Rafiki Jazz, from Sheffield in the UK confounds easy categorization. The band which includes musicians from the Senegalese and South Asian diasporas as well as British and refugee musicians has been called ‘the most diverse band in the UK’. The group’s website claims the band plays ‘jazz world’ music.
The jazz reference in their name continues a long tradition of African bands using the word: Bembeya Jazz National, TPOK Jazz, Dar es Salaam Jazz and Morogoro Jazz. Of course, the music these and countless other ‘jazz’ bands played while improvisational to some extent and solo-friendly sounded nothing like the American original. The African sounds were free wheeling and danceable with guitars being the primary heroes of the stage.
Rafiki Jazz draws deep on Africa for much of its sound which again bears little resemblance to the iconic bands named above. High in the mix is a powerful strain of Sufi music and Indian sangeet. Indeed, though the band’s name is African/Middle Eastern (rafiki=friends) most of the tracks make you think this is a subcontinental band, especially as the title Har Dam Sahara is emblazoned in Urdu on the cover.
This is an album full of wonderful sounds, pauses and instruments. Definitely a couple listens are required to start to an appreciation for the many jewels contained within. But I highly recommend this to friends of this blog even if it doesn’t technically qualify as South Asian.
When I came to Amanat Ali Khan‘s music–in a time long long ago and land far far away-the first song that caught my attention was Inshaji Utho. I was completely overwhelmed with what I heard. The song seemed to have just dropped out of the sky complete and perfectly formed. It was held together and driven by a subtle synergy between rhythm, lyric and spirit. There is a world-weariness about the song. A man at the end of his journey giving in to the eternal and inevitable.
The song, I was told by everyone, had been sung in a concert just before ustadji passed away in 1974. This information heightened the drama of the song and it has been one of my favourite ghazals ever since.
Recently I came across a recording that purported to be Amanat Ali Khan‘s final concert. I quickly looked to see if Inshaji Utho was on it. Alas, it was not. But I picked up the album anyway and I share it here today. It is an excellent recording of a master singer at the top of his game. While Inshaji is missing, there are renditions of many other wonderful ghazals such as Yeh Arzoo Thi,Mausam Badla and an epic interpretation of the thumri, Piya Tore.
Some years ago I posted a recording of some dhrupad singing from one of my favorite gharanas, the Talwandi. You can read about the history of that gharana and its connections with Pakistan (as well as download the recording) here.
While some have pronounced the Talwandi gharana extinct it does still live and the last surviving keepers of this dhrupad tradition are the brothers Mohammad Afzal Khan Talwandiwale and Hafiz Khan Talwandiwale. To read a bit more bout this dhrupad tradition from Western Punjab check out this article by Khalid Basra and Richard Widdess.
Today’s music is from a live concert at Lahore’s Chitrakar Studio in which Hafiz Khan takes pains to explain various aspects of the ragas he performs.
Hafiz Khan presents a distinctive ideology of dhrupad, in which Islam entirely replaces the Hindu frame of reference adopted by most dhrupad musicians (both Hindus and Muslims) in India. Nayak Khanderi and the Nayaks who succeeded him were all Muslims, according to Hafiz Khan, and they received their inspiration directly from God; there is thus for him no element of folk or temple music in the historical background to dhrupad. The distinguishing characteristic of alap and dhrupad is their spirituality (ruhaniyat), and the objective in singing them is zikr-e-ilahi, “Praising the name of God”. Thus in place of the mantra “om ananta narayana hari om” used by Indian dhrupad singers in alap, Hafiz Khan sings “nita tarana tarana Allah tero nam”; even the word alap derives, in Hafiz Khan’s opinion, from “Allah ap”. Training in alap is divided into four stages called sari’at, tariqat, haqiqat and ma’rifat : these are named after four stages of successively deeper mystical experience and understanding — respectively, “Islamic law”, “way, path (to enlightenment)”, “truth”, and “knowledge”. (Basra and Widdess)
Dr. L. Subramaniam and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan maestros of their respective instruments–violin and sarod–have made huge contributions to the two main branches of Indian classical music: Carnatic and Hindustani. At the same time both have adventured far beyond their own gardens, coupling, tripling and even quadrupling up with a whole assortment of jazz, rock and Western classical musicians. Along with Ravi Shankar, Dr sahib and Ustadji are rightly recognised as some of the best known Indian classical musicians in the West. Any number of albums could be suggested to you but among my favorite is Karuna Supremean early and outstanding example of Hindustani music blended with American jazz (Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and John Handy) and Conversations (L. Subramaniam and Stephane Grappelli).
It should come as no surprise then that these two great men came together to do an ‘Inter-India’ fusion album. While sharing several commonalities like the raga (the essential musical frame for all compositions) and a similar scale (though with more semitones available to the Carnatic musician) the music of North India is very different from that of the South. So this album, originally available on cassette, is a fusion of two branches of one of the world’s oldest musical systems.
Raga Jog is sometimes known as Ragam Naatin Carnatic music. Several North Indian ragas have what you could call counterparts in the South, though to be historically accurate and to acknowledge that Carnatic music is considered to the ‘original’ Indian music, I should probably turn that sentence around. Many Carnatic ragams have Northern ragacounterparts.
Raga Jog, some say can be traced back to the time of the court of Akbar the Great (15th C.). True or not, I don’t know but this raga is certainly melodious and both maestros give powerful, sympathetic performances.
Joytsna Srikanth is a London-based violinist with an amazing CV. Classical singing training begins at age 5. But by age 9 she has discovered the violin and gives her first solo concert. More classical music (Carnatic and Western) training. Gets her professional start playing for Illayraja in Tamil movies. Moves to London where she plays her violin for TV series on the National Geographic and Discovery channels. In between performing with the likes of M. Balamuralikrishna (singer), Kadri Gopalnath (sax), Eduardo Niebla (flamenco guitarist) and Rao Kyao (sax) she organizes the annual London International Arts Festival.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. She is a practicing pathologist too!
Somehow in 2016 she found time to make an album with the English group, Bollywood Brass Band, a music collective the specializes in performing Indian folk, qawwali and Hindi film songs. The album is called Carnatic Connection and is comprised of what sound to me like South Indian film songs. Certainly there are a couple of A.R. Rahman compositions and I’m sure more than one by Illayraja. All of the 14 tracks are-as you’d expect-lively and upbeat. Some are rather jazzy with Ms Srikanth sounding like Jean Luc Ponty in fusion glory. Others are pure disco. All in all good grooves, beats and lots of fantastic playing.
01 Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu
02 Kehta Hai Mehra Dil (Kannodu Kaanbadellam)
03 Deva Deva Kalayami
04 Drum Dance – Chandralekha
05 Sword Fight – Chandralekha
06 Jai Ho
07 Kehna Hi Kya (Kannalane)
08 Jiya Jale
09 Why This Kolaveri Di
10 Aa Ante Amalapuram
11 Rakkamma (Clap Clap Mix by Charlie Girl)
12 Deva Deva (Molly’s Bar Mix by Rob Kelly)
13 Drum Dance (Diamond Cut Mix)
14 Deva Deva Kalayami (Molly’s Bar Extended Alaap Mix – Rob Kelly)