How Talat Aziz created a devotional track during the pandemic
The ghazal singer tells us what inspired his latest song 'Maula Mere Maula'.
When a legendary ghazal singer breaks into song in the middle of a Zoom interview, we can’t help but feel privileged to have been part of the conversation. Talat Aziz, famous for hits like Zindagi Jab Bhi Teri Bazm Mein and Phir Chhidi Raat Baat Phoolon Ki, went down memory lane while chatting about his latest track, Maula Mere Maula, out now on Tips Ibadat, a devotional channel launched on January 13.
A spiritual track with a Middle Eastern touch, Maula Mere Maula was conceptualized and created last year during the Covid lockdown in India. “It’s a prayer thanking God, and also saying, ‘please help us’. It is a very good dua to come out now, but apart from the pandemic, we should do this all the time because we should be grateful to God for all mercies.”
Aziz said the idea for the track came when he was pondering his next move once the lockdown kicked in. He started working online after setting up a workstation with the help of an experienced sound engineer and one day got a call from music company Tips. “They wanted me to record two spiritual tracks. I was taken aback and I said ‘in these times, how and why’?”
Deciding to give it a try, he admitted, “The month of May last year was a very bleak time. Everything was shut. The first words that came into my consciousness were ‘Maula Mere Maula’ - and I felt this was a message coming from somewhere. So I decided to develop it, wrote something and sent it to my friend who is a poet in Lucknow, Hasan Kazmi.”
After the combined efforts of a poet who wrote the lyrics, a programmer who prepared the music track and others, Maula Mere Maula was given its finishing touches. Explaining the process, which had everyone working remotely, Aziz said, “It went on - to and fro, to and fro - and it took about two months. Finally we zeroed in and it became a master-mixed track. And it sounded nice. I wanted a Middle Eastern touch so we used instruments like oud and darbuka to give it that kind of a feel.”
But how does one shoot a video during a lockdown? Aziz didn’t let this become an obstacle. Taking the help of his son Shayaan Aziz, a professional photographer, the singer used scenic locales from his beachside residence in Juhu, Mumbai, to create an atmosphere for the Maula Mere Maula video. “We took some nice shots of cloudy skies, the waves, the beach, birds flying and sort of pieced a video together, which was edited by someone working online in Gujarat.”
Aziz believes that the track was destined to be created and expressed his thanks to Tips’ Managing Director Kumar Taurani for the latter's ‘vision’ in pandemic times. “When things have to happen, when you get help from the Almighty in some way and if your intentions are good, things happen, even in a lockdown! So this track happened, and it has come out beautiful! I hope and I pray that it will be accepted - first of all by the Almighty - and then by the people. And there’s one more coming!”
Reflecting on the entire experience of creating Maula Mere Maula, the singer said he feels the pandemic and lockdown have “taught a lot of people a lot of things”. “It all depends on how you look at it. There’s a saying - in a national calamity the person who survives is not the strongest or the weakest, but the one who is the most adaptable, who can adapt to the changing circumstances. So this is how you adapt. And I adapted, I am grateful, maybe I was destined to do it.”
The lockdown also inspired Aziz to start teaching ghazal singing online and he feels grateful to be passing on musical traditions from his guru Ustad Mehdi Hassan, to students from all age groups. “I am sitting here (in Mumbai) and I am connected to students from all over India, the Middle East; I’ve got students in Dubai, in Canada, United States, Bangladesh, even a small place in Denmark with a population of around 75,000 people! I feel very privileged because when my guru Ustad Mehdi Hassan tied the thread and made me his shikshak in 1977-78, he said ‘you have become part of my family, so I will teach you whatever I have learned from my gurus and it will be your duty to work on it and be proficient in it and you have the responsibility of passing it (the essence of my gayaki) on to the next generation. And this is what I am doing today. So I think I am blessed. Students say that though we never got a chance to meet the great man himself we are meeting him through you.”
Aziz who has completed four decades as a singer in the Indian music industry says new track Maula Mere Maula is also “in a way about thanking God for completing 40 years and still being relevant.”
He admits he is fortunate to have sung classic tracks like Aaina Mujhse Mere and Phir Chhidi Raat Baat Phoolon Ki whose popularity has endured over decades, and would not refer to them as ‘old’. “They are not ‘old’ they are still relevant, isn’t it? They are still being listened to today. I have a 20-year-old boy from Orissa who is learning music from me. One day he said, ‘sir, please teach me that Bazaar ghazal, Phir Chhidi Raat’. I agreed but said ‘why? you were not even born when this was recorded’. He said he loved the song!
“There is something in those songs - melody, thought, there is something which is making them relevant even today. Anupam Kher told me one day that the best song picturised on him from all his films, one he could relate to personally is Aaina Mujhse Mere from Daddy. It’s written beautifully, there is melody, depth and soul in it.”
When prodded to go down memory lane about his most memorable concerts or performances, Aziz said it was difficult to pick one from the thousands over the years but mentioned his tours with Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali in the ‘80s and how in 2015, he went and did something “completely different”.
“It was called the Iconic tour - it was Asha Bhosle ji and me and I was not singing ghazals. I was singing classic Hindi film songs with a live orchestra; people were surprised as they didn’t expect me to do that. The houses were packed.” And to give us a sample of what delighted audiences on that stage, he gave an impromptu rendition of bits of classic hits like Chaudhavin Ka Chand, Yeh Shaam Mastani and Zindagi Ka Safar.
Aziz who has seen “four decades of sound recording” remarked on the warmth and interaction that marked earlier recordings. “We used to have huge studios with all the musicians outside, the arranger, the conductor. When I first sang with Lata Mangeshkar she was standing right next to me, and we sang together with a 60-piece orchestra outside. So it was a lot of pressure, yet you had this human interaction. We had rehearsals, we used to interact, if there was a mistake then we would all go through it (again) and have a laugh about it.
“Today, the sound quality is much superior, it’s much easier, it’s fantastic. I don’t think I can say ‘that was better’ or ‘this is better’. Both are equal as long as the music you are creating has soul.”
Signing off with a timely message for his fans in the UAE, Aziz said, “Please believe that when things get tough, the tough get going. So be tough; we have all got going. Also, be thankful for whatever we have got from the Almighty. Shukrana bahut jaroori hai. The Almighty is the provider and he will give whatever is destined for you regardless of what happens. So just be thankful and keep on doing your work honestly.”