Masala King: Sundar Popo


Hey everyone, it has been a long between drinks as they say down here in Australia. Other projects (such as writing one book and editing another, ramping up a business) have taken over my waking hours. Sharing music has paid the price.

But a good friend who does a bit of work for the Red Cross in the Caribbean recently returned from the region with a couple of CDs, including this one which we share today. The very best of the King of Chutney music, Sundar Popo.

The CD is excellent with all the big hits and loads of fun. Drinking, pleasurizin’ and groovin’…the great three elements of West Indies Asian sound…chutney…are all here in abundance.

Here is a link to an article I wrote for a couple years ago about the man and his music!

Enjoy at full volume. And with a bottle of rum!

The Ultimate Sundar PoPo

Track Listing:

01 Nana & Nani

02 Don’t Fall In Love

03 Caroni

04 I Wish I Was A Virgin

05 Chaadar Beechawo

06 Hum Na Jai Bay

07 Pholourie

08 Bhouji Rahan Chalan

09 Cuss

10 Is De Spanner

11 Is De Spaner

12 Dotish Boy

13 Cold Water

14 Naina Band

15 Samdhi Bhara Ray

16 Suraji My Darling

17 Mother Love


Qawwali Collection: Shan-e-Rasool


An interesting collection of concise qawwali performances from an even more interesting group of singers.

Shan-e-Rasool-o-Aal-e-Rasool (roughly translated by me as The Glory and Grandeur of the Prophet) includes performances by some famous qawwals including Abdur Rab Chaush and Yusuf Azad Qawwal, a couple film playback singers [Mahendra Kapoor and Shamshad Begum] as well as a few (to me) new names such as the delightfully named Pyare Timmu Qawwal (Jaipuri) and Master Habib Nizami.

With the inclusion of filmi qawwali this record presents a sort of qawwali – lite which most connoisseurs would not rate very highly. The messages are simplistic and the language is of the sort someone unfamiliar with High Urdu or Persian can easily understand. Case in point: title of track 9 [Allah Bahut Bada Hai]!

The music, composed mostly by one Mami Bhachu, [any information on him would be much appreciated], is consistently lively and employs a range of traditional and more modern instruments including clarinet and guitar.

What I like about this sort of qawwali is that not only is it ‘simple’ and pretty straightforward but it has lots of stylistic similarities to some Christian gospel music. The lyrics tell stories of the heroes and villains of the Faith, as well as ordinary devout people grappling with the mystery of God’s ways. The philosophy and moral lessons are easy to discern.

And finally, what makes this recording special is the variety of voices. Ismail Azad Qawwal and Shafi Niazi and Yusuf Azad each bring a clear diction and suppleness to their singing that is perfect for story telling. And then of course, there is the grand Shamshad Begum, a very non-traditional qawwal, indeed.

Enjoy with blessings.



Track Listing:

01 Sine Mein Rahne Do Hoton peh na Lao

02 Zindagi ka Sahara Madine Mein Hai

03 Qaflia Haj ko Chala

04 Ya Mohammad Kisi Haal Mein Bhi

05 Khuda Ne Tumko Rasoolon Mein Aftab Kiya

06 Dar-e-Huzoor pe Hazir Ghulam Ho Jata

07 Hasnain ki Takhti ka Vaqya

08 Mohabbat Husain Ki

09 Allah Bahut Bada Hai

10 Mohammad ke Dularon Par


In Honor of Syria’s Dead: Ibrahim Keivo


Readers of this blog may know other parts of my story. In particular that for many years I was an ‘aid worker’.

I turned that hat in at the counter a year ago, relieved and pleased to be focused on new adventures. And though I had many ‘beefs’ with the industry, especially as my career progressed, I have never doubted or belittled the courage of local volunteers.

The backbone of any successful relief or aid operation is the support it receives from local communities. Local volunteers are so critical because they are usually part of the community that is being assisted and have a huge stake in making sure the aid is delivered quickly and efficiently.

But local people are also important because they understand the language and local dialects. They are familiar with the hidden political or cultural agendas that outsiders (like me and my colleagues) miss completely. They know who the local kingpins are. Who to avoid and whose approval is essential for things to work.

They know local back roads and where its best to cross the river and can talk you out of getting killed when you do something offensive or stupid.

So when, once again, we get news that an aid convoy has been attacked in Syria and 20 volunteers are dead, I can’t help but feel angry, sad and pissed off. Many of the victims in this attack were volunteers (that means, unpaid for their dangerous work) with the Syrian Red Crescent Society is especially tragic. SRCS has already lost a large number of volunteers to bullets and bombs. They have suffered so much for simply trying to assist all those who find themselves caught up in the madness of the civil war.

The news brought to mind the music I share today. The songs on this stunning record are sung in a variety of languages spoken in Syria: Kurdish, Arabic, Assyrian, Armenian and Yezidi.


Ibrahim Keivo was born in 1966 in a small village in the region of Hassakeh, in Northern Syria. Son of an Armenian family who survived the genocide, he was raised in the land where ancient Syrian (Al-Jezireh, meaning ”the island”), Mesopotamian and Western Asian cultures meet and create one of the richest and most diverse societies in the region, in term of practiced religions, spoken languages and dialects, and verbal heritage.

Since his early age, Keivo’s mother introduced him to the Armenian hymns she carried with her from her motherland. She has also played a major role in familiarizing him with the Turkish, Kurdish and Mardalli (the Arabic dialect of Mardin) singing traditions of the region of Mardin – Southeastern Turkey – where many Armenians have stopped before finding shelter in other places all around the world.

Landing in Northern Syria brought other cultures to the family; in addition to the Bedouin tradition, Keivo found great inspiration in the ancient civilizations and religions that remained alive in this region: the Assyrian which main language is the Aramaic, the Syriac language and Christianity, and the Yezidism, an ancient Kurdish religion which most important holy place is Lalish temple in Mosul (old Nineveh in Iraq).

Ibrahim Keivo was a faithful witness and curious disciple of the cultural diversity of Northern Syria; and with the support of his family (his father also bought him his first buzok), he soon moved to Aleppo – the capital of traditional Arabic music – to study in the Music Institute. During his stay in Aleppo, Keivo made an encounter that will always be the essential turning point of his career: the composer and musicologist specialized in Syriac and ancient Syrian music, Nouri Iskandar.

 Iskandar was the first musician to ever transcribe the music that was verbally passed from generation to the other for several hundreds centuries. From him, Keivo received the authentic rules and secrets of the music that rocked his childhood and youth; and from there he returned to his hometown – in which he lives until now, a choice that only a few artists would make in Syria nowadays – in order to become a teacher in the local music school and to start his own research about the musical heritage of the region.

Shortly, Keivo gained recognition in Northern Syria and in the circuits of popular and traditional music, receiving many awards in this genre from the Festival of the Syrian Song organized at that time in Aleppo. Moreover, he was soon acclaimed as a virtuoso player of the buzok and other similar string instruments typical to the musical traditions he was maintaining, such as the saz, baglama, kamancheh, rababeh, and the oud.

The international career of Ibrahim Keivo started in 2002, with him being casted in the leading singing role of the adaptation of Euripides’ “Bacchus” by the Dutch company ZT-Hollandia. The music was composed by Nouri Iskander and the performance toured all around Europe after being launched during the prestigious “Kunsten Festival des Arts” in Brussels.

After this magnificent premier international appearance, Ibrahim Keivo started to receive invitations to perform solo or with his ensemble in Arab countries and in Europe. Keivo’s unique repertoire draw the attention of one of the most important worldwide acclaimed institutions specialized in the preservation of world music and verbal heritage: “La Maison des cultures du monde in Paris”.

One day, Keivo received a special visit in his hometown – 9 hours away from Damascus, the capital of Syria – from the director of “La Maison des cultures du monde”, and shortly Keivo was invited to participate in “Le festival de l’imaginaire” in Paris, with a tour in other French cities. After the great success of this French tour, Keivo embarked in a new phase in his career: the production of his first international record under the label of the institution, and its launching during a special concert in “L’Institut du Monde Arabe” in Paris.

In 2008, Keivo made his first appearance in front of the Damascene audience as a part of the national celebrations of Damascus Arab Capital of Culture. A few months later, he performed an exceptional solo concert in Damascus Opera House among the activities of the festival “Oriental Landscapes”.

These appearances brought a new wind to the practice of traditional music in Syria because of Keivo’s breathtaking presence on stage, as well as his deep love for the authentic Syrian heritage he beholds, and his sincere believe in the universal thoughts and philosophy carried in this music and capable of crossing all time, cultures and languages barriers.

In 2009, Ibrahim Keivo was invited to Morgenland Festival Osnabruck to perform a piece composed by Nouri Iskandar and played by Osnabruck Chamber Music Orchestra, in addition to collaboration with members of the Syrian Big Band and the Iranian singer Salar Aghili, and finally a breathtaking solo concert presented in this album and featuring a panorama of ancient religious music of Northern Syria, songs from the popular traditions, as well as a two pieces composed by Keivo in the inspiration of the folklore of the region.

However, telling the story of Ibrahim Keivo actually should start far before his birth, childhood and education. It all starts with the first sounds performed by man in the ancient land considered to be the cradle of civilization, and with how this land produced its own artistic forms as well as it genuinely absorbed and recreated the creation of the its neighbors with no prejudices or misconceptions. A story to inspire us when writing our own, in a world on the verge of collapse, under the pressure of current hatred messages and on-growing tensions.

We leave you now with the voice of Ibrahim Keivo, the man, the artist, and the beholder of ancient Syrian musical heritage. May you find in the sounds and words he carries, sources for your own inspiration and echoes to your inner peace and joy. (from eastern voices)

I posted this LP several years ago on Washerman’s Dog. It is one of the true prizes in my collection.   A stunning record.

Full of sorrow, hope and anguish for the people of Syria.



Track Listing:

01 Lauk (Kurdish)

02 Ashkalafem (Kurdish)

03 Rawi (Assyrian)

04 Goudi (Assyrian)

05 Tartiyawni (Assyrian)

06 Yar Dli (Mardin Arabic)

07 Sabiha(Mardin Arabic)

08 Semsam (Assyrian)

09 Ayes Kechir (Armenian)

10 Teelo Jan (Armenian)

11 Misho Akhchik (Armenian)

12 Sharfadina (Yezidi)

13 Edule & Derweshe Evdi (Yezidi)

14 Dehzarta Tauseda (Yezidi)

15 Siamand (Kurmandji Kurdish)

16 Mawwal, Kul Al Hala (Bedouin Arabic)


In Honor of Syria

The Master: Ustad Muhammad Omar


Ustad  Muhammad Omar

The region known in ancient times as Khorasan bequeathed a rich and diverse cultural heritage to human civilisation. Like all long-lived cultures, Khorasan’s geography expanded and constricted like a huge lung breathing art, beauty and elevated thought, spread across much of what today we call Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. So huge was its presence and vast its territory that Babur, the first Mughal, proclaimed, “The people of Hindustan call every country beyond their own Khorasan”.

Among the roll call of illustrious Khorasanis is an “A List” of poets, mystics, theologians and scientists: Rumi, Rudaki, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Omar Khayyam, al Biruni, Abu Hanifa and al Ghazali being just the more renowned. The contributions of these great souls to the understanding of astronomy, physics, literature, medicine, Islamic philosophy and mathematics, in many cases, formed the “standard texts” until relatively recent times.

Sometime around the 7th century CE, Persian texts including the writings of Sufis began to mention a musical instrument they called rubab. Its inventor and exact place of birth is not recorded, but given its undeniably Khorasani origin, I like to imagine the rubab was played for the first time in northern Afghanistan around Balkh. Others claim it was invented in Ghazni. Whatever the truth, the rubab is now the beloved national instrument of Afghanistan.

Although the name derives from Arabic and in that language means, “played with a bow”, the rubab is in fact, plucked by its player. And like its cousins the oud and lute, the sound of the rubab is for my money, one of the most thrilling in all of music.

Today we share a stunning performance by the great Ustad Mohammad Omar recorded live in the United States. This master of the rubab is largely responsible for introducing the sound of the rubab to American audiences which he did from his position at the University of Washington.

In Afghanistan his list of students is long and illustrious. Quite simply what we have here in the Afghan equivalent of Segovia.

Be moved and be happy. Be thankful that such music exists.



Track Listing:

01 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of emen (yeman)

02 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of bopali (bhupali)

03 Tabla solo in the rhythmic cycle of jhaptal (10-beat cycle)

04 Shakal and naghma based on the melodic mode of pelo (pilu)

05 Keliwali in the melodic mode of kastori



The Three Friends: Call of the Valley


Among the handful of Indian records that have found a significant audience in the ‘west’, Call of the Valley is undoubtedly the most loved. Listeners gush when they talk about it, indulging in multiple superlatives and 5 star ratings. It’s no surprise that George Harrison, the quiet and Hindu Beatle, loved the record. But when one considers that grumpy old Bob Dylan has given it a thumbs up as well, one does take notice.

The album, released nearly half a century ago in 1967, does deserve its reputation as a classic. Probably no other album of South Asian music has sold as many copies. The general consensus is if you only have room for a single Hindustani classical record in your collection, Call of the Valley must be it.

My first encounter with the album came in the 70s when a cassette came my way in wintery Minnesota. I missed India intensely and what I heard coming out of my Walkman transported me instantly back home.   This was musical magic. The sound was at once reassuringly familiar but entirely fresh. The musicians had managed to create such an evocative world with their instruments, the idea of needing any other record, be it classical or Indian or any other type, seemed redundant.

The musicians who conceived and performed this seminal music are now all highly respected, internationally renown superstars: Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Brijbhushan Kabra. But half a century ago, they were young musicians on the make. But a haughty traditional musical establishment was dead set against them. How dare they think they could bring their unusual instruments into the pure realm of classical music!

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma left home in Kashmir in the mid-1950s to seek his fortune in Bombay. Though his father disagreed with Sharma’s stubborn insistence not to pursue an ‘office job’ he gave his son Rs 500 to get him to the big city. The youngster sought work as an accompanist (he had been trained in tabla) but also never missed a chance to promote the instrument he’d brought with him: the santoor. The instrument may have had deep and ancient antecedents in India but until Sharma came along, it was regarded simply as a folk instrument from a minor region of the country.

By his own confession, Hariprasad Chaurasia, had been bewitched by the sound of the bamboo flute from his earliest years and prayed that one day he would have the chance to learn. But first, he too, had to resist his father’s career advice, which in this case was to take to the wrestling akhara. Though he did wrestle for a few years and got a government job at the age of 18 he never gave up on his dream and began an 8 year apprenticeship with Pt. Bholanath Prasanna.

Eventually, he too made his way to Bombay where he struggled for three years to get Annapurna Devi, daughter of the great Ustad Allaudin Khan, to agree to be his guru. Although Pt. Pannalal Ghosh had managed to break the bansuri into the classical orchestra the flute was still very much dismissed as a folk and peasant instrument.

The final maestro, Brijbhusan Kabra was headed for a sporting career when he discovered the sound of the Hawaiian guitar as a student in Calcutta. He returned to Rajasthan determined to master the instrument but (you guessed it) his father stood in the way. Eventually, the two reached a compromise—the guitar was OK as long as it played only Hindustani classical music. Becoming the shahgird of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Kabra single-handedly adopted the guitar to the demands of raga-based music blazing the trail for such latter day stars as Debashish Bhattacharya, Kabra’s most famous disciple.

By the middle 1960s the three Young Turks found themselves in Bombay. Each had achieved some status but was far from being a major artist. Sharma was approached by a record company to compose an album of ‘thematic’ music. Something in a classical mode but not entirely restricted to dhrupad-based ragas.

Immediately, his mind flew to the valleys of Kashmir and the name of the piece, Call of the Valley, came quickly. With his two friends, also armed with their non-establishment-approved instruments, the three met in a studio and laid down the tracks of what they all considered would be another small notch in their professional belts.

If not exactly an overnight sensation, Call of the Valley quickly caught the imagination of listeners from Bombay to Brooklyn. And the three friends who had endured so much to get their instruments and talents recognised, went on to become senior artistes of the sub continent.

This is an original copy of the first pressing of this illustrious record. Released by HMV/EMI, India in 1968 it’s sleeve notes are well worth reading as you listen to the fabulous intoxicating enriching sounds.

Call of valley front

call of valley back

Track Listing

01 Ahir Bhairav

02 Nat Bhairav – Ek Tala

03 Piloo – Teen Tala

04 Bhoop -Jhap Tala

05 Des – Dadra Tala