Field Recordings: Sufi Songs from Sindh and Punjab


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]


From the Archives: Mohammad Rafi

Another look back to December 2011 from the archives


Jhulelal, Sindhi Community Diety

Mohammad Rafi was one of the holy trinity of Indian playback singers that genuinely formed the soundtrack to India’s first thirty years of Independence. From the late 40’s to the late 70’s Rafi’s voice along with those of Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar filled not only every cinema but bounced off every narrow gali, blasted from every café and barbershop and wedding celebration across India. And beyond, to Russia, the Middle East and Africa.

 imgres-3Born near Amritsar but raised in Lahore Rafi was an improbable superstar. His family was not a traditional musical one and though he began singing publicly at a young age it was not until he moved to Bombay in the early 1940s that he received training from some of the greats of Indian khayal including Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. But what he lacked in pedigree he made up for in capability.  His first film work was in 1944. Four years later he was invited by the first PM of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to sing at his home.

From then on film work increased with Rafi recording thousands of songs for the Bollywood musical directors. Some, such as O.P Nayyar, Naushad and Shankar-Jaikishan used Rafi almost exclusively at various stages in their own glorious careers.

I’ve posted some of Rafi sahib’s film work before and more will come. But tonight’s post is a record of devotional and spiritual music sung in Sindhi.  As such it is a delightful detour away from the filmi world with which he is almost always associated. 

The lyrics of these songs comes from some of Sindh’s great folk and mystical poets: Bulleh Shah, Shah Latif and Dharamdas. The music is composed by one of Sindh’s most beloved patriots Dr Ram Panjwani. He’s pictured on the front of the album with Rafi.

DADA-RAM-PANJWANIPanjwani was born in Larkana, the same district that was the stomping ground of Pakistan’s great Bhutto political dynasty.  At Independence he, with hundreds of thousands other Hindu Sindhis, fled to India.  Pajwani (who was a writer, musician and activist) became a great organiser of the displaced Sindhis in Bombay and across India. To assist him he used the Sindhis’ community god, Jhulelal as a cultural touchstone to give them hope and solace in their ‘exile’.

The (very crudely paraphrased) story of Jhulelal is a tale of deux–ex-machina.  In the early days of Muslim penetration of India the Hindu residents of Thatta in Sindh had the misfortune of being ruled by a Muslim ruler, Mirkshah, who was aggressive about converting the local population….by force if necessary.  Given 40 days to agree to abandon their faith and convert to Islam, the people of Thatta beseeched their gods for a way out. On the 40th day a local woman became pregnant and eventually gave birth to a boy child. From the infant’s mouth flowed the Indus River and on the river riding a fish was an old man with a long beard.

The child/man was able to convince the Mirkshah’s vizier that he was indeed a spiritual being and eventually when confronted with Jhulelal’s powers Mirkshah himself relented and let the people keep their Hindu faith. 

When Jhulelal, also known as Uderolal, died Muslims insisted upon erecting a mini ‘kaba’ in his honor. The Hindus insisted upon a temple. Fighting ensued. Suddenly from on high a voice was heard, “ Behold! You shall make my shrine acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims. Let one face be a temple and the other a dargah (Sufi shrine).”

The story is rich with Sindhi syncretic thinking. Indeed, the vast countryside of what is now Pakistan was for centuries the home of a highly syncretic culture and religious practice. Sufi poetry is appreciated by Hindu Sindhis as much as Muslims and Jhulelal is so revered by Sindhis of all persuasions, the phrase “Jhulelal beera hee paar” is a standard greeting between Sindhis wherever they are in the world.

And of especial interest to the Washerman’s Dog is the frequent reference to Jhulelal in that great Sufi qawwali Dama Dam Mast Qalandar.

So it is with great pleasure tonight I post Hindu and Muslim spirituals from Sindh sung by a Muslim set to music composed by a Hindu who revered the tolerant diety of Sindh who wanted his resting place to be half Hindu half Muslim.

The Wonder That Was Sindh! 

rafi sindhi front Rafi in Sindhi back 1393 

            Track Listing:

01 Kahdi Karyan Mahmani (Sachal)

02 Badal Aaaya Bahar Miyan (Bhojal)

03 Jeko Sabhai Siyaka Satte (Roshan)

04 Hee Aashikan Ja Insaf (Dharmdas)

05 Tu Aheen Sahib (Sachal)

06 Dardan Ji Mari (Shah)

07 Kiya Janey Dum Koi (Bulleh Shah)

08 Kalangi Wara Lal (Ram)

Tere Ishq Nachaya: Deep Soul from the Indus Valley (vol. 2)

tere ishq nachaya

Tere Ishq Nachaya: Deep Soul from the Indus Valley (Volume 2) is another zabardast collection of spiritual love songs from Pakistan.

Dirt, dust and water are the elements that give rise to a people’s music.  True folk music, the original music, has always been sung when the earth’s grit sits on the tongue. With dry lips and parched throats.  And not just any dust and water but the elements of places of holy, familial and personal significance.  Places that we call home.

The country we now call Pakistan has been traversed, settled and cultivated from millennia.  Its rich soil and many rivers are birth to a culture that has been Hindu, Buddhist, Greek, Muslim and Sikh by turns, and often at the same time.  Pakistan is arguably that part of the culturally rich Indian sub-continent that has the most fertile folk music culture.   Folk music is not a cultural artefact but a living and flowing source of inspiration. Singers and itinerant musicians wander from fair (mela) to fair and shrine to shrine, where they entertain rural and urban audiences by playing simple instruments made of gourds, camel gut and clunky iron.  Their lyrics are built upon love stories and mystic poetry so old and organic they seem to have been around since the creation of the world.

The listeners, devout or not, know these stories which speak mainly of Love, both earthly and divine. In fact, it is almost always both at the same time, for who is your beloved but God himself?  The tales have been retold a thousand times a thousand times and yet are fresh and urgent. Their beauty, tragedy and ecstasy are as brilliantly experienced in the 21st century as they were in the 15th.

Music came to Pakistan with Islam.  Poets, preachers and mystics met the Hindu people with ideas that drew upon those they found in place. Shrines were set up near Hindu temples or sacred sites and in an atmosphere not too dissimilar to what can be experienced at country fairs even today, music and dancing spread the message of Love, Unity and Brotherhood.  The people of Sindh in particular have been brought up in a cultural atmosphere where saints, shrines, mythologies and rites are a common property, revered by Hindu and Muslim equally.

This is the music and spirit that is captured in this collection.  The songs are largely kalam (poems) of the Sufis but draw inspiration from folk tales and the natural world as well.  They are full of images rural audiences would fully understand. Like the Delta blues, this music reflects the deep soul of a people.

Some of the artists in Volume 2 are familiar and hugely popular not just in Pakistan but India and indeed, across the World.  A pre-teen Abida Parveen sings a kalam with Waheed Ali Khan a Sindhi favourite.  One of the most expressive vernacular voices ever to sing in Punjabi, Mohammad Tufail Niazi’s rendering of Sada Chiriyan da Chamba is likely to bring tears to your eyes. Shafqat Ali Khan’s Kis Tarah Aaeyga Qarar, is a ghazal in the kind of contemporary mode his millions of fans around the world have come to expect, classy and professional. And the Bengali nightingale Tina Sani turns in a stunning performance on a recent tour of Pakistan, her once-upon-a-time home.

But you’ll also find here unknown qawwals, and singers, known only to those within their community.  The elderly Balochi singer Jiji Zarina sings a Sindhi kalam and of course, the doyen of Sindhi classical singing Ustad Manzoor Ali Khan, is present with a classical sufi song Weendas Yar Mari.

It has been a great pleasure putting together this collection, which I hope you’ll enjoy and use to explore more of this deep soul music.

Deep soul v 2

Track Listing:

01 Jagga [Jutt Brothers]

02 Sada Chiryan da Chamba [Mohammad Tufail Niazi]

03 Sufi Kalam [Waheed Ali Khan and Abida Parveen]

04 Weendas Yar Mari [Ustad Manzoor Ali Khan]

05 Kis Tarah Aaeyga Qarar [Shafqat Ali Khan]

06 O Te Kade Na Dubde Ne [Unknown]

07 Mai ni main kinu akhan [Sain Zahoor]

08 Nawai Ney [Tina Sani]

09 Okhay Panday [Sain Zahoor]

10 Rehman Baba Kalam [Imran]

11 Hay O Rabba Nai Laghda Dil Mera [Reshma]

12 Aik Alif [Noori and Sain Zahoor]

13 Naam Balach Tai ushkay Naam e Bibi [Mir Ahmad Baloch]

14 Mu Khe wani wiye [Ustad Manzoor Ali Khan]

15 Jeay Latif [Waheed Ali Khan]

16 Shaikh Ayaz Kalam [Jiji Zarina Baloch]

17 Alif Allah Chambe Di Butee {Allah Hoo} [Sain Khawar]

18 Rabba Mere Haal Da Mehram {Shah Hussain} [Hamid Ali Bela]