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Abida is spontaneous no doubt, but Nusrat's improvisations seem far more sophisticated and forceful

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Sufi music from two Pakistani stars 

Mast Qalandar puts together seven separately rendered tracks by Nusrat Fateh Ali and Abida Parveen, both specialists in mystic verse  

Mast Qalandar -- Essential Sufi Classics
Sony Music
Rs 55


Mast Qalanadar is a compilation of seven songs from two exponents of Sufi music, Nusrat Fateh Ali and Abida Parveen.

Which of these tracks were recorded live and which at a studio? Some tracks are short, with no elaborate improvisation, suggesting that the artistes are singing to a predetermined time limit. Some tracks have applause at the end, suggesting that they were recorded at live concerts.

If you are looking for expansive live recordings, Sony Nad's four-volume compilation of Nusrat Fateh Ali's music would be a better choice than this album. But if you would like just a sampling of his art, and the art of fellow-Pakistani Abida Parveen, you can go in for Mast Qalandar, which is sub-titled "Essential Sufi Classics".

Side A, with four tracks, begins with Allah hoo, Allah hoo, which, like many of Nusrat's tunes, was promptly plagiarised by the Mumbai film industry. The track ends even before he can warm up. But the third track makes up for this bare rendition. Aaj rang hai , a Hindi qawwali by Amir Khusrau, gets more detailed treatment, and you see Nusrat's commanding elaboration of ragas like Khamach and Desh.

The inlay notes describe Abida Parveen as a Sufi singer "all set to adorn the throne left vacant by the sudden demise of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan". Nusrat's reedy voice, almost teetering on the edge of dissonance, expresses his ideas with bold ardour, and Abida's voice follows a similar but less strongly stated style. Yet it would be difficult to compare her improvisational prowess to Nusrat's. She is spontaneous no doubt, but the late master's improvisations seem far more sophisticated and forceful. This might be an unfair comparison, like playing Chris Evert against Boris Becker and saying she is not as aggressive as he is, but you can't help but notice the difference when they are playing face to face.

Abida's father Ustad Ghulam Haider chose her, when she was five, to inherit his music. The ustad's act must have been unusual because women in families practising classical music were hardly encouraged to be performers. For all that, Abida is not counted as a qawwal; only men are given the privilege of that title. Abida sings Sufi poetry, but she is often described as a singer of Sindhi folk music, and ghazals.

Duma dum mast qalandar, by Abida, has an enthusiastic audience clapping along with the tune. This is not a traditional qawwali where she has a chorus clapping and singing along with her. Sade verhe maya kar, by Baba Bullhe Shah, shows her using the flow of raga Bhoop, and doing some sargams in it.

The other tracks on Side B are Yaar di gharoli and Ghoom charakra by Abida Parveen and Main jagi piya ke sang by Nusrat.

For the Sufis, the beloved and god are not far apart. Sufi poets also treat with contempt the superficial differences  between people following what may look like opposed faiths. With its repetitive beat and hand-clapping, the qawwali approaches a trance-like state. It also celebrates group singing as a path to mystical bliss. Nusrat has without question been the most famous exponent of the qawwali in recent times.

This album gives you a sample of the rich treasures in the Sufi world.

O Priya

Published on 7 September 2001

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