The surprise package of the recently
concluded Jahan-E-Khusrau musical festival was easily Daler Mehndi, who brought
Delhi’s music lovers to their feet with his impassioned singing. That Abida
Parveen ran out to hug him is testament to how moving his performance was, but
the truth is, it is surprising only to people who don’t know him and his
musical background. As he points out, Sufism is in his blood. He grew up
listening to the hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib sung, and the principle that
runs through those hymns, the merging of one’s soul with god, is what binds
him to the other singers and listeners at this festival. The fact that he is a
classically trained singer is also due to this early grounding in Sikh religious
music, which lays great emphasis on raga sangeet.
He was nervous before he went on, and he had barely had any rehearsal time. Muzaffar Ali had been asking him to sing for five years, and Mehndi hadn’t mustered the courage to sing. But, having decided that it was time, he gave it everything, and chose to present a repertoire that was, as he puts it, straight from the heart, and not within the often-heard genre of Sufi music.
But he is careful not to put his pop image aside completely. Though he wants to be recognised as a serious singer, he is quite happy to be known as the Badshah of pop, famous at home and abroad for the numbers that get people dancing. As he says, "an artist wants to move through different genres".
It so happens that there is a big Bollywood hit in the making, composed for a Subhash Ghai film that is due very soon, but what has him excited is that he’s in talks with a few companies to produce an album of his Sufi music. For the genre-bending performer, that too will be a step in the right direction, towards god.
This article originally appeared in Delhi City Limits, March 31, 2006