Shreya Ghoshal concert: An evening of melody and soul

‘Tis wedding season in India and this has been a particularly busy one for moi.  So amid attending weddings, overeating and falling sick, I simply did not get time to review a concert of Shreya Ghoshal I attended last month.  It was at the well known Shanmukhananda Hall (Mumbai) that once hosted Shankar Jaikishen’s concerts too. Ghoshal said this was her first concert at the venue.  When she wound down (or should I say, up) with Mere Dholna, most of us in the hall were hoping it wouldn’t be the last.

Speaking of hopes, while travelling to the venue, I wondered if the demo fracas would dent attendance at the show.  Any such ‘hopes’ were dashed by the familiar sight of traffic gridlock near the hall (I was fortunately walking it down from good ol’ GTB station).  It was a sold out show (would later learn it had been sold out for weeks) and patrons waited eagerly with enthusiasm.  I watched with not a little curiosity.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the show.  I did figure it couldn’t possibly be too bad but, mostly, I was curious to hear for myself what playback singers sound like live.  In the case of Ghoshal, the answer is pretty simple: way better.

Ghoshal’s voice sounds much thinner on studio recordings than it does live. The recordings also don’t capture very much of the dynamism of her voice.  Dynamism in this sense isn’t quite what the word might lead you to expect:  rather than explosiveness, I mean that she has a way of producing her voice in waves, soft ebbs followed by a powerful (but not overpowering) surge, all delivered effortlessly with nary a note out of place. These ebbs and surges (rather than a constant volume) keep the listener on tenterhooks, eagerly anticipating what the next note will bring.  Somehow, the studio recordings simply don’t seem to capture this quality at all.

Ghoshal is also adept at using the advantages of the live setting over recordings – both singing wise and ‘performance’ wise, to borrow Indian Idol terminology.  Performance wise, she is on the move almost all the time, making eye contact with left, center and right columns of the audience (no, not ideologies).  Unlike many playback singers, especially of the older generation, she does not refer to the lyrics on a notebook or tablet for most of the songs.  This already liberates her to express herself in ways that the older singers were constrained to because they needed to consult a notebook to make sure they didn’t mess up the lyrics.  And boy does she express herself!  At the millionth or so variation, I stopped keeping count.  And yet, all these variations on the recordings are conceived and executed very tastefully; it doesn’t feel like she’s showing off.

But the high point of the concert, at least for me, was her rendition of R D Burman’s Kya Janu Sajan (originally sung by Lata Mangeshkar).  She was able to capture that haunting quality which the song has and convey the sensation of the voice coming from some distant, even lost place.  It is amazing that she was able to do this in a live performance without overtly appearing to do anything different to achieve this effect.  In this performance (though not only this one), technique and soul were in perfect harmony (it is very difficult to sing the stretch from sau diye/jab liya tera naam cleanly without a break in the middle and she did it twice).

This and her many other outstanding performances of the day also brought home to me why hearing a singer in their prime is something else.  I have heard Bruce Dickinson and Klaus Meine give damn good shows, also Shankar Mahadevan with Shakti.  But – and this is even though I would take Shakti/Iron Maiden/Scorps over Tujhme Rab Dikta Hai any day – their singing did not quite blow me away the way Ghoshal did.  It felt like I had found in my backyard what I had searched for far and wide (had the same feeling when, a few years back, I went on a Ilayaraja binge after a gap).

So…my point is even if you just sort of like her but enjoy attending music concerts, please do not give it a miss if you get the chance.  Because (a) she is outstanding and (b) it may not be quite the same thing if you finally make up for it years later. Now, but for the fatwa issued by a certain political party in Mumbai, I would express my wish to hear a well known singer (who shall not be named) in concert….Bas itna sa khwab hai.

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