Jogi Man: Ram Narata


Ram Narata Jogi

It would be hard to find more basic music than this.  A man with a voice of limited range and no smoothness playing a one-stringed homemade instrument accompanied by a friend or two on hand drums.

Ram Narata is (possibly, was) a jogi. A wandering spiritual seeker, probably mystical in his understanding but Hindu in his vocabulary, he was more than 90 when he made this recording.

The songs he sings cover the bases from tragic love stories (Sassi Pannu and Sohni Mahiwal) to earthy spirit melodies.




Track Listing:

01 Changa

02 Tara Rani

03 Kaula

04 Ishq Nu Chhed Na Bethi

05 Puttar Ka Vardan

06 Duniya De Mele

07 Sassi Puno – Jogi

08 Sohni Mahiwal – Jogi



In Honor of Syria’s Dead: Ibrahim Keivo


Readers of this blog may know other parts of my story. In particular that for many years I was an ‘aid worker’.

I turned that hat in at the counter a year ago, relieved and pleased to be focused on new adventures. And though I had many ‘beefs’ with the industry, especially as my career progressed, I have never doubted or belittled the courage of local volunteers.

The backbone of any successful relief or aid operation is the support it receives from local communities. Local volunteers are so critical because they are usually part of the community that is being assisted and have a huge stake in making sure the aid is delivered quickly and efficiently.

But local people are also important because they understand the language and local dialects. They are familiar with the hidden political or cultural agendas that outsiders (like me and my colleagues) miss completely. They know who the local kingpins are. Who to avoid and whose approval is essential for things to work.

They know local back roads and where its best to cross the river and can talk you out of getting killed when you do something offensive or stupid.

So when, once again, we get news that an aid convoy has been attacked in Syria and 20 volunteers are dead, I can’t help but feel angry, sad and pissed off. Many of the victims in this attack were volunteers (that means, unpaid for their dangerous work) with the Syrian Red Crescent Society is especially tragic. SRCS has already lost a large number of volunteers to bullets and bombs. They have suffered so much for simply trying to assist all those who find themselves caught up in the madness of the civil war.

The news brought to mind the music I share today. The songs on this stunning record are sung in a variety of languages spoken in Syria: Kurdish, Arabic, Assyrian, Armenian and Yezidi.


Ibrahim Keivo was born in 1966 in a small village in the region of Hassakeh, in Northern Syria. Son of an Armenian family who survived the genocide, he was raised in the land where ancient Syrian (Al-Jezireh, meaning ”the island”), Mesopotamian and Western Asian cultures meet and create one of the richest and most diverse societies in the region, in term of practiced religions, spoken languages and dialects, and verbal heritage.

Since his early age, Keivo’s mother introduced him to the Armenian hymns she carried with her from her motherland. She has also played a major role in familiarizing him with the Turkish, Kurdish and Mardalli (the Arabic dialect of Mardin) singing traditions of the region of Mardin – Southeastern Turkey – where many Armenians have stopped before finding shelter in other places all around the world.

Landing in Northern Syria brought other cultures to the family; in addition to the Bedouin tradition, Keivo found great inspiration in the ancient civilizations and religions that remained alive in this region: the Assyrian which main language is the Aramaic, the Syriac language and Christianity, and the Yezidism, an ancient Kurdish religion which most important holy place is Lalish temple in Mosul (old Nineveh in Iraq).

Ibrahim Keivo was a faithful witness and curious disciple of the cultural diversity of Northern Syria; and with the support of his family (his father also bought him his first buzok), he soon moved to Aleppo – the capital of traditional Arabic music – to study in the Music Institute. During his stay in Aleppo, Keivo made an encounter that will always be the essential turning point of his career: the composer and musicologist specialized in Syriac and ancient Syrian music, Nouri Iskandar.

 Iskandar was the first musician to ever transcribe the music that was verbally passed from generation to the other for several hundreds centuries. From him, Keivo received the authentic rules and secrets of the music that rocked his childhood and youth; and from there he returned to his hometown – in which he lives until now, a choice that only a few artists would make in Syria nowadays – in order to become a teacher in the local music school and to start his own research about the musical heritage of the region.

Shortly, Keivo gained recognition in Northern Syria and in the circuits of popular and traditional music, receiving many awards in this genre from the Festival of the Syrian Song organized at that time in Aleppo. Moreover, he was soon acclaimed as a virtuoso player of the buzok and other similar string instruments typical to the musical traditions he was maintaining, such as the saz, baglama, kamancheh, rababeh, and the oud.

The international career of Ibrahim Keivo started in 2002, with him being casted in the leading singing role of the adaptation of Euripides’ “Bacchus” by the Dutch company ZT-Hollandia. The music was composed by Nouri Iskander and the performance toured all around Europe after being launched during the prestigious “Kunsten Festival des Arts” in Brussels.

After this magnificent premier international appearance, Ibrahim Keivo started to receive invitations to perform solo or with his ensemble in Arab countries and in Europe. Keivo’s unique repertoire draw the attention of one of the most important worldwide acclaimed institutions specialized in the preservation of world music and verbal heritage: “La Maison des cultures du monde in Paris”.

One day, Keivo received a special visit in his hometown – 9 hours away from Damascus, the capital of Syria – from the director of “La Maison des cultures du monde”, and shortly Keivo was invited to participate in “Le festival de l’imaginaire” in Paris, with a tour in other French cities. After the great success of this French tour, Keivo embarked in a new phase in his career: the production of his first international record under the label of the institution, and its launching during a special concert in “L’Institut du Monde Arabe” in Paris.

In 2008, Keivo made his first appearance in front of the Damascene audience as a part of the national celebrations of Damascus Arab Capital of Culture. A few months later, he performed an exceptional solo concert in Damascus Opera House among the activities of the festival “Oriental Landscapes”.

These appearances brought a new wind to the practice of traditional music in Syria because of Keivo’s breathtaking presence on stage, as well as his deep love for the authentic Syrian heritage he beholds, and his sincere believe in the universal thoughts and philosophy carried in this music and capable of crossing all time, cultures and languages barriers.

In 2009, Ibrahim Keivo was invited to Morgenland Festival Osnabruck to perform a piece composed by Nouri Iskandar and played by Osnabruck Chamber Music Orchestra, in addition to collaboration with members of the Syrian Big Band and the Iranian singer Salar Aghili, and finally a breathtaking solo concert presented in this album and featuring a panorama of ancient religious music of Northern Syria, songs from the popular traditions, as well as a two pieces composed by Keivo in the inspiration of the folklore of the region.

However, telling the story of Ibrahim Keivo actually should start far before his birth, childhood and education. It all starts with the first sounds performed by man in the ancient land considered to be the cradle of civilization, and with how this land produced its own artistic forms as well as it genuinely absorbed and recreated the creation of the its neighbors with no prejudices or misconceptions. A story to inspire us when writing our own, in a world on the verge of collapse, under the pressure of current hatred messages and on-growing tensions.

We leave you now with the voice of Ibrahim Keivo, the man, the artist, and the beholder of ancient Syrian musical heritage. May you find in the sounds and words he carries, sources for your own inspiration and echoes to your inner peace and joy. (from eastern voices)

I posted this LP several years ago on Washerman’s Dog. It is one of the true prizes in my collection.   A stunning record.

Full of sorrow, hope and anguish for the people of Syria.



Track Listing:

01 Lauk (Kurdish)

02 Ashkalafem (Kurdish)

03 Rawi (Assyrian)

04 Goudi (Assyrian)

05 Tartiyawni (Assyrian)

06 Yar Dli (Mardin Arabic)

07 Sabiha(Mardin Arabic)

08 Semsam (Assyrian)

09 Ayes Kechir (Armenian)

10 Teelo Jan (Armenian)

11 Misho Akhchik (Armenian)

12 Sharfadina (Yezidi)

13 Edule & Derweshe Evdi (Yezidi)

14 Dehzarta Tauseda (Yezidi)

15 Siamand (Kurmandji Kurdish)

16 Mawwal, Kul Al Hala (Bedouin Arabic)


In Honor of Syria

The Master: Ustad Muhammad Omar


Ustad  Muhammad Omar

The region known in ancient times as Khorasan bequeathed a rich and diverse cultural heritage to human civilisation. Like all long-lived cultures, Khorasan’s geography expanded and constricted like a huge lung breathing art, beauty and elevated thought, spread across much of what today we call Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. So huge was its presence and vast its territory that Babur, the first Mughal, proclaimed, “The people of Hindustan call every country beyond their own Khorasan”.

Among the roll call of illustrious Khorasanis is an “A List” of poets, mystics, theologians and scientists: Rumi, Rudaki, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Omar Khayyam, al Biruni, Abu Hanifa and al Ghazali being just the more renowned. The contributions of these great souls to the understanding of astronomy, physics, literature, medicine, Islamic philosophy and mathematics, in many cases, formed the “standard texts” until relatively recent times.

Sometime around the 7th century CE, Persian texts including the writings of Sufis began to mention a musical instrument they called rubab. Its inventor and exact place of birth is not recorded, but given its undeniably Khorasani origin, I like to imagine the rubab was played for the first time in northern Afghanistan around Balkh. Others claim it was invented in Ghazni. Whatever the truth, the rubab is now the beloved national instrument of Afghanistan.

Although the name derives from Arabic and in that language means, “played with a bow”, the rubab is in fact, plucked by its player. And like its cousins the oud and lute, the sound of the rubab is for my money, one of the most thrilling in all of music.

Today we share a stunning performance by the great Ustad Mohammad Omar recorded live in the United States. This master of the rubab is largely responsible for introducing the sound of the rubab to American audiences which he did from his position at the University of Washington.

In Afghanistan his list of students is long and illustrious. Quite simply what we have here in the Afghan equivalent of Segovia.

Be moved and be happy. Be thankful that such music exists.



Track Listing:

01 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of emen (yeman)

02 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of bopali (bhupali)

03 Tabla solo in the rhythmic cycle of jhaptal (10-beat cycle)

04 Shakal and naghma based on the melodic mode of pelo (pilu)

05 Keliwali in the melodic mode of kastori



Lucknow’s Great Son: Naushad Ali


Naushad Ali

Naushad Ali of Lucknow was arguably the first giant of Hindi film music. Not as a singer, but as an inventive composer and arranger.

His sound is instantly recognizable for its deep connection to the folk music of north India and especially the Gangetic plain. Flutes, matkas (clay pots) and other folk instruments embellish his compositions like  glimmering light off a paddy field.

Responsible for the music of so many classics he is one of those of whom it can be honestly said, ‘his music was the soundtrack to an entire generation’. Indians who came of age in the first 2 decades after Independence will probably save the sweetest corner of their hearts for his music.

Naushad was a sharif Musalman. A man of great taste and dignity and culture he also brought a deep love and understanding of raga based melodies into his film scores.

Here is a collection of some of his greatest hits sung by voices as diverse as Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh, Suraiya and Shamshad Begum. Thank you to Mr Balkar Bains (once again!) for the gift of this wonderful LP.naushad-front



Track Listing

01 Jawan Hai Mohabbat [Anmod Ghadi]

02 Bachpan ke Din [Deedar]

03 Murliwale Murli Baja [Dillagi]

04 Gaya Ja Geet Milan Ke [Mela]

05 Dil Toote Na [Andaz]

06 Panchhi Ban Mein [Babul]

07 Chhod Babul ka Ghar [Babul]

08 Aja Meri Barbad-e-Mohabbat [Anmol Ghadi]

09 Maan Mera Ehsan [Aan]

10 Sawan ke Badala [Rattan]

11 Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki [Dulari]

12 Jhoom Jhoom ke Nacho [Andaz]


Bury Me with This Record: Jagjit and Chitra Singh


Chitra and Jagjit Singh

This album is a desert island disc. A record I would take on my flight to Saturn or want buried with me when I pass on.   Every track is a thing of beauty and grace.

What follows is a remembrance from my old blog on the occasion of Jagjit’s death nearly 5 years ago.


I discovered Jagjit Singh’s music when I returned home to Allahabad for a brief visit in the winter of 1983. This was the beginning of the cassette revolution in Indian music. A revolution that shook up the music industry lock, stock and barrel and broke the iron grip of a handful of record companies who seemed to think there were only two types of music: classical and Bombay filmi songs.

I was amazed to find small shops on every corner of Allahabad’s posh Civil Lines district selling hundreds of cassette tapes of a staggering array of musical styles: devotional music (qawwali, bhajans, kirtans) salacious pop music in local dialects and a few European/American pop bands. But by far the most popular form of music was something the shop keepers crudely called, ‘ghajal’ substituting the Sanskrit ‘j’ for the Arabic ‘z’.

From one shop came two of the most mellifluous voices I’d ever heard. They drew me inside instantly. In response to my question about who the voices belonged to I was handed several cassettes. On the cover were photos of what looked like a boring middle class couple called Jagjit and Chitra Singh. I bought all four and commenced one of the deepest love affairs of my life.

Ghazals like Us Mor Se Shuru Karein Phir yeh Zindagi (Let’s Begin Life Again from That Turning), Uski Baatein Bahaar ki Baatein (His Words are the Words of Spring), Kaun Kahta Hain (Who Says So?) and especially, Woh Kaghaz ki Kashti (That Paper Boat) became the soundtrack of my inner world. I sang them to myself daily. The tapes were constantly in my Walkman and I used each ghazal to improve my Urdu vocabulary, which as a graduate student in South Asian studies was a high priority.

Without a doubt the greatest thing about Jagjit Singh was his voice. It exuded calm, assurance and safety.  Like a father’s words of comfort, it delivered a totally unexpected gift–peace.  This is a rare quality in a singer. Sure the arrangements and instrumentation were tasteful, never outlandish or exotic, and that added to the restful aura of their music. But above all it was Jagjit’s voice that cut through whatever stress, whatever anxiety I was feeling and gently grazed my heart.

Jagjit and Chitra were probably the most famous Indian singing act in the 1980s and 1990s. They travelled the globe and sold millions of cassettes and records. Their leading contribution to the democratisation of the Indian music scene cannot be overstated. And without them elevation of the ghazal to the status of India’s most popular musical genre (after Bollywood) would have not happened.

In the mid 1990’s Chitra stopped singing publicly after the accidental death of her son. How, we all wondered, could Jagjit carry on without her? We all loved their intimate, intuitive and absolutely in-sync way of singing. I always felt that their love lyrics were sung to each other. Jagjit just wouldn’t be the same without ethereal Chitra. But he carried on and continued to find new fans and enthral us old ones.  He sang for films and in the later years experimented with some very modern studio-derived doodlings. But whatever he did he did with taste and integrity. And that warm soothing voice.

As I write I’m listening to one of my favourite J&C ghazals Manzil Na De Charagh Na De /Hosla to De (Give me not the destination nor the lamp/ Just give me courage).

Giving courage. That was the vocal legacy of the great Jagjit Singh.

Jagjit Chitra front

jagjit chitra back

Track Listing:

01 Ham To Yun

02 Kiya Hai Pyar Jise

03 Woh Dil Hi Kya

04 Sirf Shabnamhi

05 Uski Baten Bahar ki Baten

06 Mujhse Milne Ke

07 Chale Bhi Ao

08 Kaun Kahta Hai