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.

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