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by nusrat durrani, 2007

Bessie Smith is eternal. I am a big fan of Odetta and Nina Simone. For many months in 2003-2005 all I heard was Mazzy Star because Hope Sandoval is a cure for pain. But there is a singer from my hometown of Lucknow, India that is right up there with all of them. Her name is Zarina Begum and you will never hear her songs or her story. She is a master of the “ghazal”, the traditional love song sung in Urdu, a north Indian language. It might be an unfamiliar sound to you but anyone even casually conversant with the technicalities of singing can tell she is a gifted, poetic, songstress. Once a star in the 60s and 70s, a series of misfortunes and the callousness of an unappreciative bourgeois citizenry have forced this enchanting woman to a life of obscure poverty.

Yet, she can still weave a magic spell. Recently Shyam (a.k.a. bagula Bhagat) a musician friend of mine, tracked her down after great difficulty. He spent several days with his idol, and recorded some of her singing on a low fi camera. These are his diary entrees, MySpace page and videos and photos of Zarina Begum.

Listen to her if you dare.

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