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Tabla master Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan lifts the heart and the spirit

Meditations in Music
By Samir Shukla
Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan—Sur Sangeet
The inimitable Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan opened the doors wide for Qawwali music around the world. Tabla master Dildar Hussain Khan toured extensively with the late vocalist for nearly three decades and now keeps the flames of Qawwali burning with his own combo.
Qawwali is a centuries old blend of Persian and Hindustani music imbued with Punjab folk rhythms. It is deeply spiritual and joyful. The vocalist is the key while the accompaniments—background vocalists, harmonium, tabla claps—expand the song and keep the flow. Dildar Hussain Khan’s new recording, Sur Sangeet, is a soaring collection of Qawwali songs coaxed gently into contemporary ethos while keeping the traditions of this fabled Sufic musical art form alive.
This singing and the music are trance-inducing. Khan’s tabla keeps the backbeat while his band, son Abrar Hussain on lead vocals and two of his other sons on vocals and percussion, round out the main combo.
“Music should lift the heart and the spirit,” Khan explains. “That’s the essence of Qawwali. It’s glorification. But to do that it has to communicate, it has to reach out.”
The strongest song on the album is the hypnotic “Ya Farid,” featuring the poetry of Iqbal Ranja for which Dildar Khan composed music while lending his emotive vocals in the lead.
Dildar also shows off his table chops with extended solos in the compositions “Dhamaal” and Kaharva.”
Khan uses tablas that are different than the ones more commonly heard in Indian classical music. It’s where the treble drum is a shade crisper while the bass has a deeper sound.
While most Qawwali recordings focus on the passionate voice and words, on Sur Sangeet the tablas are higher on the mix, joining in the trance and vocal modulations that are as vital as Abrar Hussain’s vocals.
Tabla master Israr Hussain is evolving into his own mastery of the voice. “These are my children,” says Dildar. “This is their music, too, and I want them to have the freedom to express it as they wish.”