By Khaliq Najmi

Mehdi Hassan died on 13th of June 2012 and with him died the softest, the mellowest male voice that ever struck a human ear in the annals of music.

Bass-singing, called “kharaj” in the sub-continental music, is a more difficult genre than treble-singing (Panchum) as it requires extra breath in lungs and extra puff in singer’s throat. Mehdi Hassan chose this bass-singing as his special field, training himself, since childhood, by humming into an empty pitcher till he was able to fill it with a single breath. He culminated himself in bass-singing so meticulously that he could drone in bass as low as requiring another gamut-lever in the keyboard.

Mehdi sang in REGI (self-strained and self-controlled vocal chords). He has sung every kind of songs. He was well versed in every genre from Thumri to Khiyal from Dhurped to Dadra and from Raag Vidhya to even Lullaby. “Nindiya Aa/Aa Kar Munney Ki Ankhoon Mein/ Meethey Meethey Geet Saja” is a lullaby in which only by dint of his “Regi”, he was able to inculcate all motherhood in his voice. Mehdi had made his Regi a fantastic art in his throat. By the superb control of his vocal chords, he was able to metamorphose his voice according to the demands of the song. While in one of his encomiums a (Hamd), his voice is that of an entreating slave prostrating before his lord: “Aey Do Jahan Ke Wali, Dey Dey Hamain Sahara”, his voice changes with a thundering tint in it to produce patriotic passions in his milli song: “Yeh Watan Thumhara Hay”. His voice donates to the frustration and disillusionment in his song: “Ham Chaley Is Jahan Say” and sorrow and sadness in his songs – “Dile Wiran Hey Teri Yad Hey Tanhai Hey” – “Dil Diya Dard Liya/ Ankh Mein Sanso Aey and in a Punjabi song: “Dukh Laban Te Na Aaway” – Mehdi then at once transcends his voice to be naughty, coquettish and titillating in his songs: “Dulhan Mein Ley Kar Jaon Ga” – “Dunya Kisi Ke Peyar Main Jannat Say Kam Naheen” and “Rafta Rafta Who Meri Hasti Ke Saman Hogaey”.

By transformation of his voice with strained vocal chords, Mehdi was able to produce atmospheric effects wherever he needs. In his Ghazal, “Dekh to Dil Keh Jan Sey Uthta Hey/ Yeh Dhuwan Sa Kahan Se Uthta Hey,” he seems to be all soaked in smoke and in “Khudwanda Yeh Kaisi Aag Si Jalti Hey Seeney Main”, smouldering fire can be felt in his utterance. Similarly in his songs: “Aaj Mausam Bara Hey Suhana”, “Khamosh Hein Nazarey”, “Ik Bar Muskurado” – “Hey Raat Raat Bhar Ki” – all are full of atmospheric effects. Even coolness of a midsummer night can be felt in Mehdi’s throat here. In his duet song, “Sath Hamara Chootey Na, Yad Rahey Yeh Bat,” Mehdi’s voice suggests lurking catastrophic for the lover. At the advanced state of his life, he restricted himself only to the Ghazals and here too he proved himself a Shahensha. He made full use of his Regi and produced unmatched atmospheric effects. In: “Ranjish Hi Sahi Dil Hi Dukhaney Ke Liyey A”, he donates to the loveliness, and in “:Turke Ulfat Ke Sila Pa Bhi Liya Hey Mein Ney”, he donates to repentance. In his “Ya Zarqa! Raqs Zanjeer Pahan Ke Bhi Kiya Jata Hey”, his voice suggests Arabic atmosphere all around. Even the tomb of Zaryab in the Arab world might have echoed with his Alap (prelude modulation) of “Ya Zarqa” here.

It was the prime of his career when he sang, “Pyar Bharey Do Sharmeely Nain” – and that is heree Lata Mangeskhar had to comment that “gods croon through Mehdi’s throat”. When Mehdi Hassan went to an American Hospital to ask after Noor Jahan where she had been operated on, Noor Jahan said, “Lo! Shahenshahe Mauseeqi has come to see the Queen of Melody.” These were the greatest tributary words ever uttered by the contemporary legends for an equally well-deserving legend.

In the song “Pyar Bharey Do Sharmeely Nain,” Mehdi Hassan, even while singing Antra (the following couplet) starts from bass, then remains in tenor, then goes to baritone and without touching upper soprano, comes back to bass, droning gradually so tune fully that great singers of all ages would always marvel at its perfection. Mehdi Hassan is equally well-versed in Panchum (Treble) that seems to be the sole speciality of the western maestros. He proves his unmatched and unparalleled genius even in this field too. Mehdi touches the heights of treble in “Yeh Kaghzi Phool Jesey Chehrey/ Mazaq Urate Hain Aadmi Ka”. After the Asthai (first verse) when he enters the Antra (the following verse), he is able to retain the megical softeness of his voice with all the cadence. At the height of alto where all the singers have to be sharp and shrill, he croons so beautifully and skillfully that the western sopranos would fain emulate his mellowing intonation. He songs: “Samney Aa Ke Tujh Ko Pukara Naheen” – Teri Mehfil Se Ye Deewana Chala Jai Ga” – “Ik Sitam Aur Meri Jan Abhi Jan Baqi Hey” – “Jo Dard Mila Apnoon Sey Mila”, bear out Mehdi’s command of Panchum (treble).

Inspite of all command and dexterity in his treble, Mehdi is basically a bass singer and he should always be judged in his special field of bass – and in this field still he seems to be unmatched in the whole sub-continent. The only close competitor, if someone has to be created for the sake of matching, is no other than K.L. Saigal. No doubt Saigal is the real bass singer but he has his limitations. He neither has the quality to produce atmospheric effects nor has as long a breath as Mehdi does. During the climax of his career when Saigal sang his renowned song in Shah Jahan “Gham Diyey Mustaqil/ Kitna Nazuke He Dil,” Saigal had  to breathe in between Na-Zuk and again in Za-lim. In as short-metred a ghazal of Ghalib  as “Phir Mujhey Didae Tar Yad Aaya,” he even breathed in between Didae – Tar and again in Yad – Aya. Had he been alive in Mehdi’s time, he certainly must have been enthralled at the multifarious depth and duration of Mehdi’s breath. Thus it can be safely said that Mehdi is the greatest bass-singer of the sub-continent.