Begum Akhtar was born on October 7, 1914 in the small town of Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh and her maiden name was Akhtari Begum. She was born in a high class family that was not musically inclined but her uncle detected the latent talent in her.
“Ghazal usne cheri, hamen saaz dena, Zara umre- rafta ko awaz dena.” (She has spelt the magic of ghazal, give me the musical instrument; Let us recall the time that has gone by.)
A ghazal is a poetic expression of both the pain of loss or separation between two lovers and the beauty of love in spite of their pain.
Begum Akhtar was one the most celebrated ghazal singer of India and her 35th death anniversary is being observed this week with musical soirees. Ghazal-singing of today has its roots in ‘Thumri’ that was given shape by Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh who was exiled by the British during the 1857.
Begum Akhtar was born on October 7, 1914 in the small town of Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh in northern India and her maiden name was Akhtari Begum. She was born in a high class family that was not musically inclined but her uncle detected a latent talent in her.
On his insistence, she was sent to train under Ustad Imdad Khan, the great sarangi exponent. Later she was trained under Ata Mohammed Khan. After the initial training she traveled to Calcutta with her mother and started learning music from classical stalwarts like Mohammad Khan, Abdul Waheed Khan and finally she became the disciple of Ustad Jhande Khan Saheb.
At the tender age of fifteen she gave her first performance and took the music world by storm. The famous poetess Sarojini Naidu appreciated her singing during a concert which was organized in the aid of victims of Bihar earthquake. This encouraged her to continue singing ghazals with more enthusiasm.
She did also cut her first album for the Megaphone Record Company and a number of gramophone records were released carrying her ghazals, dadras, thumris, etc. At the dawn of talkie era in India, Begum Akhtar acted in a few Hindi movies in thirties.
East India Film Company of Calcutta approached her to act in KING FOR A DAY (alias Ek Din Ka Badshah) and NAL DAMAYANTI in the year 1933. Like others of that era, she sang her songs herself in all her films. She continued acting in the following years. The movies she acted in are: Ameena (1934), Mumtaz Begum (1934), Jawaani Ka Nasha (1935), Naseeb Ka Chakkar (1935).
Begum Akhtar is synonymous with ghazal gaayaki and is immortalized for her own definitive style of singing-a style that few have been able to match. She is rightly known as Mallika-e-Ghazal.
From an aspiring ghazal singer she, with the passage of time, acquired remarkable maturity and an inimitable richness developed in her melodies. She has nearly four hundred songs to her credit. She was a regular performer on All India Radio. One trait that makes her different is that she used to compose her own ghazals. In 1945 she married a wealthy barrister form Lucknow and from Akhtaribai Faizabadi she became Begum Akhtar.
Her last concert was held in Ahmedabad and as she was not feeling well during the day she was rushed to rushed to the hospital soon after the concert and passed away on 30th of October, 1974 leaving a big void in ghazal lovers’ hearts.
She was posthumously awarded the Padmabhushan. Just eight days before her death, she recorded Kaifi Azmi’s ghazal: “sunaa karo merii jaan un se un ke afsaane , sab ajanabii hain yahaan, kaun kis ko pahachaane.”