Posts Tagged ‘essential 10’

Songlines Essential 10: Qawwali Albums

Posted on July 17th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

Qawwali is a devotional music in Pakistan and popular around the world. Simon Broughton picks the best recordings of traditional qawwali, plus some interesting fusions


Faiz Ali Faiz

Your Love Makes Me Dance

(Accords Croisés, 2004)

Faiz Ali Faiz is probably the leading figure in Pakistani qawwali music today. The music with solo voices and backing singers driven by tabla drums, breaks over you in waves. This well-produced album, with pictures and translations in English and French, takes its title from Punjabi poet Bulleh Shah. Reviewed in #27.



Faiz Ali Faiz, Duquende, Miguel Poveda & Chicuelo

Qawwali Flamenco

(Accords Croisés, 2006)

This is what it says on the tin with performers at the top of their game. Spiritual qawwali marries surprisingly well with secular flamenco and both forms share a heightened passion and intensity, assisted by a stellar line-up from both sides of the spectrum. The two CDs basically alternate between qawwali and flamenco numbers, but there are three tracks in which the two forms really come thrillingly together. A Top of the World review in #37.



Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

The King of Sufi Qawwali

(Union Square, 2006)

There are countless recordings of the late qawwali legend, who died in 1997 – from superb concert performances on Ocora and Navras to fusion successes like Mustt Mustt (see below). This double-CD – compiled by Iain Scott with the lyrics lovingly translated by Songlines contributor Jameela Siddiqi – includes his most representative repertoire opening with ‘Allah Hoo’ and concluding with ‘Dam Mast Qalander’ as his concerts often did. Reviewed in #40.



Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Mustt Mustt

(Real World, 1990)

While the above choice is of largely traditional material, this was Nusrat’s big cross-over success in collaboration with producer and guitarist Michael Brook. ‘Mustt Mustt’, a version of a song in praise of the Sufi philosopher and poet Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, has become his best-known song. It was used in Pakistan for a Coke advert and appears here as the original and in a Massive Attack remix.



Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali

Day of Colours

(Real World, 2004)

This is the most recent of Rizwan-Muazzam’s albums for Real World and it features the brothers in superb form with seven qawwalis by Rumi, Baba Bulleh Shah and Amir Khusrau among others. The 13 musicians create a robust sound with lots of punch. Reviewed in #27.



Amjad Sabri

Ecstasy of the Soul

(CM Records, 2012)

Amjad Sabri was one of the preeminent star performers and the current leader of the Sabri Brothers until he was shot in Karachi in June this year. Ecstasy of the Soul is a live recording from Warsaw in 2012 celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations between Poland and Pakistan. It clearly shows what a great musical force has been lost.



The Sabri Brothers

Qawwali Masterworks

(Piranha, 1993)

It was actually the Sabri Brothers who first popularised qawwali in the West. They started touring in 1958 and released a record on Nonesuch in 1978. This is a later double-CD that features more unusual and contemporary repertoire.



Shye Ben Tzur & Jonny Greenwood


(Nonesuch, 2015)

Junun is a curious fusion that combines the raw sound of Rajasthani qawwali, Indian brass, Shye Ben Tzur’s Hebrew vocals with Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead fame) adding bass guitar, electronics and production. It’s strangely compelling, was recorded in the spectacular setting of the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, and has become something of a cult hit. A Top of the World in #114.



Various Artists

Flight of the Soul

(Wergo, 2001)

A brilliant recording of two lesser-known qawwali groups in concert in Berlin, organised by German Sufi expert Peter Pannke. It features Bahauddin Qutbuddin Qawwal & Party, who specialise in Khusrau, and Asif Ali Khan, Manzoor Hussain, Santoo Khan & Party. Wild and vibrant.



Various Artists

Sufis at the Cinema

(Saregama, 2011)

This is ecstatic song on the silver screen – and often quite far from its original context. A splendid double-CD of qawwali music recorded for Bollywood between 1958 and 2007. Artists include Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Nusrat and the current star of glitzy film qawwali, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Nusrat’s nephew. A Top of the World in #77.

This article originally appeared in Songlines #124. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, please visit:

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Essential 10: Indian vocalists

Posted on December 6th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .


Jahnavi Harrison selects Indian vocalists who have all performed at the Darbar Festival over the last decade

prabhaatrePrabha Atre

A Unique Musical Experience

(NA Classical Audio Cassettes, 2013)

Prabha Atre has been called the ‘least recorded artist of her generation.’ This, like most of her albums, is a collection of vintage recordings from the 70s. Her light, expressive voice moves with ease through the collection of ghazals and bhajans – lighter classical forms that nevertheless showcase her sweetly masterful command of breath, tone, melody and rhythm.


drmbalamuralikrishnacdDr M Balamuralikrishna

Pancharatna Krithis

(Magnasound Media, 1995)

The megalith of 20th-century Karnatic music presents the Pancharatna (Five Jewels) compositions of the revered 18th-century saint-poet Thyagaraja. Balamuralikrishna’s tone is grave yet ebullient, a perfect match for the devotional depth of the lyrics. From the lullaby ‘Sadhinchane’ to the saint’s self-reproaching lament, ‘Dudukugala Nanne’.


udaybhawalkarcdUday Bhawalkar


(Living Media India, 2000)

Romantic ‘Raga Bihag,’ traditionally performed between 9pm and midnight, unfolds over one unhurried hour. Bhawalkar never manifests the aggressive vocal gymnastics that are sometimes heard from dhrupad vocalists, rather he retains the pure classicism of the form while displaying his own effortless style.


ashwinibhidecdAshwini Bhide


(Sense World Music, 2007)

Bhide is an exponent of the Jaipur school of Hindustani music, which places great emphasis on set compositions as vehicles for exploring raga. A standout is the sunny ‘Sakal Brij Dhoom’ – traditionally sung during the Holi festival of colours. Reviewed in #38.


kaushikichakrabartycdKaushiki Chakrabarty


(Sense World Music, 2005)

This was the recording that really shot Chakrabarty to international fame. To her surprise, it won in the Asia-Pacific category at the 2005 BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music – and rightfully so. This live recording of a concert in London is aptly named: pure, unalloyed and astonishingly beautiful.


gundechabrotherscdGundecha Brothers


(Sense World Music, 2003)

The resurgence in popularity of the dhrupad genre can be partly attributed to the vigorous teaching and performing of these brothers, who here present a full-length exploration of ‘Raga Komal Rishabh Asavari’. Their harmonious voices intertwine in languorous curls, accompanied only at the end by the sonorous pakhavaj drum.


panditjasrajcdPandit Jasraj

Ornamental Voice

(Chhanda Dhara, 1989)

This legendary musician is still going strong at 85. And this recording, featuring khayal compositions, is dazzling due to the equally masterful accompaniment of Zakir Hussain’s tabla and Sultan Khan on sarangi. ‘Yeho Jnanarange’ is exceptionally moving, though a listen to any of the tracks would captivate music lovers of any description.


ulhaskashalkarcdUlhas Kashalkar

Tarana: Flights of Melody

(Living Media India, 1994)

Tarana is a medieval invention of Sufi poet Amir Khusrau. The structure consists of a short main melody, interspersed with sung rhythmic syllables and poetry. Kashalkar gives concise, virtuosic interpretations of five major Hindustani ragas. With a soaring voice and free rein for improvisation, Kashalkar presents joyful, free-flying melody at its best.


sudharagunathancdSudha Ragunathan

Shakti: Sacred Song from Southern India

(Accords Croisés, 2005)

Amidst a bewildering array of recordings from this highly acclaimed singer, is this collection recorded and released by a French label. Ragunathan chose the short, varied pieces specifically to appeal to an unfamiliar ear, making this a fantastic introduction to the Karnatic genre. The last two tracks provide a more lengthy, energetic crescendo. 


arunasairamcdAruna Sairam

December Season 2002

(Charsur Digital Workstation, 2004)

Sairam’s gutsy voice is unmistakable, and though one of her specialities is the more sedate exposition of South Indian padams, she really excels in full thigh-slapping, octave soaring form. This two-volume live recording presents traditional Karnatic repertoire, with standouts like the galloping ‘Kanakasabhapati’ and ‘Kalinga Nartana Thillana’.

India: discover the music

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The Songlines Essential 10: Calypso Albums

Posted on June 30th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

Calypso has its roots in canboulay music brought to the Caribbean by African slaves, but the style is constantly being revitalised and reinterpreted. Charles de Ledesma traces its history and chooses his top ten albums.

Arrow - Best of Arrow Cover

Best of Arrow (Musicrama, 1999)
Montserrat’s best export, Arrow, reached international stardom with ‘Hot Hot Hot’ (1982), the biggest selling soca chant of all time, but he was more than a one-hit wonder. This album contains social commentary in ‘Bills’ and ‘More Fete’, honouring the culture of the carnival tent system. Arrow died of cancer aged 60 in 2010.



Black Stalin
Roots Rock Soca (Rounder, 1991)
Trinidad’s answer to Jamaican heavyweights like Big Youth and U-Roy, the dreadlocked Rastafari sings of injustice and other social/cultural themes, typically over old-school arrangements including brass and percussion. This collection includes classics ‘Caribbean Unity’, ‘Black Man Music’ and ‘Burn Dem’, the last integrating calypso/soca with Latin elements.


Kobo Town - Jumbie in the Jukebox Cover

Kobo Town
Jumbie in the Jukebox (Cumbancha, 2013)
Anyone who feels pure calypso has slid in recent years needs to head for Belize where producer Ivan Duran is busy concocting a fresh tropical, calypso sound. The brainchild of singer and multi-instrumentalist Drew Gonsalves, Kobo Town offer a lyrically extraordinary outing here, covering subjects such as a re-examination of Trinidad’s dramatic history on ‘The Trial of Henry Marshall’ and caustic social commentary about the tourist experience on ‘Postcard Poverty’.


The Mighty Sparrow - Doctor Bird Cover

Mighty Sparrow
Doctor Bird (VP Records, 2011)
This double-disc Sparrow retrospective perfectly demonstrates the calypso king’s extemporising skills over fine horn work and African percussion. It includes Caribbean bedrocks such as ‘Mr Walker’ – he’s come ‘to meet your daughter’ – ‘Jean and Dinah’, which shot him to fame in 1956, and ‘Obeah Wedding’, with its glorious horn medley, rhythms and commanding vocal.


David Rudder & Charlie's Roots - Haiti Cover

David Rudder & Charlie’s Roots
Haiti (WEA Corp, 1990)
While ‘Bahia Girl’ is the heartthrob singer Rudder’s most ravishing song, just about all his other classics are on Haiti. From the steel pan master-study ‘The Hammer’ to the biting social criticism of ‘Panama’ and on to the pan-island joy of ‘Rally Round the West Indies’, Rudder juxtaposes the bacchanalian heart of modern calypso with traditional, incisive, cultural observation.


Calypso Craze: 1956-57 and Beyond

Various Artists
Calypso Craze: 1956-57 and Beyond (Bear Family, 2014)
An overview of traditional calypso’s golden era when the style took the US by storm. This seven-CD selection covers familiar ground, such as Caresser’s ‘Edward the VIII’ and King Radio’s ‘Matilda’, but little gems surface, such as jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald’s version of ‘Stone Cold Dead in the Market’ and Harry Belafonte’s delicately delivered ‘Kalenda Rock’, with its verse steeped in 19th-century African folk memory.


London is the Place for Me Cover

Various Artists
London is the Place for Me, Vols 1-6 (Honest Jons, 2013)
When master calypsonian Lord Kitchener arrived in England in 1948 on the Empire Windrush he was singing ‘London is the Place for Me’. The classic song rightly opens this three double-CD project of UK-based kaiso singers and bands. The first CD is dominated by cuts by Beginner and Kitchener while the later CDs cover the interplay with jazz and swing.


Panama 2 Cover

Various Artists
Panama! 2 (Soundway, 2009)
Soundway’s Miles Cleret has done a great service in unearthing vintage 45s for the Panama! three-release series. The second disc was particularly outstanding as a showcase of the country’s music.


Rough Guide to Calypso Gold Cover

Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Calypso Gold  (World Music Network, 2015)
This latest Rough Guide offering on music from Trinidad and Tobago is a true blue collection of classics from 1920-50s including Calypso Rose’s ‘Rum & Coca-Cola’, Lord Pretender’s ‘Human Race’ and Relator’s ‘Nora’ – all endlessly hummable, ageless, often hilarious Caribbean pop.


Quelbe & Calypso 1956-60 Cover

Various Artists
Virgin Islands: Quelbe & Calypso 1956-60  (Frémeaux & Associés, 2013)
he Virgin Islands’ quelbe – meaning ‘scratch’ – shows how calypso exists in quite pure form on other Caribbean islands. There is an infectious live feel to artists like The Mighty Zebra, Lloyd Prince Thomas and Bill Fleming. Listen out for The Fabulous McClevertys’ take on ‘Rookombay’, the story of an orisha ritual where the African deity Shango is invoked.

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The Songlines Essential 10: Kora Albums

Posted on May 20th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

The kora has become the defining instrument of West Africa. Simon Broughton picks his ten top albums.

Kaouding Cissoko - Kora Revolution Cover

Kaouding Cissoko
Kora Revolution (Palm Pictures, 1999)
Senegalese kora player Kaouding Cissoko played with Baaba Maal and was co-founder of Afro Celt Sound System. His debut album sticks to African instrumentation, but has a contemporary vibe. There’s great tama (talking drum) playing from Massamba Diop and guest vocals from Baaba Maal. Sadly, Kaouding died of tuberculosis in 2003, aged just 38.


Sidiki Diabaté & Djelimady Sissoko - Ancient Strings Cover

Sidiki Diabaté & Djelimady Sissoko
Ancient Strings (Buda Musique, 2000)
This was the first ever instrumental kora album, first released in 1970. The two headline players were Sidiki Diabaté (Toumani’s father) and Batourou Sékou Kouyaté, who both played in the Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali, although Djelimady Sissoko (Ballaké’s father) and N’Fa Diabaté also featured. It sounds truly groundbreaking.


Toumani Diabaté & Ballaké Sissoko - New Ancient Strings Cover

Toumani Diabaté & Ballaké Sissoko
New Ancient Strings (Rykodisc, 1999)
These two players grew up as neighbours in Bamako and this album pays homage to their fathers who recorded the original Ancient Strings (see above). At least two of the eight tunes here are versions of pieces on the old album, although they’re given new titles. One of the most beautiful of all kora albums, much more effortless than Ancient Strings.


Toumani Diabaté - The Mandé Variations Cover

Toumani Diabaté
The Mandé Variations (World Circuit, 2008)
Although I was tempted to chose Toumani & Sidiki to include a third generation of kora virtuosos, Toumani deserves a solo album and this is a masterpiece. He plays both traditional tunes and new compositions on a traditional instrument that belonged to his father and a new model with machine-head tuning keys.


Djeli Moussa Diawara & Bob Brozman - Ocean Blues Cover

Djeli Moussa Diawara &
Bob Brozman

Ocean Blues (Mélodie, 2000)
This is one of the most outstanding kora fusion albums. It features Guinean maestro and Rail Band alumni Djeli Moussa Diawara with American slide guitar king Bob Brozman. A meeting of musical worlds that shows what’s possible when the chemistry works. It ends with an extraordinary version of ‘Malaika’.


Dawda Jobarteh - Northern Light Gambian Night Cover

Dawda Jobarteh
Northern Light Gambian Night (Sterns, 2011)
Jobarteh is the Gambian spelling of Diabaté, but despite being son of the illustrious kora player Amadou Bansang Jobarteh, Dawda only took up the instrument once he’d migrated to Denmark. The traditional songs and instrumental tracks here are given clean modern arrangements with guitars, bass, African percussion, sax and Indian flute.


Sona Jobarteh - Fasiya Cover

Sona Jobarteh
Fasiya (West African Guild Records, 2011)
Sona is a cousin of Toumani and grand-daughter of Amadou Bansang Jobarteh. Fasiya brings a West African pop sensibility in which Sona sings, plays the kora and many of the other instruments as well. An impressive debut.


Seckou Keita 22 Strings Cover

Seckou Keita
22 Strings (ARC Music, 2015)
The kora is found in Mali, Guinea, the Gambia and the Casamance region of south Senegal. That is where Seckou Keita hails from and has both griot Cissokho heritage and royal Keita lineage. Now resident in the UK, he plays kora and sings on this glorious, completely solo album, which includes some traditional, but mostly original compositions and secured one of this year’s Songlines Music Awards.


Ballaké Sissoko - Tomora Cover

Ballaké Sissoko
Tomora (Label Bleu, 2005)
Here Ballaké, the other great Malian kora player, plays in a superb trio with Mahamadou Kamissoko on ngoni and Fassély Diabaté on balafon. The kora is a relatively recent addition to Malian music compared to these other two instruments. There is really varied repertoire here, including Toumani and singer Rokia Traoré as guests.


Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal - Musique de Nuit Cover

Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal
Musique de Nuit (No Format!, 2015)
There have been many ‘kora plus’ records – including Toumani with Taj Mahal, Sekou Kouyaté with Joe Driscoll and Seckou Keita with Catrin Finch. But the kora and cello duo of Ballaké and Vincent really stands out, both because of the contrasting timbres, but also because of the organic nature of the collaboration. This, the more recent of their two albums, is absolutely sublime, and won them one of this year’s Songlines Music Awards.

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