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Magic of the Day
Ustad Fateh Ali Khan (singer) with Ustad Alla Rakha Khan, (sarangi) tabla, harmonium & tanpura
OPUS 111 OPS 30-278 74' 22"

Possessing a large collection of North Indian classical music on CDs produced by the two main labels Nimbus and Navras, I was intrigued to sample the Opus 111 series Treasures without frontiers. Ustad Fateh Ali Khan is a foremost master of Muslim classical music. From the admirably informative liner notes (a feature of this series) I learn that to qualify as a 'Ustad' one has to study for at least 30 years, practising thirteen hours a day or more, and studying each raga at its proper time of day! Moreover, the sarangi is so difficult that mastery requires forty years to earn the same accolade, therefore there are few players of this calibre.

This generous programme takes four ragas for different times of day, morning, afternoon, night and midnight and recorded accordingly, so I must presume. The distinctions may elude most of us, but the music iself speaks easily and directly. At 63, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan is at his professional peak, offering creative improvisations with a voice smooth and flexible over three octaves. The liner notes give a great deal of information about kyal performance and the rag system, with the notes in the different scales used, and details of the rhythms, also transcriptions of the poems set upon which the singer builds his fancies. He is echoed closely throughout by the sarangi and harmonium which, together with the tanpura drone, helps to maintain correct pitch. We are ven provided with a brief introduction to Pakistani culture and politics!

In striking contrast with the Indian classical CDs I have reviewed for MotW, this one has an informal feeling as if one is eavesdropping, the singer not close-miked but absorbed into the continuous and quite dense instrumental texture which surrounds him. The venue is a resonant Friary in Lahore, the 'cultural capital' of Pakistan. It is very atmospheric, even though detail is at times blurred, and it is best heard, not played loudly, on equipment with good stereo separation. You may find the tabla unduly prominent at times, and it may be worth adjusting the balance accordingly.

A very worthwhile introduction to a series which ranges as far and wide as Iceland, Russia and Peru, seeking out performances by the greatest masters reflecting rigorous ethnomusicological research. But approached purely for pleasure, this window into the ancient artistry still preserved in Pakistan satisfies well.


Peter Grahame Woolf



Peter Grahame Woolf

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