A reason to go back to school: Shaukat Ali

shaukat ali

I first heard Shaukat Ali’s voice while watching an Urdu movie from the 1970s. It was a pretty dreary affair about a spoiled Pakistani playboy living a semi-scandalous lifestyle in London. At one point fairly early on the film the playboy is hosting a party at his flat. Hippies and Sikhs are in attendance.  The playboy’s best buddy from back in Pakistan has come to fetch him back.  To get the party started this chubby friend sings a song about the experience of ‘going foreign’ (overseas).

The dance was slapstick but the song was a cracker. I wrote about it in another blog and you can hear it here. The singer’s voice (which I later found out belonged to Shaukat sahib) contradicted everything about the fat comedian. It was strong, masculine and real.  Like a Punjabi Kishore Kumar the tone locked in between tenor and baritone and brooked no argument.

Shaukat Ali was born and raised in the small city of Malakwal about 200 kms southeast of Islamabad. He got a break singing for a Punjabi film in 1963 and as mentioned above contributed playback services to movies throughout his career.  He even sang in the 2009 Indian hit film Love Aaj Kal.  

But Shaukat Ali’s first and enduring love in the folk music of his native Punjab. He’s made his reputation as a classy singer of Punjab’s rich folk song repetoire and especially as an interpreter of such classics as Waris Shah’s Heer and the Sufi epic, Saif ul Malook.

In this wonderful double disc released by Pakistan’s national Folk Heritage institute, Lok Virsa, Shaukat Ali, is in impeccable form. He sings with gusto, feeling and nuance, mixing well known numbers as well as less familiar numbers (at least to me).  Punjabi folk music is full of a quality I call dildaari (a stout, exhilarating sense of discovery, fun and reverence). Accompaniment is always lively: tablas sound like locomotives on a fast track and the harmonium dances and bounces around the vocals.  Singing is full throated. On the softer numbers Shaukat may calm things down but there remains always a visceral, vital authenticity.

You can have fun but you never bullshit.

I love these discs and thank my dear Californian friend, Hanif, for sharing them with me.  It’s the sort of music that has me surfing the web for ‘Teach Yourself Punjabi’ courses!


Track Listing (Disc 1)

1-01 Interview

1-02 Tur Gaya Mera Hani

1-03 Choti Ummreh Pyaar Kari Naa

1-04 Jalliya Dilla

1-05 Oh Kannu Pyar Te Karobaar

1-06 Lag Gai Nain

1-07 Assein Ite Te Dhol Sada

1-08 Ho Jagga Jamiya

1-09 Pindi Peya Vee Nai

1-10 Assein Ite Te Dhol Sada

1-11 Sass Kapathi Eh

Vol 1

Track Listing (Disc 2)

2-01 Ho Rabba Sohnaya Nu Kaid Kara De

2-02 Wah Rangeeya Nu Kaid Kara De

2-03 Loki Anwey Te Nahi…

2-04 Kyon Door Rehnde O

2-05 Aap Jedeh Wasday

2-06 Dendi Phira Mein

2-07 Sanu Patha Nahi Vichoda Kinu Kehende

2-08 Oh Mahi Meriya

2-09 Maa Janat Da Parchanwa (Kaanwan)

2-10 Saif-Ul-Malook Kalaam

Vol. 2


Yad: A South Asian Folk Mixtape



I am in the United States for a few days to tend to final arrangements around my father who passed away in early August.   As I spend time with my family and reflect on his life and impact I am naturally overcome with memories.

Yad, is the Hindi/Urdu word for memory or remembrance. And as I was preparing some material for the service later this week I searched my system for some appropriate music to listen to.  Almost as if by design, I came across this mixtape I made a long time ago, which I had given the name Yad.

It is a good one. Beyond a diverse survey of ghazal, qawwali, bhajan, and geet I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this collection includes a number of poignant selections, not just the lovely title track by Rajasthani group, Musafir.

Track 5, Kiski Avaz Hai Ye Kaun Hai, Track 3, Ab Dekh Ke Ji Ghabrata, and Track 22, Koi Sunta Hai Gurgyani have got me feeling the significance of this moment.

But that’s just me. Those particular tracks, like all twenty-two, (more than 2 hours of wonderful music!) are not morbid or mournful songs. Rather they are expressions of the lively vibrancy of life as well as the the joy and zest of being alive that South Asian music encapsulates so dramatically.

Selected artists are both widely known as well as rather obscure. They hail from Afghanistan, India, Bengal and Nepal and as I mentioned above, cover the bases from the spiritual to secular (even military) sides of life!

Enjoy. I know I am!


Track Listing:

01 Yad [Musafir]

02 Heer Te Ranjhe Di Mulaqaat [Alam Lohar]

03 Ab Dekh Ke Ji Ghabrata [Attaullah Khan Niazi]

04 Dard dil [Jaipur Kawa Brass Band]

05 Kiski Avaz Hai Ye Kaun Hai [Jafar Hussain Khan Badayuni Qawwal]

06 Chor poreche babur bagane [Purna Chandra Das Baul & Ensemble]

07 Mahi Fouji [Mundri Lal]

08 Agaya Tu Phool Banke [Swarn Yamla Jatt]

09 Kya Haal Suranwan [Suraiya Multanikar]

10 Govinda Bhajan [J Mevandy]

11 Choon Nay Ba Nawa Amad [Nashenas]

12 Bhapang [Sama Khan, Natih Ram and Group]

13 Kis Cheez Ki Kami Hai Maula Teri Gali Mein [Sodhal Faqir Laghari]

14 Shaikh Ayaz Kalam [Jiji Zarina Baloch]

15 Mustang [Sur Sudha]

16 Jagga Jameya Thay Milan Vadhaiyan [Master Dilbahar]

17 Punal Paindi Thee Wal (Baba Ghulam Farid) [Zahida Parveen]

18 Zolrawar Bagh [Hakkam Khan]

19 Jugni [Swarn Noora]

21 Hum Jo Tareek Rahon Mein [Zia Mohyeddin]

22 Koi Sunta Hai Gurgyani [Prahlad Singh Tipanya]



Imagined Country: India

Cities of India

It has been a while since I’ve posted a playlist.

This one has a rather dull title and is not entirely accurate, for many of the tunes here are inspired by the rivers and regions of India as much as by her cities. And not a few are composed in honour of places in Pakistan.

But let’s not be too literalist.

India, like all places is a conceptual thing as much as a geography. And it was not so long ago that all of the subcontinent was considered India.

These are tunes from the diaspora and from outside of India. People peering back to where their forefathers came from or outsiders looking in.  Jazz, chill-out, dance jams, dark industrial grind core, bluegrass-ragas, fused and blended sounds.

Hope you enjoy.

Track List (vol. 1)

01 Ja Sha Taan (Transglobal Underground Karachi Deathcult Mix) [Fun Da Mental]

02 Bihu (Assam) [Deep Forest and Rahul Sharma]

03 CIA Contractor Freed Over Pakistan Killings [Vatican Shadow]

04 Ganges a Go-Go [DJ Shadow and Automator]

05 Agra [The Indian Core]

06 Bobbywood [The Bombay Royale]

07 Chittagong Chill [State of Bengal]

08 Letter from India [Paco de Lucia, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin]

09 Adrift In Kerala [Bob Holyroyd]

10 Thillelo (Kerala)[Deep Forest and Rahul Sharma]

11 Karachi [Absolute Ensemble]

12 Calcutta Blues [Dave Brubeck Quartet]


Track Listing (Vol. 2)

13 Yamuna [Hindugrass]

14 Punjab [Rez Abbbasi Quartet]

15 Miles From India [John McLaughlin and friends]

16 G.T. Road [Clinton]

17 India [Zap Mama]

18 Life In Goa [Black Bombay]

19 Ganges Delta Blues [Ry Cooder and V.M. Bhatt]

20 Multani [Joe Harriott and John Mayer]

21 Sialkot [Sunny Jain Collective]

22 Rawalpindi Blues [Carla Bley]

23 Jaipur [Amancio D’Silva and Joe Harriott]

24 Himalaya Blues [Knut Reiersrud, Hans Fredrick Jacobsen and Vajra]

25 Karnatak journey [Black Bombay]




Tribes Lost and Found: Shye Ben Tzur, Johnny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express


Johnny Greenwood and Shye Ben Tzur

India and Israel have a long tangled history. In modern days there has been conflict with India taking a tough pro-Palestinian position. While it took a while for Independent India to reconize the state of Israel in 1950 official relations were cool if not suspicious until the early 1990s.

Today, in this age of xenophobic nationalism and strident anti-Muslim feeling, India and Israel are enjoying a ‘warm bilateral relations’ that sadly (IMHO) included lots of arms trading and general sharing of information on how to oppose the Muslim peoples in their countries and regions.

But go back several centuries and you’ll find that India has been a friendly land of exile and refuge for Jews fleeing upheavals in the Middle East since at least the 1st Century CE. A substantial Jewish community established itself in and around the coastal city of Cochin in the southern state of Kerala in the early years of the last millennium and until recently was a vital part of local society. Most Cochin Jews have emigrated or died off and today the Jewish population is estimated to be around 5000, most of whom live in Mumbai.

In the northeast a small group of people claim to be one of the lost tribes of Israel, the Bnei Menashe, and practice Judaism but no one gives their claim credibility. Still, Jewish Indian friendship is as ancient as the hills (there is some historical evidence that Jews and Hindus were trading with each other several centuries before Christ) and Jews have distinguished themselves in all sorts of industries and fields in modern India.

Shye Ben Tzur is an Israeli musician who fell in love with Indian music after seeing Zakir Hussain and Hariprasad Chaurasia in concert in Jerusalem. Over the past decade or more he’s issued a number of records of interpretative Indian music including the rather ambitious labor of love Junun, the subject of this post.

Teaming up with Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood and a group of traditional Rajasthani musicians dubbed The Rajasthan Express, Ben Tzur serves up a solid tasty thali of qawwali (sung in both Urdu and Hebrew!) and brass band stomps that will get your heart throbbing and (at times) toes tapping.

All in all this is a delightful double disc that fits very nicely into any collection of Indian folk music.


Track Listing (Pt. 1)

1-01 Junun

1-02 Roked

1-03 Hu

1-04 Chala Vahi Des

1-05 Qalandar

1-06 Eloah


2-01 Julus

2-02 Allah Elohim

2-03 Ahuvi

2-04 Azov

2-05 Junun Brass

2-06 There are Birds in the Echo Chamber

2-07 Modeh


The Greatest: Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan

tabla player

Thank you very much to Hans Bosma who has dug out one of the missing volumes of the Music Pakistan Boxset and shared it with me (and everyone who follows this blog).

Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan is widely considered one of the greatest tabla masters of the recent past. So much so that superstars such as Zakir Hussain fall at his feet to acknowledge his precedence, greatness and influence.  Journalist, researcher and music enthusiast Ally Adnan has written a nice portrait (full of wonderful photographs) of Shaukat Hussain sahib which can be downloaded here.  Read it as you listen to this masterful musician perform on this CD.

shaukat hussain khan

Shalimar CD_back

Track Listing:

  1. Lakshmi Tal
  2. Rupak
  3. Teen taal