Lion in Winter: Talat Mahmood

Picture_thumb4

Talat Mahmood, the gentle, silken voiced ghazal master passed away nearly 20 years ago but remains a much loved voice among South Asian film and music fans.  I wrote a piece on him several years ago which provides some basic biodata of this often overlooked playback singer.

Around the same time that I wrote that article I got my hands on this album but have hesitated to share it.  Though the back cover gives a date of 1966 these tracks were clearly recorded much later. Probably in the mid-late 1980s would be my guess.

Mahmood‘s soft voice with its incredible capacity to emote melody and melancholy is instantly recognisable.  Its a voice from a bygone era. But also gone is the strength and control.  Talat sahib‘s voice wavers frequently and he struggles to hit notes that once came so effortlessly.  From time to time he slips out of key.  And for this reason I kept this record buried deep in my collection.  I didn’t want to do a disservice to the once beautiful voice by sharing a record that was clearly far below the standard he himself set.

But perhaps because I have recently passed a certain chronological milestone myself I now think differently.  We are familiar with the ‘official’ portraits of Queens, Prime Ministers and dictators which show them in that airbrushed eternal moment when they were 40. No matter that they are now twice as old and decrepit, it is this image we are supposed to remember.

I have always found this ridiculous.

Several years before the end of his fabled life Johnny Cash released a couple albums made when he was under real physical and emotional stress. That thunderous trumpet of a voice was now a hesitant near whisper.  And yet if was full of power and conviction. And in its way a necessary part of his life’s work. When I listen to those last tracks I get a complete, honest picture of Cash. If I never moved beyond Folsom Prison Blues not only would I be missing out but I would be cheating Johnny himself.  He was not ashamed of his state and never thought he should censor his voice. Why should I?

And so with Talat. He never made an excuse for not liking the direction—disco, rock n roll, electronic beats–Hindi film took in the 1980s. He settled into semi retirement and seemed content not to partake in the film world again.  But as this record shows, he never gave up on the ghazal. 

This is touching and humane record. A labor of love by Talat and his dear friend and collaborator, the arranger Enoch Daniels. It is a final hurrah of a master who is well aware of his limitations and the dimming of the day.  But it also a triumph of passion. The much weakened but still vital roar of a lion in winter.  And I am pleased at long last to finally share this collection of fine ghazals that should be part of every genuine Talat-lover’s collection.

Talat saaz front 903

Talat saaz back 904

Track Listing:

01 Kahin Sher-o-Nagma Ban ke

02 Har Ek Mod se Milta Hai Rasta Koi

03 Ghazal ke Saaz Uthao

04 Dil Hi To Hai Na Aaye Kyon

05 Main Nazar Se Piraha Hun

06 Jo Tu Nahin To

07 Gulshan Mein Leke Chal

08 Mere Saqiya Mere Dilruba

Lion

Quartet of Qawwali

0b7cf370c1502353fbce60fbcea7e3a7--islamic-calligraphy-allah

I hesitate to try to say anything about qawwali because there are so many who are far more knowledgeable about this distinctive South Asian form of music.  But I really enjoy qawwali and over the years my appreciation and understanding of the wide variety of styles of qawwali has grown immensely.

My first introduction to qawwali was filmi qawwali a very low brow, often humorous, certainly not serious, form of the music that spiced up  the Hindi films I watched as a young lad in India. It was an addictive and attractive style. The call and response, the male chorus, the handclaps and the driving drums were hard to resist.

Not until I heard Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan when I lived for some years in Pakistan did I begin to appreciate how magnificent qawwali really was.  During those years I often would spy Aziz Mian (paan-stained teeth and lips; crisp shalwar qameez; wild unruly hair) one of the all time greats of qawwali roaming the streets of Rawalpindi going about his daily business. His style of singing was so very different from Nusrat sahib’s that it seemed to be a completely different music.

Several years ago I happened across a fellow blogger, Musab bin Noor, who wrote about qawwali with such passion, insight and beauty it was irresistible.  I cannot and will not try to paraphrase his insights (where would I start, anyway?) and simply refer and recommend his blog to you.

I also think this excellent recent article from DAWN is worth reading. It traces the commercialisation of qawwali and places many of the contemporary styles in a historical context that is impacted by government policy, technology, suspicion of sufi traditions and decline of the shrine culture.

This collection of qawwali over four volumes are personal selections of mine that I have enjoyed over the past few years. There are ALL types of qawwali represented in this collection from commercial to authentic dargah-based and everything in between including a few selections that may surprise.

There are many omissions too, most notably, the aforementioned Aziz Mian. This is not intentional. Perhaps I will put together a separate volume of his fantastic stuff one day. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these selections.

Qawwali

Track Listing Vol. 1

1-01 Alaf Allah (Baba Sultan Bahoo) [Wadali Brothers]

1-02 Avo Sayo Rul Davo Vadhai [Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal]

1-03 Bhai Murad aur Tajo Bahen [Abdur Rab Chaus]

1-04 Thal Wich Kharee Sassi Hakan Mardi [Muhammad Ali Faridi]

1-05 Ya Muhammad Noor-e-Mujassam[The Sabri Brothers & Ensemble]

1-06 Dekha Tamasha Lakdi ka [Yusuf Azad Qawwal, Talib Husain Warsi Qawwal]

1-07 Hai Mera Tan Man Nabi Pe Qurabaan [Unknown]

vol.1

Qawwali 2

Track Listing Vol. 2

2-01 Vah Vah Mouj Fakeeran Di [Tufail Niazi & Party]

2-02 Man Kunto Maula Ali [Ghulam Sabir and Ghulam Waris]

2-03 Shahar E Madeena Dikha De [Chand Nizami Brothers and Khurshid Alam]

2-04 Jhoom Barabar Jhoom Sharaabi [Aziz Nazan]

2-05 Sahib Teri Bandi [Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan]

2-06 Main Zuba Se Kaise [Ghulam Sabir and Ghulam Waris]

2-07 Jannat Ki Rel Hai [Yusuf Azad Qawwal]

Vol 2. 

Qawwali 3

Track Listing Vol. 3

3-01 Qurbani Qurbani [Anwar, Aziz Nazan, Babban, Kishore Kumar]

3-02 Malan Dil Mein Baasale [Yusuf Azad Qawwal]

3-03 Mohabbat Husain Ki [Shamshad Begum]

3-04 Khawaj Toore Daware [Maqbool Sabri Qawwal]

3-05 Na Karo Juda Khudara Mujhey Apney Aastan Se [Ameer Rafeeq Murkian Wale Qawwal]

3-06 Chomah Ho Dar Arzo Sama [Jafar Hussain Khan Badayuni Qawwal]

3-07 Khabaram Raseeda Imshab [Fareed Ayaz Al Hussaini Qawwal & Party]

Vol. 3

Qawwali 4

Track Listing Vol. 4

4-01 Adam Se Layi Hai [Jafar Hussain Khan Badayuni Qawwal]

4-02 Mujhe Peer Mila Subhanallah [Ghulam Sabir and Ghulam Waris]

4-03Jab Se Lagi Hai Aankh Bhi Meri Lagi Nahi [Fateh Ali Mubarak Ali Qawwal]

4-04 Ganj – E – Shakar [Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan]

4-05 Na Qaboo Main Dil Hai[Agha Bashir Faridi Qawwal]

4-06 Har Lehza Hai Momin [Manzoor Niazi Qawwal Aur Hamnavaa]

vol. 4

Ghazal Queen: Iqbal Bano

post-187-1242100897

Iqbal Bano

 

I read an amazing article this morning. It is an exposition on the ghazal, its dominant status in the world of serious Pakistani music and its sublime ability to express the deepest feelings of both the human and divine heart. The article includes a number of ghazalein that are interpreted by qawwals as well as ghazal singers and is definitely worth 20 minutes of your time. In fact, almost everything the writer Musab bin Noor does is worth reading.

 

As I listened to the ghazalein and reflected on the article (so full of information) my mind turned towards Iqbal Bano one of the subcontinent’s most accomplished singers who awed, excited and challenged her audience for half a century. This obituary from The Guardian provides an excellent summation of her life.

 

Indeed, with two outstanding pieces of writing like these there is little need for me to stumble around for words that do justice to the artistry of this important musical voice.

 

This selection of ghazalein is another of the gems from the treasure chest of Radio Pakistan archival material released in a massive 57 CD box set under the name Music Pakistan. If you’ve been following me around the net for the last several years you no doubt have heard of this collection. The more I listen to these CDs the more I appreciate just what a massive contribution to music they are.

 

A few years ago I wrote a piece on Iqbal Bano and shared another CD from this collection, of her singing thumris. If you’re interested I’ve updated the link there and you can enjoy that set as well!

Iqbal Bano vol 1 copy

Iqbal Bano vol 1_0001 copy

Track Listing

01 Hum baagh-e-tamanna mein

02 Ub kay hum bichhray

03 Jaaenge jeete ji

04 Tu bahar-e-naghma-e-nur

05 Mohabbat karne wale

06 Kitni taskin hai wabasta

07 Woh is ada se jo aaye

08 Ishq minnat kash-e-qarar nahin

09 Laayi hyat aaaye qaza10 Mujhe su bhula chuke hain

11 Diya hai dil agar us ko

12 Kab therega dard

13 Jis tarah tund hawa

14 Koi had nahin

Iqbal

Crown of the Universe: Taj Mahal, Vishwamohan Bhatt and N. Ravikaran

images

My brother introduced me to Taj Mahal, the American blues guitarist, way back about 40 years or more ago. We all got a kick out of the fact that he had taken the name of India’s greatest icon even if we didn’t really ‘get’ the music he was playing.   Having grown up in India with very narrow music tastes, American roots/blues was a foreign country.

But it didn’t take long to understand that here was a great musician and I’ve been a huge fan of Taj’s ever since.  Like his old mate and one time Rising Son, Ry Cooder, Taj is somewhat of a musical explorer.  We may consider him to be essentially a man of the blues but he’s really interested in all the streams of  music that have contributed to the African American experience. Hence, he’s gone off to the Caribbean and explored calypso, slave songs and early American hill songs.

Among his most delightful albums are the ones like today’s share where he’s collaborated with non-American musicians. If you’ve not had a chance to hear his album done in partnership with the Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar you are missing a rare beauty.  It is stunning.

This album, Mumtaz Mahal, was made several years before CMCZ (and just a couple after Ry Cooder‘s own Grammy-winning collaboration with Vishwamohan Bhatt) and is equally intriguing. And satisfying.

The pace and feel of this collaboration is laid back and informal. Taj is definitely the driving force. He has selected an excellent, varied set of songs from the Jamaican classic, Johnny Too Bad, to the gospel gem, Mary, Don’t You Weep to the blues standard Come On Into My Kitchen and he delivers them beautifully.  You feel as if you have been invited into a small room with just Taj and a couple friends to hear the master sing from his heart.  Each song is unhurried and intimate. Case in point the introduction to the final track. The singer and his accompanists, some of India’s finest, are clearly enjoying exploring the melodies and playing off each other.

Whereas his album with Cooder is orchestral in its conception and elegant beauty, on Mumtaz Mahal, Bhatt plays a more subtle role. He fills in the gaps and nudges each song along.  While Taj lets loose with his voice Bhatt brings in the East reverb that somehow fits perfectly into the atmosphere.

This is a slow burner. It’s not as blood rushingly good as Bhatt’s collaboration with Cooder but it is as nuanced and beautiful filling the listener with joy and wonder and delight.

 

I love it. Hope you do too.

Mumtaz Mahal

Track Listing:

01 Coming of the Mandinka

02 Come On In My Kitchen

03 Rolling On the Sea

04 Mary Don’t You Weep

05 Stand By Me

06 Johnny Too Bad

07 Curry and Quartertones

TAJ

 

 

Ragamala Vol. 7: Yaman/Kalyani

c6e0c94941e2d61537c2541c28b04ec6

This volume of variations on raga Yaman opens with a modern jazz-influenced rendition by the Neel Murgai Ensemble.  A New York based ‘chamber’ quartet led by sitarist Murgai, NME creates intricate, finely spiced musical atmospheres that draw on Indian classical, jazz, and gypsy music.

Also included is bansuri master Pannalal Ghosh‘s beloved Yaman, a couple of film songs from Umrao Jan Ada (1981) and Junglee (1961), Farida Khanum’s spectacular romantic ghazal Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah as well as interpretations in a Western classical and contemporary jazz setting.

Yaman, also known as Kalyani, is by Indian classical music standards a relatively un-ancient raga. It first emerged in the 16th century with some claiming it was a composition of Mian Tansen and that he based it upon a Persian structure known as ‘Ei Man’. In Pakistan and Afghanistan the raga is often referred to as Eeman (in many varied spellings) and I have concluded this collection with a wonderful Afghan take on the raga  by Ustad Mohammad Omar, the famous rubab player.

Yaman emerged from the parent musical style of Kalyan, itself a style of classical Carnatic musical tradition called thaat. Considered to be one of the most fundamental ragas in the Hindustani Classical tradition, it is thus often one of the first ragas taught to students. In the context of traditional standards of performance, Yaman ragas are considered suitable to play at any time of the day, but they are traditionally performed in the evening. (Wikipedia).

Given its close relationship to Carnatic music the centerpiece of this collection is a stunning live recital by South Indian/Sri Lankan violinist L. Subramaniam and shenai nawaz Ustad Bismillah Khan. Listen carefully to this piece and to the playfulness, mastery and virtuosity of both musicians as they play off each other. It delights and enshivers!

Rudresh Mahantappa‘s group Dakshina Ensemble which features South Indian saxophone innovator Kadri Gopalnath and Pakistani American guitar whiz Rez Abbasi also explores the Carnatic original in their massive track Kalyani.

I hope you enjoy this collection as much I do!

Yaman

Track Listing:

01 Evening In A_ Raga Yaman [Neel Murgai Ensemble]

02 Raga Yaman [Pannalal Ghosh]

03 Zindagi Jab Bhi [Talat Aziz]

04 Raga Yaman [L Subramaniam and Bismillah Khan]

05 Yaman Kalyan (Largo moderato)[ Zubin Mehta and Ravi Shankar]

06 Ehsan Tera Hoga Mujhpar [Mohmmad Rafi]

07 Raga Emen Kalyan [Pt. Pratap Narayan and Kankana Banerjee]

08 Kalyani [Rudresh Mahantappa and Dakshina Ensemble]

09 Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah [Farida Khanum]

10 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of Emen (Yaman) [Ustad Mohammad Omar]

YAMAN