Umbayi brought ghazal closer home to Malayali

Popular Ghazal singer Umbayi, who captivated thousands of music lovers through his gifted voice and unique style, died in Kochi on Wednesday.

The death came at a private hospital in Aluva, near here, around 4.40 p.m. The 68-year-old Umbayi (P.A. Ibrahim) had been battling cancer for quite some time. His condition had worsened on Tuesday. The noted Ghazal singer is survived by wife, two daughters and a son. Umbayi could take a lot of credit for bringing Malayali closer to that most melodious tradition of music called ghazal.

His experiments of tuning meaningful poetry in Malayalam in the ghazal style often proved successful. With albums like
Ghazal Mala
Paduka Saigal Paduka
, he established himself as a singer and composer to reckon with in the non-film music scene of Malayalam.

Some of the songs from those albums, such as
Veendum paadam sakhi
… (
Ghazal Mala
) and
Paaduka Saigal
… (
Paduka Saigal Paduka
), were instant hits. He had an ear for poetry, as he got gifted poets like O.N.V. Kurup, Satchidanandan, and Yusufali Kechery to write for him.

It was his sheer love for music that helped him overcome the underprivileged circumstances he grew up at Mattancherry and evolve into a singer who had a considerable fan-following. One recalls his performance on the Bhatt Road beach in Kozhikode last year had attracted a full house.

Watching him that night, it was not difficult to understand why he became popular as a stage performer. He would pick up songs that would easily appeal to the audience and spice up the intervals with interesting anecdotes. In that particular programme, he had spoken about placing the harmonium in front of M.S. Baburaj when he performed at Mattancherry.

Legendary filmmaker John Abraham used to meet Umbayi often at Mattancherry. Not many people know that Umbayi had acted and sang in John’s iconic film
Amma Ariyan
. “It was John who, in fact, rechristened him Umbayi; his real name was Ibrahim,” Joy Mathew, the hero of
Amma Ariyan,
The Hindu.
“John made him sing the Talat Aziz ghazal,
Kis shaan se

Amma Ariyan
was released in 1986. It would take more than a decade before Umbayi began to get noticed.

“Umbayi had begun singing ghazals at a time when satellite television was beginning to get popular in Kerala,” said Jitesh Sundaram, a Thalassery-based ghazal singer who has shared many stages with him.

“Singing on television and picturisation of his ghazals certainly helped him make an impact relatively easily,” he said. As did an original voice. It may not have been the most polished you would come across, but Umbayi’s voice had a certain rustic, almost rough charm about it. And he was quite good at giving the right expression to every line he sang.

Funeral today

His mortal remains will be interred at the Juma Masjid in Kalvathy, Fort Kochi, at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

The body will be kept at the Community hall in Kalvathy from 10 a.m onwards for the public to pay homage.

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