She still has a lot to offer
By: Sarwat Ali
Naheed Akhtar decides to resume singing yet the question remains, is there room for her in the changed music world
After about twenty years Naheed Akhtar made a public appearance and sang to a full house at the Alhamra last week. The upshot of the evening was a promise from her that she will resume her singing.
The immediate reason for her public appearance was the Kamal e Fun Award that was bestowed on her. Last year, Farida Khanum too was given this award for her services to music. It appears that the tradition is finally being set to reward those who have contributed significantly to the performing arts.
While some of the big names like Ustad Hamid Ali Khan, Shabnam Majeed and Saima Jahaan paid tributes by either singing her numbers or in words she too was made to croon some of her numbers by a very keen audience.
One wondered though why Naheed Akhtar had quit singing in the first place. There was no deterioration in her voice, nor were there shortage of offers for her to perform on stage and as a playback vocalist. At that time, the style of singing had undergone no significant change. She had introduced her own style which she was successfully able to carry for a decade and a half. Her sudden departure actually harmed the film world. It did not have a suitable replacement and as it went looking for other options it found none.
Public figures have their personal reasons for adopting, changing or quitting a profession but people who raise them to such a pedestal by their adoration and admiration do have a claim on their decisions. But if her going away was that sudden and unexpected, her comeback announcement too was out of the blue. It is rare that performing artistes decide to resume their career after a break of two decades. If the performing artist happens to be a woman, it is rarer still.
There is a lure particularly for sports people and artists to stage a comeback. The glittering lights and the incessant applause are enticing factors but it is rare, very rare, that they achieve the accolades of their prime again.
In more cases than not, the comeback peters out and dents even the happy memories that people have of them in their prime.
Recently one has seen Madhuri Dixit, the heartthrob, struggling to stage a comeback but the more she struggles the more she seems to be sinking in the quagmire of show business. She has been reduced to being an item girl and one shudders to think what is in store for her in the days to come.
So what did Naheed Akhtar have in mind when she made this announcement of staging a comeback? Perhaps she thought that her fans are waiting for her in droves or that she herself wanted to come out of the self imposed retirement because she still has much to offer to her fans.
Naheed Akhtar probably first sang for Radio Pakistan, Multan and was noticed locally but was truly discovered in the programme Lok Tamasha televised from PTV and jointly produced/anchored by Tufail Niazi and Uxi Mufti. She appeared with her elder sister Hameed Akhtar and sang “sui ve sui.” The elder sister, no less talented, was hitched and chose to become a housewife very early on while Naheed Akhter opted for a career in singing. When she sang Shaanul Haq Haqqi’s ghazal “Unn sey ulfat ke taqaze na nibhai jate” she was noticed for her versatility as well.
She then also had offers to appear as an actress in films but she dedicated herself to singing and was soon recognised as one of the leading voices of the films. It is said that she filled the void left by the departure of Runa Laila but this is belittling her talent and her dedication. She had reasonable control of the note and vivacity in her tone that served film music well. Her debut in any case would have been an asset at a time when more youthfulness was needed in the voices that crooned for the leading ladies in films.
She has no well-known person as her ustad but the environment at home served as a nursery and nurtured her talent. Later many of her famous numbers were composed by M. Ashraf who surely had a hand in grooming her talent. She sang in the film Nanna Farishta “dil diwana dil” and then for Shama “kisi meharbaan ney aa kar meri zindagi saja di” that established her music credentials. This was followed by a large number of songs some of which were “main ho gai dildar ki”, “tut tut tut tut tara tara”, “allah hi allah kiya karo”, “dekha jo mera jalwa to dil thaam lo gey”, “yeh dunya rahe na rahe merey hamdam”, “tujhe piyaar karte karte meri umar beet jayay”, “sub kutch khuda se maang liya tujh ko maang kar”, “aankhon main piyar tera”, “kahti hai raat bhigi bhigi”, “sajna re dikha dey huns key”, “o jedh ji aaj main”, “barsaat ka mausam hai”, “mujh ko manzil bhi tum batao gey”, “jungal main mangal terey hi dum sey”, “sab ne yeh shor michaya hai salgirah ka din aaya”, “hai. piyaar ki aag”,“ankhoan main chupai rakhna”, “apno bhegano sey naraaz hoon main”, “piyar karen hum aaja aaja”, “tha yaqqeen ke aain gi yeh rataan kabhi”, “nath chamke te charaan da dil dharke”, “lahore diyaan sarkha dey”, “azeem milat azeem parcham hamara parcham”.
If Naheed Akhtar really resumes her singing, she will find that much has changed in the way music is composed and the way notes are negotiated. The whole style of intonation has changed, Harmonium, tabla and sitar have been replaced by the ubiquitous keyboard, the guitar and post production technologies/software epitomised by the synthesisers determining the musicality of the number. The centrality of the human voice on which our vocal music is based may be a thing of the past.