Love at first listening

It is 1984. My husband and I are at our friend Shankar’s place. He puts on this CD and the rooms fills with this amazing Voice. The conversation goes on around me but it seems to fade; I am surrounded by a buffer of stillness where only the Voice exists..and me. It is gravelly in places, smooth in others. Singing from low notes to incredibly high ones in a swoop of ecstasy. I fall in I fall in passion.  The passing of years doesn’t reduce this passion, but just deepens it.

The day he dies, I am furious with him. I haven’t yet heard him live and now I never would. I am SO furious. Even more so because just over a year before he dies, he plays at Womad at Adelaide and even though my husband suggests we go, I hesitate and decide against as we are cash strapped. I kick myself even now. What an idiot I was!! I should have hocked the house…

Many years pass. It is 2005. My birthday. We are in Prague for a holiday, the whole family. We’ve had a deeply disturbing day. Our car has been stolen. We’ve spent a stressful day ‘talking’ to the police in a language we don’t speak. I fall asleep tired and sad. And I have this vivid dream, this lucid dream. NFAK comes to me with a Qawwali troupe.  He says ‘I didn’t know you loved me so much! Let me sing you something to make you feel better’. And I listen enthralled to the musical outpourings of this genius.  Now the memory of that stolen car only makes me smile secretly, for its the day when I at last heard my idol ‘live’. A wonderful birthday present for me.

So how do I choose one song from the hundred odd songs I listen to regularly? Too many fit the criteria of being personally meaningful. There was the one that Anish kicked to in my womb. The other that I cried to when my mum died. The one which gave me my first mystical experience. The one for which I wept tears of gratitude. The one he sang to me in my dream. The one in which this particular note…oh! what a note..makes me gasp. Can a universe be contained in this gap between one note and the next? It does.  Finally I am choosing one purely based on a availability of a good quality recording online.  When it is all so well loved, making a choice becomes meaningless.

Album : Shahen Shah (1989)

Label : Real World

Song : Kali Kali Zulfon Ke Phande na Dalo

Lyrics : Farrukh Ali Khan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Singer : Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948 – 1997)

NFAK–Kali Kali Zulfon


Filed under Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Qawwali

5 responses to “Love at first listening

  1. N

    I am speechless 🙂

  2. Ravi

    Qawwali, too, Suja?

    I left a comment yesterday and came back today to see if you had anything on Mohana ragam. Then I saw that you had a few entries on Qawwali. So I veered off course but was rewarded when I read your entry on “Main To Piya Se Naina.”

    If I’m ignorant about Carnatic music theory, which I am, my ignorance on Qawwali is fathomless. Undaunted, I usually dive deep, come up for air, dive deep again, hoping that I’ll come upon pearls of wisdom before I run out of breath. I am usually rewarded, my fruitful visits to your site being one example.

    I heard Qawwali music before but wasn’t a big fan. Then when my daughter was in a Bhangra group at Cornell University, I used to hear more Qawwali music and started warming up to it, but it was my son who introduced me to Nusrat. He plays all sorts of percussion instruments, both Western and Indian, with mridangam being his favorite. He’s just as happy listening to Chembai, KVN or Santhanam as he is to Beatles, Ray Charles or the late Jeff Buckley, who was a huge fan of Nusrat. My son persuaded me to listen to some of Nusrat’s music and I became hooked. As much as I enjoy listening to “Kali Kali Zulfon,” which you featured, I sometimes play Nusrat’s “Tum Ek Gorakh Dhanda Ho” (You are a Puzzle) several times successively, for it is addictive. Video, lyrics and meaning here:

    Here’s Jeff Buckley on Nusrat: “Part Buddha, part demon, part mad angel…his voice is velvet fire, simply incomparable. Nusrat’s blending of classical improvisations to the art of Qawwali, combined with his out and out daredevil style and his sensitivity, outs him in a category all his own, above all others in his field.” Jeff was just getting started. He waxes poetic some more, and his winged words take flight here:

    Jeff died young, too, as Nusrat did. But not before leaving a mark, as his idol did in spades. Jeff’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s classic song “Hallelujah” is, I believe, the standard to which other renditions are measured. Some have matched it, but none, I feel, has surpassed it.

    Before I bore you to tears, let me say so long. Thanks.

    – Ravi

    • Yes, absolutely Qawwali too Ravi !!

      Sorry for a delayed response, I have been very busy with guests; I have had to keep my blogging aside for the moment.

      Do you really think one has to be knowledgeable to appreciate Qawwalis? Somehow my appreciation of Qawwalis has always been visceral rather than intellectual. And somehow I think that was how it was meant to be. I saw a hint of that thinking in the Jeff Buckley article you forwarded (which I have read before, I am like a mad fan of NFAK :). When listening to Qawwalis, I like to get into a state where the words do not matter anymore, where I can feel the essence of the music without the intellect coming in the way. In fact, my first experience of a meditative out-of-body experience came when listening to NFAK, the music taking me into a state of trance which was possibly one of the best experiences of my life. Words did not matter at all! I am well familiar with Tum Ek Gorakh Dhanda Ho; I bought the cd of the same name some 25 years back! I have a vast collection of his music and there is much that I love. These past few years I have been very much focusing on Carnatic Music but every now and then, I go back to ‘my’ Nusrat like one goes back to one’s favourite comfort food! That reminds me, I need to do a post another Qawwali before long..

      I enjoyed Jeff’s Hallelujah which I had not heard before. I confess that I am too involved in my love of Indian music to listen much to non-Indian music of which I am very ignorant..

      I was happy to hear about your musical experiences, and I can never hear enough praise of NFAK 🙂

      Cheers. Suja

  3. Ravi

    You are absolutely right, Suja, when you say that one doesn’t necessarily have to know the intricacies of Qawwali to appreciate it (or any type music, for that matter, such as this one recommended by Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole: ).

    I have an amusing repartee for that observation, however. Back in the late 1970s when I was going to college in New York, there were print advertisements posted on the subway station walls. One of them was for Levy’s rye bread. The ad, popular then, said, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s”. One wag added a comment in ink at the bottom that said, “. . . but it helps!”

    In that vein (sort of!), it helps to know the meaning of an enthralling song you heard. It adds to the experience and seldom detracts from it. For example, when I first heard Annamacharya’s “ekkaDi mAnuSha janmaM” many years ago, I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t help but think that there is something deeper about that Kriti. Sure enough, there was ( Same goes for “Tum Ek Gorakh Dhanda Ho.” That’s why when you expatiate on the poetry of Amir Khusrau Dehlavi “Main To Piya Se Naina”), you help the uninitiated (or even the initiated) and add to the experience.

    With that said, let me just say I look forward to reading your next post on Qawwali.

    Take care and stay well,

    – Ravi

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