Devotional Songs from India and Pakistan

Today’s show is a little different: it simply features three devotional songs from India and Pakistan.

The first is a raga by Ravi Shankar for his beloved music guru, Baba Allaudin Khan. The relationship between guru and devotee in India is like few others. For Ravi it meant stopping the gypsy life of a little dandy and move to a cement hut, practicing 8-10 hours a day for a decade. Baba Allaudin Khan was Ali Akbar Khan’s father and guru. Featured on this piece is tabla master the late Alla Rahka, father of Zakir Hussain’s. The flip side of this 1981 Deutsche Grammophon LP is Ravi’s Homage to Mahatma Gandhi. This devotional album has never been released on CD. What you will hear is the original vinyl.  Although this isn’t strictly devotional music — it is North Indian Hindustani classical music — the veneration and discipleship qualifies it as devotional music.

Watch Ravi Shankar as he greets his guru Baba Allaudin Khan in this clip from Alan Kozlowski’s film Raga: cue to 3:30 and watch him fall prostrate before his master:

Ravi Shankar is also special to me because he was my very first interview on Morning Becomes Eclectic in the fall of 1979, shortly after I became Music Director of KCRW.  I interviewed him six times over the years, something I was very lucky to do.  We became good friends along the way.

The next two songs are qawwali music: qawwali is the devotional music of sufism, the mystical sect of Islam that celebrates music as a means of approaching the divine, a far cry from the other Islamic groups we read about in the newspapers today. BTW Qawwali means “utterance”.  It is powerful singing accompanied by harmoniums, the traditional Pakistani squeezebox. Call it sufi gospel. Singers of qawwali are called qawwals.

The first qawwali song features Abida Parveen, the greatest female qawwali singer on the scene today. She still tours, though her U.S. concerts are often only promoted in local Pakistani newspapers, flying under the radar so we might not hear about it. I saw her once at the Long Beach Convention Center.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan achieved a much higher profile due to Peter Gabriel’s recording of his music on Real World Records. Khan also recorded funny pop stuff for Bally Sagoo and others; he was fearless and ready to try anything new.

Khan’s devotional music was serious stuff and started with a dream: in it he was performing in the grandest mosque in Pakistan, a feat he realized before the end of his short life in 1997.

This is music both mesmerizing and levitational. It is intensely spiritual and has universal appeal. I hope you enjoy it.

Here is Abida Parveen in concert. Note her gesticulations which accent her singing, something typical of qawwali music.

Finally, the late great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in performance — pure intensity:


Rhythm Planet Playlist for 1/29/16:






Tom Schnabel