To say that Seema Sehgal is a free-spirited nightingale who knows no boundaries wouldn’t really be an exaggeration. The singer flies across continents and borders, humming the verses penned by revolutionary poets, without caring what sceptics think of her.
Seema seems to belong to that group of artists who do not allow any political, economic or social restriction to overshadow their art. Over her long career, she has promoted poetry via solo concerts, in which she has given a new identity to the works of renowned poets such as Ahmad Faraz, Allama Iqbal, Nida Fazli, Bashir Badir, Ali Sardar Jafri and many others.
Last November, Seema came to Pakistan to participate in the 100 year-celebration of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s revolutionary poetry. After an impressive performance at the annual International Urdu Festival in the US, she was requested to come back to Lahore by Faiz’s daughter Moneeza Hashmi to perform in a series of tribute concerts.
True to her roots
Seema was so anxious before her performance at the All Pakistan Music Conference held on April 10 that she stopped speaking, switched off her phone and kept all communication restricted to hand signals till her performance was over. The singer feared that her voice may fail her during the performance so she took her doctor’s advice and went on a vocal rest. As a result, her husband Anil Sehgal did most of the talking.
Before her concert on Tuesday night, Seema and Anil visited legendary ghazal singer Fareeda Khanum, who was given the title of Malka-i-Ghazal by Times of India. Even though Khanum rarely sings now, she is still considered a living breathing reminder of a time when classical music was at its peak.
When asked how she feels about her getting the blessings of an iconic classical singer, Seema says, “She said, ‘You’re like my daughter. The fact that you came all the way just to show respect to me and get my blessings reflects your solid upbringing and subcontinental values.’”
Age of decline
Even though showing respect to icons of classical music and art remains a major part of our subcontinental culture, few have made a tenacious effort to save the fast decaying foundations of classical music. The demand for classical tradition is persistently declining and many people question whether indigenous instruments such as the sarangi will even manage to live for another five years?
Where one may blame the audience for not increasing the demand for classical music, Anil has a completely different opinion about this issue. “The subcontinent’s classical music has suffered a lot but music is an evolving process and one can’t protect music from changes,” says Anil. “However, I compare different genres of music with different generations living under one roof. Just like a young child is expected to respect and look after his or her grandfather, similarly contemporary musicians should hold on to the classical raags and give them the respect they deserve.”
Corroded by politics
Seema’s husband Anil is just as liberal as his wife. He believes that classical music and poetry in general, are more or less the same for both countries. “Partition divided our land into two halves but it failed to divide the culture and the languages. The fact that Faiz’s work has a high demand in India proves that literature and music is a shared heritage.”
He then adds, “I think the whole India-Pakistan rivalry farce is a political gimmick, which perhaps suits the politicians so they keep playing it up,” says Anil. “We, the musicians, don’t find any difference in the conduct or demeanour of people from Pakistan and India.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2012.
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