Monday, October 31, 2011

Dancing on Bud Russell's Grave: Lightnin' Hopkins

Sam Houston 'Lightning' Hopkins

“Goin’ back to Dallas, take my razor and my gun / . . . There’s so much shit in Texas, I’m bound to step in some.”
Texas had a reputation for many decades of being full of the stinky stuff, especially for African Americans, as tonight’s opening lyric from an unknown blues singer rather grimly attests.  Places like Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi usually get the rap for having been the real shit holes but Black Americans have known for decades that Texas, the Lone Star State, has never been that far behind.

Lightnin’ Hopkins was a Texan. He was also one of the most influential blues guitarists America has ever produced. His electric guitar playing style is raw and gritty. His voice sounds like sandpaper scraping slowly against a 2X4. Sit him in room, plug in his guitar and he’d make up a blues.
Generally speaking, Lightnin’ was not a political bluesman. He sang about love gone wrong, love so right, leaky roofs, drinking too much and gambling. The usual blues world. His songs rarely addressed (head on, anyway) racism or police brutality.  But not always.
He sang a song called Bud Russell Blues which opens like this
Sure is hot out here/ Bud Russell don’t care/You know Bud Russell drove them pretty womens/ just like he did those ugly mens
For 44 years Bud Russell was a hated and feared man in Texas. His job was to transfer prisoners from the 256 county jails across Texas to the State Penitentiary in Huntsville. He and his brother Roy would shackle the prisoners, often by the neck, toss them in a metal cage on wheels, and drive them across the second biggest state in the Union to the Big House. A brutal man and a womanizer Bud carried a shotgun and had no problem shooting to kill. 
The picture below of Roy (left) and Bud Russell with their infamous wagon is from 1934. 

So feared was he that America’s best known bandit, Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie and Clyde fame) wrote letters to his lover full of dread of being caught by ‘Uncle Bud’.  Such was his presence on the State’s consciousness that one of America’s most famous songs, Midnight Special goes like this:
Let the Midnight Special shine her light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine her ever-lovin' light on me

"Here come Bud Russell," How in the world do you know?"
Well he know him by his wagon, and his forty-fo'

Big gun on his shoulder, big knife in his hand
He's comin' to carry you back to Sugarland.
Texas Blues is my favorite Lightnin’ Hopkins record. It is so full of great songs, including Bud Russell Blues. Equally harrowing and startling in their starkness are Slavery Time a song that laments

One thousand years my peoples was slaves/ When I was born they teach me this way
Tip your hat to the peoples/ Be careful son about what you say.

And Black and Evil, a song of sad defiant self hate. 
It’s not all darkness though in Texas. Hopkins shows off his humor (Bald Headed Woman) and finger picking genius (Watch My Fingers) on this absolutely essential recording.  If you have even the smallest interest in the blues and real, good music you need this album.

          Track Listing:
01 Once Was a Gambler
02 Meet You at the Chicken Shack
03 Bald Headed Woman
04 Tom Moore Blues
05 Watch My Fingers
06 Love Like a Hydrant
07 Slavery Time
08 I Would If I Could
09 Bud Russell Blues
10 Come On Baby
11 Money Taker
12 Mama's Fight
13 My Woman
14 Send My Child Home To Me
15 Have You Ever Loved a Woman
16 Black and Evil
Listen here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Invincible: The Sabri Brothers

Qawwali Group by Jamil Afridi

As promised, here are four qawwalis from the Sabri Brothers.  

The record is from 1975 and reveals some of the marketing strategems of the suits at EMI Karachi. Obviously a younger, more hip audience was wanted.  The cover art is a rather modern rendering of what is probably meant to be a Pakistani village. And each of the qawwalis is introduced by some rather incongruous Montavani-esque strings and lute plucking that would not be out of place in a hotel lobby or airplane lounge.  But thankfully this segues neatly into the classic traditional style of qawwali the Sabri Brothers never strayed too far from their entire lives.

And so to take you out on this Saturday night, ladies and gentlemen, Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri and Haji Maqbool Ahmad Sabri.

My favourite is number 3:  Mere Data Karam ho Baraye Karam as I spent many hours around the mazar of Data Sahib in Lahore, to whom this qawwali is directed, when I was a student.

Apologies for the hiss. Obviously a well worn record…which in a way is its own recommendation!

            Track Listing:
       01 Mohammad Ki Chatai Ne Bhi Kya Taqdeer Pai Hai
02 Chalo Madine Gham Ke Maro
03 Mere Data Karam ho Baraye Karam
04 Ghaus Ka Martaba Dekh Kar Mangna

Listen here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Another Passing: Maqbool Ahmad Sabri Qawwal

Maqbool Ahmad Sabri Qawwal
1941 - 2011

Another colossus of music passed away about a month ago. Unlike Jagjit Singh, the Grand Duke of the Ghazal, this passing was not widely noted by music bloggers and western media but undoubtedly represents a much  greater loss to South Asian music.

Maqbool Ahmad Sabri, of the famous Sabri Brothers qawwali group died in South Africa on September 21st, where he had gone to seek medical treatment. He was 70 years old and had not sung for several months.  It is sad and ironic that the demise of the mighty voice of qawwali came with the softest of whispers in the world press.

I first heard the Sabri Brothers when they visited the States in the mid 70s. They played at Carnegie Hall and are credited with being the ones who introduced western audiences to traditional qawwali.  I loved them because they had long hair and connected me with a land I missed. For years when you heard the word ‘qawwali’ you automatically said, Sabri Brothers. The two words were synonymous.

In their steps would come others like Aziz Mian that other great purveyor of traditional naat qawwali.  And following behind him the giant Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who popularised and blended qawwali with contemporary sounds and western sensibilities to raise the form to an internationally loved and lucrative style. 

The Sabri Brothers stayed on the true path (which is not to cast aspersions upon contemporary Qawwali) delighting, exciting and enthralling audiences who wanted the sort of qawwali that originated around the mazars of the Sufi saints and the mosques.
Maqbool Ahmad was the younger of the two brothers. He was born in East Punjab and like so many millions of other Muslims fled west in 1947 when the British partitioned India and went home. His family, poor but musically inclined, settled in Karachi.  Maqbool and his older brother Ghulam Farid were still not yet out of their teens when they formed their singing group and began performing at urs in Sindh and Punjab.
Beginning in 1958 with their first recording for EMI Pakistan (Mera Koi Nahin Hai) they began a long and very successful career of recording and performing. The first to blaze the qawwali trail outside of South Asia they became international stars but always returned to their beloved Pakistan.
In honor of the great man the Washerman’s Dog tonight presents a rare collection of ghazals recorded in India on one his (70’s?) tours. I will be posting more Sabri Brothers soon but this record is all about Maqbool Ahmad and his lovely lovely voice.  Thank you Janab for all the passion for all the power and all the glory all these years.

            Track Listing:
            01 Ke Ghungroo Toot Gaye
     02 Abke Saal Poonam Men
    03 Teri Baaten Sunane Aaye
    04 Din Ek Sitam Ek Sitam Raat Karo Ho
Listen here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Leaving from Platform 1: Sohail Rana

Tonight’s post shines the pop spot light on a strange little gem from that ever confounding country Pakistan. A concept album about a train and its journey across the countryside. An album with no vocals. An album of popular music with no links at all to film studios, stars or songs. An album that is chock full of short little musically diverse snippets that against all expectation actually hold together to create an atmosphere. Not exactly the same atmosphere I remember from my trips on Pakistan Railways but a musical atmosphere that is quite unlike anything else I’ve come across in my search for the quieter lagoons of South Asian pop.

As the son of renowned Urdu poet Rana Akbar Abadi, Sohail Rana was born into a respected family in Agra, India in 1938. Having achieved academic qualifications in his formative years in Karachi, Rana moved into a career in musical composition following a chance meeting with media mogul and future long-running collaborator Waheed Murad that led to a job composing music for the Lahore (Lollywood) film industry.  His early standout compositions for films like Armaan, Jay Sey Deika Hai  and Heera Aur Pathar marked the beginning of a filmography of 25 films working along side luminaries as Runa Laila, Noor Jehan, Ahmed Rushdie, Tafo and M. Ashraf while balancing his non-film career as a stand alone composer of popular music.  Combining his well studied interest in science, technology, music and English literature, Sohail’s early records introduced experimental techniques and electric instruments to his unique blend of Western pop and traditional Pakistani folk music. (liner notes)

Sohail Rana (left) and Ahmed Rushdie

With the status in his country similar to that of Laxmikant or Anandji in India, Rana was one of Pakistan’s best loved composers of film scores.  Many of the films he scored were block busters racking up upwards of 50 ‘House Full’ weeks and turning singers like Ahmed Rushdie into stars. Those were the days, eh? When Pakistan still had a film industry that actually produced fine films and could support a mini universe of singers, composers and technicians. He has worked with several generations of singers (Mehdi Hassan, Farida Khanum) as well as taught younger ones like Nazia Hassan and the mega star Adnan Sami.  His living room shelves creak with trophies and awards given to him by Presidents, record companies and peers.

All (and we mean ALL) aboard!

Sohail’s explorations in world music with his band The Forethoughts led to two successful self initiated projects entitled Folk Tunes of Pakistan On the Latin American Beat and Four Folk Tunes of Pakistan which garnered critical acclaim through the East with EMI-funded tracks appearing on oriental, bellydance and exotic LP compilations marketed to tourists and easy listening  enthusiasts alike. (including this one) In 1969, EMI Pakistan funded Rana’s most ambitious project to date, Khyber Mail, which would run the length of a full 12” disc (a seldom pressed format in Pakistan at the time) with the hope of appealing to a wider global audience.

The resulting concept album, designed to invoke images and sounds of a high speed Pakistani train travelling from Karachi to Peshawar, was dominated by Sohail’s whining and addictive electric keyboard and motoric rhythm section of beaty percussion and sitars introducing a form of radical patchwork pop and mechanical music to a warm receptive audience.  By combining the folk music of Sindh, Punjab with  maverick sounds, signatures and rhythms, Khyber Mail, marks a landmark shift in the Pakistani pop industry, kick-starting a lengthy career for one of its best loved musical patrons, while setting a challenging new standard for the ‘plugged in’ Lollywood pop scene that would explode at the turn of the decade. (liner notes)

Throughout the 70s and 80s Rana served in Pakistan Television as composer conductor and producer. Khyber Mail went on to be one of the best selling records in Pakistani history.  Since the early 1990s Rana lives in Canada where he continues to teach music.

            Track Listing:
01.  Khyber Mail
02.  Al-Vida
03.  Saat Maatray
04.  Soul Sitar
05.  Harvest Time
06.  Cobra Sway
07.  Indus Waves
08.  Chandni aur Tum
09.  Alladin
10.  Shahbaz Qalandar (Sound of Wonder)

Listen here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy New Year!: Shubh Diwali !!!

Happy Diwali  and lots of good groovin' for the next 12 months!

Some bombastic, fun, old, new, Bollywood, classical, ghazal music for your celebrations!

                   Track Listing:

01 Jai Ho  A.R. Rahman
02 I Love You  Vivin Lobo
03 Ye Kaisa Naya Saal  Bappi Lahiri
04 Ganapati   Susheela Raman
05 Whiskey Di Bottle  Gunjit Singh
06 Ek Ladki Ko Dekha   Kumar Sanu
07 Dancing Drums  Ananda Shankar
08 Boom Boom   Nazia Hassan
09 Aao Twist Karen (from 'Bhoot Bungla' 1965)  Kazi Aniruddha
10 Main Ladki Tu Ladka (from Dil Diwana)  Asha Bhosle
11 Brimful of Asha  Cornershop
12 Zindagi ek safar hai  Kishore Kumar
13 Sharab Cheez Hi Aisi  Pankaj Udhas
14 Ramba Ho Ho Ho Samba Ho Ho Ho  Usha Uthup
15 Choo Kar Mere Man Ko  Sunil Ganguly
16 Terian Gulabi Buliyan  A.S Kang
17 Kya Hua Tera Vada (Hum Kisise Kum Nahin)   Joe Gomes
18 Ganga Aaye    Hemant Kumar
19 Sunset over the Ganges  Monsoon (featuring Sheila Chandra)
20 Aanandam   Debashish Bhattacharya
21 Ja Sha Taan (Transglobal Underground Karachi Deathcult Mix)  Fun Da Mental
22 Jai Jai Aarati  O.S. Arun

Listen here.