Abida Parveen, the queen of Sufi mystic singing spreads the message of love and induces a state of spiritual ecstasy with her Sufi mystic songs. An artist who has been recognized as a rue force in the realm of Sufi music, she proclaims her faith with her entire body. She is considered one of the most prominent contemporary exponents of the great ghazal and kafi musical styles from the Indian subcontinent. Rooted in the intense encounter between sensitivity and spirituality that is Sufism. She never ceases to sing her fiery love for the Divine.
The earliest memories of her childhood are all linked to her passion for music and her desire to sing. Born in 1954 in Larkana, Sindh into a family that maintains close associations with the shrines of Sufi saints. She was imparted her initial training in the art of music from her father, Ustad Ghulam Haider, and later from Ustad Salamat Ali Khan of Sham Chorasia gharana. Her father, whom she refers to as reverently as Baba Sain, was also a singer and had his own small music school where he taught only male pupils. He was devoted to the Sufi poets and that is from where Abida gets her devotional inspiration. For her the Sufi poets of Sindh and Punjab are the ones who speak of the inner truths of the self and in their poetry, where she finds solace and peace. As she was growing up, Abida attended her father’s music school and that was where her foundation in music was laid.
Hyderabad Radio first introduced her in 1977. She is today the most popular and well-known folk and ghazal singer of Pakistan who breathed a new life into ghazal and semi-classical music. She holds an audience of thousands spellbound. Her appearance is a complete reverse of many other stage performers. She begins each number as solemnly as the previous one as the evening progresses, sinking deeper and deeper into her kafi’s and Sufiana kalam of the mystic poets. She is a woman of very few words and asks to be judged only by her music. This folk phenomenon, called Abida Parveen, is deeply religious and profoundly humble.
Abida Parveen is the finest singer of ghazal, geet and sindhi, seraiki and punjabi kafees. Her command of kafi of sufi poets such as Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Hazrat Lal Shabaz Qalandar, Hazrat Sacchal Sarmast from sindh, and Hazrat Baba Bulhe Shah, Hazrat Khawja Farid Ganje Shakar, Hazrat Sultan Bahu, Hazrat Mian Muhammad Buksh, Hazrat Ghulam Farid, Hazrat Pir Mehr Ali Shah and Hazrat Shah Hussain from pujab embellishes her versatility. Apart from sufis of Pakistan, Parveen also sings mystic poetry of the Asian Indian subcontinent, which include sufis such as Hazra Amir Khusrau, Hazrat Nizamudin Auliya, Hazrat Kutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti and Hazrat Moulana Jalaluddin Roomi from Turkey.
Professor G.M. Mekhri of Sind University said that, “Abida Parveen is the spiritual daughter of Great Sufi Saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. She is the truly blessed voice.” Abida has recorded all the poetry of Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, an 18th century poet and composer who blended folk music and classical raga in a style known as kafi from his book called Shah jo Risalo according to their respective Raags which were also laid down by him.
She has performed almost in all parts of the world and performed before international audiences and placed the name of the country high up I the field of music. Abida Parveen performed in Chicago in 1988. Her fist performance was based on classical and semi-classical art, the second was comprised of ghazals of prominent poets and the third rested on folk singing and different varieties of sindhi music. Her performance was recorded by the renowned organization Hazrat Amir Khusrau Society of Art and Culture, which issued a long play recording of her renderings. After that, she performed in July of 1989 for three hours in a conference in London and was recorded by the BBC for a one hour telecast.
Live In U.K. Vol 3 (Star Compact Disc, 1994)
Pakistani Sufi Songs (Inedit, 1995)
Are Logo Tumhara Kya (Timeline Records, 1998) Jahan-E-Khusrau – A Festival Of Amir Khusrau (Times Music, 2001) Baba Bulleh Shah (Oreade Music, 2002)
Sings Sufi Music (Times Music, 2002)
Hazrat shah Hussain (Times Music, 2002)
Visal (World Village, 2002)
The Sufi Queen (Times Music, 2004)
Heer (ZYX Music, 2004) Ishq (Accords Croisés, 2005)
Sufi Soul (Saregama, 2005)
Ghalib (Times Music, 2008) Kabir (Times Music, 2009)
Mast Qalandar (Navras, 2010) The Best Of Abida Parveen (Music Today, 2011) Raqs-e-Bismil (Music Today, 2011) Ho Jamalo (Music Today, 2011)
Farid Ayaz Qawwal and Brothers perform the ecstatic devotional music of Sufi Muslims. The ensemble has gained recognition for both the popular traditional form of qawwali and the more introspective ancient classical qawwali that is seldom heard today. In qawwali, which is similar to gospel in its use of call-and-response and spiritual fervor, the lead singers are accompanied by percussive hand clapping, harmonium, tabla (drums) and a chorus.
Farid Ayaz Qawwal & Brothers is one of Pakistan’s best known ensembles. It has promoted the art of qawwali throughout Pakistan, India, Europe, Iran, the Middle East, and the U.S. The group members specialize in classical qawwali, which they learned from their forefathers. They belong to the Delhi gharana (school) of Ustad Tan Ras Khan Sahib, who was the teacher of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. The group sings in many languages including Urdu, Seraiki, Punjabi, Sindhi, Hindi, Persian, Arabic, Bengali and Purbi.
“It’s totally soul music, and I think we can call it devotional music,” said Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. “It’s spiritual music from the soul.”
He was talking about Qawwali, the musical component of the mystical tradition of Islam known as Sufism. But for him, even more momentous than serving as a musical ambassador from Pakistan to the United States, there is the mantle he is now assuming.
The legacy of a great qawwali master is not a matter to inherit lightly. Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was personally groomed by his uncle, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, for most of his life. Nusrat, who died in 1997, was considered “the voice from heaven” and the greatest living practitioner of qawwali. But Nusrat had no sons and the qawwali tradition requires that a master choose a successor. Although Nusrat appointed Rahat as his successor during his lifetime, when Rahat was still very young, according to tradition, on the 40th day after the death of the qawwali master, there was an announcement, and most of the qawwali singers in Pakistan and India attended. The head of the master’s family came out and announced Rahat as Nusrat’s successor. When Rahat was born, his father (Nusrat’s younger brother, Farroukh Fateh Ali Khan) washed the baby and brought him to Nusrat who blessed him. Rahat began his vocal training at the age of three, “even with the baby bottle in his mouth, he would remove it to sing each syllable,” said Shafiq Saddiqui, who worked with Nusrat and now works closely with Rahat.
At the age of six he was officially entered into the training of qawwali with Nusrat teaching him ragas, classic vocal training, and at nine, Rahat appeared on stage for the first time, at the anniversary of his grandfather’s death.
With Nusrat’s permission, Rahat gave his first public performance in front of thousands of people. At the age of fifteen he made his first trip outside of Pakistan as Nusrat’s second singer, on a tour of England. From then on, he was with his uncle on all of Nusrat’s worldwide tours.
And so 40 days after Nusrat’s death, according to tradition, Nusrat’s wife recognized Rahat as Nusrat’s successor. Since then, Rahat has been leading the same 10-piece band that Nusrat made famous, and carrying on the family legacy, one that goes back 600 years in their family.
“I love qawwali, it’s in my spirit it’s in my soul,” Rahat said. “Qawwali is a music which stays forever, and it is food for the human spirit. Other music sounds good, but it doesn’t stay forever.”
After releasing a dozen solo albums in Pakistan, Rahat decided to bring his music to a western audience. He did not, however, in any way dilute or water down the qawwali tradition. “There is no twist in this traditional music,” he said firmly. “The only change you can say is that whoever is the singer has different vocal chords and that makes a difference and has an impact on the music, but basically it has been running for 700 years and no one ever changed it. Most of the poetry comes from Sufi saints like Rumi, who lived 600 years ago, but even if the works by newer Sufi poets are used, we do not stray far from tradition.”
“My family carried the tradition for 700 years and my mission is to explore qawwali and to give the message of peace and love and lovely brotherhood to the world, without regard to race and religion, and that comes through the traditional qawwali. I am also very interested in collaborating with other singers, as well as Western singers. I will definitely do it in the future.”
With two people playing harmoniums and one musician playing a pair of tablas, Rahat’s band conjures waves of ecstatic poetry, his voice rhythmically dancing with the tablas, spiraling ever upward in a gripping display of emotional and spiritual devotion. If you have never heard qawwali before, it is a powerful even life-changing experience, one in which the most sensual human impulses are perfectly united with the purest and most spiritual qualities.
Born and raised in Faisalbad, Pakistan, he could not recall when he was first inspired by qawwali because the music was such an integral part of his life. “When I first heard it, it was my wish to learn this music and become a qawwali singer. I did not go to any school, for there is no such school better than my house, which was a musical institute, I learned everything at home. We were living in a joint family all in one house.”
His relationship to his famous uncle remains a defining factor in Rahat’s life. Having toured with Nusrat from 1985 to 1997, he spent twelve years as a member of Nusrat’s touring band and as many years before that receiving instruction. “First of all, he was my great uncle, and second he adopted me at a very young age as his son and successor. Not only that he was my best friend and my great teacher and I learned from him, from day one until the end of his life. We had not only a father-son and uncle-nephew relationship but he was also a very good friend.”
Still, for Rahat, the burden of inheriting Nusrat’s legacy has been a two-sided sword. “The positive side is that it is an honor for me to be his successor and I enjoy that and I am carrying the message of Nusrat. No one is like Nusrat and even I am not like Nusrat. That voice might not come again for centuries, but I am fulfilling his mission because I learned from him. It really surprises me when expect that I will be doing the same thing he did. I have my own vocal sound and my own styleI learned from him and he also expected me to be a different singer who carries the same message. I hope people will understand this when they listen to me.”
The first glimpse that many Americans got of Rahat was in The Voice from Heaven, a film that explored Nusrat’s legacy. Immediately after his uncle’s death, in the spring of 1998, Rahat performed at his shrine in Lahore, Pakistan, at the largest festival in South Asia. Rahat was the youngest qawwali singer in the history of the 3-day festival and more than 200,000 attended the all-night performance. He performed at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1998, for the Dead Man Walking benefit concert, along with Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam.
He returned to the US in August 1999 for eleven concerts including appearances in Central Park and the Hollywood Bowl, as well as Chicago, and Washington, DC. The music remains a form of spiritual practice to Rahat. “I wake up early in the morning every day, around 6 a.m., and start singing special ragas that are very difficult to practice for five or six hours a day. Qawwali is basically a form of prayer. It is a way of explaining to the world the message of those Sufis, through their phrases and poetry, which qawwali expresses through devotional music, it is basically preaching peace and love, but it is also prayer.”
Working with Rick Rubin, who co-founded one of rap’s premier labels (Def Jam), might seem an odd move for a singer of devotional music. Despite the fact that Rick comes from the rock and roll world and Rahat comes from a religious world (he prays five times day, and at the age of 12 he went to Mecca for Haj, a pilgrimage) there was never a big gap to overcome between the two men. “I didn’t feel any gap between Rick and my music,” Rahat said. “I felt him approaching the music with a spiritual attitude. I like Rick very much. I feel like he understands the music in a way only someone who lived with Sufis could understand it. So I am very happy to work with him, because our approaches are so similar, where I go, his mind is always there before me. I am very pleased he produced my record.”
For now though, Rahat remains single-pointedly focused on the message of traditional qawwali. “The qawwali music is not only music, it is a message. It was created by Sufis, and when we compose and practice this music, it stays forever. Other music comes and goes, but qawwali never goes. Once you start listening, it goes in your soul, goes in your spirit, and you become more human. I feel that this music is my duty, to go and give the message of Sufism. My future is that one day I will fulfill the desire of Nusrat to give this message to the world.”
Riffat Sultana channels the musical wisdom of 500 years and eleven generations of master musicians in her family in India and Pakistan. But in all those years, she is the first woman to sing in public. For a Muslim woman in a very conservative country, such a career simply was not appropriate. Perhaps one reason her performances today have such overwhelming emotional power is that she sings for all the woman in her distinguished family who never had that chance before.
For Riffat, it took moving to the United States to free her musical soul. Now, her amazing voice is being heard around the world, including a featured spot in the 2004 We Are The Future concert, produced by Quincy Jones in Rome, Italy. Where doors were always closed to her, now they are opening everywhere, and Riffat has collaborated with singers and songwriters from all over the world. At last free to create and perform as she pleases.
Riffat’s father, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, was a musical icon, one of the most respected classical singers in India and Pakistan. In 1947, when Pakistan became a nation, he walked hundreds of miles from his Punjabi village, Sham Churasi, into Pakistan. At the time, Sham Churasi had no fame, but soon it would be widely known as the name of Ustad Salamat’s school & of music, or garana. Riffat’s mother Razia is also a gifted vocalist, from India, descended from a line of highly respected Shiite musicians. However, as with all other women in the family, she was never allowed to perform in public, only in Sufi ceremonies held in the family home. For Riffat, one of four sisters and four brothers, this prohibition became a torment. “Music is in my blood, my soul,” she says. “I saw my father wake up early in the morning and practice, my brothers sitting next to him, and me standing outside the room, so interested. I didn’t want to go to school; I didn’t want to do anything. I just wanted to be like my brothers and learn music.”
Denied the chance to study classical music, Riffat took to learning romantic ghazals and other traditional/ popular songs from relatives, tapes and the radio. Family friends recognized her unusual talent and remarkable ability to hear songs and sing them readily.
Some offered to teach her, but her father always refused. Riffat’s troubles compounded when her engagement to a cousin, also skilled musician, was unexpectedly broken, leaving her heartbroken and desolate. Despite his insistence that women not sing, Riffat’s father was a kind and loving man, and always a friend to her. It wounded him to see his daughter so unhappy, so he made the unusual move of offering to take her on tour with him in Europe and the United States in 1990-91. For a young woman who had not even seen much of Lahore, the city in which she lived, this was a remarkable opportunity. Riffat would still not be allowed to sing, and would have to work very hard to fulfill the domestic needs of her father and brothers during the tour, but she was allowed to play the tambura (a stringed, drone instrument) onstage, a great honor, and also an eye opener.
“I had never seen any of my father’s shows in Pakistan,” recalls Riffat. “The first show was in Holland, a big show in a beautiful church. I was so happy. I didn’t care how much work they gave me. I just felt that I was sitting in heaven.”
The family continued on to North America, where they were welcomed by adoring Pakistani communities. They performed in cities throughout the United States, basing themselves in among Pakistani friends and admirers in San Francisco when on the west coast, and Queens, New York, when on the east coast. Between performances, Khan Sahib and his sons took the opportunity to make collaborative recordings with several U.S. based artists. The group then returned to tour in India, but the next time they came to the United States, Riffat and her brother Sukhawat asked their father’s permission to stay longer. Riffat still ached from lost love, and her brother convinced her father it would be helpful for her to stay for an extended time in the U.S.. The presence of significant Pakistani communities, including several master musicians, in Queens and in San Francisco, helped give Khan Sahib confidence that his daughter would be in good hands, and he consented.
Working within these American-Pakistan communities, Riffat began to make forays into the world of public performance as a singer. Pakistanis in the U.S. loved and encouraged her, and in time, Sukhawat became the first of her brothers to accept her as a fellow musician. For years, though, things were complicated. If word of one of her shows got back to the family in Pakistan, she had to lie and say there must have been some mistake. Once, when the family returned for an extended tour and remained longer than expected in San Francisco, Riffat had to send her brothers to perform a concert that had been advertised under her name. The local promoter was disappointed and angry, but under the circumstances, Riffat felt compelled to honor her family’s traditions for women. With one foot in the restricted world of the past, and the other in a promising new realm of possibilities, Riffat’s life proved awkward and challenging.
During this time, San Francisco-based guitarist Richard Michos, began spending time with the family, studying with Riffat’s father and brothers when they stayed in town between concert tours. Richard was a UC San Diego graduate with a degree in composition. He was working as a session player and doing live shows, and his passion for South Asian music led him to the door of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. Richard and Riffat found themselves spending a lot of time together, and in time, they fell in love. Ultimately, they would marry in 1996, and Richard would help give Riffat the clarity and confidence she needed to establish her own voice as a musician.
Riffat’s musical career became an open secret, and finally, her father acknowledged the fact and gave her permission to sing, teaching her the classical forms of his unique style of music and vocalization. Filled with a new love and given lots of encouragement, Riffat immersed herself in her music training. In 1995, she joined Sukhawat and Richard to form the Ali Khan Band, an acoustic group of world musicians that performed a variety of traditional and popular music from India and Pakistan. The group started out working in the Bay Area. Then Michos introduced a prominent Algerian DJ, Cheb I Sabbah, to Riffat’s father and brother. The meeting proved fateful when Sabbah persuaded Khan Sahib to let him record the family and mix the music for the dance floor. The 1996 release, Shri Durga, became one of the most successful DJ albums of the year, and introduced the music of the Ali Khan family to a whole new audience. Subsequently, the Ali Khan Band opened for Cheb I Sabbah at the Sound Factory in San Francisco, and word began to spread fast.
Soon After the group was asked to open for Ben Harper at the Fillmore, and then to record a single for compilation on the City of Tribes label, the buzz grew. Clearly, it was time to start doing some serious recording. Two Ali Khan Band albums for City of Tribes’ Tawsir (1998) and Zindagi (2000) did well on CMJ, and with a growing youth audience paying attention, the inevitable happened: the group went electric. By now Richard had become Riffat’s husband, and was developing an original approach to accompanying her Pakistani Sufi songs on guitar, as well as in producing the albums, and as he added electronics and other instruments, the soundscape continued to expand, allowing Riffat and Sukhawat to compete dramatically for the affection of audiences.
In 1999, the group came to the attention of entertainment manager and producer Dawn Elder, and then President of Mondo Melodia Records/Ark21. This label, owned by Miles Copeland, was receiving a lot of attention for its growing success in world music. Dawn signed the Ali Khan Band, but at this point, the name, so reminiscent of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, seemed unnecessarily confusing. The musicians wanted to establish a separate identity for their more electronic and Western fusion project. So, for their Mondo Melodia release, they became Shabaz, literally ‘King Eagle,’ but also a reference to the family’s beloved Sufi saint, Lal Shabaz Qalander.
Riffat participated in an international songwriters’ retreat that took place in the South of France in 2001. With such luminaries as Khaled, Hakim, Jeff Beck, and Simon Shaheen on hand, Riffat, working with Narada Walden, composed one of the most popular songs of the retreat, “Queenie’s Jam,” which became a track on the Shabaz album. Shabaz offered groove music with intensely exciting vocals from Riffat and Sukhawat. The album had the misfortune of being released in September, 2001, and did not get the attention it deserved. But many took notice, including Quincy Jones, who would later sign Riffat up for his mega-concert in Italy in the spring of 2004.
Riffat has grown to become a confident composer and performer. Along with Richard and her brother, she wrote more than half the material on Shabaz. But for the moment, she prefers to sing & compose acoustic renditions of beautiful compositions by her relatives in Pakistan. It is a way of honoring them, and showing the world more richly who she is. This return to her musical roots is the theme for her solo debut album, Sufi Folk & Love Songs.
Over the years, Riffat has performed Punjabi folk, devotional Sufi songs, classical music, as well as ghazal, geet, and electronic and acoustic fusion.
Tawsir (City of Tribes, 1998)
Sufi, Folk, and Love Songs (2005) Zindagi (City of Tribes, 2000) Shabaz (Ark 21, 2001) Shabaz (2006)
Pakistan’s fresh young ensemble, Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali, though still in their teens, are already proving to be masters of the Sufis’ devotional music. The two young brothers who lead the group, Rizwan Mujahid Ali Khan and Muazzam Mujahid Ali Khan, have an impeccable musical pedigree — their grandfather was an uncle of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and personally taught Nusrat the art of Qawwali singing. These nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan come from a direct family line of Qawwali vocal music that spans over five centuries. Their inventive reinterpretations of spiritual love songs based upon classical Islamic and Sufi texts were first showcased in the UK, in July 1998, at the WOMAD Festival in Reading (Great Britain), and received much critical acclaim.
Performers of Qawwali believe that they have a religious mission: to evoke the name of Allah in a quest for total transcendence. They use music as a vehicle to enlightenment or to achieve inner knowledge — via rhythmic hand clapping, percussion, harmonium and a vast repertoire of sung poetry. By repeatedly chanting salient phrases, they transport audiences to a spiritual nirvana or trance-like state. Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali is made up of two lead singers (Rizwan and Muazzam), five secondary singers leading the choral response and vigorous hand claps, two harmonium players and a tabla player. They perform in traditional Qawwali style — sitting on the ground rather than on seats — which they believe brings them closer to God.
A typical Qawwali song will usually begin with a slow instrumental vamp that introduces the melody. The lead singer then meanders in with the first line and establishes a call-and-response pattern. Phrases are repeated over and over again, punctuated by sudden and furious breaks of florid virtuoso singing by the leader. As the piece progresses, the tempo and volume are gradually increased, elevating the listeners to higher and higher states of entrancement. Traditionally, women are forbidden to sing Qawwali.
The original Qawwali repertoire of Farsi (Persian), Punjabi, and BrajBhasha (an old form of Hindi) has given way in recent times to Urdu and Arabic. Romantic love is used as a metaphor for spiritual adoration and mystical enlightenment, drawing upon a rich vein of poetic imagery. It is not surprising, therefore, that Qawwali has become a staple of Hollywood film scores.
Day of Colours, released in 2004, was recorded in four days in a tiny studio in Lahore. It features customary praise songs to Allah and Mohammed, along with praises to Sufi saints such as Ali Ahmed Sabir and Khawaja Muhammad Deveen in languages ranging from Persian to Urdu to Punjabi.
“Qawwali is a precious thing that has stood the test of time,” Rizwan said. “The songs connect to the human spirit and freshen the human soul. Its main message is love and the aim of this record [Day of Colours] is to spread peace and understanding.”
“We know that no one can emulate Nusrat,” Muazzam added. “We just want to carry on where he left off and, God willing, we can take the craft forward.”
Ustad Salamat Ali Khan was born in 1934 in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab in what was then the British colony of India. He is the father of an entire family of vocalist-musicians.
Salamat Ali Khan performed at the age of nine with his brother Nazakat Ali Khan, as the famed Ali Brothers. They were internationally renowned as superstars in the 1960’s and 1970’s for their immense talent and artistry in the classical form.
Now the next generation is becoming increasingly recognized for their great talents. The children are Sharafat Ali Khan, Shafqat Ali Khan, Sukhawat Ali Khan and Riffat Salamat.
Salamat Ali Khan died on July 10, 2001 in Pakistan.
A Tribute To Hazrat Amir Khusrau (EMI, 1975)
Ustad Salamat Ali Khan (EMI, 1976)
Classical Vocal (Star Cassette, 1979)
Musik Aus Pakistan: Khyal Und Tarana (International Institute For Traditional Music Studies Berlin, 1986)
Salamat Ali Khan (Nimbus Records, 1991)
Raag: Desi Todi Abhogi Kanada (Weston, 1991)
Salamat Remembers Nazakat (Magnasound, 1992)
Classical Vocal & Instrumental (EMI, 1993)
Princess Of The Sea (Keytone, 1993) Breath Of The Rose (Water Lily Acoustics, 1993) Raga Darbari Kanarra (World Network, 1995) Raga Madkauns, Raga Suha Kanada, Raga Verag Todi, Raga Kalavati (Nimbus Records, 1995) Voices Of Spheres (X DOT 25, 1997)
Durbar-E-Khaas: The Legendary Salamat Ali Khan Volume Four (Virgin, 2004) Nida è Salamat (Navras, 2007)
As heir to a singing dynasty, Shafqat Ali Khan is one of the master classical vocalists of India and Pakistan.
Shafqat Ali Khan was born June 17, 1972 in Lahore, Pakistan. He began his professional career at the prodigious age of seven, performing two very difficult ragas at the Punjab Music Festival in 1980; his professional training had already begun when he was four years old. “People were amazed. I sang for twenty minutes.” Afterwards, he was approached by Radio Pakistan, which led to a series of on-air recitals which spread the fame of this preternaturally endowed talent. By the age of eight, Shafqat had already proved his mettle, earning widespread regard as a classical artist of merit. Further classical performances on area television stations enhanced his public profile.
The Oakland, California-based producer Doug McKeehan and Shafqat met in 1994, during a visit to the U.S. by Shafqat’s father, the renowned Indian vocalist Salamat Ali Khan. McKeehan, a keyboardist who had performed with the world fusion group Ancient Future, has long harbored a love of Indian music and culture; he studied the classical sounds of the subcontinent with no less a figure than the sarangi virtuoso Ram Narayan. The urge to collaborate was immediately apparent to both Doug and Shafqat upon their initial encounter. After preliminary forays into recording, the line-up of players and the style of arrangements best suited to Shafqat’s voice both fell into place, leading ultimately to the recordings which yielded the World Class release, Shafqat Ali Khan.
In Indian classical music, a musician’s worth is often framed within the context of the gharana (the term defines a cross between a family tree and an intellectual circle) within which that musician has been educated. Shafqat received his training from his father, a product of the Sham Chaurasi gharana, named for the small town in East Punjab in India where Shafqat’s family originated. The style of raga interpretation favored over several centuries by Sham Chaurasi singers was the austere, almost minimal form known as dhrupad. In recent years, however, Shafqat’s father initiated a change in style, adopting the relatively modern, more elaborately ornamented style known as khyal singing; the latter term literally means “imagination.” The khyal form demands improvisational flexibility as well as careful attention to nuances of intonation, phrasing and rhythm. Combining the endurance and rigorous tone demanded by dhrupad training with the expressiveness encouraged by khyal style, Shafqat is capable of articulating heretofore unexplored nuances in centuries-old music, stretching his interpretations of notoriously difficult ragas to extraordinary lengths.
Shafqat’s entire life has been spent in preparation for his own career in khyal singing, yet he has experimented previously with pop forms in the late ’80s in Englandand additionally with a further fusion/ambient project recorded in Europe; the latter found Shafqat duetting with his father on a project called Princes of the Sea. Though he established his name as a classical singer, the role which Shafqat still considers his principal calling, he was given permission by his father to apply his considerable talents to newer, more popular forms such as ghazal, the poetic love songs which originated in Punjab in the 19th Century. The repertoire represented on Shafqat’s self-titled World Class debut comprises a selection of ghazals chosen for both their innate beauty and their interpretive possibilities.
In Shafqat’s view, music represents a single language shared by mankind. His own tastes in recreational listening – including symphonic works, pop, jazz and opera – evince a fundamentally eclectic nature and a willingness to experiment. Both Shafqat and his father share a love of Nat King Cole’s singing. Shafqat cites Cole’s vocals as coming “Straight from the heart. Nowadays, everybody in the music business dreams only of creating a public image and becoming wealthy. But when you go back to the ’50s, artists wanted to be represented by their work. In this world, today, that’s how I am as well.”
Shafqat Ali Khan lives in Lahore, Pakistan.
Princess Of The Sea (Keytone, 1993)
Voices Of Spheres (X DOT 25, 1997)
Shafqat Ali Khan (Hearts Of Space Records, 2000) Sufi Songs (ARC Music, 2003) Sublime Sufi: New Perspectives on Ancient Sufi Roots (ARC Music, 2007)
Dus Kahaniyaan (Eros International, 2007)
Poland – Pakistan (Music Without Borders) (Wydzwiek, 2016)
Sukhawat Ali Khan is the son of the legendary Indian-Pakistani Vocalist Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. Sukhawat belongs to the school called Sham Chorasi which was established by two brothers – Mian (maestro) Chand Khan and Suraj (son) Khan. They were the court musicians of Akber the Great. Akber the Great was one of the great artistic kings of India. These brothers belonged to the group of nine Jewels of the court.
Sukhawat Ali Khan started his training at the age of 7 and started performing with his father soon after. He toured with his father to England, France, Holland, India, Sri Lanka and America. He has performed at the Columbia University, the Asian Society of New York, The Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Smithsonian Museum of Washington, D.C. Sukhawat Ali Khan has taught music throughout the United States.
Sukhawat Ali Khan now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is the lead singer with the Alikhan Band.
Sukhawat Ali Khan, in his own words. . . March 1998:
“I am so glad to be able to live in this time. Music is becoming the melting pot, a place where cultures cross, boundaries break down. It’s an extraordinary time for communication through music. I hope it continues this way. I hope people reach new understandings of each other through the love of music. We are very small, [Ali Khan] but we can do something, and I believe that that something will count.”
“Each song I do has classical thought behind it and I know how to sing it properly, but my style comes from my life too. I spent time in New York. I go to clubs. I like the hip hop beat, Latin, rave… I’ve toured with Ben Harper, even opened for Jane’s Addiction. I’ve listened to a lot of Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, you know, all the classic stuff. I love Nat King Cole’s voice. These people have something that is really exciting. There’s a performing energy there that I also feel. Its the same kind of energy a good Qawwali singer has, and we can really express it freely in America.”
Ali Khan’s singers are heirs to a 500 year lineage of devotional Sufi Qawaali singing, a passionate style made popular by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Although Qawwali is becoming more and more popular, to be considered a true Qawwal (vocalist), one must have extensive classical understanding. Sukhawat Ali Khan and his sister Riffat come from a long line of Qawwals and have been singing all their lives. Their father and his brother were renowned singers in the 60s and 70s, and certainly Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who was in the next generation, looked to the Ali Khan brothers for inspiration at the time. The Ali Khan family’s musical lineage can be traced directly back to India’s Moghul Age, where two famed court musicians to Akbar the Great planted the seeds for one of the truly distinguished families in music today.
In 2001, Sukhwat and his sister formed a new band called Shabaz.
Zindagi (2000) Shabaz (Ark 21, 2001) Shukriya (Jah Nur Music, 2007) Samaya (A Benefit Album For Cheb I Sabbah) (Six Degrees Records, 2012)
The Sachal Ensemble was formed by Izzat Majeed, a Pakistani investor and hedge fund manager who became a philanthropist and music producer. Born in Lahore in 1950, Majeed’s dream was to recreate the soundtrack of his childhood. His hometown, the second largest city in Pakistan, was once a cultural and artistic center in the region.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Lahore was at a peak as the home of “Lollywood,” the Pakistani equivalent of India’s Bollywood. Movies featured between 10 to 15 songs and the industry employed a considerable number of musicians, composers and arrangers. Music was fundamental to the life of the city.
Izzat’s father, Abdul Majeed, was the chairman of the film producers association of Pakistan and a music lover who would take his son to hear all the touring American jazz musicians passing through Lahore. That’s how an 8-year-old Majeed got to hear pianist Dave Brubeck at a venue near his family home. Brubeck was still a year away from recording “Take Five,” which would become the biggest selling jazz single ever. For the young Izzat, the concert had a profound effect. “That’s where I got hooked on jazz,” says Majeed.
But following a military coup in July 1977, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq became president and his dictatorship set out to “cleanse” Pakistan’s cultural landscape. Most non-religious music was declared sinful and the film industry, severely limited by religious bans, fell to pieces. In Lahore, even virtuoso musicians had to become taxi drivers or shopkeepers just to make a living.
Despite his success in finance, Majeed’s true passions “have always been and will always be about art and music,” he affirms. And so, he decided to do something about it.
“These great musicians – from both folk and classical schools – were left hungry and jobless,” said Majeed in a recent interview. “We were losing our instruments, losing our musicians, losing our culture; something had to be done about it.”
Long a patron of the arts and a lover of poetry (he is a published poet himself), Majeed founded Sachal Studios, named after the Sufi poet Saeein Sachal Sarmast, in 2003, on Waris Road, once the center of Lahore’s film studios. He then looked for the city’s great musicians, many of whom had put away their instruments. What’s more, Majeed had to buy instruments for several players.
Initially, Majeed and the Sachal Ensemble focused on the region’s classical and folk music. But then, he started to dream about the possibility of jazz being played on local instruments, and once he introduced the sounds and concepts of jazz, the musicians “took to it very naturally.” As they searched for a broader audience and looked outside Pakistan, they began to explore cross-cultural versions of Western jazz standards, pop and film classics.
Unexpectedly, Sachal Ensemble had a breakthrough when a video of their version of Brubeck’s Paul Desmond classic “Take Five” went viral. Brubeck, who died in December, 2012, in reality got a chance to listen to it, calling it “the most interesting recording of it I have ever heard.”
Pakistani 10-piece Sachal Ensemble will be touring the United States for the first time during October and November 2017. The group, formed by philanthropist and music producer Izzat Majeed, mixes typical Western instruments like piano, bass and drums with traditional South Asian ones, such as tabla, dholak and sarangi.
The Sachal Ensemble’s repertoire on this 2017 tour will combine traditional Sufi music, ragas and treasured Pakistani cinema songs (like “Ranjha Ranjha,” from the movie Raavan) with distinctively South Asian versions of Western classics, including The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” Michel Legrand’s “The Windmills of Your Mind,” and, their unique recreation of Dave Brubeck’s hit “Take Five” that became a YouTube sensation with over 1 million views.
The international phenomenon created by the “Take Five” video led to an invitation in 2013 for the Sachal Ensemble to collaborate with trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The musicians’ remarkable journey from Lahore to Lincoln Center was captured in Song of Lahore, a documentary film by Award-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken.
An album released in the United States soon followed, Song of Lahore (Universal Music Classics, 2016), featuring the Sachal Ensemble collaborating with Wynton Marsalis, Meryl Streep, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Nels Cline of Wilco, Madeleine Peyroux and Sean Lennon.
A recent Pakistan-only release, titled Jazz and All That, includes Sachal Ensemble ‘s versions of Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” and songs such as Stevie Wonder’s “You’ve Got It Bad Girl”, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave” and Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther.”
The current lineup includes:
Baqar Abbas – bansuri
Nadeem Abbas – bass
Rafiq Ahmad – daff
Asad Ali – guitar
Danish Ali – piano
Najaf Ali – dholak
Zohaib Hassan – sarangi
Ijaz Hussain – tabla
Ali Shaiba – drums
Nijat Ali – conductor
Sachal Ensemble 2017 North American Tour
Friday, Oct. 27 – Vienna, VA at The Barns at Wolf Trap
Sat, Oct. 28 – Schenectady, NY at PrOct.or’s Theatre
Sun, Oct. 29 – Cambridge, MA at Berklee Performance Center
Mon, Oct. 30 – Saratoga Springs, NY – Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Thu, Nov. 2 – Easton, PA at Lafayette College / Williams Center
Sat, Nov. 4 – Miami, FL at Miami Dade College / Olympia Theater
Sun, Nov. 5 – New York, NY at NYU Skirball Center
Tue, Nov. 7 – Calgary, AB, Canada, Arts Commons / Jack Singer Concert Hall
Thu, Nov. 9 – Markham (Toronto), ON, Canada at Flato Markham Theatre
Sun, Nov. 12, Phoenix, AZ at, Musical Instrument Museum
Tue, Nov. 14, Northridge, CA at CSU Northridge / VPAC
Wed, Nov. 15, Stanford, CA at Stanford University / Bing Concert Hall
Sat, Nov. 18, Folsom, CA at Harris Center / Stage 1
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion