Lingering a bit too long over the washing: Attalluah Khan Niazi ‘Issakhelvi’

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The meme that fronts this post sums up the music and the artistic persona of Attaullah Khan Niazi ‘Issakelvi’ beautifully.  Khan is shown guiding a motor-rickshaw of the sort found in large numbers in Pakistan’s small to middling towns.  He’s looking for fares in the backlanes, known as galiyan in Punjabi, of one of these towns. Could be Okhara, or Jhang, or his own native Mianwali. The narrow brick streets are (unbelieveably) depicted vacant of all other human and animal life. [Its as if the Prime Minister is expected for a local visit the place is so spic and span.] But these are the home neighborhoods of millions of Pakistani workers and urban migrants who exist in the category sociologists like to call ‘working class’ or ‘lower middle class’ or ‘proletariat’.  Just ahead of him a beautiful Punjabi housewife lingers a bit longer than necessary with the day’s washing, waiting for the handsome Issakhelvi’ to perhaps chat her up. Maybe he will try to give her a ‘lift’.

Attaullah Khan, more than any other singer of his generation, holds a special place in the heart of working class Pakistani Punjabis. His songs of love (lost, wanted, faithful, ideal and betrayed) have given men courage and women hope for nearly nearly 40 years now. He sings (or did before the likes of the movies, VCDs and Coke Studio got hold of him) with a fully open heart and voice. Why his audience love him is, he is as authentic as hard day’s work and plays no games. What you see is what you get. And as millions of his fans know, there is a helluva a lot of get from this truly unique Pakistani folk singer.

Meri Pasand, the title of this collection originally issued on cassette,  means ‘my choice’.  And whether indeed it is true that Khan selected these tracks or, whether some narrow-tied junior executive in Karachi did the honours,  it does not matter.  If you are in the market for the ‘essential’ short collection of Issakhelvi’s magic then this is it.  There are many songs that don’t make this edition and there are more comprehensive box sets out there, but if you could have but one single album of his in your library then this is the one to get.

The sound quality is very high thanks to the boys at EMI Pakistan and the track list captures Khan during his most powerful and influential 1980s phase. He sings in Punjabi, Urdu and his native Seraiki and amply demonstrates his ability to sing in a variety of styles and induce multiple emotions.

This is pure gold. And definitely worth hanging out in the galiyan waiting for him to pass by.

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Track Listing:

01 Chan Kithan Guzari

02 Dil Lagaya Tha

03 We Bol Sanun

04 Balo Batyan

05 Donon Ko Aasaki Na

06 Lalai Tun Mundri

07 Bannu Dee Mehndi

08 Ni Uthan Waley

09 Kherey Heer Nun

10 Be Dard Dhola

AKNI

 

 

Time Capsule of Delight: Golden Era of Sri Lankan Popular Music

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This poster comes from a time and place that no longer exists.   In 1972 after centuries of being known (at least to those who didn’t live there) as the fabled emerald tear drop of Ceylon, the country took the much more ancient name of Sri Lanka.

Though very different from the country it is so geographically close to there are of course  connections of history, faith, legend and people that are now completely entangled.  For most children of the 80s and 90s and 00s, Sri Lanka is infamous (but not unique by any means) for trying to unentangle that heritage with violence.  Tamil Tigers. Peoples Liberation Fronts. Civil War. All of these displaced images (and the reality) of the most beautiful beaches in the world, a lush hinterland and some of the nicest people on earth.

I first visited Sri Lanka in 1977. A longish haired, lungi wearing hippie who crossed the strait between Rameshwaram and Talaimanar on a rusty large steamship.  I fell instantly in love. The greenery. The tea plantations. The white sand. How life was so inexpensive. I think I spent the princely sum of $50 for a 10 day visit (including accommodation and transportation costs).

During those ten days I discovered a band called Supertramp. Some French Swiss longhair had it on his Sony tape recorder. Sadly, the music of the land I was visiting didn’t even register.  And it would be several more decades before it would.

Even now I consider myself an infant in the nursery school of Sri Lankan music and have nothing meaningful to say about it that others have not. Baila is probably the island’s most well known popular form of dance music and traces it roots to the Portuguese time.  But to limit the music of Sri Lanka to the baila would be akin to identifying Punjabi music as only bhangra.

And here, dear readers is evidence of that statement.

This is a recording which can only be described as delightful. A 30 track tour across Serendip in which including bubbly baila you will be treated to folk, rural and urban species of sound from all round.

Six out of five!

Out of the park.

Get down and get back up again!

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Track Listing:

01Instrumental Baila Medley

02 Soken Pala Ne

03 Gamen Liyumak

04 Naan Unnai Thedum

05 Instrumental Baila Medley

06 Netha Giya Hematana

07 Kaffiringha

08 Ceremonial Drums

09 Jeevithe Vasanthaye

10 Anbil Valarnthai

11 Pinna Mal

12 Mama Bohoma Bayauna

13 Vairodi Wannama

14 Handa Haami

15 Goyam Gee

16 Eka Dawasak

17 Mindada Heesara

18 Roshi

19 Sigiriya

20 Deepa Tupe Vihare

21 Drum Orchestra

22 Gavaskar the Century Maker

23 Bolanda Katha

24 Sinidu Sudu Muthu

25 Malli

26 City of Colombo (with Noeline Mendis)

27 Durakathanaya

28 Amma

29 Kimada Naave

30 Perakumba Davasa

SRILANKAGOLD

Illahabadi Babu Shows His Chops: Bustan Abraham

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Bustan Abraham

Bustan Abraham was an Israeli music collective that made several albums of what can only be called ‘light fusion jazz cum world sounds’.  As ugly as most labels go, this one is one of the most ugly. But the music, for which I am a big time sucker, is brilliant. And of course beyond classification or silly labels.

Fanar is a 1997 release featuring the Indian giants Zakir Hussain (tabla) and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia (bansuri/bamboo flute). Fanar means ‘lantern’ in Arabic and it is appropriate because this is as I said brilliant.  The music sparkles even on the slower more moody numbers. The playing is virtuoistic and crisp. These gentlemen are really enjoying playing with each other.

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Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia

The highlight for me and the inspiration for the title of this post is the playing of Chaurasia. The young wrestler turned revolutionary classical musician is no doubt one of the finest Indian artists ever. Many non-Indian acts have drawn on him over the years to jam with or to add a certain exotic Indian spice to their work.  But this album is the first time I have ever heard Chaurasia sound as if he is a true jazz flautist.  In the opening track especially, but throughout the album, he blows his instrument with the same intensity as Coltrane. And in so doing, invokes the sounds of Hubert Laws or even Ian Anderson. If you had no idea who was playing I think very few would identify the Allahabadi Chaurasia.  

Just as when the first time I really heard Coltrane and had to stop doing whatever I was doing to just listen, so to with Fanar.

Five stars recommendation!

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Track Listing:

  1. Solaris
  2. Fanar
  3. Sama’i Kurd
  4. Till the End of Time
  5. Seven Eleven
  6. Naa’ama
  7. Black Seagull
  8. Sireen

Illahabadi

 

Wrathful yet Compassionate: Pandit Bhimsen Joshi

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Though the centerpiece of this wonderful recording is best suited for later in the day then mid-sunny-afternoon I can’t get enough of it. I’ve been listening to Joshi’s rendering of Raga Puriya Dhanshree on heavy rotation for the past several weeks.

I am NO expert in dissecting the intricate workings of various ragas. I tend to go for voices and let their owner’s work their magic.  I understand that Puriya Dhanshree is a complex raga with much scope for expression as well as emotional layering. From dark and wrathful to compassionate and more.

I have found this raga and Joshi’s singing of it to be reassuring and all encompassing. As if it were a dark but not necesarily threatening but deep cave.  You don’t conquer such a place but rather let it reveal itself, its inner passages and concealed redoubts. Its a slow but intoxicating process.

I have spoken in other places of my love affair with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and only refer you to another’s loving attribution to him.

Enjoy.

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Track Listing:

  1. Puriya Dhanshree
  2. Tulsidas ji ka Bhajan
  3. Marathi Abhang

Raga

Progressing the Tradition: Rafiki Jazz

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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.

 

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Track Listing:

  1. Sunno
  2. Saya
  3. Tasbih
  4. You Are Light
  5. Har Chand Sahara
  6. Jhooli Lal Qalandar
  7. Cheikh Amadou Bamba

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