I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

.....Of My Favorite Qawwali (So Far)


My "proper" introduction to Qawwali almost a year ago has, to put it mildly, changed my life. Going from the Sabri Brothers to Nusrat to the Qawwal Bacchon Ka Gharaana and Haji Mehboob Qawwal of Golra Sharif among many others; I've been exposed to some of the greatest music ever to come out of Pakistan. I can never, and I mean NEVER adequately express my gratitude to the friends of mine who introduced me "properly" to Qawwali.

Some artists, recordings, kalaams and compositions have naturally moved me more than others, and unless something truly earth-shaking comes my way, I've picked out my favorites and will probably stick with them for a long while.

In many ways, I've found Qawwali to be akin to jazz, mainly that it's a players', rather than a composer's art. The "songbook" is immense,with sources ranging from Arabic,Persian,Urdu,Brij bhaasha,Hindi, Punjabi and almost all sub-continental languages. The main difference between the performers is their unique melodic improvisation and the use of "girah" or "bandish" to expound the main theme of the piece they're singing. A person as lazy as me will never be able to explain all the sometimes minute variations that make each Qawwal unique, but I think if I let them speak for themselves, as it were, it'll be best.

 Right now, "Manam Mehve Jamaale Oo", a kalaam,of Hazrat Bu Ali Shah Qalandar, is probably my favorite kalaam in the Qawwali repertoire, and a lot of Qawwals have performed it in their own unique way. Below are three of my favorite versions by three of my favorite Qawwals. It'll be pretty clear how each Qawwal gives his own special "signature to the kalaam.

  First off is the version by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party, taken from the "Last Studio Recordings" release. It's ironic that while most of Nusrat's traditional Qawwali work (as opposed to his "commercial" releases) from the last decade of his life did not get the recording treatment it deserved, his very last recordings are a joy to listen to. The fidelity is brilliant, and Nusrat and his Hamnavaas are in a (sadly rare in his last days) brilliant groove. Nusrat changes the first verse from "Manam Mehve Jamale Oo" to "Manam Mehve Khayaale Oo", but otherwise it's a pretty faithful rendition. The behlaawas,sargams and taans, for which Nusrat was justly famous, are all here, making it a brilliant rendition.

Next is a version by Haji Mehboob Qawwal, the darbaari Qawwal of Golra Shareef. Haji sahab is probably in my top two favorite Qawwals. Nusrat once said about him," Girah main Haji sahab ke muqaable ka Qawwal is duniya main nahi hai."  Haji sahab did not record commercially, the precious little of his work that keeps trickling down to his admirers is from bootleg recordings made by the zaaireen at the Golra Shareef shrine who attended the daily morning Qawwali mehfils that are still regularly held there. His work can best be described as a "wa'az", a spiritual instruction imparted through the medium of Qawwali, and as you can hear, the girahs he inserts in the main kalaam act to expound and explain the subject at hand. In Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic and Persian; the variety of couplets that he recites throughout the qawwali serve to enlighten the listeners even if they can't understand the language of the main text.

  The recording on the playlist comes off as a revelation if you compare it with the original master recordings on cassette, the result of a painstaking and extremely ambitious conservation project started by some friends of mine who are admirers of Haji sahab's work. The task of cleaning up, digitizing, enhancing, cataloging and transcribing all of Haji Sahab's recorded work is an arduous task, but they've taken it up gladly and the results are astounding to say the least. To me, just the joy of being able to Haji Sahab playing the sitar in accompaniement to his Qawwalis is more than enough compensation for the hours and hours of work put in.
The final version of the kalaam is probably my favorite. Performed by Ustad Bahauddin Qawwal and Party in 1998, this concert recording perfectly embodies the elements that define the "Qawwal Bacchon Ka Gharaana"; the oldest and greatest pedigree of Qawwals. A beautiful arrangement, different from the previous two, adds a serenity and majesty to the kalaam that is absent from other versions. There are no girahs to speak of, no extra taans or behlaawas, and the sheer economy of the piece, along with Ustad Bahauddin's unique voice and his sons' vocal virtuosity brings out new meanings from the verses. The quality of the recording isn't exceptional, with the voices getting slightly screechy in the higher register, but still, it is brilliant.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

....Of One Final Meme

Found this here, one of my favorite film blogs.

Bold movies you have watched and liked.
Turn red movies you have watched and loved.
Italicize movies you saw and didn’t like.
Leave as is movies you haven’t seen.
Blue for movies you may or may not have seen but don’t care about one way or the other.
No other comments.

The Godfather (1972)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Casablanca (1942)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Star Wars (1977)
12 Angry Men (1957)
Rear Window (1954)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Goodfellas (1990)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
City of God (2002)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Psycho (1960)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Citizen Kane (1941)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
North by Northwest (1959)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Fight Club (1999)
Memento (2000)

Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
The Matrix (1999)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Se7en (1995)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
American Beauty (1999)

Vertigo (1958)
Amélie (2001)
The Departed (2006)
Paths of Glory (1957)
American History X (1998)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Chinatown (1974)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The Third Man (1949)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Alien (1979)
The Pianist (2002)
The Shining (1980)
Double Indemnity (1944)
L.A. Confidential (1997)

Leben der Anderen, Das [The Lives of Others] (2006)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Boot, Das (1981)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Forrest Gump (1994)

Metropolis (1927)
Aliens (1986)
Raging Bull (1980)
Rashomon (1950)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Rebecca (1940)
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Sin City (2005)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
All About Eve (1950)

Modern Times (1936)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The Seventh Seal (1957)
The Great Escape (1963)
Amadeus (1984)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Touch of Evil (1958)
The Elephant Man (1980)
The Prestige (2006)
Vita è bella, La [Life Is Beautiful] (1997)
Jaws (1975)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
The Sting (1973)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
The Apartment (1960)
City Lights (1931)
Braveheart (1995)

Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Batman Begins (2005)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Blade Runner (1982)
The Great Dictator (1940)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Notorious (1946)
Salaire de la peur, Le [The Wages of Fear](1953)
High Noon (1952)
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
Fargo (1996)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Unforgiven (1992)
Back to the Future (1985)

Ran (1985)
Oldboy (2003)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Donnie Darko (2001)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
The Green Mile (1999)

Annie Hall (1977)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Gladiator (2000)
The Sixth Sense (1999)

Diaboliques, Les [The Devils] (1955)
Ben-Hur (1959)
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Life of Brian (1979)
Die Hard (1988)
The General (1927)
American Gangster (2007)
Platoon (1986)
V for Vendetta (2005)
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
The Graduate (1967)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Crash (2004/I)
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Heat (1995)
Gandhi (1982)
Harvey (1950)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The African Queen (1951)
Stand by Me (1986)
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Conversation (1974)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Wo hu cang long [Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ] (2000)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Cabinet des Dr. Caligari., Das [The Cabinet of Dr Caligari] (1920)
The Thing (1982)
Groundhog Day (1993)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Sleuth (1972)
Patton (1970)
Toy Story (1995)
Glory (1989)
Out of the Past (1947)
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Ed Wood (1994)
Spartacus (1960)
The Terminator (1984)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Exorcist (1973)
Frankenstein (1931)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
The Hustler (1961)
Toy Story 2 (1999)
The Lion King (1994)
Big Fish (2003)
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Young Frankenstein (1974)

Magnolia (1999)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
In Cold Blood (1967)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Dial M for Murder (1954)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Roman Holiday (1953)
A Christmas Story (1983)
Casino (1995)
Manhattan (1979)
Ying xiong [Hero] (2002)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Rope (1948)
Cinderella Man (2005)
The Searchers (1956)
Finding Neverland (2004)
Inherit the Wind (1960)
His Girl Friday (1940)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

So, there you have it. I would've commented and clarified, but as the rules say, no further comments.