River Songs: Hindustani Classical Collection

River Indus

If you are a long time reader of this blog you’ll be familiar with my expressions of regret and dismay at the state of the music industry in Pakistan. There are, of course, many reasons for this: relatively small population, the arc of politics toward repressive, military regimes, the persistent criticisms of the more conservative religious elements in society, lack of investment in the production and distribution of music, cultural wars, real wars and so on.

And while the consistent lack of genuine patronage from government and government-controlled media has hurt all the arts, classical music and its related art forms such as dance and drama, have had to absorb the brunt of this deleterious ‘policy’.

Which is a crying shame because it has given the impression that Pakistan is a classical music wasteland with nothing to offer the world. Instead, attention has focused on qawwali and ghazal, especially artists like the Sabri Brothers, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali. The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that fine classical music can be found only in India and that the qawwals and ghazal singers of Pakistan are simply ‘the best’ in the world, and those in other countries are somehow lesser artists. Neither position, of course, is accurate. Both countries (and indeed, Bangladesh, which has an incredibly rich and diverse musical heritage of its own) have produced and continue to produce some of the most exciting musics of all genres and styles. And I’m excited to share some of that with you in this post.

Again, if. you’re familiar with this blog you’ll be aware of how I’ve raved repeatedly about one of the most amazing single collections of South Asian music ever produced, the Shalimar Recording Company’s Music Pakistan 57 CD Box Set. If there was any doubt that Pakistan has not produced some of the most powerful and moving Hindustani classical music in the recent past then a quick listen to some of the classical performances by artists like Mohammad Sharif Poonchwaley or Roshana Begum or Umeed Ali Khan [to mention just a few] will quickly provide a resounding rebuttal.

All right, I hear some say, that stuff is decades old, made back when classical music held a more prominent position in the culture. When those artists died off, so did their art.

Wrong again.

The Tehzeeb Foundation, based in Karachi, is probably the most important institution dedicated to keeping the ancient traditions of Hindustani classical music alive in Pakistan. Founded by Sharif Awan, the Foundation’s role in preserving but more importantly promoting and creating space and awareness and appreciation for Pakistan’s classical music heritage for new audiences is incalculable. With annual Festivals (one of which I had the pleasure of attending in Karachi in 2014) that regularly bring both established and emerging artists together for several days of performances the Foundation has given a late career glow to singers such as Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and sitarist Rais Khan as well as helping establish the careers of a host of younger artists.

Sharif Awan

In addition to the Festival that regularly brings in artists from across the borders of India, thereby doing its bit for breaking down political borders as well as demonstrating the great continuity and connectedness of the Hindustani classical music tradition, the Foundation produces CDs. For his labour of love Awan has been accorded international recognition and some of the Foundation’s recordings have been nominated for and won international awards.

The box set Indus Raag (Gold Edition) released in 2017 is, like the Music Pakistan box set referred to above, a stellar production of the highest musical quality and cultural value. Sixty six performances, all recorded live at Tehzeeb Festivals, make the case that the state of Hindustani classical music in Pakistan today is very healthy indeed.

Rather than provide a track listing of all 66 tracks I have created links to all the music.

Disc One: Fateh Ali Khan and Vishwamohan Bhatt [Jugalbandi – vocal and Mohanveena]

Disc Two: Mubark Ali Khan [vocal]

Disc Three: Kamal Sabri [sarangi]

Disc Four: Javed Bashir [vocal]

Disc Five: Mumtaz Ali Sabzal [benjo]

Disc Six: Asad Qizilbash [sarod]

Disc Seven: Fateh Ali Khan and Raza Ali Khan [vocal]

Disc Eight: Mazhar Ali [vocal]

Disc Nine: Rais Khan [sitar]

Disc Ten: Naseeruddin Saami [vocal]

Disc Eleven: Ashraf Sharif Khan [sitar]

Disc Twleve: Salamat Hussain [bansuri]

Disc Thirteen: Fateh Ali Khan and Karam Abbas Khan [vocal]

Disc Fourteen: Ghulam Hassan Shaggan [vocal]

Disc Fifteen: Faran Khan and Kamal Sabri [vocal and sarangi]

Disc Sixteen: Hamid Ali Khan [vocal]

Disc Seventeen: Sarangi Ensemble [sarangi]

Disc Eighteen: Sajid Hussain, Kamal Sabri, Sarangi Ensemble [sitar and sarangi]

Sexy Mother: A Bluff Guide to Indopop Music

First things first.

Thank you to all who took time to respond to the survey. The results are in and the verdict is clear:

Please continue the blog (97% of respondents).

That result is quite alarming and gratifying. Over 600 people responded and to have that level of support from across the globe is really very humbling.

Thank you to each of you who check into the blog be it regularly or occasionally and for taking an interest in the music of South Asia and the diaspora. Also a special thank you to those of you who took a few minutes to add a few words and comments. It has been fun to connect with you and to hear what sort of music you prefer. In general, it seems that the clear message is “keep Harmonium Music going in pretty much the same way as it has been since 2013 (or 2010, depending if you include the early days of Washerman’s Dog)”.

And so I will.

Second things second:

HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Enough has already been said of the annus horribilus that has been 2020. May it never come again and may we move forward as families, communities and countries more united and caring and stronger than ever.

Finally, for this year’s final post I have put together a quick guide to the many sounds of South Asian pop music which you can find HERE as well as BOOKLET which provides some photos and information on the music and artists. The booklet is an attempt to give more context to some of the music you’ll find here so I’d be grateful if you could let me know if you found it useful or not.

Once again thank you for your feedback and all the very best for 2021!

A Little Survey

Hi dear readers,

For ten years now I’ve been blogging about South Asian music through various blogs and as a columnist for Scroll.in. This blog has been a bit part of my life and allowed me to continually expand my own musical horizons. I’ve also made a number of great friends who are equally passionate about South Asian music.

But times move on. As does technology. And attention spans. And stamina runs out. So I’m curious to know if there is enough of a demand and interest from visitors to this site for me to continue.

Is there some kind of music in particular that you are or are not interested in? Would you like to see a different format?

Any comments and suggestions would be really welcome.

Thank you for your visits, comments and interest over the years. Lets see what the future holds!

Jazz Darwinism: Rez Abbasi

Was out enjoying a pint of dark ale yesterday afternoon with a friend who plays a bit of jazz guitar. Just a pick up group of elderly Sri Lankan emigres–doctors, accountants–who love Miles Davis and Monk. And my friend Rob. An Aussie public servant who just wants to make music. They don’t perform publicly, preferring the casual camaraderie of doodling and grooving a couple times a month.

As the hot wind blew through our hair Rob mentioned that he was finding it hard to find inspiration in the same old jazz music. As good as it is and as genius as Monk, Davis and Oscar Peterson are, Rob was lamenting his being in a rut. Not knowing where to look for more contemporary or at least different jazz sounds. I shared a similar predicament, one that has bothered me for a number of years and had me listening to less and less jazz.

The way I unblocked the sink was to go on to Reddit–that truly amazing platform of information (and of course dis-information; you got to check your sources)–and shout into the void, “I’m bored with jazz. Help!” Within minutes the replies came back in echoing waves, “Try this!” “You gotta check this out!” “How about some Polish trumpet playing?'” “Its all happening in the UK.” “Nubya Garcia’s the bomb!” “Yazz Ahmed and Kokororo are the best.”

It worked. I followed some of those rabbit holes and they of course led to others and within a few weeks I was fully immersed in a whole new world of Jazz. One that had little to do with Milt Jackson (whom I adore) or Miles or Sonny or Ella. The centre of my jazz world shifted from New York and Chicago to London and Beirut.

I immediately offered to send a few files Rob’s way and included Natural Selection a 2010 album by Pakistani-American guitarist Rez Abbasi. Abbasi has been at the critical forefront of American jazz guitarists for many years now and continues to release music in a variety of styles and with a changing guard of collaborators. Known primarly as an innovative electric guitarist, in this album he plays (primarily) the acoustic, and is accompanied by a small group that includes drum, bass and vibes. The latter is particularly interesting and affective here.

The album offers a several covers of other’s work like Punjab (Joe Henderson) Personal Mountains (Keith Jarrett) and a gorgeous Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers) to close out the album. The opening track Lament too is an homage, if not straight cover, to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Overall the album shimmers with sound and the cover art that depicts water drops against glass is an apt visual representation for the sound. Light yes, but not superficial or simple.

Track Listing:

01 Lament

02 Pakistani Minor

03 Personal Mountains

04 Up On the Hill

05 When Light Falls

06 Bees

07 Blu Vindaloo

08 New Aesthetic

09 Punjab

10 Ain’t No Sunshine

Abbasi

Soul Brothers: Ravi Shankar and George Harrison

The friendship between the ‘quiet’ Beatle, George Harrison and India’s greatest cultural ambassador, Pandit Ravi Shankar, was deep, genuine and enduring, if (on the face of it) improbable.

In the early 1970s, The Beatles were simply an ex-rock and roll band. Individually though, each member of the group was riding high as a solo artist, enjoying almost as much success as sole trader as he had as a co director of the most illustrious cultural firm in the world. Paul‘s new band, Wings was churning out huge world wide hits. Ringo, for the first time was garnering fans of his own and praise for a series of bouncy, light-hearted pop hits such as Backoff Boogaloo and You’re Sixteen. John’s Imagine album was already recognised as one for the ages even though people were still sceptical of his wife Yoko Ono.

It was George who really blossomed after the break up of the world’s greatest rock and roll band, though. All Things Must Pass and its super duper smash My Sweet Lord, his hymn to Lord Krishna, pioneered a blatant strain of spiritual-pop and gave him the cash, cache and confidence to step fully into the limelight. He organised the iconic all star benefit shows to support Bengali refugees and released the proceedings as an ambitious triple disc box set, Concert for Bangladesh, something unheard of in the pop world of the time. It was a huge seller.

Harrison seems to have had the best business mind of the Fab Four too. Despite the debacle that was Apple Records, George jumped back into the record business and set up Dark Horse Records which proved to be not only profitable but sustainable. Early this year it signed a global distribution deal with the German behemoth BMG.

In 1974 Harrison got a bunch of his music mates together and hooked up with a smaller but equally stellar group of Indian musicians headed by Ravi Shankar to produce a bemusing hodge podge of an album called Shankar Family and Friends. According to Harrison’s wife, Olivia, “Around 1973, Ravi had composed music for a ballet. With the help of George, he was able to assemble a group of Indian classical musicians to record it at A&M Records in Los Angeles. George provided the Western band, and ‘Shankar Family and Friends’ became one of the first two albums released on George’s newly formed Dark Horse Records label. That was my first exposure to the group of people who would become lifetime friends. None of us knew we would be working together for the next two years. The process was full of youthful enthusiasm and venerable creativity.”

The wider global Beatles brotherhood no doubt has strong views about this album, indeed, every album ever released by any of the four members of the group. I’m not aware or really concerned about what the concensus view of this group is about this record, but I find it to be a curiousity. It is neither fish nor fowl. Neither pop nor art. Neither West nor East. And while that never really bothers me in this case, well…I’m not overly impressed.

To be more precise the first part (Track 1-5) seems not to be connected in any meaningful way with the rest of the album. The ‘pop-bhajan’ I am Missing You is one of the dumbest songs I’ve ever heard. As my kids would say, totally cringey! And as such, it colours the entire project with a certain hue of scepticism.

The second part, the Ravi Shankar ballet, like many of the maestro’s other works is certainly more substantial and interesting. If I listen to this album more in the future I’ll start at track 6. And probably thoroughly enjoy it.

If you want to read a comprehensive review of the album and get a complete run down of all the great musicians (David Bromberg!!!??) who played a part in producing it, for once Wikipedia is the best source.

Classify this in 1970s kitsch.

Track Listing:

01 I Am Missing You

02 Kahan Gayelava Shyam Saloné

03 Supané Mé Ayé Preetam Sainya

04 I am Missing You (reprise)

05 Jaya Jagadish Haré

06 Dream, Nightmare & Dawn – Overture

07 Part One – Dream – Festivity & Joy

08 Part One – Dream – Love – Dance Ecstasy

09 Part Two – Nightmare – Lust (Raga Chandrakauns)

10 Part Two – Nightmare – Dispute & Violence

11 Part Two – Nightmare – Disillusionment & Frustration

12 Part Two – Nightmare – Despair & Sorrow (Raga Marwa)

13 Part Three – Dawn – Awakening

14 Part Three – Dawn – Peace & Hope (Raga Bhatiyar)

Bromance