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Notes from the past

Gauhar Jaan

In December 1987, ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas' album Shagufta became the first compact disc to be launched in India.

Gauhar Jaan (1875-1930 ) was India's first superstar singer of the 20th century. An Armenian Jew by birth, she was the first to record a song on the gramophone in 1902. She recorded at least 150 songs and announced "My name is Gauhar Jaan" at the end of each one. She was said to charge Rs 300 per evening. She was also the court singer in Darbhanga, Rampur and Mysore. Recording engineer Frederick W Gaisburg said, "Gauhar Jaan never wore the same jewels twice. Strikingly effective were her delicate black gauze draperies embroidered with real gold lace, arranged so as to present a tempting view of a bare leg and a naked navel. She was always bien soignêe (wellgroomed ). " Some, however, say that Shashi Mukhi of Classic Theatre in Calcutta was the first to record a song the same year.

For a special concert in Italy in 2004, music maverick Ilayaraja actually composed a song with just three notes - sa, re and ga (C, D and E in the western system). An average Indian composition juggles around at least five notes. The lyrics, which were in Telugu, said: 'Talam takadimi tanamai tanuvantha pulakalu repagaa' (the rhythm makes me ecstatic). The song was sung by Bollywood crooner Shreya Ghoshal and received a standing ovation in Italy. It was performed in Chennai a couple of years later. The sheer inventiveness of the song is often cited by Ilayaraja fans to establish his superior musical skills in comparison with A R Rahman. This, incidentally, was not the first time the composer worked with an unusual musical palette.

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