For us singing is divine: Sikandar Alam

Author:Mona Lisa Jena: source


Sikandar Alam is a revered man in Odisha. He is a singer par excellence and a pious soul. His entire family has dedicated their lives to music and art. For them this is ‘sadhana' and if God has been kind enough to bestow such talent, they have to carry it forward and remain devoted to the supreme. Sikandar Alam is known for singing ‘bhajans' and romantic songs that are always decent and heart warming…

“I can't appreciate the changing trends where music has become an instrument of titillation with vulgar lyrics. True music soothes the frayed nerves and makes one forget one's mundane life,” he says.

His wife is also a singer and seconds his opinion, so does his young daughter Nazia who is immersed in the world of classical music and has carved a niche for herself.

The family has an actress too. Sofia, Sikandar's elder daughter, is a television actress to reckon with. This small family is devoted passionately to music and art. They believe in performing according to strict classical heritage and honing their skills in the true traditional way.

Interestingly, despite being a Muslim family, they are the torch bearers of Lord Jagannath. Father Sikandar is famous for singing hymns of Jagannath and his daughter is famous for singing the famous Gita Govinda poems in its pristine Sanskrit verse. They say that where art is concerned, religious divide never matters, and art for them is sublimation.

Sikandar Alam is a humble, tall and cultured man. He completes 50 years of his professional singing career this year. He did not inherit any talent for music. As a child, he had a gifted melodious voice, a sweet demeanour and his friends in school and his teachers would encourage him to sing whenever there would be an occasion. When he approached adolescence he knew he would pursue a career in music.

But although he auditioned and qualified as a singer for All India Radio, in those days, a prestigious qualification, he worked as a government servant. Classical singing is for a limited audience and there is no money in it. He had to look after his family after marriage. Fortunately his young wife Naima, hailing from Kolkata, was also a classical singer and was qualified in Hindustani music. She too was recruited by All India Radio.

Sikandar Alam was reticent, and a Muslim. Things never were easy for him. But the young singer couple devoted themselves to pure music unperturbed by lack of proper support. By a stroke of luck he was asked to sing a devotional song 'Aarata Suna Baare' for an Oriya film Lakshmi. It made him immensely popular almost overnight. His voice and singing was applauded and people thronged to see him. After that he continued to sing in 157 Odia films and cut several music discs. He sang ‘bhajans', ‘jananas', and modern songs. His voice had an enduring timbre that appealed to the public and he was careful with the choice of music too, adhering to gentle tone, deeply moving lyrics.

Naima and Sikandar Alam sang regularly for All India Radio. When their children grew up, his wife took a backseat, singing occasionally for AIR and taught students at home that included her own daughters. She had cut an album with her husband and daughter Nazia, called ' Ala ke Huzur'… produced in Mumbai. She had in the Eighties composed music for an album titled Madhuram for a child singer Suraj Patnaik. She wants her daughters to reach the peak of their career without any hurdles. Obviously she is the backbone of the family.

Their elder daughter, Sofia, wanted to be an actress after graduating with a University degree with impressive grades. It was unacceptable to the conservative Muslim family and their relatives. Muslim society did not nod favourably. But Sofia was determined in her focus. She has surmounted the hurdles and proved her mettle with single minded devotion. Today her fans fondly call her the Meena Kumari of the small screen. And she has more assignments than she can find time for.

Nazia, the other daughter, was a topper all through her college and university career. She was into singing from an early age with an ethereal voice. She is groomed by her doting mother, who was her first guru and great support. When she wanted to sit for career examinations and wanted to be a bureaucrat, it was her mother who vehemently opposed it and said she was gifted and should be dedicated to music.

Today Nazia, barely 25, is an outstanding singer. She is trained in Odissi, Hindustani, and Classical and sings equally well the modern songs and renders her voice as a background singer for numerous television serials and documentaries whenever she finds time. She travels all over the country and in the USA singing verses of the famous Gita Govinda. Gita Govinda music will be a major singing sensation soon and Nazia sings them so well that she almost casts a hypnotic spell on her listeners. Admirers of music confirm that her way of singing Odia music will not lack any reason not to gain its legitimate status as a classical music too.

Sikandar Alam, 67, holds the post of vice president of the state Sangeet Academy for the third consecutive year. He has performed in the USA twice. With his daughter Nazia in tow, he wowed audiences in the USA in 2002. His wife, Naima Alam helps in compositions and today her students have multiplied making their house a hub of music.

Sikandar Alam is more endeared to Hindus than Muslims, he says. As he earned recognition for singing hymns of Lord Jagannath, his Muslim brothers boycotted him, while Hindus embraced him. He sang mostly from Salabega's songs. Salabega, born in medieval Odisha, was a half Muslim as his mother was a Hindu. He revered Lord Jagannath but he was not permitted into the holy Puri temple. He sang songs of his love for the deity. Sikandar revived his songs and made them immensely popular. Nazia is also famous for her Gita Govinda renderings. They say where there is music it is sublimation for them, they don't differentiate between religions.

Sikandar is so popular for his ‘bhajans' of Jagannath that he sings at the annual ‘bhajan samaroha' held at the Lion's Gate of the Puri Temple for the past 26 years… Shrikshetra Kala Prakashani, which organises this concert, had conferred the title of Sur Sagar on the singer in 1980. To sing bhajans was not out of compulsion. Alam sings modern songs and film songs as well. But this has given him an edge where popularity is concerned; he is amused by the fact that it is the Hindu community that has showered their love and praise on him whereas his own community almost sidelined him as an artist for singing songs for the Hindu god.

In the recent past, however, he has refrained from singing in modern Oriya films. The kind of lyrics and music is not his liking, he says. Occasionally he composes music for serials and tele-films. He has produced an album of Urdu devotional songs composed by him and his singer wife, Naima Alam. And he is planning to produce CDs of his selected songs as well.

Sikandar Alam is a happy man today as his entire family holds a distinct identity in the music world. All the members in the family have received accolades several times. They have enriched the tradition of music in Odisha. They are not isolated being a Muslim family and have closely associated themselves with singing which crosses all barriers of religion and caste. They say when they sing devotional songs they forget whether it is Allah or Jagannath. "For us singing is divine and we lose ourselves completely". Truly they are distinct and a testimony of harmony and divine music.

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