After the passing of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khanji, there has been a void in the world of Qawwali music. However, Pakistan’s Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan and Party have managed to fill that void. The Party features Dildarji’s son, Abrar Hussain, on soaring vocals, and two of his other sons on vocals and percussion. But the fulcrum is very much Dildarji himself. As well as tabla, the maestro features on harmonium and vocals, confirming him as a musician of towering stature. Dildarji actually trained under Nusratji himself, beginning at the tender age of 15 until Nusratji’s passing. Regarding the album Dildarji explains, “Music should lift the heart and the spirit. That’s the essence of Qawwali. It’s glorification. But to do that it has to communicate, it has to reach out.” That is exactly what he has accomplished by reinventing Qawwali for the 21st century audience on the new Sur Sangeet album.
There is authenticity in the sound of the album, but each track is relatable to a modern-day audience. There are 8 total tracks in the album, and you’ll wish there were plenty more! Each song is perfect to listen to at any time of day – which is a rare thing to say these days for an album as music can get jarring! This album, however, is soothing and makes one feel they are connecting to a higher power. The album is a must have for anyone who loves Qawwali.
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The album opens with the track “Mei Val More Muhlar“. It is one of the longer tracks on the album at 11:44 minutes. This song has the typical sounds of Qawwali music and is more of a traditional track with its beats, harmonium, and vocals. The tabla playing really carries this tune. While Nusratji sometimes used to sing in a much higher register than his songs, Abrar has found the perfect range that showcases his skills while also enhancing the music itself. It is an excellent start to the album.
Track 2, “Sar Tajen Ke Taj” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It is an upbeat song and the vocals are absolutely flawless on it. You’ll find yourself clapping along to the beat. This song could easily have found itself on a modern day Bollywood album (close your eyes and imagine Madhuriji performing a kathak number on it!). It is a wonderful composition.
Track 3 is called “Dhamaal” and relies more on pure tabla playing than vocals. The beats change flawlessly from one segment to the next within the track. Dildarji truly showcases his control over his art form as he seamlessly blends past and present into one track. The track is amazing, especially the part from 2:21 to 2:42 which really exposes Dildarji’s tabla skills. I listened to this track multiple times. The track is incredibly unique in terms of a tabla solo because he has used a combination of tablas that are rarely used in a classical piece. As such, the song does not feel like a typical Qawwali, but brings the music style into the modern age. The two drums – jori treble drum and dhamma – that are used compliment each other well. While the former offers a crisper cleaner sound, the dhamma grounds the beats. One wishes the track was even longer!
Track Four, “Ya Farid” is composed by Dildarji and utilizes the poetry of Iqbal Ranja. This track is one of the few that truly lets the vocals by Abrar truly dominate as opposed to contrasting vocals with heavy background music. This is the first track where the range and clarity of the singer’s voice can really be heard. The vocals are layered incredibly well and draw the listener in. One can feel the connection Dildarji and Abrar have with music. The track would make Nustraji proud for sure.
Track Five, “Asraar Ay Khuda” is a good track, but is one of the weaker numbers on the album in my opinion. It sounded odd to countdown the start of the track by saying “One Two Three”. There also didn’t seem anything too unique about the track compared to the rest of the songs on the album. Still, it is worth a listen.
Track Six, “Kaharva” is another instrumental number, and again, is flawless. Dildarji experiments with various beat patterns. It feels like a number tabla players would use in a jugalbandhi between two tabla masters. Here, Dildarji has managed to capture the power of a jugalbandhi in one track.
“Nabi Hamara,” Track Seven, begins a bit slow, but then picks up around 3 minutes. This track really brings to light Dildarji and Party’s mastery of Qawwali. The transition from a slow beat to a faster beat occurs flawlessly. The background vocals balance Abrar’s voice well in this track. The vocal layers, and various ranges used, almost create a “3D” effect – by which I mean it feels one is at a live concert.
The last track on the album is “Mera Miran.” The track, like Track Five, is a bit weaker than some other numbers on the album but is a nice end to an excellent album. Like Track One, this track felt more rooted in traditional beats, but it helps the listener continue to fall in love with Qawwali as a style.
Overall: This album is the perfect blend of tradition and modernity. We don’t get to hear too many Qawwalis these days, so this album is all the more special. It is a rare gem, and a must have for any music lovers collection.