Posts Tagged ‘sain zahoor’

Now listen to this… Junun, The Gloaming and Tigran Hamasyan

Posted on November 23rd, 2015 in Features, Recent posts by .

Songlines Playlist

Here at Songlines HQ we’re always on the lookout for the most exciting music from around the world. Check out our playlist of the latest tracks that we’ve been listening to.


The Gloaming – ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’
A live performance of ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’ by The Gloaming from their 2013 debut album – in eager anticipation of their new album due out in February.


Shye Ben Tzur & Jonny Greenwood – ‘Dil Ki Bahar’
Qawwali singer Shye Ben Tzur first teamed up with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood for the 2014 Alchemy Festival at London’s Southbank. It was an incredible show and this partnership is what inspired the excellent album with The Rajasthan Express, Junun.


Tigran Hamasyan – ‘Entertain Me’
Tigran’s stunning recording with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir on Luys i Luso, which rightly deserves its place on our Best Albums of 2015 list, caused me to revisit Mockroot from earlier in the year.


Tiken Jah Fakoly feat Ken Boothe – ‘Is it Because I’m Black’
‘Is it Because I’m Black?’ is the first track on Tiken Jah Fakoly’s newest album Racines, released in September. The song features Jamaican vocalist Ken Boothe, who originally sang it on his own album in 1974.


Sain Zahoor and Faiz Ali Faiz
These two performances were held at the Barbican in September. Captivating music by two great artists.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Sain Zahoor, Sufi troubadour in London

Posted on September 16th, 2015 in News, Recent posts by .


One of the most remarkable Sufi singers from Pakistan is at the Barbican this month. Simon Broughton meets him in Pakistan and hears his astonishing story

The Sufi shrine of Mian Meer in Lahore, Pakistan has an elegant central tomb dating from the 18th century. It’s surrounded by a spacious paved enclosure where people come to pray, sit, reflect and enjoy the shade of the trees. The shrine is a quiet, spiritual place in a vibrant, busy city. A regular visitor here is the extraordinary figure of Sain Zahoor. Dressed in a dark turban and bright waistcoat, Zahoor is a holy troubadour who sings in praise of God at Sufi shrines in Punjab. “I am a messenger,” he says, “spreading the words of the saints as widely as possible among the people.”

He’s a charismatic figure with piercing eyes who stamps bells on his feet and sings into the belly of his ektara, the stringed instrument often used by ascetics and holy men. ‘Allah-hoo, Allah-hoo,’ he coos, using it as a resonator. Between verses of his song, he twirls and the coloured tassels on his ektara fly.

Sain Zahoor was born in Punjab in 1946. As a child, he says, he had a recurring dream that haunted him every night. “I saw a grave and a hand coming out beckoning me. In my sleep I’d start walking towards the hand, but then I’d bump into something and wake up.” A local Sufi told him to search for the place in his dream and Zahoor left home to look for the grave. Weren’t his parents worried about him leaving? “No, they were fed up with my dream!”

Zahoor spent about three years searching for the tomb, sleeping in “mosques, shrines, even the jungle.” When he reached Uch Sharif – the ‘City of Saints’ – deep in the south of Punjab, he recognised the place of his dreams. When he arrived, a boy came up to him and asked if he was Sain Zahoor. “We’ve been waiting for you,” he said and took him to the man who became his spiritual teacher.

Sain Zahoor sings kafi, which are solo, song-like verses of Sufi poets. It’s very different from qawwali, which will be performed by Faiz Ali Faiz at the same concert in the Barbican. Sain Zahoor mostly sings the Punjabi poems of Baba Bulleh Shah (1680-1758). He can’t read or write and has learned the poetry by heart. “Whenever I sing his songs,” he says, “it’s as if Bulleh Shah is singing inside me. ‘I don’t go to the mosque of the imam, I go to the mosque of the heart,’ said Bulleh Shah.” The saint was born spookily close to Uch Sharif where Zahoor was drawn in his dream. He was one of Punjab’s most defiant Sufis who, at the end of the 17th century, countered the hardline religious decrees of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb by singing and dancing from village to village.

Sain Zahoor got ‘discovered’ by a television producer and started appearing on radio and TV. He also got taken up by Lok Virsa, Pakistan’s Institute of Folk Heritage, who sent him as part of delegations to India and around the world. In 2006 he won a BBC Award for World Music, which has helped him find a whole new audience.

Sain Zahoor and qawwali singer Faiz Ali Faiz are at the Barbican Centre on Sunday, September 27 
There are are also six further dates round the UK in Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford, Burnley and Nottingham




Tags: , , , .

Mystic Music Festival in Konya, September 22-30

Posted on October 2nd, 2014 in News, Recent posts by .


Simon Broughton pays a visit to the Mystic Music Festival in Konya with performances from Kayhan Kalhor and Sain Zahoor

I’ve spent the last few days at the Mystic Music Festival in Konya, Turkey, which ran for nine days until September 30. Konya is most famous, of course, for the shrine and mausoleum of Rumi, the Sufi poet and religious leader who died here in 1273. His followers, known as the Mevlevi or the Whirling Dervishes, spread throughout the Ottoman Empire. But in modern times, the translations of his Persian poems of tolerance, plurality and love within that have made him a spiritual inspiration worldwide. Annually, Konya is visited by two and a half million people, 500,000 from overseas.

September 30 is Rumi’s birthday and the festival included musicians from Iran, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Indonesia, Mayotte, Spain, Bolivia and Turkey. These included kamancheh master Kayhan Kalhor (who played at Songlines Encounters in June, see #100), but here with a five-piece Iranian ensemble accompanying poetry of Rumi; and the extraordinary Sain Zahoor (pictured below), a true Sufi mystic from Punjab, who won a BBC Award for World Music in 2006. His speciality is the Punjabi poetry of Bulleh Shah. “I don’t feel it’s me singing,” he says, “it’s as if Bulleh Shah is singing inside me.” The festival ended, of course, with a performance of Mevlevi music and whirling from the Konya Turkish Sufi Music Ensemble.


Back in the 13th century Konya was the capital of the Turkish Seljuk empire. It’s not one of Turkey’s most immediately appealing cities, but there are some magnificent buildings surviving from that golden age. Rumi’s tomb in the mausoleum, with its distinctive green conical dome, is a place of pilgrimage and also a fascinating museum of Mevlevi belief, history and music. There are a couple of guys from Birmingham, also regular visitors to the Fes Festival, who are here for the third time. “It’s a great place to chill out and hear some really quality performances,” one of them, a lawyer, tells me.

I write this having just emerged from a transformative Turkish bath (hamam). Turkish food, the Turkish bath and probably Iznik tilework are the three greatest Turkish contributions to civilisation. In the hamam, dating back to Seljuk times, I was scrubbed with an abrasive glove – producing köfte kebabs of dirt and skin – and then lathered with soapy foam from a muslin bag which was then kneaded in. As I lay on the marble slab I gazed at star shaped holes in the ceiling. Glorious. It was finished off with a glass of tea – and Turkish tea is surely the best in the world. I emerged floating on air.


I also took the opportunity to go and see the mausoleum of the other important Sufi mystic, Hacı Bektaş. A contemporary of Rumi, he was the founder of the Alevi Bektaşi Sufis and his shrine is in a town now called Hacıbektaş about 260km from Konya (pictured above). Whereas the Mevlevis became close to the Ottoman court, the Alevi were simple rural people and have always been associated with the grassroots. Put simply, the Mevlevis were an educated elite while the Alevis were ordinary folk – and that’s very obvious in the costumes and headscarfs of the women that come to the Hacıbektaş shrine. In an Alevi gathering music is played on the saz (long-necked lute) and men and women participate together on an equal basis. One of Hacı Bektaş’ most celebrated sayings is “a nation which does not educate its women cannot progress.” A message that still needs to be remembered in many parts of the world today.

Both Rumi and Hacı Bektaş have left a huge musical legacy. As well as all the music for the Mevlevi sema ceremonies (one of them composed by Sultan Selim III), there are countless settings of his lyrics and all the ney (reed flute) repertoire symbolising man’s search for God. The musical legacy of Hacı Bektaş is the music of the aşik minstrels, accompanying themselves on saz, which is so central to Turkish folk tradition. In fact at Hacıbektaş I bought a wonderful piece of kitsch – a statue of Pir Sultan Abdal, an Alevi minstrel and follower of Hacı Bektaş who was celebrated for his songs of struggle. He’s standing, dressed as a dervish holding his saz aloft in triumph. He’s a 16th-century Sufi musician, but totally rock’n’roll.


Tags: , , , .