We were both moving around the same country but by chance it never happened that we were in the same city. He wanted to meet me. His disciples…. In India a great musician, a great singer, is called ustad, maestro. He has disciples just as spiritual masters have disciples, because Eastern music needs a long discipline. It is not like jazz music that any idiot can start jumping and shouting and it becomes music; it is not the music of the Beatles. It takes twenty or thirty years of training, eight hours or ten hours a day. It is a whole life’s work.
Gulam Ali has worked hard and still works hard. It is said that if you don’t practice Eastern music for three days, people will recognize something is missing. If you don’t practice for two days, only your disciples will recognize something is missing. And if you don’t practice for one day, only you are certain to feel that it was not the same thing. Not even a single day has to be missed.
But just the other day somebody from Pakistan sent me a video film of Gulam Ali. And what I was expecting, happened. His personality is so poor that to connect that beautiful voice with this man who looks like a clerk in some post office, or a ticket collector in some railway company, or a conductor in some bus, that type of man….
I had to keep my eyes closed because his face, his eyes, his hands, his gestures – everything was disturbing. I thought that I should send him a suggestion, “You should sing behind a curtain. You are not worth presenting, you destroy your music. The music is almost divine, then you see, standing behind, a donkey– you cannot connect them.”
The same happened a few days before. I have never seen Mehdi Hasan – another great singer, far more modern than Gulam Ali. Gulam Ali is very orthodox, his training is orthodox. But Mehdi Hasan has a very innovative genius. He is trained in orthodox music but he has not kept himself confined to it. He has improvised new ways, new styles, and he is really a creative man. Gulam Ali is not a creative man; he recites those songs exactly as they have been recited for thousands of years. Listening to him you are listening to thousands of years, the whole tradition behind him.
These singers all have what is called gharanas – gharana means family. They don’t belong to the family of their father and mother, they belong to the family of the master from whom they have learned. That is their gharana. They are known by the name of their master, their master is known by his master. Their gharanas are thousands of years old, and each generation teaches to the next generation exactly the same tone, the same wavelength.
But Mehdi Hasan is ultra-modern, and he has a creative genius which is far more significant. I have loved him because he has brought a new light, new ways of singing the same old songs. He is so creative that the whole song seems almost new, reborn, fresh, like a just-opened flower with the dewdrops still on it.