A Better Destiny
Real World / Narada
Background history: Qawwali music arose about seven hundred years ago among the Sufi Islamic mystics on the Indian subcontinent. While all Muslims believe that they can reach Allah after death, Sufis believe that they can actually transport themselves through trance states. One of the ways they do that is through this wonderful music. In its most traditional form, the music is virtually all uptempo rhythm — tabla or dholak beats, handclaps, harmoniums — and sets the stage for the singers, or qawwals, who repeat the phrases of songs (which can actually be kind of coarse and secular-sounding) over and over in dozens of ways, twisting and turning those phrases into beguiling melodic knots. Done right, qawwali is supposed to help the audience enter an advanced stage of consciousness, and get closer to Allah.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the greatest modern master of qawwali, passed away in 1997, just as he was breaking worldwide; his classic “Musst Musst” was remixed by Massive Attack into a big British club hit, and even the secular were singing his praises. But his cousin, Badar Ali Khan, has stepped up, and so have his nephews, Rizwan and Muazzam Ali Khan. I’ve heard Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali sampled into some funky club stuff, but I’ve never heard them before now. And now, I’m quite in love with this music, this sound, this approach.
I’ve got it on right now. Two harmonium players do little filigree figures, the four-on-the-floor handclapping and the gentle interjections of tabla provide momentum, and then the voices come in. A lot of this is call and response between the two leads and the backing group, and that is pretty fascinating indeed — you’re swept away before you even know it. But then there are the solos. All of a sudden one of the leads will just peel into a ululation that you won’t believe, or will start scatting in triple-time, or will just burst up in a growly yell from the very bottom of his soul. Only the most narrow-minded asshole could fail to be completely transported by these bursts of beautiful devotion.
These songs all sound the same, all six of them, but who cares when they add up to 64 minutes of perfection? This could very well be on my Top Ten list this year, but I’m not concerned about that. I just wish the rest of the world would shut up so I could hear this CD better.
Narada Records: http://www.narada.com