Field Recordings: Sufi Songs from Sindh and Punjab

7980863675_fd192cf6e7_z

I see its been quite a while since the last post. Indeed, my posts have become as infrequent as Halleys Comet over the past many months, not due to any slackening of interest or desire in music but rather through a necessary focus on a whole bag of other projects and issues. But in the past few weeks I’ve come into possession of some excellent South Asian music which I’m looking forward to sharing.

First off the rank is a small collection of field recordings from Sindh and Pakistani Punjab. Billed as ‘Sufi music’ this majmua’h is more accurately a sampler of folk music from those ancient fabled lands. The performers are all relatively unknown beyond the districts in which they live or wander and their performances are completely natural, raw and uninhibited. As the singer Fatah Daudpoto says in his introduction to Aa Mil Yaara (Track 4) ‘I’m a folk singer and folk music is direct. Not mechanical or digital.’ Which is similar to the adamant statement (and album title) of the old blues guitarist Mississippi Fred McDowell ‘I do not play no rock n roll’.

These recordings are made on site, live and several of the tracks include ambient sounds and whisperings from those in the crowd.  In many instances, especially tracks like #9 and #6, I am reminded of the soundtrack to the wonderful film Latcho Drom, about gypsies and their music. These songs have that same electric ‘chaos barely under control’ feeling.  My only complaint is that most of the tracks are too short which clearly is a decision made by the producers of the album and not the artists themselves who were barely allowed to pick up a head of steam.

Still, a wonderful little collection to add to your collection of South Asian/ Pakistani/ Punjabi/Sindhi folk music.

Ishq ke Maare_ Sufi Songs from Sindh and Punjab

Track Listing

1 Intro – Damadam Mast Qalandar [Ustad Aacher and Party]

2 Jo Tera Gham Na Ho [Kalyam Sharif Qawwali Troupe]

3 Aahe Arman Ajeebon [Meeh Wasaiyo]

4 Aa Mil Yaara [Fatah Daudpoto]

5 Sur Rano [Latif Sarkar]

6 Sehra [Basheer Haidari and Nazira Bano]

7 Aarfana Kalaam [Shazia Tarannum]

8 Mahi Yaar Di Gharoli Bhardi – Raag Jog [Babu]

9  Shah Jo Raag [Sain Juman Shah and Fakirs]

10 Ayman Kalyan Raag [Ghulam Arshad]

11 Kalaam of Bulle Shah [Unknown]

SUFI

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

Multi-coloured soul: Susheela Raman

susheela_raman

Queen Between, Susheela Raman’s 2014 album, is grownup music by an artist of exceptional quality. When I say ‘grownup’ I mean, mature, substantial, packed with musical nutrition, polished and accomplished. I do not mean serious, ponderous or boring.

 

Raman, of Indian Tamil (Thanjavur) origin, was born in the UK and grew up in Sydney where she began exploring her gift in a number of ‘funk/rocknroll’ bands. In 2001 her debut album Salt Rain (highly recommended) caught the attention of the British and European progressive music scene, garnering her a shortlisting for the UK’s prestigious Mercury Award.

 

In Queen Between on which she jams with and is supported by Indian/Pakistani musicians as well as Tony Allen (Fela Kuti’s long time drummer), Raman takes us on a journey into her multi-coloured soul.

 

Sharabi, opens the album with a nod to the sharabi qawwali popularized in the late 70s by Pakistan’s giant king of qawwali Aziz Mian. Sharab literally means, wine/liquor, hence sharabi is generally a pharase used for a drunk. But in the context of qawwali there is always the hidden implication of spiritual intoxification and it is this ecstatic feel that infuses Sharabi.

 

The qawwali theme is woven throughout the album, flowering up again in the beautiful Sajana (Beloved) and the killer final track Taboo. The former settles into the familiar male voiced clapping/chorus on top of which Raman sings of anguish, pain and love sounding like a cross between PJ Harvey and a whirling dervish. The atmosphere is explosive and intense: harmonium, men chanting ‘sajana’ over and over, and guitars acoustic and electric picking and stabbing out their riffs.

 

Taboo which closes the album is a tour de force; a mythic, tale of soul-searching and mortal caution. One thinks immediately of Dylan’s epic story songs like Idiot Wind or Isis. But then we are pushed into some desert shrine in the faraway Tharparkar Desert where ecstatic, frenzied qawwals invoke god and all the saints, long into the night. The drama ultimately subsides and gives way to the very sounds of the Universe which carry, sparkle and whisper the majestic piece to its subdued end.

 

Karunei, sung in Tamil, is another gem. Acoustic guitar and traditional Indian mouth harp (morchang) form an electric nest for Raman’s stunning, resonant, slithering and orgasmic voice to do its dance.

 

The remaining songs, Corn Maiden, Riverside, North Star and the title track, are showcases of her rock n roll side. These vary in quality with Corn Maiden being the best of the lot. It moves like a freight train and Raman sings with a Coltrane like intensity.

 

The moods, rhythms and atmospheres of this album are several but the whole thing hangs together beautifully thanks to Raman’s spectacular voice and the qawwali.

 

I have no doubt this album will rank among your favourite after just a couple of listens. So much meat on this bone.

Queen Between

 

Track Listing:

01 Sharabi

02 Corn Maiden

03 Riverside

04 Sajana

05 North Star

06 Queen Between

07 Karunei

08 Taboo

SRQB

Formless: Ustad Rashid Khan

imgres

Ustad Rashid Khan

A gorgeous collection of nirgun bhajans sung by the eminent artiste Ustad Rashid Khan.  When I purchased this album I automatically thought these would be Kabir dohes so associated is he with the concept of nirgun (the formless ground of all being).  In actuality, these are contemporary compositions by Kavi Narayan Agarwal.

In Hindu/Sikh philosophy there are two two types of God: sargun, which takes form and nirgun that which remains eternal and formless and void. The word, nirgun,  is made from the two roots ‘nir‘ which means ‘without’ and ‘gun‘ which means ‘material or physical form’ or ‘attribute’ or ‘quality’ or ‘merit’. So these two combined means “without form” or “without quality” or “without merit”. When referring to God it means “un-manifest” or “without attributes”, “without physical form.

No more words are needed for this lovely music.  This is music for absorption and reflection and peace, not for analysis and description.

Track Listing:

01 Prabhu Ki Preeti Jagi

02 Subah Shaam Tera Naam Japu Main

03 Tum Ho Aadi Tum Ho Anth

04 Yeh Andhiyara Mit Jaayega

Nirgun

 

Lost Heiress: Mehnaz Begum

imgres

Some of you may know that I am currently writing a book on Lollywood, the not-very-original sobriquet for the movie making industry of Pakistan based in Lahore.

 

As I continue to dig and uncover more information about this rather unknown industry and cultural enterprise I am discovering all sorts of new singers, composers and musicians.* Or re-discovering some that I knew a bit about previously but hadn’t necessarily associated with filmi music.

 

Mehnaz Begum is one such artist and it is a great privilege to share with you some of her wonderful singing in this post.

 

Mehnaz Begum was born (1950) into a family which had a very particular musical heritage. As the Mughal Empire began to weakened after the death of Aurangzeb Alamgir, who exhausted its authority with incessant expansionary wars in the Deccan, smaller principalities and ‘kingdoms’ across the subcontinent began to exert power in their regions. One of the most important and prosperous of these was Avadh, which had its capital in the city of Lucknow. The Avadhi rulers were Shi’a, a major branch of Islam that pays special allegiance to the Prophet’s (PBUH) son-in-law Ali and grandson Hussain. Significant ritual and spiritual space is given to commemorating the

Martyrdom of the latter at Karbala [present day Iraq] during the month of Moharrum.

 

Two distinct but related forms of artistic expression developed in Avadh that were used to accompany Shi’a religious practices: marsiya and soz khwani. Marsiya is elegiac poetry recited in praise of Hussain and other Shi’a martyrs. The poems are recited or sung a cappella and solo as inspiration for the faithful to persevere in their spiritual lives. Generally, marsiya is classified as a poetic, rather than musical genre.

 

Soz khwani is a modified and refined form of marsiya. An innovation of the 19th century it is a consciously melancholy music and as such, and given the occasion, it is considered jayiz (permitted) by Shi’a orthodoxy. Unlike marsiya soz khwani involves [the] singing of poetic content without instrumental or rhythmic support, but a group of accompanying vocalists hums along [with] the lead singer, maintaining emphasis in the ground notes of the composition and producing a drone-like effect that helps the lead singer to stay on pitch.  (The Last Avadhi Songstress by Sheraz Hyder, TFT Feb01-07, 2013)

 

Interestingly, the Nawabs of Avadh not only tolerated women singers but actively encouraged a cohort of females to perform soz khwani for the royal women. Mehnaz’s mother, Kajjan Begum, was one of these. She grew up and was trained in the feudal estate of the raja of Mahmoodabad in Avadh by her mother Imam Bandi one of the first Indian singers to be recorded in the early 20th century. Though Imam Bandi and Kajjan Begum and other female soz khwan were primarily trained in the signing of lamentations they also became well versed in other forms such as thumri, dadra, Banarsi ang, tappa and hori.

 

When Mehnaz came on the scene in the mid-1970s, primarily as a playback singer for films, her early exposure to such a rich tradition and lineage of music, allowed her to find an audience as a ghazal singer as well. That she was successful in both spheres—film and ghazal—is an impressive testament of her talent, for in films she had to contend with the iconic Madam Noor Jehan and in ghazal with the storied voices of Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanum.

 

As I’ve listened to her with more intent in the past few weeks I am coming to the conclusion that Mehnaz’s voice is one of the most beautiful and pleasing I’ve heard. It is full of melody, lilt and a deceptive softness that is actually power under masterful control.

 

The collection of ghazals I share today is one of the fabulous (and now out of print) 57 CD Box Set of Pakistani music produced by Shalimar Records. According to critics and fans with more awareness and experience than myself this particular CD also contains some of the best examples of popular ghazal singing ever recorded.

Mehnaz Begum Mehnaz Begum_center

Mehnaz Begum_back

Track Listing:

01 Kaise Kaise Khwab

02 Ishq jab Zum Zama

03 Jo Dil mein Khatakti

04 Ab Dekhiye kiya Haal

05 Shaheed e Ishq Hue

06 Zahir ki Aankh

07 Lutf Woh Ishq Mein

08 Rang batain karein

09 Tu Uroose Shaam

10 Hazar Gardish Sham O Sahar

11 Kissi ki Yaad Ko Dil

12 Be tabiye Dil

13 Gham mujhe

14 Garehe So bar

15 Ashk aankhon mein

16 Ho teri yaad ka

 

Mehnaz

 

*I have another blog where I share music that is specific to Pakistani films which I invite you to enjoy.