Review
Words: Dominic Valvona




Ustad Saami ‘Pakistan Is For The Peaceful’
(Glitterbeat Records) Album/9th October 2020


The only living master of an ancient Sufi devotional form in transcendence, the seventy-six year old Ustad Saami lives in hope that his transportive blessed “Surti” music may yet bring peace to a most turbulent and dangerous Pakistan. In a region in which fundamentalism holds a powerful grip of fear on the population, most forms of music that don’t conform to a strict Islamic code are banned or at the very least pressured to go underground.

The danger is all too real and prevalent, and in venturing to Pakistan a few years ago to record the great adorations of Saami, the in-situ American producer Ian Brennan (no stranger to this blog) was taking a huge risk. Brennan is of course used (to a point) of luring out forgotten, ignored and obscure voices from some of the most inhospitable places and warzones in the world. The Hidden Music series for Glitterbeat Records, of which this is the second Saami album to be appear, has seen the Grammy Award winning producer already travel to both a post genocide Rwanda and Cambodia, and also to a mine-riddled Vietnam to coax out the most striking emotional of open and frank recordings. Now capturing for posterity, he once again facilitates the most intimate conditions for another deeply immersive liturgy of heavenly Surti adulations.





Pakistan Is For The Peaceful is, considering the geopolitical tumult and violence, a hopeful title. But then the exalted master has spent a lifetime in the service of his music; learning the forms 49-note microtonal system of vocal prayers since being singled out for the pathway to devotion. It has been a harsh learning at that; the pupil Saami forbidden by his master from speaking or communicating verbally, instead guided towards lyrical expressions. He wouldn’t even get to step on stage to perform this eight centuries generational hand-me-down veneration until the age of thirty-five. And then, until only in recent years, more or less confined to his home of Pakistan. Now in his mid seventies, a more worn Saami still manages to rise every morning at 4am to practice and perform his drill exercises until dawn.

Following on from the well-received 2019 album God Is Not A Terrorist this second brassy resonating, concertinaed and bellowed magisterial rich suite of incredibly hypnotic lengthy performances is even better.

Joined by his four sons (Rauf, Urooj, Ahmed and Azeem), who both vocally respond to Saami’s paeans and provide an assortment of dipped, purposeful and reverberating harmonium, tambura and tabla, the master conjures up a holy out-of-body experience. Performing from Saami’s rooftop home in Karachi, this ensemble entrance and send the listener off into the inspired heavens.

The leading voice of Saami comes from the gut, but isn’t so much guttural as aching in its reverence and otherworldliness. Those shimmering nodes of resonance and sorrowed drones meanwhile stir up a spiritual epiphany: something extremely special.

This album is why I started this whole damn blog; a search for those uncynical real performances that get lost in the daily hubris of incessant noise and divisive outrage. This is music from another dimension in comparison to all that. And thanks in part to Brennan; it will now exist as a recorded testament forever, even if it this form of Islamic spiritualist music is set to die out with its leading light. As sad as that sounds, that dying art has never sounded so ethereal and yet alive. So I say: soak it up; bathe in the glow.





Also…

Ustad Saami ‘God Is Not A Terrorist’ here…

Glitterbeat Records 5th anniversary special here…

The Ian Brennan interview here…


Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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