Show: Ehsaas
Artists: Ustad Shujaat Khan – Sitar
Surinder Khan – Vocal and Harmonium
Amit Choubey – Tabla
Devender Raj Bhatt – Flute
Sanjoy Das – Guitar
Murad Ali Khan – Sarangi 
Manoj Kumar – Dholak
When: 24th May 2015
Where: Johannesburg, Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City

The first ever Ghazal ensemble brought to South Africa by Inner Circle Entertainment heralded a star studded event mirroring the near wintry evening-skies of Johannesburg. It was something I have been looking forward to ever since I have seen the promos, thanks to Nisaar Bhai. Having heard Ustad Shujaat Khan on a previous concert before I was curious as to what he was going to bring to the Ghazal genre. Surinder Khan was an absolute new voice for me, hearing only a snippet of what he has done, the excitement built up.

I have read many reviews about how certain artistes played their best pieces live, and on the 24th May, I was finally witness to this.

Ehsaas began with Surinder Khan who hails from the Patiala Gharana of Ghazal; and what an amazing show he gave us. Romancing the audience with his brand of ghazal with exquisite Patiala embellishments. The accompanists included Sanjoy Das, Devender Raj Bhatt, Murad Ali Khan and Amit Choubey. They all performed excellently; though special mention has to go out to the tabla player Amit Choubey. His collaboration took this part of the performance to enthralling heights; providing able support to Surinderji. Surinder Khan’s voice is supple and fined tuned to the genre. He has a budding career ahead of him, and I have no doubt that he will make his mark in the Ghazal world. He kept the audience close, explaining the finer details of Ghazal and poetry.

Our first hearing came in the form of the Ghulam Ali Ghazal Ae Husn-E-Lala Fam Zara Aank To Mila penned by Hasrat Mohani; the ghazal captivated the audience. Tarana interludes decorated this beautiful piece based on Raag Hameer. Zara Si Der Me Itna Badal Gaya Kaise composed Surinder Khan and written by Haider Rafi was remarkable. It showcased the artiste’s proclivity for rousing poetry and melody. Then Shayari was sung, and enchantment by Sanjoy Das on the guitar; Chupke Chupke Raat Din was sung masterfully by Surinder; adding stirring alaaps; this particular track is based on Raag Kaafi and written by Hasrat Mohani. I had seen Sanjoy Das performing in India’s coke studio, but here his improvisations were great. Murad Ali Khan on the sarangi was another talent to witness; he infused the Raag with tender tones. Neele Neele Gulab Jaisi Hai, Uski Aankhen Sharab Jaisi Hai, followed with immaculate rendition and style by Surinder. This one had the crowd sighing over the metaphors presented in the poetry.

Surinder began Dil Mein Ek Lehar Si Uthi Hai with sweet alaaps. This track is based on Raag Pahadi and is also one of my favourites by Ghulam Ali. Raag Gorakh Kalyan ensued, spellbinding the audience in the form of Aaina Jab Bhi Main Dekhu To Juda Lagta Hai written by Haider Rafi; the lyrics were heartfelt and dexterously sung by Surinder. During the rendition Surinder spoke and it went something like this ‘Ghazal Ki Mehfil Mein, Agar Ghazal Samrat Ka Zikr Na Ho, To Mere Khayal Mein, Mehfil Adhuri Rehti Hai, Ek Baar Zordaar Taliyan Se Guru Jagjit Saab Ne’ and then proceeded to pay tribute to Jagjit Singh singing Hoshwalon Ko Khabar Kya based on the same Raag. The mellifluous change of song added to the mood, without a change in tone. The accompanists were excellent here, they knew their cues and played beautifully. Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa, Thodi Si Jo Pii Lii Hai, Daakaa Toh Nahin Daalaa Chori Toh Nahi Kii Hai based on Raag Darbari Kannada was sung in full glory as a tribute to Ghulam Ali. It is written by the Akbar Allahabadi. The audience went wild and clapped along. Raag Pahadi, Patiala Gharana style was served with the Thumri Saiyan Bina Ghar Soona. Placidly slowing the taal, Surinder gave a rendition of Mohammed Rafi’s Chaudvin Ka Chand, which transformed into Jagjit Singh’s Kal Chaudvi Ki Raat. All of which are based also on the same Raag. The level of artistry shown was immeasurable from all involved. Itni Muddat Baad Mile Ho Kin Sochon Mein Goom Rahte Ho sung originally by Ghulam Ali followed in Surinder’s striking voice. Teri Mast Mast Do Nain from Dabanng also made an appearance, with the audience graciously singing the mukhda. Surinder began with Ranjish Hi Sahi Dil Hi, then immediately stopped, saying he will leave this one for his next tour. Part 1 ended with thunderous applause and was 10 minutes short of two hours.

Part II began with Ustad Shujaatji (hailing from the Imdadkhani Gharana); and might i add with splendour!! What I saw in Ustad Shujaat Khan’s performance will remain with me for life. The supremacy in his onstage presence lies undoubtedly in his virtuosity. He truly is a stalwart of the Imdadkhani Gharana; and a shining ustad to all budding sitar players. He is the reason I wanted to play the sitar.

Ustad Shujaat introduced his accompanists, which was almost nearly the same, the only change was Sanjoy Das, who bid adieu in part 1. Replacing him was Manoj Kumar on the Dholak. Ustad also made the statement that even though the accompanists were all young, we shouldn’t be deceived by their age as they are all brilliant in their own right. And how true he was. Shujaatji began with Raag Yaman Kalyan in full energy; Alaap in Ektaal, Jhor and Gat in Teentaal. His Alaap rendered the audience stunned, then began the Jhor with Amit Choubey on the tabla, the magic had begun! By the time they reached the gat, the enthralled audience whistled and scream out. It was a sight to behold; watching Ustad Shujaat and the accompanists become one with the Raag. The notes flowed and floored the audience.

Tumhare Shehar Ka Mausam Bada Suhana Lage in Raag Des followed with soft strings of the sitar and Ustad’s indulgent vocals entrancing the hall. In an instant we were transported the stars and back again when Maula Maula started and ended.

Raag Sindhi Bhairav followed and it was carried off in a cherished play of different tracks. Ustad Shujaat started with a piece from his grammy award nominated album Rain, then immediately began with Mere Machle Hue – Dedicated to Nisaar Bhai; Hamari Atariya Pe ensued in Shujaat style invoking the teary eyes of Darshna and I. The raag was completed by Shujaatji’s Ghazal Naina Lagai Ke Main Pacchta Hoon. A very interesting realisation appeared from the interludes that was played in between the change of tracks. I had realised why I enjoyed the background music of Karan Johar’s Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham; they were also based on Raag Sindhi Bhairav!

Man Kunto Maula based Raag Shyam Kalyan began in true Sufi style, with Ustad playing the Tarana segment entirely in Sitar. Murad Ali deserves special mention as the Sarangi stood side by side with the sitar. Piya Ghar Ayee written Amir Khusrao Saheb in Raag Khamaj was sung with gusto and music to melt the soul. Chaap Tilak Sab Cheeni Re also written by Amir Khusrao Saheb based on Raag Tilak Kamod continued the melting of the soul; Shujaatji held the audience in awe!

When Vaishnava Jana To based Raag Mishra Khamaj began,I knew that this would be the final piece, but what I didn’t realise was the intensity in which the concert would end. The crescendo began with the Explosive Raag Mishra Khamaaj Gat in Teentaal. You had to have been there to witness the energy he created through this rendition. It was unlike anything I heard in any concert ever. The accompanist played with such gusto that I still get Goosebumps trying to recollect that moments. By this time Darshna and I were tearing irrepressibly. The audience was hysterical; their hearts in their mouths, sighing, screaming and whistling! A standing ovation with thunderous applause ran through the hall. My mind kept thinking, have I really just witnessed this? Ustad Shujaat his weaved magic through the crowd and his finale held us with that unwavering magic! It was like Ustad Vilayat Khan was sitting next to his son playing side by side. The awe of the audience sighing Wah Wah Wah throughout his performance was a majesty to behold!!! So ended part two with our hearts beating loudly and another near two hours of magic. I had energy running through every bone in my body.

Nisaar Bhai, I want to say a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing these concerts to South Africa and giving us music lovers an outlet and experience to view these great artistes live. This was one concert, if you missed, you truly missed out. Your efforts are appreciated infinitely!

Lastly my partner in music and understanding, Darshna, thank you for always thinking about me. I will say this over and over; No concert is complete for me without you by my side!

Pictures of the Show (Courtesy of Inner Circle Entertainment)

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