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15 June 2012

Mehdi Hassan, Who Sang Urdu Lyric Verse, Dies at 84

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By Haresh Pandya

Mehdi Hassan, who popularized the art of ghazal singing and became an enormous star throughout the Muslim and Hindu worlds, died on Wednesday in Karachi, Pakistan. He was 84.

His death was announced by his son Arif, prompting hundreds of mourning fans to gather at the hospital where he had been treated. The crowds paying tribute were broadcast live on television.

In its original and simplest form, ghazal is a form of poetry written in two-line stanzas. Traditionally it is a poetic expression of love and pain, beauty and nature. In recent years it has also been adapted for political, religious and social uses.

Ghazal had a small, elite audience before Mr. Hassan, who sang in Urdu in a mellow, velvety baritone voice, began attracting a following, first on the Indian subcontinent and then beyond. His fans included members of the rock and hip-hop generation, and his influence was so great that even some leading Pakistani and Indian classical vocalists took up ghazal singing.
The Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar once likened Mr. Hassan’s songs to the “voice of god” — a voice that defined a pan-Asian melancholy.

Mehdi Hassan was born on July 18, 1927, in Luna, Rajasthan, in what was then British India. By the time he was 18 he had mastered the classical forms of dhrupad, thumri, khayal and dadra, and begun performing at royal courts and public concerts with his brother Ghulam Qadir.

Mr. Hassan’s family moved to the newly formed nation of Pakistan in 1947. Unable to establish himself as a singer, he opened a bicycle repair shop and later worked as an automobile mechanic.

In 1952 he began singing on Radio Pakistan, where his uncle was a music director. In 1958 he made his debut as a so-called playback singer, recording a song with Noor Jehan for the film “Qaidi.” He would go on to record songs for the soundtracks of some 300 movies. His reputation as the “king of ghazal” was established when he had three hit songs in 1962.
In 1966, King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan invited Mr. Hassan to visit there. After a two-week state visit to Afghanistan, Mr. Hassan performed in the United States, Canada, England, Germany, Tanzania, the Middle East and India.

Mr. Hassan, who was married twice, is survived by nine sons and five daughters.

(Courtesy: The New York Times)

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