Talat Aziz: It's tough to encapsulate 40 years in one show
While Talat Aziz will mark four decades in the industry with a musical concert in the city, he does so with ample tales about his life, in this interview.
In the midst of our conversation, Talat Aziz receives for his approval, the rough edit of a video put together by his editor for a screening at the Royal Opera House on February 14. In the several-minute-long clip, an assortment of images of Aziz, spanning four decades, shows him interacting with an array of industry doyens, including Jagjit Singh, Mehdi Hasan, Pyarelal Sharma, Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Zahur Khayyam, and Sonu Nigam, among others. These are only a handful when compared to the barrage of artistes Aziz names in our hour-long conversation, as he revisits 40 years since he ventured into the industry.
While he will mark the event with music on February 14, he does so with a series of stories about his life, in this interview. Aziz began his journey as a true hustler, willingly taking up offers, both on Indian and international turf, whether or not they came from credible places. "A sarangi player told me to go to the open-air festival called Rangmansh; I went," he says at one point. "In '77, I got a call to do a show in Canada; I went," he says later. Like every hustler, he recalls hearing his first recorded song, and concluding that "I'd never make it as a singer."
At a "rich Sindhi's party", Aziz remembers sitting with an industry veteran as the latter was being presented with bundles and bundles of cash for his live rendition. "One person would put two bundles before him, then the other would put four. I was amazed." When he began performing, he too was generously rewarded. "I earned Rs 10,000 and opened my first bank account with that money. I was 22."
Mehdi Hasan was influential in enabling Aziz to hone his craft. Over a two-month concert in the US, he spent time with the veteran at a Dallas hotel suite, a privilege that had been afforded to them since the general manager of the property was a fan of Hasan. "Between weekend concerts, I got time to interact with him. We'd wake him up at 11 am and bring for him a strong cup of tea. He'd open the harmonium, and we'd interact with him, and then [sing]. He'd describe his childhood, and how he learnt music. That was the period when, as I sang along with him, I evolved. When you interact in this way, you subconsciously learn a lot. I had a role model. I knew that this is my target, and this is what I had to keep aiming for. Unless you have the blessings of your teacher, it's hard [to succeed]. It's not just about learning music. It's about that interaction."
In an age far distanced from social media, Aziz judged his soaring popularity not by the number of Instagram followers, but by the number of calls he would get for concerts. "My first professional concert was in Calcutta, for the then-handsome sum of R5,000. While singing there, listeners would name songs from my first record and ask me to sing them. I'd be surprised to learn that they had got their hands on the record and heard those tracks. They'd say, 'Tabhi toh aapko bulaya hai yahan'."
Even in an age where marketing methods were distanced from the ones employed today, producers attempted to "create an image" for artistes like him. While some earned the label of being artistes best suited to render melancholic tracks, he was made out to be one who delivered romantic numbers. That, he confirms, has nothing to do with the February 14 date they have arrived at for the forthcoming concert. "That just happened," he smiles. He intends to kick off the concert, for which people from "Canada and Mombasa are also travelling" with his popular number, Kaise sukoon paaon. "It's tough to encapsulate 40 years in one show. I've picked popular songs, and some of my favourite tracks. The idea is to create an atmosphere everyone will enjoy."
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