Muzaffar Ali loves to flit between the arts. His Wiki stub claims he’s a film-maker, fashion designer, poet, artist, music-lover, revivalist and social worker. But more than any one of these domains, the Raja of Kotwara seems to regale in the spaces in between — his films are known best for their music, his as-and-when-published Sufi journal Hu jumps at you with its heavy design rather than the text, and his music shows — Jahan-e-Khusrau, held at Arab ki Sarai in the Humayun’s tomb complex — are memorable more for their ambience than the music.
To frustrate the music lover, the as-and-when nature of publication is there with the CDs of Jahan-e-Khusrau, too. The 4-CD compilation of the 2005 event came out not long ago. This one is without a booklet, unlike the 2003 set that came with translations. In the middle, there was a 2-CD set of the event when it went on an excursion to Kashmir, which is where Ali’s love for Sufism grew to a passion. There’s also an as-and-where element to it — none of the CDs, distributed Ali’s label Sama from the event’s second edition, are easy to get.
Only one thing is constant: Ali’s marquee artiste Abida Parveen, who has featured in all editions of Jahan-e-Khusrau. The 2003 set opens with her ‘Gar yaqin danam ke bar’, another example of Aliesque border-crossing. Some Urdu verses by Syed Zia Alvi have been added to the original Turkic by Rumi (or his student/lover Shams Tabriz). The percussion is led by a daf, but the march-like beat is pronounced by a tabla. In all, the hour-and-three-minute rendition which takes up all of the first CD, is a jangle. In the first song on the second CD, Abida keeps tripping up on the rhythm. The only saving grace in the rest of the set is some plaintive Iranian flute from Hamed Nikpaye’s band, a couple of Lalon Fakir songs in the husky voice of Farida Parveen, and a qawwali by Ghulam Fareed Nizami. Even Mohammed Ali Khan Warsi’s ‘Kahe ko byahe vides’ is beyond its sing-by date.
Some meaningful border-crossing music happens on the 2005 compilation. Past the customary Abida numbers and the lovely vibrato of Shafqat Ali Khan, you come to the Yansimalar Group from Turkey. Their flute-strings interplay moves along the gypsy route — flamenco-ish strums mix with an Arabic tune. All stitched on a tight beat.
On CD 2, Zaki Nizami and Zakir Ali render a wonderful ‘Man kunto maula’, with whiffs of other versions. Their intricate taans work well from the intro to the crescendo. Shujaat Khan’s sitar on ‘Chhap tilak’ is bearable, but not his voice. Zila Khan underwhelms by not keeping to a 440-volt pitch. The collaborations between Shye Bentzur of Israel and the Zaki-Zakir duo create some haunting moments. Azam Ali and Niyaz Group of the US wrap up the 2005 set with some well-meaning trance-fusion.
Among the Srinagar recordings, Malini Awasthi does a touch-and-go with some minor notes. Ghulam Nabi Namtahali’s cracked voice is more about devotion than musical accuracy. Aryan Rahmanian and the Baran Ensemble weave some delicate webs, but by then the chinars have wilted.
So many CDs, so many artistes. But guess whose chin-on-hand mug graces the albums’ back covers. Just one guess.