SUFI

You can read the following World Music reviews, in English, at the last part of this page:

Sabri Brothers - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Also: few lines about Qawwali

SUFI MUSIC is music with feeling:- intensity, high feeling, loving and tender feelings.

SUFI CHANTS starts with the most beautiful Call to Prayer you might ever be lucky enough to take part in, and continues with gentle songs filled with loving energy. On the B side is a whirling dance ceremony. Unfortunately only on cassette: MC 109.- (no longer available)

3 NEW TITLES: Ocean of Remembrance: Sufi improvisations & zikrs, a fine studio recording. Re-turning: A ceremony of the whirling dervishes, also a studio recording. Islamic Ritual Music: Live recording with powerful chants & zikrs. All 3 are recommended, but perhaps the first is especially good for Western ears. CD 169.-

QAWWALI is ecstatic religious song in the sufi tradition of Pakistan (see my more detailed description of qawwali further down on this page). There are two groups of performers, well known in the West:

NUSRAT FATEH ALI KHAN: A legend in his own lifetime, he tragically died in August 1997, only 49 years old. His voice is powerful, deeply intense, and he is accompanied by musicians (his "party"), who keep the level of intensity cooking. He was also an artist who experimented, and used modern instruments and recorded together with Western musicians. Order the fine compilation, with some of the best of his traditional numbers, Devotional Songs. 159.- Or the deservedly famous Mustt Mustt, or his latest Night Song (see the review below). Both are Western collaborations, with great, captivating songs, and powerful, world-musical sounds. 159.-

SABRI BROTHERS: Traditional qawwali song from the famous family, sung beautifully, with love, and with joy. Ya Muhammad Nigah, or Sabri Brothers - Featuring Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri 'Jami' (see the review below). 159.-

Don't forget to check out our Islam page

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REVIEWS

from the review section of DJEMBE, magazine for cross culture and world music


QAWWALI

THE SUFIS are the mystical sect of Islam and Qawwali is the form of music they have developed in India and Pakistan, since the 13th Century. Qawwali song is essentially religious poetry (but can also be romantic poetry) set to music, the purpose of which is to enhance the message of the poet, in an intensity of expression that can transport the listener into an ecstatic state.

Its religious message excepted, the form of qawwali has certain similarities with North Indian song in general. The voice is the central focus of the music, and is supported by an instrument, usually today an hand-pumped harmonium, and the rhythm is given by the tabla.

The ecstatic effect is especially transmitted by the intensity of feeling in the singers voice. This can then be supported and amplified by a number of different kinds of effects. For example the harmonium lingering on a few simple tones, the hand-clapping of the chorus, which also insistently repeats the words of the singer. His voice may repeat certain phrases again and again, or reel off a long string of apparently meaningless syllables at a tonguetwisting, mind-defeating pace (and mind-defeating is of course the whole idea!).

All in all to show us Westerners that trance dance can be many things, and that we certainly didn't invent it just 5 or 6 years ago.
Jack Donen

SABRI BROTHERS: 'Jami'- Featuring Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri

The Sabri Brothers have been one of Pakistan's most famous families of qawwals. Popular both at home and more and more well known and appreciated in the West. However the brother concept is a rather inconstant one, and on this record we don't hear Haji Maqbool Ahmed Sabri the other half of the usual duo. On the other hand, 6 of the 9 accompanying musicians and singers belong to the Sabri family, so the title "Sabri Brothers" is hardly a misnomer after all.

Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri was born in 1930 and died an untimely death in 1994. This record is therefore one of his last, and is unusual in that all four songs (72 minutes) were written by the same poet, a Sufi mystic, Jami, who lived in the 15th Century. When asked by a pupil for something he could cherish all his life, Jami laid his hand on his breast and said: "It is here, the whole business - in the heart. You will find everything there".

So that's what this music is all about, the feeling of the heart. The singer's voice has a low and roughly dark, ruminating quality, but as the music progresses and the energy intensifies, it reaches high and wildly around, as he calls to "Allah" between verses, extending the word, turning it, twisting and twining it around the powerfully rhythmic accompaniment of drums and hand-clapping of the others.

Powerful medicine, as they say in another part of the world!

Jack Donen

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NUSRAT FATEH ALI KHAN & MICHAEL BROOK: 'Night Song'

This is a "cross-cultural" record.

This duo's previous collaboration 'Mustt Mustt' having been a warm favourite of this reviewer, "great expectations" is perhaps the best description of my feelings in preparing to listen to their new recording. The result was a mixed bag, with a good portion of disappointment.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sufi singer from Pakistan, has been described as a gentle mountain of a man, a qawwali superstar, the greatest qawwal of his generation. He has modernised qawwali and made it popular, also among the modern youth of Pakistan. So, what we in the West are being presented with here, is a living, growing religious musical tradition, whose contemporary growth has a lot to do with Nusrat's ability to translate the mystical into something we all can feel.

He sings in the classical and light classical traditions of India and Pakistan with a voice that reaches sharply into the consciousness of the listener. Full of sensuous feeling, ranging from a softly carressing gentleness to passionate intensity, always in search of the ecstatic entrancement that characterises Sufi mysticism.

'Mustt Mustt' was cultural fusion at its best, a real sharing of musical creativity, and it had one or two of Nusrat's colleagues accompanying him on each track. 'Night Song' has only one, a tabla player, and that only on two of the eight tracks.

It's a logical development for the producer, Brook. 'Night Song' comes just a year after 'Dream', Brook's similar collaboration with the virtuoso South Indian mandolin player, U. Srinivas (Djembe nr.13, 1995). Brook's fascination with the possibilities of musical electronics led him in 'Dream' to bury a creative master under mountains of not very subtly sampled sound. Though there's less sampling here, he nevertheless comes close to doing the same kind of thing on some numbers on this disc.

A couple of short sequences of West African kora or an Hawaiian guitar seem pasted on and therefore unmotivated. However the experimentation can become grotesque as one is confronted with the incongruity of totally unnatural sounds and rhythms on the one hand, supporting a voice of intrinsic beauty and depth of feeling on the other.

Brook's certainly most weird creation, 'Lament', has a kind of ancient steam laundry rhythmic pumping effect that would make it a good background for the murder scene in a horror movie from the fifties. So much for Nusrat and the spiritual qualities of qawwali.

The other incongruity is not electronic, but rhythmic. Where 'Mustt Mustt' is full of the multirhythmic complexity of the tabla supporting the voice of Nusrat - that is, in his own idiom - Brook has on several of these numbers reverted to the 4/4 beat of rock. It's just not subtle enough to do Nusrat's voice and rhythmic mastery justice, and the result is a tendency for the music to be divided into two separate rhythmic dimensions, of voice and of percussion, that don't have much to do with each other.

To do Brook justice, his accompaniment - especially when he lets it be accompaniment, and not the whole show - does in fact have a lot of moments of truth to it. So - my conclusion is a 50/50 tie - and what with the fantastic voice of the one and only NFAK, don't miss this album.

Don't miss 'Mustt Mustt' - and last but not least - listen to NFAK's classic: 'Devotional Songs', a real qawwali recording!

Jack Donen

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