Rhythm of the past, rhythm of the future
Beautiful, soaring qawwali music goes back at least 700 years. Springing from a blend of Persian and subcontinental music, its devotional sound based in Sufism can induce hypnotic states with its power.
Each generation has added something to the music, and Pakistan’s Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan and Party reinvent qawwali for the 21st century on their new Sur Sangeet album. There’s a full reverence for the tradition, but also a fresh, groove oriented approach, one that jumps forward from its Punjabi roots.
“Music should lift the heart and the spirit,” Dildar explains. “That’s the essence of qawwali. It’s glorification. But to do that it has to communicate, it has to reach out.”
And Ustad—the title means master or teacher—Dildar Hussain Khan certainly understands the essence of qawwali. Born in Punjab, his father was a qawwali musician, and he began playing table when he was just five years old. Ten years later, the prodigy was working with the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the greatest of all qawwali singers. Together they toured the world for 28 years bringing qawwali music to international attention and collaborating with Peter Gabriel, Pearl jam, and a host of others. Their musical partnership lasted until Fateh Ali Khan’s premature death in 1997.
Sur Sangeet is very much a family album. It features Dildar’s son, Abrar Hussain, on soaring vocals, and two of his other sons on vocals and percussion. But the fulcrum is very much Dildar himself. As well as table, he’s featured on harmonium and vocals, confirming him as a musician of stature.
Dildar’s connection of past and present shows perfectly on the table solo Dhamaal, that showcases his style which comes from his native Punjab. In part, that’s because the tablas he uses are different from the tablas more commonly heard in classical Indian music; the jori treble drum is crisper, the the dhamma offers a deeper, warmer bass sound.
In the jazz-suggesting mode of Sar Tajen Ke Taj, his groove powers the piece. On Kaharva, Dildar traces a path through history with a style of playing that’s a millennium old but which would just as easily be at home in Memphis or New Orleans. What’s old is new again.
While most qawwali recordings focus on the ecstasy of voice and words, on Sur Sangeet the tablas are high in the mix, the intoxicating rhythms every bit as vital to the sound as Abrar Hussain’s impassioned vocals.
The album also introduces Dildar Hussain as a composer, putting a melody to the poetry of Iqbal Ranja on Ya Farid, which also features his mesmerizing singing, an illustration that during his years with Nusrat he learned a great deal.
Playing for more than half a century, Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan has long been hailed as one of the leading figures in Sufi music. His sons Israr and Abrar are setting their own soulful standards as singers. “This is their music, too,” says Dildar.
Sur Sangeet released in May on Kanaga System Krush Records.