When Osman Mir faces a crowd, one of the two things are bound to happen – an eruption of thunderous applause at the initiation of his first note or a sweeping silence embalming the listeners into a sort of meditative calmness. Either way, no concert of Osman Mir leaves the crowd unmoved.
The opulence with which men and women savour his music, celebrate it, dance to it, sing along, is unmatched. For over three decades, Osman Mir has been enthralling his audience across the globe with Gujarati folk, Indian classical, devotional, Sufi music, Ghazals, and Hindi film songs.
Touring over 25 countries, composing and singing for 107 Gujarati films and 7 Hindi films – his music reveals itself as a time capsule, unearthing Gujarat’s expansive landscapes stitched into intrinsic embroidery of poetry, music and surprisingly undermined, cultural heritage.
With the musical prowess to mould ageless folklores into Sufi qalam as seamlessly as a devotional Bhajan or even a Bollywood song for that matter; Osman Mir has carved his own niche as a global music icon from India. In one of his renditions of Ahmad Faraz’s luminous ghazal, he sings: “Zindagi se yehi gilaa hai mujhe, Tu bahut der se mila hai mujhe” (My only complaint from life is this, I spent so much of it without meeting you).
Much before he became a nationwide success for his songs Mor Bani Thanghat Kare, Nagada Sang Dhol and Laal Ishq from the film Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela (2013), Gujarati folk like Garba, Dayro and Hindi, Urdu spiritual music have been his realm of artistic vocation.
Today, he is seen as a torchbearer of Gujarati folk amidst Hindi and Punjabi languages dominating the music industry. By bringing forth his acutely distinct cultural flavor into every composition, Osman Mir has been collaborating with the likes of Salim Sulaiman, Amit Trivedi, and most recently, he was seen on the Zee5 music-based show Indian Pro Music League as one of the special guests.
You have been a part of several independent musical collaborations with prominent Hindi music composers recently, what has your experience been like?
A lot of things are changing today: film music now has a mature audience willing to listen beyond dance numbers, a new appreciation for non-film music is growing too. Regional music is also creating its own space with more composers going back to their roots and exploring the origins of their sound. For instance, Salim Sulaiman approached me to compose Haji Peer (2021) alongside them for their dream project Bhoomi 2.0.
It is a power-packed song sung in reverence to the Dargah of Hajipir in Kutch, Gujarat and the composition originates from Kutchi folk music, essentially because Salim ji’s motherland is Kutch and he wanted to keep a homebound approach. I am so delighted and proud of the song – it is so vibrant, young, and new, yet deeply rooted in the traditional values of our community.
Our song Moti Veerana (2020) with Amit Trivedi continues to garner so much love from listeners – it fills my heart with hope in the new generation and the passion with which they explore new music styles and experiment. Singing alongside Alka Yagnik ji meant so much to me, for Sachin-Jigar’s Gujarati film music in 2017.
Way back with Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), what Bhansali Sir and Ismail Ji did for Gujarati semi-classical and folk, continues to mesmerize audiences even today. It has been 7 years now, but singing songs of Ram Leela is still mandatory for me, because the audience remembers good music, authentic music, be it old or new.
Although with every generation, music production and music perceptions evolve, the soul of a song is intact. This is why so many times you forget the composers of a song, but humming a tune of an evergreen, classic from the ’60s era comes effortlessly.
Where and how did your journey into music begin?
Music is and has always been a part of my identity. I was introduced to Tabla at an early age. For almost 17 years, I had played and performed with singers across musical genres, temperaments, and abilities, before I took to singing myself. In my younger days, it was my Guru Morari Bapu who propelled me to pursue music.
Soon enough, I took my formal music training from Ismail Darbar who taught me everything from diction to expression of the voice. To perform for an audience in hundreds, and more importantly, keeping them engrossed for long hours was my challenge initially.
As I devoted more time to music, it was clear this was my calling – to connect with my audience through the power of music. Growing up listening to legends like Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Jagjit Singh, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Rafi, etc., was a huge part of my learning, and all of these aspects led to music becoming my destiny.
Let’s talk about your interaction with the audience today, how has it evolved over the years? With more advanced technology, numerous streaming platforms, social media engagement, do you think people are losing the essence of being loyal to a particular kind of music and consuming too much of it without really appreciating any one of it?
No, I don’t think so. I mean look at how ardently college students are listening to Sufi music.
It was unheard of in my days when we had a very limited audience for light music. Today, I see youngsters creating countless videos of Ghar More Pardesiya (Kalank, 2019), it is a pure devotional song and they are recreating it in their own modern ways!
Youngsters today are immensely sharp and curious when it comes to music – they are eager to listen to different kinds of music, and technology makes it accessible too. This was not the case for me, we did not know what was being enjoyed on the other side of the world, with the exception of a few radio and TV channel programs.
Moreover, music training has become so much easier, it would take us a lifetime to find ourselves the right Guru. We would have to then travel and live with them, it was a serious commitment. Today, everything is a click away. Any musical style, instrument training, technical skill, production technique is available online from the best of tutors.
What are your observations about the rapidly transforming Gujarati music industry and what piece of advice do you give your son Amir, a young, upcoming singer along with other musicians and performers like him, representing regional music?
I sometimes feel there is so much I have to learn from them!
My son Amir and I have been working and sharing our music through my YouTube channel and I must say, it is truly fulfilling to see him refine himself each day in this manner as an artist.
Gujarati music is at that pivotal juncture where new doors are opening on all sides and I would urge youngsters to leave all hesitations behind, take blessings from their Guru and showcase their talent.
If you are in it for the long haul, then my advice would be to do your homework rightfully and sincerely. Know your song before you come out to perform. Our Guruji would often say that the foundation must be strong enough if you wish to construct a tall building reaching great heights.
You often talk about the concept of music and God being synonymous with each other. How did you come to realize this?
We all have these extremely rare moments in life when the Almighty speaks to us, in a language only we understand.
It is this mode of communication I found in the sur (melody), through riyaaz. It is hard to talk about a particular moment, but I have always been a firm believer in the power of music as a healing mechanism.
And God is the first entity we think of when in trouble, don’t we? So, music is the pathway to finding the soul of God, one that resides in each of us, if only we are able and willing to seek Him. Swar Mein Hi Ishwar Hai, yahi mera maanna hai.
As an artist, my Dharma is to make my audience feel emotions deeply and truly through music. With every composer, I understand the brief they give me, learn the composition, rehearse the lyrics, and finally bring my vision to life through singing. The song then does not belong to the composer or the artist – it takes on a life of its own, and we are all just playing our part the best way we can.
How are you dealing with the pandemic and how is work from home treating you?
These are stressful times for me, I am currently in Rajkot with my family. Yes, I am working from home along with my son in Rajkot. I have kept a lot of work pending in Mumbai and do miss my live concerts, but the need of the hour demands me to keep things on hold. But yes with God’s grace we should soon come out of this crisis, safe and sound. May we take good care of our loved ones and ourselves, I am praying for the wellness of all.