Ten of my favourite Shamshad Begum solos

This is an important year when it comes to Hindi film music—because 2019 marks the birth centenary of some of classic Hindi cinema’s greatest in the field of music. Music director Naushad was born a hundred years ago; lyricists Kaifi Azmi and Rajendra Krishan were born a hundred years ago; and two of Hindi cinema’s most popular playback singers—Manna Dey and Shamshad Begum—were also born in 1919, less than a month apart.

Born in Lahore on April 14th, 1919, the day after the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar (which is just about 50 km from Lahore), Shamshad Begum never had any formal training in music. Her prowess as a singer, however, came to the fore very early, and by the time she was 10 years old she was singing in family marriages and religious functions. In the teeth of parental opposition, she was helped by an uncle who got her an audition with Ghulam Haider. In 1937, she began singing with All India Radio Lahore, and this proved a breakthrough—such a breakthrough that Shamshad Begum was offered a role as an actress and even bagged it after a screen test. Thanks to a very conservative father (who had insisted she wear a burqa even to sing!), Shamshad Begum had to finally decline the role and focus on her singing.

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Shamshad Begum: A Tribute

When I began April 2013 on my blog, I’d promised this month would be dedicated to celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema—not merely Hindi cinema, as I tend to do, but regional language cinema as well. Apart from a review of the first full-length Indian feature film (Raja Harischandra) and a post on 100 years of Hindi film music (and how could I not post that, in a month commemorating Indian cinema’s centenary)?—I have tried to stick to my promise.

But, the day I was posting Songs for all times, I received a sad piece of news: that Shamshad Begum had died, just a little over a week after her 94th birthday. I did fit in a small tribute to Shamshad Begum in that post, but I had to say a fonder farewell, with a longer post showcasing this singer’s wonderful, very distinctive voice.

Shamshad Begum

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