K L Saigal – The Modern Tansen

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Din soona sooraj bina
Aur chanda bin raiin
Ghar soona deepak bina
Jyoti bin do nain
Diya jalao, diya jalao
Jagmag jagmag diya jalao….

Tansen (1943) was based on legends of the 16th century musician in the court of Mughal emperor, Akbar. The film was of course a musical drama having 13 songs and almost all of them became a hit. Singing the above lines it was as if K.L. Saigal bringing Tansen alive. Not just on screen but, in hearts and minds of people, through his singing. Making him the modern Tansen. From his first recording in 1933 to the last of his songs in 1947, Saigal exhibited a rare talent of singing. His voice endured and grew on people. What is more astonishing is that he was not trained in any particular gharana nor did he have any particular guru. His repertoire consisted of classicals, semi-classicals, thumris, bhajans, ghazals, Rabindra Sangeet.
Born on 11 April 1904 in Nawashehr, Punjab, where his father Amarchand Saigal was a tehsildar at the court of the Raja of Jammu and Kashmir. His mother Kesar Kaur was very fond of music. It is because of her that Saigal took to music as fish takes to water. He was blessed by a Sufi saint, Salman Yusuf. His typical nasal voice, which is usually considered as unattractive in the music community, came out as a winner because of its unique baritone, soft tenor, his perfect diction and his amazing range. He was an inspiration to the gamut of singers like Talat Mahmood, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore Kumar and even the Nightingale herself – Lata Mangeshkar, thus making him the first superstar actor-singer of Hindi cinema. Saigal was so perfect in his singing that musicians, composers and singers around him called him Shiva’s Bhrm Naad. During a recording or a song recital it is usually the musicians who set their instruments first to give the scale and the singer would match that scale. But in case of Saigal, it was the other way round. Tanpura and other instruments were set after Saigal sang a scale. The musicians would wait for him to give them the scale. That’s perfection personified. His aura, his gayaki, his thought process of music was expressed through his singing.

All his non-film songs/ghazals/bhajans were composed by Saigal himself. His command over music can be well heard in these songs since he used only a harmonium and a tabla as an accompaniment. His fondness for Ghalib is well known and it was he who brought Ghalib to the masses. With a haunting music, his melancholy voice casts a spell even now. And all his recordings which are still a rage with music lovers come from the era when the technology was still in its primitive state. With a work span so short (12-15 years) and the output very low, he became immortal with just handful of songs. His available songs serve as potential for further music development, making him a legend, which lives on!!

A look at some of the non-film songs of K. L. Saigal which were sung and composed by him –

Avid music lover and Dev Anand fan

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  1. Pingback: Carnival of Blogs on Golden Era of Hindi Film Music – April 2019 – The world is too small? or Is it?

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