Remembering Begum Akhtar
A concert in honour of Begum Akhtar’s 100th birth anniversary aims to recall some of the iconic singer’s finest tunes
Begum Akhtar, or the Queen of Ghazals, will be brought to life today. To celebrate her 100th birth anniversary, thumri singer Sraboni Chaudhuri will sing her own rendition of the iconic singer’s songs and ghazals, among others, today, at Dadar’s Veer Savarkar Hall. Chaudhuri, who released her debut, solo album Thumri Se Ghazal Tak in September this year, is a disciple of famed thumri singer Shobha Gurtu. She talks about answering the call of music while teaching Economics at Sophia College, and what the audience can look forward to at the concert today. Excerpts from an interview:
Thumri singer Sraboni Chaudhuri
Q. Begum Akhtar is such an iconic singer. But what, according to you, sets her apart from other singers?
A. Begum Akhtar belonged to an era where classical music had a lot of influence on popular culture. She, and many other singers from that period, retained the purity of ghazals to a great extent. She sang Urdu poetry by classical poets. What connects me to Akhtar is that we both have retained the traditional format of singing ghazals in our songs. Ghazals, however, have evolved from Akhtar’s period — more recent singers such as (the late) Jagjit Singh and Pankaj Udhas have demystified these classical tunes. The word that comes to mind when talking about Begum Akhtar’s songs is ‘pukar’, or a calling from the heart. There is a sense of underlying pathos, which might have been inspired by her own life, and this is typical of all her songs. While singing her songs, it is very difficult to capture that essence, but that is also what sets her apart — her real life experiences translated into music and poetry.
Q. You were an Economics professor at Sophia College when you decided to turn to music full-time. What happened?
A. Music was a calling ever since I was a kid. But coming from a family of professionals, it was tough to plunge into music. I think the turning point was when I visited the sets of the reality music show, Sa Re Ga Ma, and saw a lot of professionals who are equally good at singing. That’s when I decided to turn to music full-time instead of opting for a secure job and a fixed income. And I am totally enjoying this journey. The excitement that you feel on stage and the audience’s appreciation take away all your hardships.
Q. How was it to learn music from someone like Shobha Guru, who is also called Thumri Queen?
A. Shobha Guru is a performer par excellence. In music, there are teachers and performers and it is difficult to be both. But she was like that. She wouldn’t get into the nitty gritty of teaching music but each class used to be like a performance. It was great.
Q. What can we look forward to at your concert today?
A. The concert is dedicated to Begum Akhtar. We will include ghazals and a few pieces of semi-classical music forms such as dadra. I will sing a couple of film songs and some of my own contemporary poems, too.
The musical tribute, titled Kahkashan, will be held today at Veer Savarkar Hall, Shivaji Park from 7.45 pm onward.
Call: 24465877 for tickets priced between R200-R450