Playing by the book

Dinesh Ghate celebrates unsung musicians through his underground magazine on music, Swar Alaap, reports Rishi Majumder

Photographer (for Dinesh Ghate’s pic): Nilesh Wairkar

Leslie Gudinho

Leslie Gudinho, who drummed out "O Haseena Zulfon waali..."

Accordion and sax play along with ‘Roop Tera Mastana, Dil Mera Deewana’ Film: Aradhana; Singer: Kishore Kumar; Music Director: S D Burman
Hawaiian guitar plays with ‘Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu…’ Film: Howrah Bridge; Singer: Geeta Dutt; Music Director: O P Nayyar
Ghungru tinkles along with ‘Mohe Panghat Pe…Nand Lal Ched Gayo Re…’ Film: Mughal-E-Azam; Singer: Lata Mangeshkar; Music Director: Naushad

Sachin Karta (S D Burman) couldn’t think of how to start Roop Tera… on an appropriately high tempo,” says Dinesh Ghate. So Kersi Lord strummed his accordion. And Manohari Singh blew his saxophone. From the improvisations that ensued, the instrumental introduction that generations to come would dance to was drawn. “Similarly, the tune which begins Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu… was courtesy S Hazara Singh,” Ghate continues, “A guitar player so talented, he actually invented a new kind of guitar.”
Also, the ghungru interlude in Mohe Panghat Pe… was perfect because it wasn’t danced but rung, in rhythm with the tabla, by legendary percussionist Cawas Lord. Ghate tops these tidbits with a question: “Are you even aware of these names?”
He wasn’t either at the time. A percussionist earning his daily bread by performing old and new Hindi film songs with a band, the applause Ghate received for an octopad interlude one day made him wonder who the piece had originally been performed by. “This started a series of questions,” remembers Ghate. Questions like what role do instrumentalists play in a song’s composition? How much do they earn? And finally, why don’t Hindi film music credits include their names when private albums and western music tracks make it a point to do so? “While it’s true that some composers had up to hundred instruments playing for one track, there were always some instrumental pieces, performed solo or in duets, which formed the essence of the track,” Ghate argues. So he decided to seek out the performers of such pieces to feature them in a crudely printed black and white newsletter titled Dastak. In May 2002, his family (comprising his parents and wife who live with him) helped him prepare a mailing list of those in the music industry who would be interested in reading about such performers and

mail them what looked like a Xerox copy of a feature on sax and flute maestro Manohari Singh.
Today Dastak has been renamed and registered as Swar Alaap, a finely printed colour magazine that circluates over 1000 monthly copies to the industry’s who’s who and universities which teach music. One such copy is found in the Voice Of America Library in Washington DC. Likeminded enthusiasts Kushal Gopalka (a businessman), Shankar Aiyar (a banker) and Arun Puranik (a corporate executive) have joined Ghate in his endeavour. They’ve extended their activities beyond the magazine to the Swar Alaap Foundation, that holds concerts to felicitate behind the scenes Hindi film musicians (their last show in Mumbai being a tribute to Kawas Lord after his death in December last year). They held an exhibition last year called 100 Years Of Music, which presented chronologically songs, photographs and write-ups outlining the contribution of such musicians, along with instruments used in those times. His next big show, organised with Hansmukh Ravjiani (a music industry veteran) launches the Harmony Club, by mixing the most experienced instrumentalists in the business with fresh new voices waiting to be launched.
“Some of these musicians were given up to eight bars (a sizeable range) by the music director to improvise within,” Ghate mentions. “And some, like the Lords (Cawas and his sons Kersi and Burgess), were a family of musicians dedicated to imbuing filmy hits with the instrumental magic.” And some like Leslie Godinho who researched percussion to add an additional drum and make Congo a three drum set, or Hazara Singh, who invented the double guitar, were musical scientists in their own right. “Yet when I travelled to corners of cities,
small towns and villages to locate such musicians post their retirement, many were living in conditions of extreme ill health and poverty,” Ghate informs. Some of their neighbours, he claims, referred to them as ‘bajaane waala’, not knowing of their contribution to the very songs they were listening to on their tape recorders or radios as they said this. The proceeds of the felicitation concerts Swar Alaap holds go towards the medical expenses of some such musicians. Ghate wants to take this forward and institute a charitable trust for the purpose. “I also want to set up a small museum displaying what we did during our exhibition permanently,” he adds. “Our next project, however, is a detailed website.”
Ghate might have first related so strongly to the plight of a musician living in anonymity because of his own situation. “I carried on my live shows and research alongside,” he recounts. “I kept wondering: I am so unhappy when I don’t receive applause for a piece I’ve performed. What must a musician who improvises such a piece, and yet receives no recognition feel like?” Then he takes out some old photographs he’s collected of these legendary musicians in their younger days, clicked during performance. Seeing these photo
graphs transforms the nature of Swar Alaap Foundation’s work from complaint to celebration. These musicians, from Leslie Gudinho who drummed out O Haseena Zulfonwaali… to Pandit Ashok Sharma whose Sarod formed the backdrop for Bole Re Papihara… don’t seem “unhappy” at not recieving “recognition”. Their happiness instead, seems to transcend what a famous music director or singer will ever know. It is the happiness of a person who works as a part of an arrangement, yet refuses to become just a notation. It is also the happiness of making music that will be heard, rather than having names that will be read.

Dinesh Ghate, with copies of Swar Alaap...

Dinesh Ghate, with copies of Swar Alaap...

This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:


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