Various Artists

Madahkhani, Ghazalkhani, Dafsaz

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From the autonomous Badakhshan region comes this collection of songs from the religious repertoire of the Nizari branch of the Isma'ili religion, a branch of Shi'ite Islam closely tied to Sufism and the worship of Mohammad's son-in-law Ali. The works displayed here come from three basic forms of song in the area: the madah, based in classical Persian poetry; the ghazals of poetic love; and the dafsaz coalition of ghazals and folk songs. The instrumentation for the works is always sparse, with a rubab and a daf drum being the most accompaniment one will usually hear, though an accordion can be used to good effect as well. Despite this seeming scarcity of sound, the singer(s) and players can fill a space of music quite effectively. The chorus of responders to the calls of the lead singer can accompany the thump of the daf in such a way that the sound becomes quite full very quickly. As in Sufist music, the songs often start sparse and work into a denser form by the end. Also similar to Sufist music, the bulk of the songs make use of classical Persian poets (Rumi, Hafiz) for their lyrical content. Difficult to compare to any other form due to its obvious differences and the region's seclusion, this music is a powerful form of song that mirrors aspects of various Sufist practices, but not so much that it can be recognized as such on first listen. It's a deceptively complex form that can drag on for hours or cut itself short in a matter of minutes without the listener noticing the difference. Give it a shot as a curious listener or as someone interested in the culture of a small, largely untouched region of central Asia.

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