Sufi Music: From India

Various Artists

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Sufi Music: From India Review

by Adam Greenberg

Sufi music may have its real contemporary core in the qawwali of Pakistan, but there's a strong contingent in India as well. The instrumentation is somewhat similar to that found in Pakistan, with a harmonium and drums (largely the mridangam, though the tabla makes an appearance from time to time), though much of the rhythmic clapping is removed. More importantly from an instrumentation perspective, though, is the influence of the Indian film industry -- many of the Sufi singers have a stock of film credits under their belts, being popular singers in a culture dominated by the musical and voice-over songbirds. The artists represented here each portray something of a different aspect of contemporary Indian Sufi music. Rekha Bardawaj has a history in film voice-overs, but left much of it behind to focus on a more natural (and less falsetto) vocal style, leading to more contemplative songs and more contemporary instrumentation (there's even an electric bass groove in the intro to "Chingari"). Hans Raj Hans has his hands in cultural affairs generally, but has a bouncing, rollicking musical canvas behind his folk-style vocals, and from time to time brings in a proper hand-clapping chorus reminiscent of qawwali. Zila Khan uses a classical training gained largely from her father (Vilayat Khan) but infuses her songs with a contemporary beat. The Wadali Brothers provide a more restrained and older approach, and Abida Parveen uses her husky voice to take in elements of a number of classical styles, ultimately creating something carefully laid between dhrupad, qawwali, and thumri, but entirely her own style at the same time. For a single-disc introduction to Sufi music outside of the usual qawwali and whirling dervishes, this is an excellent pick, with a good breadth and high quality of music.

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