About Nate Rabe

Reinvention is life.

Enslaved to ghazal: Ghulam Ali


Ghulam Ali

If you’ve a follower/reader/visitor to this blog and it’s earlier iterations you will know that I am very lucky to be one of the few recipients of an incredible collection of recording history.

In 2006 I was given a 57 (!) CD Box Set called Music Pakistan by a friend who worked for the Shalimar Recording Company. That company had trawled the archives of Radio Pakistan to put together an absolutely amazing and historic collection of vocal and instrumental music from (almost) all genres of Pakistani music.  The one big omission was qawwali. (I struggle to understand how such a HUGE gap could be allowed. Sort of like a ‘history’ of American music without any reference to the Blues. Does not compute). But that aside, the artists and art on the nearly 60 discs represents not just a major commercial effort but a genuine contribution to the documentation and preservation of the world’s lesser known musics.  And given that such systematic documentation is a rare thing within Pakistan itself the value of this collection can hardly be overstated.

The collection didn’t meet much commercial success.  A few volumes of the Box Set filtered out on the to internet and the few online sites that claimed to offer it for sale, usually didn’t.  In fact, though I know this is NOT the case, it appears that I am one of the few people in the world who actually owns the collection. And certainly the only one I am aware of who has shared it on sites such as this.

In recent days I’ve done a bit of cleaning up of the collection and am sad to report that of the 57 originally available CDs, only 46 remain.  From the beginning, a number of the CDs were corrupted and unlistenable. And over the years a few more also gave up the ghost before I could digitise them (and before I actually realised what treasures I had in my possession).

I’ve also done a bit of digging through the archives of my several blogs and discovered that I’ve posted about 37 of the 46.  And among those that I’ve never posted are these two: a double volume of ghazals by the one and only Ghulam Ali.  Talk about an oversight! Almost as bad as not including qawwali!

My plan is to post ALL the links to all the listenable CDs from this collection in the near future. But in the meantime, and without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the great, the Ustadon-ke ustad: Ghulam Ali.

Volume 1:

Ghulam Ali

Ghulam Ali_0003

Ghulam Ali_0001

Track Listing:

01 Tumharey Khat Me Naya Ik

02 Kuch Yaadgaar-E-Shehar-E-Sitamgar Ley Chalein

03 Chupke Chupke Raat Din Aansoo Bahana

04 Paara Paara Hua Perahan-E-Jaan

05 Bechain Buhat Phirnaa

06 Kisi Ko De Ke Dil

07 Jin Ke Honton Pe Hansi

08 Khaatir Se Ya Lihaaz Se

09 Ranj Ki Jab Guftagoo Honien Lagi

10 Us Jaan-E-Tamaasha Ko Muhtaat Agar Dekho


Ghulam Ali vol 2

Ghulam Ali_0001 copy

Track Listing:

01 Dil Mein Ik Leher Si

02 Kahoon Jo Haal To Kehtay

03 Dil Walo Kya Dekh Rahey Ho

04 Gham Hai Kushi Hai

06 Apni Dhun Mein Rehta Hoon

07 Woh Kabhi Mil Jaeen Tau

08 Ya Rub Gham-E-Hijran

09 Pattta Patta Buta Buta

10 Mohabhat Ki Ranginiyan

11 Ghum Nahin Ji Tan Se Nikla

12 Dareecha Be Sada Koi

13 Yeh Dil Hai Pagal Dil Mera

14 Sotay Aur Jaagtay



Death of a father: Amir Khan


Ustad Amir Khan

There is a story told of the origins of a raga called Bilaskhani Todi.

Tansen, the musician credited with being the founder of what we now consider to be the classical music system of northern India, was one of 9 favoured elite courtiers of Emperor Akbar‘s Mughal court.  He had several sons, one of whom was named Bilas Khan.


Mian Tansen

Tansen apparently didn’t think too much of Bilas Khan’s musical abilities, something that obviously hurt the younger man. When Tansen died, Akbar organised a competition to see who was the rightful khalifa (heir) to the beloved Tansen‘s musical legacy.  The person who could sing raga Todi while using the vocal characteristics of raga Bhairavi would be the one, stipulated Tansen.

Bilas Khan gave such a powerful performance legend claims that his father was momentarily resurrected; he looked toward his son and gave him a blessing that indicated he was the khalifa and winner of the competition.  Other versions of the tale speak of the earth catching fire, so powerful was Bilas Khan‘s grief-stricken singing.  Whatever version (and there are several others) you choose to believe, the raga sung that day and now referred to as Bilaskhani Todi is forever associated with grief and mourning.   It is also one of the most difficult ragas to master which is why only the greatest singers such as Ustad Amir Khan of Indore dare to do it justice.

My own father passed away last night.  Among his many attributes and contributions to my life, is introducing me to khyal singing. He preferred the voice of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, probably because the maestro was a native of Gadag, the small provincial town where my parents first lived when they moved to India in 1952.

Ustad Amir Khan’s rendition of Bilaskhani Todi has been on repeat all day.  When he hasn’t been singing I’ve been listening to Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan‘s sitar version.  Both are, from what I’ve learned, among the greatest interpretations of this powerful and moving raga.

I profess no expertise in Hindustani music but certainly can feel this music’s power, today especially.


Track Listing:

  1. Bilaskhani Todi
  2. Abhogi



Update of the archive: Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and Ustad Fateh Ali Khan


Been listening to the dynamic sibling duo of Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. Which sparked a memory of an old post an old blog I used to run in which I included one volume of their Patiala gharana singing.   And so today I post a second volume and re-connect those who are interested with the original post. Get it and both volumes of stunning khyal singing here

Hidden Jewel: Rupa Biswas


There is probably no more ridiculous development in the history of and writing about music than the notion of ‘labels’. Taking a piece of music and categorising it into a single ‘genre’ or ‘style’ is an exercise in futility.  Oft quoted but eternally ignored, Duke Ellington’s saw that there is only ‘good music and the other kind’ remains all there needs to be said about the problem.


Yet, for those of us who think possessing massive music libraries is an important thing, the issue is a practical one. Whether you have walls and walls of LPs, racks of CDs or hard discs full of digital files, having everything labelled simply ‘good’ or ‘other’ is not particularly helpful.  And unless you know every album or track in your collection intimately and can find it easily, most of the time you’re going to find labels and tags and categories a necessary, if silly, evil.


In recent years these labels and genres have proliferated like so many psychedelic rabbits. I’m forever amused by the new labels people come up with for their music: shoegazer, bedwetter, garage punk, bubbletrance, aggrotech, crustpunk, deep psychobilly, fidget house etc. etc.   What the delicate idiosyncrasies of each category are, are beyond me and probably to those who listen to them as well, but it is fun that’s for sure.  My own practice is to keep it simple. Pop, World, Jazz, Reggae, Country, Blues, R&B, Classical and a few other old fashioned labels I picked up from the record stores I used to haunt suit me just fine.


But the challenges keep popping up.


Take today’s share for example.  The album is called Disco Jazz, which sounds like the producers couldn’t be bothered to think of anything interesting. Slap a couple labels on it and see if it sells. The Indian Canadian production from the early 80s certainly (in some parts) qualifies as disco-esque. But definitely not jazz. Unless by jazz you mean slang for ‘stuff’.  On the internet the album is labelled, ‘funk, soul, disco’ and even ‘Bollywood funk’.  Not so much misleading as plain irrelevant. There is nothing funky here that James Brown or the boys from Cymande would recognise and, as for soul, well, that’s just another planet.  So, how does one label this music?


For my money this is non-film Indian pop music sung in Bengali.  The singer is a mysterious sukhi roti– looking college girl named Rupa Biswas. Not a spectacular voice by Indian standards but given its focus on getting people on the dance floor, adequate to the task.  What is really interesting about this record is the music.


India was introduced to the concept of disco music in the early 80s through (what else) the movies. Though it wasn’t the first, Firoz Khan’s 1980 blockbuster Qurbani (Sacrifice) used the sound of upbeat, semi-electronic synth and bass, disco lights and scantily clad women instrumentalists (prefiguring Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love by half a decade)  to mesmerise a nation.

Aap Jaisa Koi  was India’s first massive disco hit and led to the creation of a new sound that infiltrated the movies for the next ten years. The most famous names in Indian disco were larger-than-life musical director Bappi Lahiri and composer/arranger/performer Babla. Though both men produced some interesting work that has found new audiences in recent years, they never ventured too far from the Qurbani sound.

Disco Jazz on the other hand is in an entirely different realm. Biswas is backed by a crack group of Indian and Canadian musicians led by none other than Ustad Aashish Khan, one of India’s outstanding living musicians on sarodKhan has long collaborated with Western pop and jazz musicians, led so called ‘fusion’ groups [Shringar, Wonderwall, Shanti] promoted Indian classical music through his educational efforts and scored or participated in the soundtracks for films such The Man Who Would Be King, Gandhi and a number of Satyajit Ray’s films.


Ustad Aashish Khan

He’s supported by the amazing guitarist Don Pope, who with Khansahib creates the energy and drive and excitement of this record.

Popeand Khan trade solos and jugalbandi back and forth throughout this set daring the rest of the band that includes renown jazz drummer Robin Tufts, bassist John Johnston, tablasaaz and accompanist of Ali Akbar Khan and others, Pranesh Khan, keyboardist Geoff Ball, synthesizer Rhonda Padmos, and percussionist Frank Lockwood to keep pace. Pope’s guitar playing is fluid, gliding effortlessly between jazzy textures and hot dancefloor strumming.  As for the sarod, Aashish Khan makes it sound as if he’s playing a mandolin or bazouki in a back street rembetika outfit.

This disco is about as far away from Bappi Lahiriand Qurbani as you can get.  It is tough, serious, masterful but still immense fun.

Whatever became of Rupa Biswas?  Of all the principals, she is the hardest to track down.  One of the tracks from Disco Jazz, Moja Bhari Moja,was included in the 2012 ‘art’ film Miss Lovely but the only other reference I’ve been able to track down to a Rupa Biswas is of a Bengali woman purported to be Rupa, lip syncing and dancing.  Not sure if this is THE Rupa or if it is a completely different Ms. Biswas altogether.  But it sounds a bit disco-y so my bet is Rupa is still out there somewhere.


Disco Jazz is a rare jewel. I hope you enjoy it.



Track Listing:

  1. Moja Bhari Moja
  2. East West Shuffle
  3. Aaj Shanibar
  4. Aaye Morshume Be-Reham Duniya


Dravidian Queen: K.S Chithra

t368930681-b1343688348_s400 Mumbai’s film industry is so visible and influential that the ugly term ‘Bollywood’ has become shorthand for Indian popular cinema.  This is not only inaccurate for northern Indian cinema itself, which uses Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Bengali as it’s main languages but it totally misrepresents the films of southern India.

Several hundred kilometres south of Mumbai is the city of Chennai, formerly known as Madras. In this city in 1917, just four (or five, depending on how you’re counting) years after the first Indian feature film was released, an importer of American cars, Mr. Nagaraj Mudaliar, was infected by the movie bug too. Being rich enough to damn the torpedos Mr Mudaliar arranged for a few lessons on the film cameras of the day and was so impressed by his own aptitude he set up South India’s first film studio in the quiet suburb of Puruswalkam.


Nataraja Mudaliar

His first film and indeed, the first South Indian feature was a retelling of a story from the Vedic epic Mahabharata about a military commander who is so besotted by the beautiful Draupadi that he through a series of means, fair and foul, manages a rendezvous. Unfortunately, he is met by the even mightier warrior Bhima who slaughters him and ends the episode.  The movie was called Keechaka Vadham  (The Extermination of Keechaka) and was a smash hit, netting Mr Mudaliar even more riches.

In his footsteps over the subsequent years Madrasi film makers became famous around the world for their films, many of which were in the religious costume drama mode of Keechaka Vadham. And while I daren’t even think of getting into the history of South Indian film making here, suffice it to say, that films coming out of Madras and later Trivandrum and Hyderabad have been ground breaking, innovative and completely unreliant upon whatever was happening up in Bombay.

And it is especially in the area of music that the Tamil film industry has consistently held its own, and often, superseded ‘Bollywood’.  As eclectic in its inspirations as the northern film industry the Madras-based music directors always brought a more urgent, jagged and exploring edge to their music. Using hiphop, jazz, electronic keyboards and other trends before or more vigorously then their counterparts in the north.

Just listen to some of A.R. Rahman‘s music, especially before he became an international phenom, to get a taste. Of even better, go to the music of his guru, Illayraja or the work of Vijay Anand to really wig out.

It is some of Illayraja’s compositions that we share today.  All of the songs are sung by Krishnan Nair Shantakumari Chithraaka K.S. Chithra South India’s answer to Lata Mangeshkar.  Again, that’s an unfair and inaccurate description. Both are women, yes. Both have made hits too numerous to count by singing in the film industry, yes.  But the differences are more remarkable.

200Chithra is a classically trained singer in the South Indian carnatic tradition and has established an equally hailed and glorious career as a singer of classical/light classical music.  Lata, for her part has released a number of religious (bhajan) recordings but her reputation is firmly based upon her incredible run as the predominant female popular singer of the last two generations. Hear the name Lata and you know you’re going to get a film song.  But if, like me, you hear the name K.S. Chithra you’re probably, like me, going to think first of a ragini or thumri or bhajan.

At the same time where Lata’s vocal register is in the upper end (to say the least) Chithra has a voice that is to my reckoning more nuanced, supple and well rounded. More like Lata‘s sister Asha Bhosle.

I’m unable to speak Tamil so can’t vouch for the lyrical content of these songs but you don’t need to be a linguist to enjoy them.  The endlessly inventive arrangements that see styles and sound elements from any number of genres (from 80s synths to 60s lounge trumpets to slap bass and electronic squelches) popping up in each track, keep things bubbling along and are as interesting as the vocals. That’s why the title of the album has the subtitle “With Illayraja”.  This is a joint effort. A great singer interpreting the work of another great artiste and composer.



Track Listing:

01 Indha Vennila

02 Yaaro Sonnaangalaam

03 Vandadhe

04 Chitthirai Maasatthu

05 Manjai Ndhi

06 Kaiyodu Ennai

07 Vaa Veliye

08 Oh My Love

09 Sikkunnu

10 Hey Maina

11 Rathiri Thookkam

12 Oru Pooncholai

13 Pon Maaney

14 Poojaikettha

15 Nethu Oruthara

16 Kankaliley

17 Velli Kizhamai