There is no single greatest singer of qawwalis, the ancient Sufi songs that have become central to popular religion and popular music in Pakistan. But if there were, his name would be Khan. He inherits a family tradition of qawwali singing going back several centuries, and in live performances like this concert he can be emotionally devastating.
On Wednesday, May 14, 20140
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, internationally recognized for his mastery of a form of Islamic devotional music known as qawwali (pronounced kah-wah-lee), first gained significant attention in the United States in 1989 when he performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival. Prior to that, the Sabri Brothers had been the United States' significant import of traditional Pakistani music, appearing in the United States during the mid-1970s. Three years after Khan's first U.S. appearance, the singer would spend a year as artist in residence at the University of Washington's music department.
New York Times music critic Jon Pareles places qawwali in an ecstatic musical tradition alongside American gospel, Moroccan joujouka, and even techno music, which tends to create emotional highs through simple melodies and driving beats, gathering "intensity through repetition and improvisational flights." Qawwali is believed to have originated among the Chisti order of Sufis in the tenth century.
Khan's large, almost Buddha-esque body often moves in rapid motion to his music's emotional peaks; his hands jab outward, brushing, as if carving the images of divine spirit from the air. His rapt audience--at least those of Pakistani background, who comprise the greater portion of his listeners--follows with fevered shouts and dancing, afterwards gathering below the stage to shower their beloved singer with money and flowers. Khan seems to almost goad his listeners into musical intoxication, pleading in fierce cries, imitating the rhythmic insistence of the drums, and calling back and forth with other singers in his "party," the favored term for the other singers (qawwalis) and instrumentalists who sit in a group on the stage with the lead qawwal.
The World Music Institute, located in New York City, has been a chief promoter of Khan's work in the West, along with many other important nonwestern folk and classical musicians. For example, in 1993 Khan opened and closed a five-hour "Masters of India and Pakistan" concert that featured music of his region, Hindustani, as well as the work of performers from southern Pakisan.
Khan was born in 1948 in the Punjab province of Pakistan, in the town of Lyallpur--during Pakistan's 1979 decolonization, its name was changed to Faisalbad. As a young qawwal, Khan learned his art in the traditional manner, through his family. His father, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, as well as his uncles, were qawwalis, and they trained Khan in the family tradition of singing in a high register. Khan also received instruction on the tabla, a small hand drum.
sing through the whole day or night in religious celebration. "When I had the stamina, I'd sing for 10 hours," he once recalled. But, by age 45, the singer found himself limited to sessions of three or four hours. These shrines, or dargahs, are generally the tombs-- symbolic or otherwise--of saints where the faithful enter musically induced, trance-like states allowing communion with God. Traditionally, qawwalis sat opposite the saint's tomb. In the intervening space would be the audience in a circle formation, and in its center a spiritual leader surrounded by prominent devotees. Such sites are the true home of qawwali, although the music has also been performed at important events such as weddings feasts.
In his introduction to the program for Khan's 1993 World Music Institute performance, Robert Browning wrote, "The qawwal will dwell on certain words ... creating great depth in the apparently simple language of certain Sufi texts. He will often repeat a phrase or sentence indicating both the obvious and hidden content by emphasizing or ruminating upon particular words and syllables ... [so that, for example] a spinning wheel becomes the wheel of life." Qawwali texts are most commonly medieval Persian Sufi poetry, and Khan, like other qawwalis, learns each poem by heart. Although the verses are available in books, it is the manner of performing each text that must be learned from another qawwal. Thus, the music is basically an oral tradition.
Browning stated that "rarely is a complete poem recited--rather the singer will join segments from different poems or add lines from another text." This free association from memorized poems is done to emphasize a certain meaning, or to try a new direction in the effort to move the audience to spiritual awakening. The qawwal must exhibit great sensitivity in noting when a listener is moved to divine ecstasy, and must repeat the same phrase over and over; according to Sufi belief, interruption would threaten the ecstatic with death.
Often, qawwali poetry's apparent subject is romantic love, or even wine intoxication--though liquor is shunned by Islam. These are symbolic subjects, however: romantic love serves as an allegory and facet of divine love, while intoxication refers to the joyous trance induced by qawwali. The oft mentioned "tavern," as in the famous Persian poem "In the Tavern of Ruin," refers to one's spiritual master who houses God's love.
The melodic sources for performing qawwali poems are usually set by trdition. The tunes are North Indian in nature, meaning the octave has seven degrees and the various scales come from light classical ragas. Ragas are a traditional form of Hindu music, calling for improvisation on a theme evoking religious belief, the improvisation generally following prescribed patterns and progressions. Modern qawwali represents a spectrum of influences and geographic territories.
Generally associated with the Sufi religion, qawwali also has Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim followers. Currently, Urdu is the music's "first language," as Ken Hunt noted in his profile of Khan for Folk Roots. However, qawwalis also sing in Hindi, Sindhi, Punjabi, and classical Persian, not to mention local tongues. The literary sources of qawwali range too, though texts are chiefly medieval Persian Sufi poetry. The program for Khan's 1993 tour included, for example, a thirteenth-century Persian poem by the famed Amir Khusrau.
In his article for Folk Roots, Hunt described the scowl that comes over Khan's face when discussing the depiction of qawwali in films. For several years a debased form of qawwali has formed the soundtrack of many movies generated by a prolific Indian film industry. Khan understandably decries this long-standing commercialization of a sacred art form.
Yet, as an artist himself, Khan has embraced nontraditional elements since his 1989 U.S. visit. Western instruments and such big-name musicians as Jan Garbarek and Peter Gabriel have strongly influenced Khan's output in recent years. This Western flavor is evident in the singer's recording Mustt Mustt and numerous remixes, including those by Bally Sagoo in Magic Touch.
Khan defends such breaks with tradition as "experiments" and seems to feel that attracting an audience is important to make people aware of qawwali. The pressures on this revered singer to widen his audience echo those placed on performers of any type of traditional folk music. The artist is pulled in two directions: As a traditionalist, he is entrusted with preserving the music's form, and yet as a musician, he feels the need to discover new forms of self-expression. Noting that many qawwalis have abandoned shrine performance for financial reasons, Khan has expressed that he cannot forego his spiritual and personal links to such sites. Each year, he returns to perform at two dargahs, one in Lahore and one in Pak Patan.
Khan has made numerous recordings over the years, with titles now numbering more than 100. While his works of the early 1990s disappoint some fans of the traditional sound who find in the modern output a weakening of musical and spiritual integrity, such early classical recordings as En Concert a Paris and Traditional Sufi Qawwalis Volumes 1 and 2 form a timeless buffer against loss of the past.
Youssou N'Dour is a Senegalese singer who documents the intersection of the past and the present, so it is no surprise that there is a parable in every song on Wommat (The Guide). The record is propelled by talking drums, a horn section and guitar and bass polyrhythms that will sound familiar to fans of South African township music (or Paul Simon's masterpiece Graceland), and N'Dour's distinctive voice (in Wolof and French, with a smattering of English) is captivating. Unfortunately, The Guide is overproduced and seldom lives up to the promise of "7 Seconds," the vaguely menacing duet with Neneh Cherry. Buy it to hear N'Dour's voice soar through the history and lessons of The Guide.
Youssou N'Dour, a superstar at home in Senegal and in most of Africa, possesses an astonishingly strong and supple high-tenor voice, and he writes tuneful, insightful songs about his fellow West Africans' transition from isolated rural villages to cosmopolitan big cities. The Guide (Wommat) includes several calculated enticements to lure an Anglo-American audience: a bilingual duet with hip-hop star Neneh Cherry on "Seven Seconds," a guest appearance by saxophonist Branford Marsalis on "Without a Smile," and a bilingual version of Bob Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom." The Marsalis and Dylan experiments work, while the Cherry one doesn't, but they're superfluous to the main focus of the album, which is N'Dour's shift from a bandleader to a singer-songwriter with a backing band. The infectious mbalax rhythms of Senegal are still there, but they're pushed down in the mix so the focus is on N'Dour's vocals. There are some missteps, like the simple-minded cheerleading of "Tourista" and "Love One Another," but for the most part N'Dour comes across as the Stevie Wonder of West Africa.
02. Old Man
03. Without A Smile
04. Mame Bamba Youssou N'Dour
05. 7 Seconds (Duet With Neneh Cherry)
06. How You Are
07. Generations (Diamono)
09. Undecided (Japoulo)
10. Love One Another
12. My People
13. Oh Boy
15. Chimes Of Freedom
On Thursday, May 01, 20140
Djmachid Chemirani learnt to play in Iran with the great zarb master, Hossein Teherani, whose revolutionary work changed the zarb from an accompaniment to a solo instrument. Recognised himself as a master of the classical school, Djamchid Chemirani was also seen as a modernist, open to new ideas and styles.
The classical Persian drum, the Zarb, originated in northern Iran, before travelling across Africa and Asia where it became popular with musicians from Turkey, Eastern Europe and North Africa. One of the Middle East's major instruments of percussion, it is also considered a melodic instrument, since it's played the fingers rather than the palm of the hand. With as many notes as a piano, the combinations between melody and rhythm are limitless.
Djmachid Chemirani learnt to play in Iran with the great zarb master, Hossein Teherani, whose revolutionary work changed the zarb from an accompaniment to a solo instrument. Recognised himself as a master of the classical school, Djamchid Chemirani was also seen as a modernist, open to new ideas and styles. When he decided to leave Iran and move to France, he was already one of the only two living zarb masters in the world. Not only a great musician but also a devoted teacher, Djamchid''s most promising and inspiring pupils were none other than his two sons, Keyvan and Bijan. This new generation would broaden their scope to include other Middle-Eastern frame drums such as the Daf, Bandir and Udu. In 1999, Djmachid decided that his sons'' skills were sufficient for them to turn professional. They founded the Chemirani Zarb Trio and have been entertaining delighted audiences at their concerts ever since.
1. Saint Maime I
2. Molla Nasr'din
3. Saint Maime II
On Monday, April 28, 20140
After the terrible loss of this wonderful singer, is great to know that she left many songs recorded. Is weird but I have to say that this is maybe her best album ever. Her voice always sweet and powerfull and the selection starting with the sad and encouraging "Sentimento" will make you fly away to a bar in Mindelo and you will not stop listening and enjoying deep in your soul the best of the music from Cabo Verde. I wish there is more to be released...
You will love it if you love Cesaria. Songs are as smooth as they can be. Went to the top of my favorites list
On Friday, April 25, 20140
Chamber Music is a collaboration between Ballake Sissoko, who plays the traditional kora, a lute-harp from Mali, and Vincent Segal, the French cellist who plays for the trip-hop band Bumcello. It is also, quite simply, one of the most elegant and beautiful recordings of world music in recent years. At a time when cross-cultural music has tended toward highly-caffeinated electric pop and dance music, Sissoke and Segal remind us that there is room and maybe even a need for a quieter, more refined world music. Both musicians have displayed an aptitude for defying expectations the list of trip-hop cellists is pretty short, after all. And Ballake Sissoko has become a familiar name on the world music scene through his work with American blues legend Taj Mahal and Italian minimalist Ludovico Einaudi, among others. But perhaps the combination of kora and cello works so well because there are no expectations for it. The collaboration grew out of a personal friendship, and at no point was there an attempt to produce a record that would be slick and hip and commercial. Yet it has become one of Europe's most buzzed-about worldmusic recordings in the past year. Chamber Music was recorded in the Moffou Studio, founded by the great Malian singer Salif Keita to provide a world-class environment for musicians wishing to record acoustic, perhaps even authentic,African music. (Keita's own acoustic album, Moffou, was recorded there.) The cello, of course, is not a traditional African instrument. But Chamber Music, in its depth of feeling and variety of moods, is authentically African. The kora may not appear in the duos, trios, or quartets of Beethoven, Schumann, or Brahms; but the obvious musical and personal connection between Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal also marks this as an authentic, if original, type of chamber music.
This collaboration speaks volumes about how artists can find common ground from separate cultures and the world can benefit. This work draws exclusively from the African compositions but the cello is presented in a way that is both totally consistent with the African melodies yet with its own voice. For example, in Mako Mady the two instruments complement each other in notation and tonal qualities. They and the performers all just seem perfectly matched. Other cuts make for more disparate interaction, but still complementing each other perfectly. And the performers play as though they had been together for years, certainly a tribute to their own musical insights and skills. This may simply be the most appealing "fusion" music undertaking in the last decade, whether in "world" music or elsewhere. One can only hope that these marvelously sensitive artists continue their collaboration.
1. Chamber Music
4. Wo Yé N'gnougobine
5. Histoire de Molly
6. "Ma-Ma" FC
7. Regret - à Kader Barry
8. Halinkata Djoubé
10. Mako Mady
On Wednesday, April 23, 20140
Every once in a while, a piece of unexpected beauty comes along. This album by the singer from Vas is just such a thing, mixing Sephardic and Arabic songs with medieval songs from France, Galicia, and beyond. While the idea might sound pretentious, the end product is delicate, heartfelt, and enduring. It could easily have fallen into the new age trap (and the atmospheric keyboard that opens "La Serena" seems to flirt briefly with it), but the playing and singing here are too real and emotional. Nor does it come close to Loreena McKennitt's fake Celtic; this is very carefully researched and thought-out. Ali has a gorgeous voice, the justifiable centerpiece of the record, but partner Greg Ellis offers strong, subtle support and the oud playing of Naser Musa is an eloquent joy throughout. Made for love -- no one is going to call this material wildly commercial -- it's a disc to return to time and again. A joy that manages to be both spiritual and earthy at the same time.
1. Lasse Pour Quoi
2. La Serena
3. Breton Medley
4. O Felix
5. Ben Pode Santa Maria
6. O Quanta Qualia
8. Aj Ondas
9. A Chantar M'er
11. El Rey De Francia
On Tuesday, April 22, 20140
"Ali makes music seem so effortless, so much so that it's becoming harder and harder to distinguish between her person and the music that she creates. Another beauty from a woman fully deserving of that adjective." -- Derek Beres reviewing From Night To the Edge of Day in The Huffington Post
From Night to the Edge of Day is the latest effort by Persian singer/songwriter Azam Ali who is well known for her work with Niyaz and Vas as well as a solo artist. From Night to the Edge of Day is a collection of Turkish lullabies some of which were written specifically for Azama and her son. The music is exquisite with its gentle acoustic melodies and Azam's hynoptic vocals. The music has a nice calming effect on me after a long day at the office
1. Noor (The Light In My Eyes)
3. Nami Nami
4. Neni Desem
6. Mehman (The Guest)
9. Lai Lai
10. Faith (Reprise)
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