20 years of Khazana, the festival of ghazals

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Ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas on Khazana, the ghazal festival’s two-decade long journey

The year was 2001. Three friends and ghazal singers Pankaj Udhas, Anup Jalota and Talat Aziz were having an informal dinner. Thinking back to the 1980s, they remembered Khazana, the ghazal festival started by music label Universal that was discontinued after five years. That evening, the friends decided to Khazana, a platform in Mumbai where young ghazal singers could perform.

Pankaj was already associated with Parents Association: Thalassemic Unit Trust (PATUT) in Mumbai and Cancer Patient’s Aid Association (CPAA). He suggested the concert be a fund-raiser for these two organisations. Since then Khazana — the Festival of Ghazals held around September has become an annual feature.

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Over the past four years, the platform has expanded outside of Mumbai, by way of the Khazana Artist Aloud Talent Hunt, where artists can send in entries and be shortlisted for the fund-raising performance. Besides being a platform for aspiring ghazal singers to perform, the initiative helps to unearth and nurture young talent from across the world. Pankaj cites the example of Jammu-based Aditya Langhe, the winner of Khazana in 2018 who launched his own album.

Mission ghazals

Looking back at the festival’s journey over 20 years, he says, “Fortunately, we got a tremendous response from the first year itself. It has been getting better each year in terms of popularity, participation of artistes and raising funds. In fact, we have been able to do bone marrow transplants for nearly 200 children and treat and rehabilitate many cancer patients.”

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The project has a tie-up with Mumbai’s Oberoi Hotel (Union Bank of India is another supporter) which plays host to the four-hour event. Besides Pankaj, the jury, which includes Anup Jalota, Rekha Bharadwaj, Sudeep Banerji, shortlist singers to select four new performers in a four-hour musical event.

Turning virtual

Hungama Digital has been live streaming the event for the past six years, but last year the event was virtual owing to the pandemic. “Thousands of people from the US, UK, South Africa and the Middle East appreciated this endeavour. This was contrary to the common belief that people do not listen to ghazals anymore,” he adds.

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The 70-year-old singer notes such platforms and talent hunts help ghazal singing to survive and prosper. “I was the first artist to voice my opinion that we need to take new singers into the fold for this genre of singing to survive. We try to nurture singers with a hope that ghazal singing does not stop with us and carries on with the younger generation.”

Audience connect

The septuagenarian is active on social media interacting with fans, posting updates about his music. “ I enjoy this interaction. I used to keep in touch with fans even when there was no social media and through news papers. Also, the posts on Instagram/ Facebook, are put by me and not any agency. So these messages come straight from the heart.” He tweeted in June that he was entering the studio after a long time for a project, but doesn’t want to reveal the details.

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What he does reveal is that he will publish his memoir in 2020 and it will filled with memories spanning a career of 45 years.

Entries are open until July 31, for the Khazana Artist Aloud Talent Hunt; contestants can upload videos on artistaloud.com/khazana2021/ July 31

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