Releases

Ustad Saami • Pakistan Is For The Peaceful

Release Date: 09/10/2020
Format: CD/DL
Cat-No: GBCD/LP 097

01. Prayer For a Saint (19:50)
02. Aman (Peace) (20:22)
03. True Notes (“Happy Morning”)(06:33)

“Backed by tanpura, harmonium and tablas, Saami sings with multiple accompanying voices, rising in front of them with electrifying force and terrifying beauty. Precious, melancholy valedictions for a 1000 years of sound.” —The Wire

Following his critically acclaimed debut, God Is Not a Terrorist (2019), 49-note scale microtonal vocal master Ustad Saami returns with an epic part two. Pakistan Is for the Peaceful presents an even       more immersive work, comprised of just three extended tracks and again produced 100% live at the master’s rooftop home in Karachi by Grammy-winner Ian Brennan (Tinariwen, Zomba Prison Project, The Good Ones), with musical accompaniment provided by Ustad’s four sons.

Ustad Saami is the last living surti master, a precursor of the ancient Islamic devotional music of qawwali.

As The Quietus noted: “when Ustad Saami dies, these forty-nine notes die with him.”

The seventh release from Glitterbeat’s acclaimed Hidden Musics series.

———————————————————

At age seventy-six, Ustad still practices from 4 AM to noon most days, drilling himself with exercises. Though his physical hearing has declined and he requires in-ear aids for daily communication, his powers of perception continue to rise.

As a child, he was the chosen one from his family and his master forbade him to speak for years. During this period, he was only allowed to express himself vocally, not verbally. He studied for thirty-five years to perfect this system before he ever even stepped onstage. It was the same trajectory as puff pop-stars, only inverted —  they start performing prematurely and get even more flaccid over time.

Instead, Ustad explores the subtlety of human emotion through microtones, an attempt to turn “negatives positive” through the reclamation of those tones deemed out-of-tune.

Following Saami’s debut album, a World Music expert in Los Angeles was flummoxed that she could not find any reference to the master’s system on the internet. Ironically, this absence of reference actually stands as proof rather than refuting his rarity. It cannot be found elsewhere precisely because it is his system— a customized work of recovery— with Ustad the only living vocal practitioner.

— Ian Brennan

———————————————————

“Goose pimples are abundant as his voice soars and curls high up into the vaulted ceiling like shimmering protoplasm, finding transcendent understanding beyond words.” — Mojo (review of Le Guess Who? 2019)

For an artist that had never before appeared onstage outside of Pakistan, Ustad Saami began his international touring career auspiciously. In 2019 he wooed major festivals with set lists often made up of a single musical piece stretching non-stop for over an hour. These debut appearances were at WOMAD (UK and Australia) and the Le Guess Who? Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands. Saami has already been booked for the 2021 Roskilde Festival in Denmark.

———————————————————

Pakistan Is for the Peaceful was recorded live at the master’s rooftop home in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2018.
The master is accompanied by his four sons: Rauf (group leader, harmonium, vocals), Urooj (primary response vocalist, tambura number one), Ahmed (tambura number two, vocals) and Azeem (tablas, vocals).

Produced & engineered by Ian Brennan

Mixed by David Odlum (Dublin, Ireland)

Photographs & video by Marilena Delli

 

Ustad Saami • God Is Not a Terrorist

Release Date: 18/01/2019
Format: CD/LP/DL
Cat-No: GBCD/LP 067

1. God Is (3:14)
2. My Beloved is on the Way (5:28)
3. Twilight (10:28)
4. Hymn (1:09)
5. War Song (7:31)
6. Longing (18:51)

 

Hawks crowd the skies above Karachi as a blessing. They are fed the scraps from animal sacrifices due to the prayers of the non-verbal being thought to reach God more powerfully.

75-year-old, Ustad Saami risks his life daily in Pakistan to keep alive his microtonal, pre-Islamic, multilingual (Farsi, Sanskrit, Hindi, the ancient and dead language of Vedic, gibberish, Arabic, and Urdu) music. Handed down by his ancestors for over a thousand years, he is the only practitioner of Surti left in the world and when he passes, this music will die with him as well. Though he is a master of many genres (Khayál, Sudh Bani, et al), Ustad Saami works from his own custom 49-note system and custom tunes his accompanying instruments accordingly. He believes that the modern, rigid divisions of what are and are not notes has done “violence” to music and he is trying to restore ancient “lost” pitches. Extremists resent his work as they do anything else pre-dating Muhammad.

In the land where Osama Bin last hid, Master Ustad Naseeruddin Saami has spent his entire life mastering the nuances of every given note.

It has been said that India always had a region where all of the greatest singers came from. And that place is Pakistan.

One of just nine countries in the world to possess nuclear arms and the only Islamic nation to do so, the Pakistani state is so feared that the US government does not allows its staff to stay in hotels anywhere in the entire country. Any hotel— about as daunting a travel warning as could be issued.

Driving in from the airport I noticed a man cleaning what I thought was a musical instrument, but then realized was a machine gun. Weaponry is another visual motif throughout the city. Enroute, we passed celebrity-soldier sponsor billboards for house paint. Here, army officers carry a similar hollow cache to reality stars in America.
“To sing is to listen.” These are the words of the master. The translation of his own last name, Saami, even means “to hear.”

For him, everything centers on one note. From that, all else grows and music is seen as a sixth sense for people to better communicate with each other. With great precision, Saami utilizes 49-notes versus the West’s mere seven. The scale was founded by a mix-raced royal whose lifelong endeavor was to make peace with duality through art. That predecessor of Qawwali music is called Khayál, the Arabic word for “imagination” and in it the melody carries the meaning. The lyrics are almost incidental during these call-and-responses.

But today neophyte, urbane media-moguls tell the master that he doesn’t know how to sing since his notes fail to align on a sanitized and dumbed-down grid. Engineers are unable to see his notes on their Pro Tools system, so they assume that it is the artist not the machine that is mistaken. But it is the uneven pitches that the master values as being the most searching, while those with even numbers too stable.

A compounding cultural force is that extremists are driving the music out of Islam, viewing it as having no place in a righteous society. So now the five calls to prayer blasted over intercoms around the clock are harsh and off-pitch. Harmonium, the instrument that is now so strongly associated with the region, was actually introduced by missionaries and banned from the radio until 1962. That was D-Day culturally for Pakistan. The instrument restricted music to off/on keys, excluding all other possibilities.

As we sat being interviewed by a local journalist in a hotel lobby, there was an irony to the endless loop of Christmas songs that filled every corner in the background. And badly rendered MIDI versions at that.

Pakistan was created by the largest mass migration in history as Muslims and non-Muslims swapped sides of the border. Most westward migrants ended-up in the port city of Karachi with the promise that they would eventually be relocated and integrated throughout Pakistan. But that promise remains unfulfilled and these relative newcomers remain cordoned off in the city, forming micro-regions that reflect wherever they migrated from in India before first alighting.

The master shapes the notes with his hands as he sings like conducting a Theremin. Most master’s now hide their knowledge, possessively passing their skills down through family only. Subsequently, traditions have died and wither. Master Saami’s mission is to share his knowledge with the world, so that the music may live on freely.

With the musician’s tongues reddened and teeth devastated from chewing Paan, we recorded all night long taking only a short break for a meal. In the morning after the sun had come up, the younger players were understandably collapsing from exhaustion. The master, though, displayed markedly more energy than when we had begun the night before. He urged the others to keep going, but was unsuccessful. His power proved too much for them to keep up with.

— Ian Brennan

 

Ustad Saami

 

“Backed by tanpura, harmonium and tablas, Saami sings with multiple accompanying voices, rising in front of them with electrifying force and terrifying beauty. Precious, melancholy valedictions for a 1000 years of sound.” —The Wire

Following his critically acclaimed debut, God Is Not a Terrorist (2019), 49-note scale microtonal vocal master Ustad Saami returns with an epic part two. Pakistan Is for the Peaceful presents an even       more immersive work, comprised of just three extended tracks and again produced 100% live at the master’s rooftop home in Karachi by Grammy-winner Ian Brennan (Tinariwen, Zomba Prison Project, The Good Ones), with musical accompaniment provided by Ustad’s four sons.

Ustad Saami is the last living surti master, a precursor of the ancient Islamic devotional music of qawwali.

As The Quietus noted: “when Ustad Saami dies, these forty-nine notes die with him.”

The seventh release from Glitterbeat’s acclaimed Hidden Musics series.

———————————————————

At age seventy-six, Ustad still practices from 4 AM to noon most days, drilling himself with exercises. Though his physical hearing has declined and he requires in-ear aids for daily communication, his powers of perception continue to rise.

As a child, he was the chosen one from his family and his master forbade him to speak for years. During this period, he was only allowed to express himself vocally, not verbally. He studied for thirty-five years to perfect this system before he ever even stepped onstage. It was the same trajectory as puff pop-stars, only inverted —  they start performing prematurely and get even more flaccid over time.

Instead, Ustad explores the subtlety of human emotion through microtones, an attempt to turn “negatives positive” through the reclamation of those tones deemed out-of-tune.

Following Saami’s debut album, a World Music expert in Los Angeles was flummoxed that she could not find any reference to the master’s system on the internet. Ironically, this absence of reference actually stands as proof rather than refuting his rarity. It cannot be found elsewhere precisely because it is his system— a customized work of recovery— with Ustad the only living vocal practitioner.

— Ian Brennan

———————————————————

“Goose pimples are abundant as his voice soars and curls high up into the vaulted ceiling like shimmering protoplasm, finding transcendent understanding beyond words.” — Mojo (review of Le Guess Who? 2019)

For an artist that had never before appeared onstage outside of Pakistan, Ustad Saami began his international touring career auspiciously. In 2019 he wooed major festivals with set lists often made up of a single musical piece stretching non-stop for over an hour. These debut appearances were at WOMAD (UK and Australia) and the Le Guess Who? Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands. Saami has already been booked for the 2021 Roskilde Festival in Denmark.

———————————————————

Pakistan Is for the Peaceful was recorded live at the master’s rooftop home in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2018.
The master is accompanied by his four sons: Rauf (group leader, harmonium, vocals), Urooj (primary response vocalist, tambura number one), Ahmed (tambura number two, vocals) and Azeem (tablas, vocals).

Produced & engineered by Ian Brennan

Mixed by David Odlum (Dublin, Ireland)

Photographs & video by Marilena Delli