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Mehdi Hassan - King of Ghazal

Obituaries by Yogendra
(July 2012)

The great Ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan died in Karachi on June 13th after a long illness. Mehdi Hassan was regarded as the uncrowned king of Ghazal and enjoyed as much popularity in his adopted Pakistan as in his native India. By 1985, Mehdi Hassan had given countless concerts, made numerous recordings, and sung in about 60 films as a playback singer. In the late 1980s a serious illness forced him to abandon playback singing. Since about the turn of the millennium he was suffering from lung and chest problems and also ceased to give live performances.

Mehdi Hassan was born in 1927 in Rajasthan into a family of traditonel musical. His father and his uncle were Dhrupad singers. He received an intense musical training in his early childhood and gave his first public concert of Dhrupad and Khyal when he was only eight years old. In the wake of India's partition in 1947 his family moved to the newly formed Pakistan. There they had to cope with major economic difficulties. Mehdi Hassan then worked as a bicycle and car mechanic for some years to make a living.

In 1957 he got a chance to sing on Radio Pakistan and became known in musical circles. At first he was hired primarily as a Thumri singer, but his passion for Urdu poetry led him to experiment with the singing of Ghazals. Ghazal had by then a centuries-long literary tradition, but was hardly established as a musical form in the general public. Only Begum Akhtar, born in 1914, already had some success as a Ghazal singer in the 1930s and 40s. Mehdi Hassan's breakthrough came in 1962 as a playback singer in the film Susraal. His voice and his musical setting of classical Urdu poetry based on traditional ragas became the epitome of modern Ghazal. Above all, the inimitable manner in which he conveyed emotions, was universally admired. The legendary playback singer Lata Mangeshkar is quoted as saying that God speaks through his throat.