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 .

Sunday, October 23, 2011

...Of The Shattered Soul And The Lifeless Heart

Five of my favorite versions of one of my favorite Na'ats by one of my favorite Farsi poets, performed by some of my favorite Qawwals.....



Tanam Farsooda Jaanpara
Ze Hijraan Ya Rasul Allah

Dilam Paz Murda Aawara
Ze Isyaan, Ya Rasul Allah

My body is fragmenting, disintegrating in your separation
My soul lies shattered. Ya Rasul Allah!
Due to my sins, My heart has become lifeless and inconsolable. Ya Rasul Allah!


Choon Soo'e Mun Guzar Aari
Manne Miskeen Ze Nadaari.

Fida-E-Naqsh-E-Nalainat
Kunam Jaan. Ya Rasul Allah!



If you pass in my direction, In my wretched poverty,
I shall sacrifice my soul on your blessed sandals. Ya Rasul Allah!

Ze Jaame Hubbe To Mustam
Ba Zanjeere To Dil Bustam

Nu'mi Goyam Ke Mun Hustam
Sukhandaan. Ya Rasul Allah

I am intoxicated by the nectar of your love
And the chain of your love binds my heart.
Yet I cannot put my feelings into words. Ya Rasul Allah


Ze Kardaan Khaish Hairaanam
Siyah Shud Roo Ze Isyaanam

Pashemaanam, Pashemaanam, Pashemaanam. 
Ya Rasul Allah

I've tormented myself, my sinfulness frightens me;
And my sins have darkened my countenance.

I am in distress! I am in distress! I am in distress! Ya Rasul Allah!

Choon Baazoo'e Shafaa'at Raa
Kushaa'i Bar Gunehgaaran

Makun Mahruume Jaami Raa
Daraa Aan. Ya Rasul Allah

When you spread your benevolent arms to intercede for the sinners,
Do not deprive Jaami of your exalted intercession.


(Maulana Abdurrehman Jami )


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Manzoor Ahmed Niazi - Abdullah Manzoor Niazi Qawwal perform 'Tanam Farsooda Jaanpara' at Baba Saheb, Pakpattan. Recorded in the late eighties, this performance is taken from a rather worn-down cassette tape, hence the shaky audio.

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The second recording of this kalam is taken from one of my favorite Qawwali albums, "Jami" by Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri, released by Piranha records. (a must-have album if ever there was one). Of special note is the spirited Sazeena that precedes the kalaam.




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Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan performs the kalaam in Raag Mishra Kafi from the wonderful album titled "Sufi Qawwalis. With a prolonged, beautiful sazeena and preceded by the choicest of Farsi verses, this is one version to be enjoyed for it's mellow, slowly building mood.




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Ustads Fateh Ali Khan-Mubarak Ali Khan sang many versions of this kalaam - I have versions ranging from 6 minutes to 76 minutes - but this one is my favorite. Beginning madhyalay (mid-tempo), with Sarangi and Shehnai in the background, the two Ustads (a title they deserved in every sense of the word) explore and embellish the nuances of the kalaam as the tempo slowly builds to a crescendo.


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The wistful melancholy and intense love expressed in Jami's Kalam is most perfectly conveyed in this version by Haji Mehboob Ali Qawwal, the final one in this series of recordings. In an arrangement different from all other Qawwals, Haji Sahab's Sitar and voice express the longing, the pain of separation and the desire for 'benevolent intercession' so brilliantly that this is probably my favorite version of the kalaam. The slight lilt in the Ya Rasool Allah's  and the second metre of each couplet's first verse completely slay me.



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(Note To Self : Quit using the word 'favorite' so often.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

...In Memory Of Jagjit Singh

Jagjit Singh passed away earlier today. I had known of his unfortunate stroke from the news and was hoping against hope for a recovery but it was not to be. This time, it did not take the news days to filter through to me in my remote location. It was my father who texted me, 'Sad news, Jagjit Singh has passed away'. Which I thought was rather apt, considering it was my father who had first introduced me to the man whose music would play such an important role in what were the formative years of my life. 

A lot of who I am today, what I watch/read/listen to/like goes back to the long drives in the family car and especially the car stereo. Faiz and Iqbal Bano, Nasir Kazmi and Noorjehan, Faraz and Fareeda Khanum, Rafi and Lata, Nusrat and Pathanay khan, all were first introduced to me on one roadtrip or another, always with me straining my ears to catch the music and then piping up from the backseat, 'Abbu, please volume ooncha kar dain.'

For as long as I can remember, we have always, ALWAYS had a Jagjit Singh tape in the car. I think we still have one of his earliest tapes somewhere in the house, the one with the desert backdrop and a smiling photo. That was the first tape I know that remained on constant rotation in the tape deck, and for good reason. The ghazals were good, the arrangements were good and the voices of Jagjit and Chitra singh were perfectly complimentary. I still remember one of my favorite ghazals which went ...

Uss morr se shuru karain phir ab yeh zindagi
Har shae jahan haseen thi, hum tum the ajnabi

...and another of his very famous ghazals,


Tum itna jo muskura rahi ho
Kya ghum hai jis ko chupa rahi ho

I instantly fell in love with those ghazals. There was something in Jagjit's style that waas immensely appealing to me at an early age. Or perhaps it was his style, with the smooth, light baritone voice, the unhurried, unencumbered adayegi, the simple and melodious arrangements and the choice of ghazals - ghazals in small to medium 'beher' with a natural 'naghmagi' - that were so universally appealing that they even caught the ears of a small child like me. We listened to those tapes over and over and as was my habit, I memorized them all and began belting them out to whoever would listen, which reminds me of a rather embarrassing incident from my childhood.


Apart from the usual music tapes that were scattered about our house, there was one rather odd specimen. When I was very little, around 5 or 6, I had a tooth extracted and as a reward, my parents bought me a tape with dramatized readings of two children's stories. 'Cassette Kahani' it was called, with 'Bahadur Raju' on Side A and 'Jinnon ki Basti' on Side B. Me and my kid brother would listen to them non-stop, memorizing the dialogues, mimicking the sound effects and laughing our heads off at the silliness of it all, riffing on them in a childhood version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. One day we decided to immortalize these adlibbed riffs on a tape of our own. We found one, didn't bother rewinding or forwarding it to see if it was blank or not, and started off. We'd start with a story, stop after 5 minutes when we were both tired from all the laughing, then I'd sing a Jagjit Singh ghazal and we'd start again. After we'd recorded 40 minutes of this, we flipped the cassette over and it was then that we discovered that it was a Jagjit-Chitra tape we'd been recording over, and one of mum and dad's favorites. Scared and embarrassed, we immediately hid it in the tape cabinet and bolted. Some weeks later while on one of our innumerable roadtrips, Jagit was playing on the stereo as usual and us kids were snoozing in the backseat when suddenly, the car was rocked by sounds of the loudest, shriekiest laughter ever heard. Me and my brother woke up, bolt upright as we realized that our magnum opus had somehow found it's way into the car stereo. Our parents were initially too stunned to realize that their favorite tape had been desecrated beyond repair, but they soon got over it, pulled the car over and proceeded to give me and my brother one of the Gawdalmightiest tonguelashings we've ever recieved, the gist of which was "You never mess with a Jagjit Singh tape, NEVER!!"


By the time I'd gotten a few years older, we got Jagjit and Chitra's famous 'Ghalib' album - the one they'd done to soundtrack Gulzar's landmark TV series about the famous poet. To say that that album was a watershed is an understatement. Jagjit and Chitra Singh made Ghalib - arguably the most important Urdu poet of all time - at once accessible, enjoyable and eminently understandable. The kalam was rendered with modern sensibilities, melodiously, with perfect talaffuz and complete 'ehteraam' in a manner that made it universally appealing. We used to listen to it constantly, discuss the meanings of various verses, comparing and contrasting with other poets and in the process being introduced to one of the wellsprings of Urdu literature. It was a service to the Urdu speaking world that will long be remembered and appreciated. Sometime later another favorite of mine, Jagjit Singh's collaboration with Gulzar, 'Marasim' came out. Again, the kalam was perfectly complimented with the arrangements and the singing. Ghazals like 'Shaam se aankh main nami si hai' (which Gulzar poignantly quoted as his Facebook status this morning) and 'Woh khat ke purzay uraa raha tha' were instant classics.

Apart from his impressive artistic credentials, Jagjit Singh was also important as an ambassador of the Urdu language an especially the ghazal. He spread the magic of the ghazal far and wide and kept the tradition of ghazal-gayeki alive in India, appealing to both the mainstream listening public and the more finicky conoisseurs. A worthy successor of the genration that included Mehdi Hassan, Talat Mehmood and Barkat Ali Khan, Jagjit with his contemporary Ghulam Ali was the leading light of Ghazal-gayeki in the late 20th and early 21st century. To me personally he was a gateway to the exploration and enjoyment of Urdu poetry, a melodious guide to the nuances of Ghalib, a fond childhood memory that formed the basis of who I am today and a constant reminder of the immense power of art to mould and enrich lives.


While writing this in his memory (it's sad how I've had to document the passings of two of my favorite personalities in a month) I thought it'd be a good idea to listen to some of Jagjit saheb's ghazals, so I cued up the playlist on iTunes and started listening as I wrote. But it didn't turn out to be such a good idea because one minute into his rendition of 'Baat Nikle Gi To Phir Duur Talak Jayegi' I had to stop writing and unsuccessfully fight back tears. It was then that the comprehension of this loss sank in and I realized the important place Jagjit Singh's music held in my life. The man who introduced me to ghazal,Ghalib and Gulzar is no more. In his memory I will carry on what I now realize is an important tradition, there will always be a Jagjit Singh tape near me, in my car, in my iPod or on my PC.

When I can actually feel strong enough to listen to it without tearing up is a whole different story.....