Himalayan Pop: Suman Thapa and the Blue Fret

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Jiri, Nepal

My 16 year old son recently returned from 3 weeks in Nepal as part of his school’s World Challenge expedition. They spent their time helping a primary school near Pokhara with some painting and wall-building but also got a chance to trek around the Annapurna region as well as visit the Chitwan National Park. It was for him a life changing experience. An opportunity to see that the rest of the world doesn’t live connected to Spotify, Instagram and Snapchat. And to appreciate what its like to be a visitor in another very strong, old culture.

On one of their first days in Kathmandu one of the boys took the others to visit a family friend, Suman Thapa.  Turns out this man was a musician and before the end of the evening he gave a copy of his group’s latest CD to my son. Which my son gave to me for Christmas.

The group is The Blue Fret. The name of their album is Jiri Blues.  

I’ve been listening to this all day and I have to say my socks have been blown off.  It is NOTHING like I expected it to be.  Nepal is full of garage bands who do (better or not so good) covers of 60s-90s pop and reggae.  There are also a lot of folk bands and outfits that blend Nepali folk/Hindustani classical and jazz.  But nothing quite like this.

Jiri is a small village in the mountains of Nepal. Historically, it used to be the starting point for the early explorers of Mount Everest. Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay started their historic ascent of Mt. Everest from Jiri.

At one time, Jiri used to the hub for all trekkers and mountaineers. With the passing of time, motorable roads went further out from Jiri. That’s when the trekkers and mountaineers moved further on, and that’s when Jiri got the Blues!

The Jiri Blues is an album of songs in the western sytle of music incorporating the sound of Nepali folk instruments, ‘bansuri’ and ‘sarangi.

Part of the proceeds from the sale of the album will support Project Sarangi which was founded by one of the band members, Kiran Nepali. Project Sarangi is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of indigenous Nepali folk music craftsmanship.

All songs were written by Suman Thapa and most of them in Jiri.

(liner notes)

Thapa and his group sing in flawless American accents and write songs that reveal a real intimate knowledge of Western pop.  When was the last time you heard a Nepali song with titles like “Lincoln Town‘ or ‘Melissa on the Rocks‘?  Thapa has a warm, supple voice and plays nice guitar (mostly acoustic but he does have a few tasty licks on the electric as well). The rest of the band support each song with piano/keyboards, bamboo flute (bansuri), bass and drum.  Kiran Nepali, turns in a gorgeous sarangi solo on  Slow Down and leaves you wishing he had been given more space.

The sound is a blend of soft rock, roots with a slight twang, a touch of reggae beats and folk.  Thapa is a solid lyricist who manages to mix local imagery within a western pop-song frame such as the following from Lincoln Town.

Prayer flags and a block of cheese/They are my lifetime guarantees

I’m headed to the home of the bees/Oh won’t you come with me

The Blue Fret is the first real discovery of 2020.  Perfect for a mountain sunset or a rainy day inside with a cuppa tea.

 

front

Jiri inside

 

Jiri back

Track Listing:

01 Lincoln Town

02 Jiri Blues

03 Some Reason Why

04 Shadows of the Night

05 Don’t Say Hello

06 Melissa on the Rocks

07 I won’t Cry for You

08 ‘Konjo’ Taxi Lady

09 Slow Down

10 A Moment in Jiri

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Yad: A South Asian Folk Mixtape

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I am in the United States for a few days to tend to final arrangements around my father who passed away in early August.   As I spend time with my family and reflect on his life and impact I am naturally overcome with memories.

Yad, is the Hindi/Urdu word for memory or remembrance. And as I was preparing some material for the service later this week I searched my system for some appropriate music to listen to.  Almost as if by design, I came across this mixtape I made a long time ago, which I had given the name Yad.

It is a good one. Beyond a diverse survey of ghazal, qawwali, bhajan, and geet I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this collection includes a number of poignant selections, not just the lovely title track by Rajasthani group, Musafir.

Track 5, Kiski Avaz Hai Ye Kaun Hai, Track 3, Ab Dekh Ke Ji Ghabrata, and Track 22, Koi Sunta Hai Gurgyani have got me feeling the significance of this moment.

But that’s just me. Those particular tracks, like all twenty-two, (more than 2 hours of wonderful music!) are not morbid or mournful songs. Rather they are expressions of the lively vibrancy of life as well as the the joy and zest of being alive that South Asian music encapsulates so dramatically.

Selected artists are both widely known as well as rather obscure. They hail from Afghanistan, India, Bengal and Nepal and as I mentioned above, cover the bases from the spiritual to secular (even military) sides of life!

Enjoy. I know I am!

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Track Listing:

01 Yad [Musafir]

02 Heer Te Ranjhe Di Mulaqaat [Alam Lohar]

03 Ab Dekh Ke Ji Ghabrata [Attaullah Khan Niazi]

04 Dard dil [Jaipur Kawa Brass Band]

05 Kiski Avaz Hai Ye Kaun Hai [Jafar Hussain Khan Badayuni Qawwal]

06 Chor poreche babur bagane [Purna Chandra Das Baul & Ensemble]

07 Mahi Fouji [Mundri Lal]

08 Agaya Tu Phool Banke [Swarn Yamla Jatt]

09 Kya Haal Suranwan [Suraiya Multanikar]

10 Govinda Bhajan [J Mevandy]

11 Choon Nay Ba Nawa Amad [Nashenas]

12 Bhapang [Sama Khan, Natih Ram and Group]

13 Kis Cheez Ki Kami Hai Maula Teri Gali Mein [Sodhal Faqir Laghari]

14 Shaikh Ayaz Kalam [Jiji Zarina Baloch]

15 Mustang [Sur Sudha]

16 Jagga Jameya Thay Milan Vadhaiyan [Master Dilbahar]

17 Punal Paindi Thee Wal (Baba Ghulam Farid) [Zahida Parveen]

18 Zolrawar Bagh [Hakkam Khan]

19 Jugni [Swarn Noora]

21 Hum Jo Tareek Rahon Mein [Zia Mohyeddin]

22 Koi Sunta Hai Gurgyani [Prahlad Singh Tipanya]

YAD

 

Majmuah-e-Musiqi: Folk Music Mixtape

Cover Art Majmuah

Well it is time again for another mix tape. I apologize to all those who don’t like these and prefer to have complete albums by one particular artist. My own thinking at the moment is there is just so much excellent music that I want you all to hear and enjoy as much as I do, that if I waited for the time to post the complete album of each of these artists I’d be nigh unto my 100th year.

This mixer is a folky flavored affair with instrumental and singing from the far reaches of the Hindu Kush to the lush Ganges delta of Bangladesh. If you want information on any of the artists or styles let me know and I’ll do my best to satisfy your curiosity.

Allah khair!

Track Listing (pt 1)

01 Jab Pukara Hai Tujhay [Mehdi Hassan]

02 Yad [Musafir]

03 Heer Te Ranjhe Di Mulaqaat [Alam Lohar]

04 Zolrawar Bagh [Haakam Khan]

05 Munjho Saah Singharan [Mai Bhaggi]

06 [Ghazal] Kiski Avaz Hai Ye Kaun Hai [Jafar Hussain Khan Badayuni Qawwal]

07 Choon Nay Ba Nawa Amad [Nashenas]

08 Jagga Jameya Thay Milan Vadhaiyan [Master Dilbahar]

09 Laili and Madjnun, (Ballad from Kunduz) [Sadullah Kunduzi]

10 Govinda Bhajan [J.Mevandy]

11 Kya Haal Suranwan [Suraiya Multanikar]

12 Bhapang [Sama Khan, Natih Ram and Group]

V1

Track Listing (pt 2):

13 Ab Dekh Ke Ji Ghabrata [Attaullah Khan Niazi]

14 Hum Jo Tareek Rahon Mein [Zia Mohiyddin]

15 Untitle Pashto Song [ Rahim Mehyar]

16 Mahi Fouji [Mundri Lal]

17 Kis Cheez Ki Kami Hai Maula Teri Gali Mein [Sodha Faqir Laghari]

18 Dard dil [Jaipur Kawa Brass Band]

19 Chor poreche babur bagane [Purna Chandra Das Baul]

20 Mustang [Sur Sadha]

21 Agaya Tu Phool Banke Swarn Yamla Jatt]

22 Jugni [Swarn Noora]

V2

Ragamala Vol. 3: Pahadi

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Raga Pahadi (also spelled Pahari) is a majestic raga that evokes feelings of melancholy but also pensiveness and love.  It is often used as a basis for devotional songs (bhajans) or semi-classical works like dadra. Traditionally performed in the early part of the night it is a raga for many seasons.

Pahad in Hindi means ‘mountain’ and therefore, this raga is that which is associated with the mountainous regions of South Asia and has deep folk roots.  Indeed, it is an ongoing debate whether ragas or folk melodies came first, but in this case the proximity is very clear.  Some experts claim that up to 90% of all tunes and melodies in Nepal are based on this raga. As today’s selection demonstrates, this is a raga that suits the sound of the bansuri (bamboo flute) the quintessential instrument of mountain people. (For more information on this raga click here.)

Today’s selection begins with a lovely dadra (light classical song) by the Pakistani Ali Bakhsh Zahoor. The song, Laakh Jatan Kar Haari, is a traditional devotional song, which, although it uses Hindu references (Haari) for God, is performed frequently by many Muslim singers.

Ustad Misri Khan Jamali is a Pakistani flute player and his interpretation of the raga is lively and joyous.

A fused, East meets West version of the Pahadi comes from the late 60’s group the Indo-British Ensemble’s album Curried Jazz.

Mighty maestro of Hindustani gayaki (classical singing) Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s Pahadi is one of definitive recordings of this lovely composition.

The folk flavour and roots of the raga are evidenced again in this spirited folk instrumental from the Kutch region of Gujarat, in India’s western border lands. The player is Jodia Pava, a traditional musician.

Mera Jeevan Kora Kaghaz was a huge ‘superhit’ from the 1969 film blockbuster, Aradhana. The great playback icon Kishore Kumar, who became the voice of the leading man Rajesh Khanna, does the honors.

Finally, in another instrumental, the one and only Pakistani clarinettist, Ustad Sadiq Ali Khan Mando, plays a gorgeous version of the raga for a private concert in Lahore.

pahari

Track Listing:

01 Laakh Jatan Kar Haari (Pahadi Dadra) [Ali Bakhsh Zahoor]

02 Pahari [Ustad Misri Khan Jamali]

03 Pahari (University Raga) [Indo-British Ensemble]

04 Pahadi [Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan]

05 Pahadi Raag [Jodia Pava]

06 Mera Jeevan Kora Kagaz [Kishore Kumar]

07 Raag Pahari [Ustad Sadiq Ali Khan Mando]

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Himalayan Tunes: Nepali Folk Music

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A couple nights ago I posted an article on Nepali music to Harmonium Music’s website.

If you’ve not yet read it you may want to as you listen to this disc of instrumental and ceremonial folk music from the Himalayan Hindu kingdom.

Track Listing:

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Track Listing:

01 Resham Firiri

02 Paan Ko Paat

03 Simsime Pani Ma

04 Kholo Rasayo

05 Holiya Mela-Bharat Nepali

06 Sangini-Bharat Nepali

07 Tamang Selo

08 Sorathi

09 Dura Danda Ko Bhaka

10 Sebru

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