We all have those "once-in-a-lifetime" moments, moments we know that are unlikely to come knocking at our doorsteps again. So when I caught word in January 2011 of Asha Bhosle's March 2011 UK tour, I instantly procured my tickets for her London concert at the Royal Festival Hall on the Thames' south bank.
Ever since then, my excitement grew as the concert drew closer with each passing day. Indeed, the evening of Wednesday 16 March 2011 was truly magical. As I sat in my front row seat, I waited with abated breath. I leafed through the glossy programme, not really troubling myself to read the backgrounds of either Bhosle or Khan. After all, I knew all there was to know about these two legends - I just wanted the magic to begin!
And as the lights dimmed, I knew that this was it - my "once-in-a-lifetime" moment. Sonia Deol and Sanjay Sharma (both exemplary radio presenters at the BBC Asian Network) kicked off the evening with an introduction (in English by Sonia and in Urdu by Sanjay) to the evening that only furthered my appetite.
As Sonia and Sanjay concluded their introduction, Ustaad Shujaat Khan, along with his ensemble of musicians, graced the stage. I could not believe that I was sat but a few metres away from my favourite sitarist! Khan opened the concert with an introduction to the album "Naina Lagai Ke" which he and Asha were promoting in the UK, an album of ghazals with a semi-classical basis. Immediately, I knew that this was going to be an evening sans commercial Bollywood.
As I waited for Khan to pick up his sitar, I sat there hoping secretly that he would open with my favourite Sufiana piece of the Hazrat Amir Khusrao kalaam. And lo and behold, as though he had read my mind through some mystic form of telepathy, he started his first alaap which immediately told me that my prayers had been answered. I could feel the energy transcending across my veins as Khan rendered most immaculately "Chaap Tilak Sab Cheen Li". Here is a video of Khan performing the same piece at a concert in 2008:
After this scintillating performance, Khan proclaimed "It's time to get Ashaji out". Amidst a furore of excitement, Ashaji graced the stage with her hands joined in the namaste position. Clad in a sea-blue saree, Ashaji looked ethereal! This 77 year old legend adorned a white flower in her hair, adhering to the idiosyncratic style she established years ago. She was welcomed on stage with a standing ovation from the audience amidst an already electrified atmosphere. The crowd grew even more excited when she opened with the first alaap of "In Aankhon Ki Masti". What a treat to hear and see the song sung by the very legend herself!
Ashaji with Ustaad Khan, performing In Aankhon Ki Masti
Soon after "In Aankhon Ki Masti", she went on to sing "Dil Cheez Kya Hai". As the evening progressed, Ashaji and Ustaad Khan performed their semi-classical ghazals from their new album Naina Lagai Ke, one of which, as presented in the video below, I endeared to the most:
It was an evening of authentic melody and that, in my opinion, was real music: two artists coming together to do what they do best without rehearsals or a pre-fixed songlist. They performed whatever their hearts directed them to perform. Both Ashaji and Ustaad Khan admitted to have not rehearsed for the show, because the concept was designed to be a jugalbandhi between the two, whereby each would go with the flow. This only added to the evening's authenticity, charm and appeal.
After the interval, Ashaji graced the stage in a yellow, sparkling saree. Upon the insistence of Ustaad Khan, Ashaji indulged the audience with "Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo" and "Naam Gum Jaayega", before moving on to give the crowd a treat of her well-known mimicry talents. She chose to sing her own song "Tora Mann Darpan Kehlaaye" in the voices and styles of Malika-E-Taranum Noor Jehan, Lata Mangeshkar, Ghulam Ali and Helen. A true entertainer, Ashaji held the crowd in her hands with her down-to-earth, no-frills approach. For instance, as she walked on stage after the interval, she came round to the audience in the front and asked if her saree was suited to the occasion! There were several times in her renditions when she chose to introduce a new stylistic approach to established songs, and each time she did so she chose to check with her audience to see if they approved.
Asha "tai" treating us with Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo
Checking the suitability of her saree with her audience
The magic ended with a special request made by almost everyone in the concert: Chura Liya Hai Tumne Jo Dil Ko. And on this high-note, my "once-in-a-lifetime" evening came to a gracious end.