"Gajalu ti thulathula aankha
Teera bane basyo yo dilaima..."
The mellifluous baritone of Ghulam Ali singing King Mahendra's classic tender ballad of love can be heard in the narrow lanes of Asan, in the hills of Gorkha, even in certain suburbs on foreign shores-in fact wherever Nepalis have set down roots. The slight Urdu accent doesn't detract from what many associate with Home. This song, among others, earned added popularity after being compiled into the Nepali album Narayan Gopal, Ghulam Ali ra Ma two years ago.
That is how Ghulam Ali came to be better known in Nepal, but it is actually for his ghazals like "Hungama hai kyon barpa" and "Chupke chupke raat din" that he is world famous. The Pakistani artist is a true performer-not in the sense of pop bands that entertain with their antics and vocals-but in his ability to connect with his audience. He experiments with music and words, often scouring his vast library of Urdu poetry for the right lyrics to set to music, which he composes himself.
Mirza Ghalib, Aaamir Khusro and contemporary poet-lyricists like Ahmed Faraz, Qateel Shifai and Farhat Shahzad have all been blessed by his touch. In the album Visaal he collaborated with India's famous Gulzar and with singer Asha Bhosale on Miraz-E-Ghazal. Now his son and disciple, Nazar Abbas Ali is following in his father's footsteps. Although he accompanies his father occasionally, everyone knows the main event is always Ghulam Ali.
Born in 1940 into a musical family-his father was a vocalist and sarangi player-at a Sialkot village in Pakistan, Ghulam Ali studied his craft with his parent, as well as the legendary Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan, Bade Mubarak Ali Khan and Barkat Ali Khan. His career began in the 1960s on Lahore radio, after which he cut many albums. In the more than 40 years that the maestro has honed his art, his style has evolved, revealing a rich patina brought about by a lot of riyaz, training and a thorough base in the classics. He fuses the complexity of classical music with a perfect understanding of the ghazal . Over the years he has widened his range to encompass nazm and thumaris with equal elegance.
While the brilliance of many ghazal singers has waxed and waned, Gulam Ali continues to command respect and a new fan following with each successive generation. A truly South Asian artist, the ustad transcends national borders and technological innovations. His music has survived the long evolution from vinyl to MP3, and his live performances still resound with appreciative calls of "wah Ustad!" Ghulam Ali's concerts in India, Nepal, the US and the UK are as well attended as they are in Pakistan, where he is regarded a true ghazal maestro in a country where they are a dime a dozen. His voice mesmerises even the normally boisterous and intimidating Nepali audience who fall into silent awe when he sings. And at this Saturday's live performance, when the ustad begins the opening strains of "Gajalu ti", it's going to feel a bit like a homecoming.
Ghulam Ali will be performing live in Kathmandu on 14 August.