Ancient and Modern

Various Artists

The Rough Guide To The Music Of Pakistan (World Music Network RGNET 1116CD, 2003)

This comparatively young country has musical roots and traditions that go back hundreds of years taking in Sufi songs and the classical ghazal whilst also embracing sounds that come from modern film music and pop. This cd, like many of the Rough Guides, offers a very worthwhile taster.

Going back to the older traditions of Sufi poets, Pathane Khan, with minimal accompaniment, praises his master in the words of Punjabi mystic poet Kwadja Farid. This is a fine start to the album, solemn but uplifting. In a stronger rhythmic style Abida Parween also draws on Sufi song, combining two in one on Yaar Di Gharoli. Again the devotional content is central and the live context of the performance adds to the immediacy and passion as she delivers her message. The ghazal form has several airings on the cd and the one I find most moving is by Farida Khanum. She has a very deliberate way of conveying the song’s meaning, restrained and intimate, her plea for a lover to linger is convincing, even though I have no knowledge of the language she uses.

A transcendent experience, perhaps. A male ghazal singer, Medhi Hassan, also makes a strong impression. He is joined by tabla and sarangi for his version of Thumri In Raag Desh, which tells of the pain suffered in separation. His voice and sarangi echo each other in the melody’s undulations.

There are also examples of purely instrumental music whose fairly prosaic titles belie their beauty and elegance. My favourite is from Sultan Muhammed Channe & Shah Wali. Traditional Pashtoun Song – that’s the title – showcases the rahab, a four string lute that has a peculiar resonance, at times like the oud but often more like a banjo.

Of contemporary sounds Vital Signs are probably the most pop orientated though Sajad Ali and Faakhir also display Western influences alongside more traditional/classical roots.

No compilation of this sort would be complete without the voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Aj Rang Hai Hai Maa takes us right back to the beginning, well at least 700 years, having been composed by qawwali’s founder, Hazrat Amir Khusrau. It is sung with the typical exuberance and celebration we expect from the great man. His voice takes off on an unimpeded lyrical flight leaving me, at any rate, with a sense of both joy and loss. It is a fitting end to a varied and vibrant selection.

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