The world of ghazals and qawwalis was dominated by men for the longest time. But change is the only constant and when women entered this world, they transformed it. The innately beautiful musical genre of ghazals came alive with a million more emotions when women lent their voices to soulful renditions. Here are a few names that have found a permanent home in listeners’ hearts.
Cited as one of the best ghazal singers ever, Begum Akhtar was a Hindustani classical singer of dadra, thumri and ghazals. She was referred to as Mallika-e-Tarannum or Mallika-e-Ghazal (Queen of Ghazals) and her first recording was a combination of ghazals and dadras for the HMV label.
The soul-stirring Aaj jaane ki zid naa karo is not alien to most of us. This beautiful rendition by Pakistani ghazal singer Farida Khannum was used in the Mira Nair-directed Monsoon Wedding and was also recreated for Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Khanum is one of the few female singers of Pakistan who have trained in classical music. She was conferred with the title of Malika-e-Ghazal by The Times of India in 2007.
Chitra Singh and her husband, the late Jagjit Singh (popularly known as the King of Ghazals), threw open doors to the world of ghazals for the masses. The Singh duo created some incredible music together and their soulful hit tracks find a place on most ghazal lovers’ playlists.
Prabha Bharti was one of the first women ghazal and qawwali singers in India. She was a noted performer of this genre from the 1960s to the 1990s when it was mainly dominated by male singers. Bharti also performed a few songs as a Bollywood playback singer. At the peak of her career, she was a leading qawwal in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
Penaz Masani commenced her career as a ghazal singer in 1981 and has over 20 albums to her credit. She has been honoured with the Padmashree and has gone on to enthral audiences around the world, singing in over dozen languages. Her glorious voice and flawless Urdu diction leaves listeners spellbound.