind Singh, the metre has elements of rap – but there is the constraint of words that should be meaningful, and the constraint of rhythm. “Not like rap of today which is totally free flowing with no rules!” Taalim (training) is necessary to create music properly, Daler declares. He talks about his training under his singer father, and later Ustad Raahat Ali Khan of Gorakhpur from the Patiala gharana. He admits he also listens to a lot of classical music – Ustads Nazakat Ali, Salamat Ali, Bade Ghulam Ali, Bhai Samund Singh – there are many, he says. He absorbs a lot of elements musically from all kinds of music – he used to sing English songs at birthday parties, heard the ghazals of Ghulam Ali as early as 1975 when he was scarcely known, heard many bhajans, absorbed the music of Bihar and Bengal where he lived as a young boy. “Everything shapes, what you become,” he muses.
It’s also important to be disciplined – his wife Taran says, he was a teetotaller. On a lighter note he laughs, and says, “In some areas of discipline I falter. When I was young, I had to get up early to sing in Gurudwaras. Once I prayed to God, that don’t make me have to get up early. And his plea was answered.” Thereafter, it so happened that he was given assignments to sing in the evening! Getting up early is still a huge effort for him, he admits sheepishly. He recounts an incident in Maharashtra a few years back when he was told he had to be ready to perform at Ulhasnagar at 4 am, and how it was really difficult. “Ab aadat nahi rahi, 25-30 saalon se” he says.
As early as 1998-1999, Daler was signed up by Cola Cola, to endorse the drink, and tour 32 states in a whirlwind tour of concerts. It could have led to complacency as a singer, but Daler says he has always felt the need to raise the bar, try something that has not been done before. He surprised many when he sang “Tu Rubaru Hai” for Vishal Bhardwaj in Maqbool in 2003. The industry woke up to his versatility. “I never wanted to continue to do what was working and what was popular – I always wanted to move on to something else. None of the tunes I sang were ever repeated and all were totally original.” After the success of title tracks of Mirzya and Dangal , Daler adds he is planning something completely novel in 2017. “And I am looking forward to the release of Bahubali 2 in which I have sung the title track in four languages.”Source By : The Hindu