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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A (Genuinely) Rare Treasure: Links to Music Pakistan box set

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In 2006 the semi-government private Pakistani company Shalimar Recording Company issued a boxset of 57 compact discs titled simply Music Pakistan.  Not marketed very well, if at all, it soon disappeared from view without making much of a ripple.   More the pity because this hefty chunk of digitised music is a massive contribution to the documentation and preservation of global musics.

Pakistan embodies a contradictory position as far as music goes.  It’s many regions, language groups and cultures are the source of some of the most profound and rich folk traditions on the planet.  And not just folk.  Pakistani classical musicians, though less well known than their Indian counterparts, are among the best in South Asia’s gharana-based music. And yet, the official music industry (which includes private companies, government and private broadcasters and government policy-makers) of Pakistan has demonstrated only the most cursory interest in preserving and promoting this unique heritage.

A commercial bias toward film music and passive aggressive stance towards classical music which was often dismissed as too much influenced by Hindu cultural antecedents was almost completely ignored. Folk music, always popular outside middle class living rooms, was left to its own devices, thriving or shrivelling depending on circumstances and shifting audiences.

Institutions like Lok Virsa Folk Heritage Institute in Islamabad tried heroically to bring to folk artists and their music to a national and international audience but always struggled to cope with  restrictive budgets, internal politics and a gargantuan task.  In the past decade or so private citizens have made fantastic contributions to reviving classical music by providing venues, events and recording opportunities for the elders as well as a small handful of up-and-comers. The work of Tehzeeb Foundation has been recognised for its quality not just among Pakistani music circles but on the international stage as well. And of course, the efforts of Sachal Studios and the TV hit show Coke Studio to resurrect the careers of Lahore film studio musicians and make folk music palatable to the Millennial Generation respectively are other high points in the revival of interest in Pakistan’s musical heritage.

But so much remains forgotten, undiscovered or simply ignored. The vaults of Pakistan TV and Radio,  recording companies EMI and Polydor not to mention private collections and archives controlled by various provincial governments  are surely bursting with hours and hours of wonderful music. Will it ever be released? My advice is, do not hold your breath.

Within this context then the Music Pakistan Boxset assumes huge significance.  Taken from the vaults of Radio Pakistan, the music on this vast collection covers classical, folk, spiritual (Sufiana), light classical and film music.  With some recordings stretching back to pre-Independence its focus is clearly on the 50s-80s.  Recent pop music, film music beyond Noor Jehan’s singing, qawwali and music from the smaller ethnic groups are sadly not even touched.   Documentation on individual artists is very minimal, the art work lack lustre and information about the tracks (in some instances) less than accurate and inconsistent.

But production values aside the history that is captured in these performances is simply and without exaggeration priceless.  In certain cases, the recordings are extremely rare.  For anyone with an interest at all in Punjabi, Pakistani, Sindhi, South Asian folk and classical music this collection is absolutely indispensable.  One particularly pleasing element of Music Pakistan is the large place given to female singers including: Zahida Parveen, Farida Khanum, Kajjan Begum, Mehnaz, Noor Jehan, Samar Iqbal, Iqbal Bano, Khurshid Begum, Mussarat Nazir and others.    Among the rare recordings are some early post-Independence performances by Ustad Bundoo Khan (sarangi) and Nazakhat and Salamat Ali Khan as young boys.

Sadly, some of the CDs (such as the Nazakhat/Salamat one referred to above) were poorly produced and unplayable! That frustrating inattention to quality and details that characterises bureaucracies with little interest in the work they are charged to carry out!

I was given a copy of the box set soon after it was released by a dear friend and over several years and several blogs have shared them with the wider world.  Throughout this process I have never once felt guilty about doing so, rather have viewed my efforts as altruistic: promoting and keeping alive a rich and diverse tradition of folk and classical music.  You might be able to find some of these CDs elsewhere on the internet but you’re unlikely to find so many in one place.  And while there are outlets that claim they will sell you the full boxset, I’ve not yet found place that actually will.  You will receive either an ‘Out of Stock’ message or be met with total silence.

Of the 57 original CDs I’ve managed to digitise 46.  I’ve made a 47th out of several stray tracks from original CDs that were poorly produced.  Sadly, that leaves 10 of the original, including ghazals by Barkat Ali Khan, light classical performances by Amanat Ali Kasuri and several others by artists I’ve lost track of.  [Confession: it took me a couple years before I understood exactly what I held in my hands and in that time I tossed out CDs that didn’t work! Fool that I am!]

I am trying, through my contacts to get hold of the outstanding 10 CDs and of course will share them if and when I do. But again: do not hold your breath.

Rather than lament on what is missing I invite you to drink deeply of what IS available.

Here are links to all 47 plus 1 CDs.

I have given each a serial number that does NOT correspond to the original.  That is for personal reasons of no particular consequence.  Simply my way of keeping track of this vast and amazing collection.

  1. Ustad Umeed Ali Khan [Raga Kafi Kannada and Raga Emen]
  2. Mohammad Tufail Niazi [Punjabi Folk Songs]
  3. Salamat Ali [Urdu Ghazals]
  4. Ustad Mohammad Sharif Poonchwaley [Classical Sitar] Vol. 1
  5. Sadiq Ali Khan Mando and Master Sohni Khan [Classical Clarinet]
  6. Roshan Ara Begum [Raga Mian ki Malhar, Raga Neki Kannara and Raga Maru Sarang]
  7. Mai Bhaggi [Thar Folk Songs]
  8. Ustad Amanat Ali Khan [Urdu Ghazals]
  9. Ustad Nathoo Khan [Classical Sarangi]
  10. Hamid Ali Bela [Punjabi Sufi Kalam]
  11. Alam Lohar [Punjabi Folk Songs]
  12. Ustad Nazakhat Ali Khan and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan [Raga Abhogi Kanhra and Raga Kamod]
  13. Ustad Bundoo Khan [Classical Sarangi]
  14. Musarrat Nazir [Punjabi Folk and Pop]
  15. Noor Jehan [Film Hits Vol. 1] and [Vol. 2]
  16. Saeen Ditta Qadri [Classical Flute/Bansuri]
  17. Ijaz Hussain Hazarvi [Punjabi Ghazals]
  18. Farida Khanum [Urdu Ghazals Vol. 1]
  19. Farida Khanum [Urdu Ghazals Vol. 2]
  20. Mukhtar Begum [Ghazals, Dadra and Thumri]
  21. Saeen Marna and Munir Sarhady [Iktara and Sarinda]
  22. Mohammad Jumman and Allan Faqir [Punjabi Folk]
  23. Reshma [Thar Folk Songs]
  24. Ustad Munawar Ali Khan [Classical Vocal]
  25. Iqbal Bano [Thumris]
  26. Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and Ustad Fateh Ali Khan [Raga Bageshri, Raga Multani, Raga Gujri Todi and Raga Pooria]
  27. Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and Ustad Fateh Ali Khan [Raga Des, Raga Barbari, Raga Megh, Raga Malkauns and Raga Kedara]
  28. Iqbal Bano [Urdu Ghazals Vol.1]
  29. Iqbal Bano [Urdu Ghazals Vol.2]
  30. Abida Parveen [Sufi Kalam]
  31. Pathane Khan [Punjabi Sufi Kalam]
  32. Ustad Mohammad Sharif Khan Poonchwaley [Classical Sitar Vol. 2]
  33. Faiz Mohammad Baloch [Balochi Folk Songs]
  34. Mehnaz and Kajjan Begum [Folk Songs]
  35. Suriaya Multanikar [Punjabi Folk Songs]
  36. Kheyal Mohammad [Pashto Folk Songs]
  37. Ustad Misri Khan Jamali [Alghoza Folk]
  38. Hamid Ali Khan [Urdu Ghazals]
  39. Ghulam Ali [Urdu Ghazals Vol. 1]
  40. Ghulam Ali [Urdu Ghazals Vol.2]
  41. Mehnaz Begum [Urdu Ghazals]
  42. Mehdi Hassan [Urdu Ghazals Vol. 1]
  43. Mehdi Hassan [Urdu Ghazals Vol.2]
  44. Ustad Habib Ali Khan [Classical Been]
  45. Various Artists [Folk Sampler]
  46. Zahida Parveen [Sufi Kalam]
  47. Miscellany [Ustad Amanat Ali Khan Kasuri; Roshan Ara Begum; Bashir Ali Mahi]
  48. Ustad Barkat Ali Khan [Urdu Ghazals]
  49. Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan [Classical Tabla]
  50. Various Artists [Classical & Light Classical Vocal]
  51. Bashir Ali Mahi [Light Classical Vocal/ thumri]
  52. Various Artists [Rare Classical Recordings]
  53. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan [Classical Vocal]
  54. Ustad Nazakhat Ali Khan and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan [Classical Vocal]
  55. Roshanara Begum [Classical Vocal]
  56. Various Artists [Classical Vocal]

 

NOTE: AS AND WHEN THE 10 MISSING DISCS ARE DISCOVERED THEY WILL BE ADDED TO THIS LIST. IF ANYONE IS ABLE TO TRACE ANY OF THEM PLEASE LET ME KNOW.

Progressing the Tradition: Rafiki Jazz

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Rafiki Jazz, from Sheffield in the UK confounds easy categorization. The band which includes musicians from the Senegalese and South Asian diasporas as well as British and refugee musicians has been called ‘the most diverse band in the UK’. The group’s website claims the band plays ‘jazz world’ music.

 

The jazz reference in their name continues a long tradition of African bands using the word: Bembeya Jazz National, TPOK Jazz, Dar es Salaam Jazz and Morogoro Jazz.  Of course, the music these and countless other ‘jazz’ bands played while improvisational to some extent and solo-friendly sounded nothing like the American original.  The African sounds were free wheeling and danceable with guitars being the primary heroes of the stage.

 

Rafiki Jazz draws deep on Africa for much of its sound which again bears little resemblance to the iconic bands named above. High in the mix is a powerful strain of Sufi music and Indian sangeet. Indeed, though the band’s name is African/Middle Eastern (rafiki=friends) most of the tracks make you think this is a subcontinental band, especially as the title Har Dam Sahara is emblazoned in Urdu on the cover.

 

This is an album full of wonderful sounds, pauses and instruments. Definitely a couple listens are required to start to an appreciation for the many jewels contained within. But I highly recommend this to friends of this blog even if it doesn’t technically qualify as South Asian.

 

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Track Listing:

  1. Sunno
  2. Saya
  3. Tasbih
  4. You Are Light
  5. Har Chand Sahara
  6. Jhooli Lal Qalandar
  7. Cheikh Amadou Bamba

RAFIKIJAZZ

Field Recordings: Sufi Songs from Sindh and Punjab

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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

Sunday Sufiana Mix

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Mussoorie Sunset

Sunday evenings are reflective occasions. A come down before the buildup begins once again. This feeling, which has both comforting and depressing aspects, goes way back for me. To a time when I was 9 or 10 and a schoolboy in the foothills of the Himalayas. The thick golden rays that filled the valleys and filtered through the trees were undoubtedly beautiful. But with them came a feeling of absolute loneliness. I realized in some unconscious way that I was entirely on my own.

Of all the types of music I enjoy, sufiana music (the music of the Sufis), is best suited to deal with the soul-ache that accompanies this time of the week. Probably because it is the music of the solitary person reaching out to the Invisible reality. As a boy I didn’t understand that what I was experiencing was a spiritual longing. The only problem was I had no way yet to find the Unseen and so I felt only the sadness.

Strictly speaking, this collection is not entirely sufi music. I’ve included spiritual songs from the Hindu and Sikh traditions as well but those are merely labels. Every track is a cry from the heart of man for God.

This a special collection. You will, of course, know a few of these artists but for the most part this is hard to find, rare music made by singers and musicians with mainly local reputations and followings. Most are traditional musicians or musicians who perform as part of their religious practice. Stand out tracks abound. In fact, every single one is a ‘cracker’. But my favorites are the opening qawwali (#1), Subuhanallah (#6) by Sindh’s Mohammad Ibrahim and the nirgun song from the Malwa region of central India (#7) sung by Sundar Lal Malwi.

Peace.

Track Listing:

01 Qawwali Of Amir Khusrou [Bahauddin Qutbuddin Qawwal & Party]

02 Mein Bhi Jaanaan (Shah Hussain)[Mohammad Tufail Niazi]

03 Unki jataan pind khech jo [Ustad Manzoor Ali Khan]

04 Piya Ghar Aaya [Ustad Shujaat Hussain Khan]

05 Laali mori re (Sufi Sindhi) [Sikander & Sufi Sindhi Artists]

06 Subuhanallah [Mohammad Ibrahim]

07 Lere Naam Lere Naam [Sundar Lal Malwi]

08 Lehra (Sufi Dhadi) [Sharif Idu and Group]

09 Ali Mullah (Feat. Transglobal Underground And Natacha Atlas) [Musafir]

10 Asaan Ishq Namaz [Muhammad Jumman]

11 Allah Sain [Attaulah Khan Niazi ‘Issakhelvi’]

12 Justaju [Anandmurti Gurumaa]

14 Naam Bina Mati [Amreek Singh Zakhmi]

15 Sajjan De Hath [Abida Parveen]

Sufiana