Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Ghosts of Nusrat: Dub Qawwali

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has a new CD out. While that may seem unlikely, given that he passed away ten years ago, it's true. Italian/British producer Gaudi took old master tapes from the early 1970s in the possession of Nusrat's original Pakistani record label (Rehmat Gramohpone), and reinterpreted them with Dub/Reggae beats. The sound is fresh, if not technically new -- a successful way to bring back the ghost of Nusrat in a recording studio. Dub Qawwali has recently been released on Six Degrees Records; Gaudi was also interviewed by NPR here.

Dub Qawwali is a collection of Nusrat songs that, for the most part, I hadn't heard before, though admittedly my Nusrat collection is hardly definitive. The production quality, for those who pay attention to such things, is flawless, and the sound is "warm" -- mainly because Gaudi used live musicians and vintage analog equipment to create a rich soundscape. It's most definitely not the cheesy Bally Sagoo remix approach, where you get the feeling that the whole thing was put together on a computer by a stoned teenager. Here is how the record label describes the approach:

The use of vintage analogue studio equipment and dub production techniques such as tape echoes, valve amps, Fender Rhodes, spring reverbs, Hammond organ and Moog, characterizes Gaudi's production style, however it is not without its share of 21st century intervention and wizardry… Individual tracks from the original 70's multi-track recordings often contained multiple parts together on them. These had to then be carefully cleaned up in order to make them usable in a way that would enable the composition of these new works. (This included much of the vocal parts which were mixed in the same track as the Harmonium and other instruments!) (link)

So, yeah, the CD sounds pretty good.

The one possible flaw, and it's debatable, might be that the songs on Dub Qawwali are almost too mellow. Nusrat, as videos like this might attest, was at times a frenetic, ecstatic performer, not a chilled out crooner. On the other hand, he did do some 'slow' records -- and there must be a time and place for mellow for everyone.

So it's not rapture, but a different kind of transport, the gentle vocal nurturing of a shared spiritual journey. And healing, and peace: here, Nusrat's voice acts as a kind of salve, easing the pain of existence... Nusrat's ghost.

Apropos of that, one song that Gaudi reworks on this CD, which I had heard before, is the classic ghazal "Jab Tere Dard":

Jab Tere Dard Mein Dil Dukhta Tha
Hum Tere Haq Mein Dua Karte Thay
Hum Bhee Chup Chaap Phira Karte The
Jab Teri Dhun Mein Jiya Karte The

(You can listen to the original, non remixed version here)

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Review: New CD from Falu

People interested in Asian Underground music have probably already heard of Falu, a singer who first appeared on Karsh Kale's Realize back in 2001. Since then she's been featured on a number of other people's CDs, but today she releases her own, self-titled CD. Rather than going for more in the way electronic beats, here Falu works with a live rock/desi fusion band, doing a mix of English and Hindi/Urdu songs.

It's a strong first effort. Falu has trained in Hindustani classical music with Ustad Sultan Khan, and there are several nice Hindi/Urdu tracks on the CD. The strongest is certainly her version of "O Lal Meri" (aka, "Dama Dam Mast Qalandar"); here the music is traditional, and Falu gets to really show off her Qawwali chops. I found Falu's version of Asha Bhosle's "Dum Maro Dum" less exciting, perhaps because I'm too attached to the original -- and to Asha Bhosle's voice (still, Falu's rock/fusion band seems to be having a good time rocking out a bit here). Also good are "Rabba" and "Poojan." Ustad Sultan Khan himself shows up playing Sarangi on two tracks, and he joins in the vocals to "Copper Can."

Thus far, I've been somewhat less excited by the English language songs on the CD, though there are some notable exceptions. The lyrics to "Without You" are a mix of English and Urdu, and it's intriguing to hear Falu do Qawwali-esque vocal trills on the English as well as the Urdu parts of the song. "Hey Baby" is entirely in English (albeit with a desi musical touch), though from listening to the lyrics it occurred to me that Falu is replicating in a secular, English, rock idiom the themes that are also prevalent Qawwali music: longing, desire, and the inaccessibility of the beloved. The difference, of course, is that in Urdu the longing is for God, while in English the longing is for a lover. (Note: you can listen to "Hey Baby" on Falu's Myspace page)

You can get this CD at Falu's website; it's also available on Itunes and at Amazon. Readers in the New York area might want to hit the CD release party at Canal Room tomorrow (more details here). I won't be able to go; perhaps Falu and her band will come to Philly sometime...

[Disclosure: the folks at Press Here music sent me a review copy of this CD.]

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