Tribes Lost and Found: Shye Ben Tzur, Johnny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express

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Johnny Greenwood and Shye Ben Tzur

India and Israel have a long tangled history. In modern days there has been conflict with India taking a tough pro-Palestinian position. While it took a while for Independent India to reconize the state of Israel in 1950 official relations were cool if not suspicious until the early 1990s.

Today, in this age of xenophobic nationalism and strident anti-Muslim feeling, India and Israel are enjoying a ‘warm bilateral relations’ that sadly (IMHO) included lots of arms trading and general sharing of information on how to oppose the Muslim peoples in their countries and regions.

But go back several centuries and you’ll find that India has been a friendly land of exile and refuge for Jews fleeing upheavals in the Middle East since at least the 1st Century CE. A substantial Jewish community established itself in and around the coastal city of Cochin in the southern state of Kerala in the early years of the last millennium and until recently was a vital part of local society. Most Cochin Jews have emigrated or died off and today the Jewish population is estimated to be around 5000, most of whom live in Mumbai.

In the northeast a small group of people claim to be one of the lost tribes of Israel, the Bnei Menashe, and practice Judaism but no one gives their claim credibility. Still, Jewish Indian friendship is as ancient as the hills (there is some historical evidence that Jews and Hindus were trading with each other several centuries before Christ) and Jews have distinguished themselves in all sorts of industries and fields in modern India.

Shye Ben Tzur is an Israeli musician who fell in love with Indian music after seeing Zakir Hussain and Hariprasad Chaurasia in concert in Jerusalem. Over the past decade or more he’s issued a number of records of interpretative Indian music including the rather ambitious labor of love Junun, the subject of this post.

Teaming up with Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood and a group of traditional Rajasthani musicians dubbed The Rajasthan Express, Ben Tzur serves up a solid tasty thali of qawwali (sung in both Urdu and Hebrew!) and brass band stomps that will get your heart throbbing and (at times) toes tapping.

All in all this is a delightful double disc that fits very nicely into any collection of Indian folk music.

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Track Listing (Pt. 1)

1-01 Junun

1-02 Roked

1-03 Hu

1-04 Chala Vahi Des

1-05 Qalandar

1-06 Eloah

Part1

2-01 Julus

2-02 Allah Elohim

2-03 Ahuvi

2-04 Azov

2-05 Junun Brass

2-06 There are Birds in the Echo Chamber

2-07 Modeh

Part2

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Quartet of Qawwali

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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

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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

From the Archives: Maqbool Ahmad Sabri

 

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Maqbool Ahmad Sabri, of the famous Sabri Brothers qawwali group died in South Africa on September 21st, where he had gone to seek medical treatment. He was 70 years old and had not sung for several months.  It is sad and ironic that the demise of the mighty voice of qawwali came with the softest of whispers in the world press.

I first heard the Sabri Brothers when they visited the States in the mid 70s. They played at Carnegie Hall and are credited with being the ones who introduced western audiences to traditional qawwali.  I loved them because they had long hair and connected me with a land I missed. For years when you heard the word ‘qawwali’ you automatically said, Sabri Brothers. The two words were synonymous.

In their steps would come others like Aziz Mian that other great purveyor of traditional naat qawwali.  And following behind him the giant Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who popularised and blended qawwali with contemporary sounds and western sensibilities to raise the form to an internationally loved and lucrative style.  [Original post with goodies]

Qawwali Collection: Shan-e-Rasool

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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.

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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

SHAN O AAL