Qawwali Collection: Shan-e-Rasool

Qawwali-light has a lot in common with American gospel music.

Harmonium

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An interesting collection of concise qawwali performances from an even more interesting group of singers.

Shan-e-Rasool-o-Aal-e-Rasool (roughly translated by me as The Glory and Grandeur of the Prophet) includes performances by some famous qawwals including Abdur Rab Chaush and Yusuf Azad Qawwal, a couple film playback singers [Mahendra Kapoor and Shamshad Begum] as well as a few (to me) new names such as the delightfully named Pyare Timmu Qawwal (Jaipuri) and Master Habib Nizami.

With the inclusion of filmi qawwali this record presents a sort of qawwali – lite which most connoisseurs would not rate very highly. The messages are simplistic and the language is of the sort someone unfamiliar with High Urdu or Persian can easily understand. Case in point: title of track 9 [Allah Bahut Bada Hai]!

The music, composed mostly by one Mami Bhachu, [any information on him would be much appreciated], is consistently lively and employs…

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The Voice of the Golden Age: Noor Jehan

Fresh musings on 1971, war, generals, films and the stellar voice of Noor Jehan.

Harmonium

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1971 was not a very good year for Pakistan. Fighting their third war with India, the Generals, who had grabbed power more than a decade earlier, managed to lose half of the country’s territory and nearly half its population in a matter of a few weeks.

1971, on the other hand, was a very good year for the fledging country that emerged out of the debacle, Bangladesh.

Away from the battlefields and political humiliation that saw the military pushed back to the barracks and the capture of tens of thousands of prisoners of war, the Pakistani cinema industry had been enjoying a pretty neat run.

Indian films had been banned several years earlier which, regardless of your views on such policies, had enlivened the local, Lahore and Karachi based industry. A Golden Age had dawned. Between 1968 and 1971 the country was releasing over a hundred films a year, many…

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4 Things Bebop Taught Me About Change

I was recently invited by the Center for Social Change at Latrobe University to present on how social change takes place in the cultural sphere.

lifeafteraid

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Truth is almost always more fascinating than fiction. It is also more complex.

Take for example the story I’ve told in other places and times, of how a schismatic Muslim group from South Asia played a critical part in the transformation of American popular music.

The story is a fabulous one, full of colourful characters, political struggle and crazy subplots. And in order to give the rest of this article meaning I’ll provide a Reader’s Digest synopsis of the tale.

In the early 1940s jazz music was big money. From coast to coast, mini orchestras played a brand of silky, synchronised, swing music that got people dancing but not much else. Swing was the world’s pop music. And like all such things, when they go mainstream, they become homogenised, safe and sound-alike.

In New York, a small group of African American jazz musicians were hearing sounds in their head…

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Farewell Princess: Documenting Mumbai’s Iconic Taxicabs

My latest for Camera Indica: an interview with Finnish photographer Markku Lahdeshmaki about his Mumbai Taxi Company project

one photo @ a time

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For foreigners visiting India, one of the most visible markers of change in the past few decades has been cars. From a time when just two models ruled the highway, the country now has an endless variety of automobiles. Still, a part of the soul fondly clings to those simpler times.

It remembers the Hindustan Ambassador, the plain-looking giant that dominated the market in every corner of India with one prominent exception – Mumbai.

In India’s most modern, urbane and glitzy metro, the preferred vehicle of the cashed-up (for, only they could afford them) was the svelte Premier Padmini. Introduced in 1964, and at first marketed as Fiat 1100, the car was rechristened after Rani Padmini of Chittor in the 1970s.

The Padmini or the “Pad” was, in many ways, a technological herald, prefiguring a day when the country would prefer consumer choice, style and design sense above socialist planning…

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Raising the Vibration

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As I drove my daughter to school this morning I was overcome by a powerful urge to hear a song.  It was an old favorite from that period between the wilting of Flower Power and the rise of Punks. A time when the trend was for solo artists to bear their souls in song. Confessional rock, some people called it.

No one epitomised this style more than angel-faced Jackson Browne. And it was the title song from his 1974 album Late for the Sky that I wanted to hear.

The lyrics, like the album cover, are dreamy and speak of moving between sleep and being awake. They are infused with that ambiguous simultaneity of meaning that incorporates both the lover’s world as well as the realm of the Spirit.

How long have I been sleeping?

How long have I been drifting alone through the night?

How long have I been dreaming that I could make it right?

If I closed my eyes and tried with all my might

To be the one you need?

Some may find this sort of ‘heart-on-sleeve’ songwriting slightly uncomfortable. Even embarrassing.  I kind of still dig it, but that’s not what gets me about this song.

As I listened to the familiar intro–Jackson’s deliberate piano playing; David Lindley’s hesitant but soon swirling guitar chording–I felt something move deep inside me. In a flash, I had the sense that I was in the presence of the Beyond. As the music swelled and built I felt as if I was being lifted up to that mysterious place where just a few notes can vibrate in such a way that tears come to your eyes.

It is part of my daily practice of Life to feel good.  In the jargon of the New Age, I try to raise and keep my vibration high. I consciously choose to meditate, be mindful and think about things that make me feel good.  As part of that practice I listen to a lot of podcasts and clips of spiritual teachers and wise people.  All of this activity I categorize as ‘personal development’.

Raising my vibration, until recently was a phrase I never used. The idea that I even vibrated seemed silly.  But since embarking on this path of ‘slow, perpetual rebuilding of the inner structure’, which by the way, is C.S. Lewis’ description of personal development, I’ve come to understand that not only do I vibrate, but everything around me does too.  And that a huge part of vibrating at a high level equates simply to feeling good.  The better you feel the higher your vibration. And the higher your vibration the closer you are to whatever it is we all long to be reconnected with: love, God, soul, Bliss, Consciousness.

Back to the music.

As I let the music take me, I, not for the first time, realised just how powerful music is as a form of worship. Or as a means to connect with that deep mysterious part of ourselves and the Universe.  The way Lindley plays (starting at 3:15 – 4:01) simply transports me to a higher plane. His non-verbal singing echoes Jackson’s lyrics. Searching, longing, unsure but demanding.

As the song continued and moved towards its end I understood that this was a meditation of sorts. By just allowing the music to cover me and sink into my bones and cells I was experiencing a subtle union with something bigger than myself. And as the Almighty said after creating the world, “It is good.”

Immediately my mind jumped to a whole bunch of other songs which, whenever I hear them , transport me to a similar locale.  A place that the Psalmist often refers to as ‘the presence of the Lord’.

Another all-time personal fave of mine, T.B. Burnett is a very different sort of songwriter than Jackson Browne.  A man of deep musical knowledge and personal faith he rarely pens a lyric that does not have some of the gall and righteous indignation of Jeremiah.

The River of Love is a gorgeous little song from his last great album. Listen to the lap steel playing throughout but especially the section (1:21-1;50).  Pure musical mercury designed to tingle you into submission.

Finally, (but not really finally, for there are thousands of equally deserving candidates to demonstrate the purpose of this post) just dig the guitar mastery of Mr. G. Benson on this piece.  Alternating between rhythmic slicing and groove laden picking, if you can’t find your vibration and raise it to a high level in these three minutes, then you may  need to seek professional help!

[This post originally appeared on my blog at Sensational Lives.com]

How I survived my first year outside the Aid Sector

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Eleven months ago I pulled the plug on a successful career in international aid. There were (and remain) many who felt I was mad. Even I thought so right up until I finally stepped off the cliff.*

Nearly a year on I find myself hurtling ever further and faster out of the orbit of Planet Aid. What once seemed unthinkable—that I would willingly leave the security, the adventure, the ‘meaning’ of a sexy, rewarding career—is now daily reason for gratitude. I could never imagine returning.

I am aware from the occasional visit to Aid-worker sites on the Net that the idea of a post-Aid life is a particularly hot topic. For most, ‘the next step’ is confounding. For some, it’s downright petrifying. Options run between the unsatisfactory (low pay, junior positions) and the non-existent (corporate, UN or think tank). Overall, I get the idea from the discussions, its better to…

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So Long, Farewell. Khuda Hafez.

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All good things must come to an end.

This trite truism pertains to everything from a honeymoon to an ice cream cone. The good times eventually do stop rolling.

And such a day has come for Sunday Sounds. Or at least, for my part as your weekly curator, host, evangelist, pracharak, deewana, companion and guide through the sensational music of South Asia and the desi diaspora.

Since the early days of this digital daily I have been granted a free licence to indulge my love of music while hiding behind the mask of a columnist. Such an opportunity is a rare and great gift and one for which I will always be indebted to the editors of Scroll.in.

For two-and-a-half years I have tried to excite readers with the fantastic musical heritage of this region while also promoting the work of musicians of South Asian origin around the world.

Though I have but scratched the surface of this rich endowment, the time has come for me to hand over the excavation to others.

To all the readers of this column I say thank you for coming along for the ride. It has been a privilege to share the fun and grooves with you each week. I will miss being part of your weekend but alas, other projects (some much-delayed) await my attention.

For my last column, I have selected some old favourites from across theSunday Sounds world. I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I have had putting them in front of you. [Full article]