sunday sounds

Mustt mustt: From Turkey to the US, seven international tributes to the legacy of Dam Mast Qalandar

Artists from across genres have fallen in love with this song.

Hazrat Shahbaz Qalandar Marwandi was a contemporary of Jalaluddin Rumi, and like him, spent many years travelling and preaching. Both men were born in Afghanistan and travelled east – Rumi to what is now Turkey, and Marwandi to Karbala in Iraq. While Rumi would die in Konya, Marwandi eventually moved back to the sub-continent and settled in the plains of Sindh.

Marwandi’s dargah in Sehwan is one of the major Sufi sites in South Asia, attracting a steady stream of pilgrims all year round. But while Rumi’s mystical writings have captivated and continue to inspire millions of people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe, the Falcon King (Shahbaz) of Sindh is known to the world-at-large almost entirely for a single poem written in his memory.

It’s an old lyric with a rousing chorus:

O laal meri, pat rakhio bala jhoole laalan,
Sindri da Sehvan da, sakhi Shabaaz Qalandar
Dama dam mast Qalandar
Ali dam dam de andar.

[O the red robed one, may I always have your benign protection, Jhulelal
O master, friend and Sire of Sindh and Sehwan
The red robed God-intoxicated Qalandar
The Lord in every breath of mine, glory be to you.]

Legend suggests the poem has a glorious pedigree. Said to have been written originally by none other than Amir Khusro, the father of qawwali and inventor of the sitar, the lyric is said to have been updated by the mighty Bulleh Shah of Punjab. And, of course, as with all songs with such deep folk roots, singers and story tellers have spun a number of local versions.

The song would most likely have stayed a subcontinental treasure, known mainly to malangs and rowdy students, were it not for a recording made in the early 1990s by the British group Massive Attack and featuring Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Retitled Mustt Mustt and re-engineered to include a reverb-filled drum and bass line, the song and Nusrat sahib became an international sensation.

Dam Mast Qalandar probably has the strongest claim to being the all-time "Sufi standard". In Pakistan and India, literally hundreds of artists have recorded versions of the song. It's impossible to pick out "the best" of these, but particular favourites of mine include those by Saeen Akhtar and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

Beyond the subcontinent, artists of nearly every stripe have fallen in love with the song as well. And it is (just) a few of these interpretations that we take time to savour this week.

Safar Ensemble (Germany)
Mustt Mustt

Play

The Safar Ensemble is a German-Afghan group that usually promotes the more gentle sounds of Afghan semi-classical music. This time they really step out and get down with a bass-propelled version, which is solidly based on the Massive Attack/Nusrat template. Frontman Mohammad Ahmad strikes a commanding presence with the longish locks of a Sehwan malang, and a voice that is not intimidated by the ripping electric guitar solos that are a true rocker’s delight.

Funkadesi (US)
Mustt Mustt

Play

The members of this Chicago collective represent the very cream of the Windy City’s musical fraternity. Drawn from the schools of jazz, reggae and funk, not to mention bhangra and qawwali, the group has been delighting fans including a certain Barack Obama (“There’s a lot of funk in that desi!”) for a number of years. The desi component is made up of two Sikhs, Inderpal (vocals and keyboards) and Maninderpal (percussion. vocals), Tamil Nadu’s Pavithra (vocals) and the group’s Kenyan founder, Rahul Sharma (guitar, sitar). This version of the song seamlessly integrates bhangra rhythms with Rastafarian praise and tasty brass interjections, to create a roiling sound that captures the urgent energy of the original very well.

Luxus Oriental Blues (Turkey)
Mustt Mustt

Play

You can always rely on the Turks. With such a rich musical heritage to draw upon, situated as their ancient country is at the meeting ground of multiple cultures, it is almost de rigueur that Turkish bands pick up a song like Dam Mast Qalandar. What starts out as a straightforward reading, albeit with a keening gypsy violin intro, quickly turns into an extended electric blues churn. Video is poor throughout but this clip is definitely a keeper. An inspired retelling of the old story complete with a pleasing trombone solo midway through.

Prem Joshua (Germany)
Jhule Lal

Play

The revered Sindhi deity Jhule Lal is a complex personality to decipher. Hailed and worshipped by Hindus as a river god and incarnation of Varuna, his temple in Udero Lal in Sindh is half a mosque. Sections of both communities claim him as their own and his name is frequently substituted for that of Shahbaz Qalandar himself. In this clip, German Osho disciple and multi-instrumentalist Prem Joshua places Jhule Lal at the centre of the song. The mood is laidback, almost dream-like. While the percussion is less prominent than in other versions, an incredible bassist keeps things barreling along, allowing Joshua to show off his many impressive talents.

Brooklyn Qawwali Party (US)
Mustt Mustt

Play

Brooklyn Qawwali Party are besotted with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The eleven-member group came together explicitly to perform what they term the "thunderous songs" of the Big Man of Qawwali. What marks do they receive? Effort-A. Pronunciation-D. Burning Down the House-A++. By turns a Jaipur brass band then, with Fela Anikulapo Kuti in nothing but his underpants, it is these guys who in my opinion would keep every faqir and malang, not just in Sehwan but all of Sindh, sleepless for days. As my kids say: they killed it!

Manu Narayan and Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars (US)
Mustt Mustt

Play

While Manu Narayan seems a bit out of his depth here, the idea of a klezmer – East European Jewish – band performing an iconic Muslim anthem is one too good to ignore. Klezmer was the music performed at Jewish weddings and other celebrations in Eastern Europe. But upon transplantation in the US, elements of jazz were included, giving the music a broader canvas to work on. Frank London on trumpet is the special treat of this most unlikely of covers.

Susan Mayo (US)
Mustt

Play

All good things must come to an end, and we bring down the intensity levels with the most innovative interpretation of Dam Qalandar we’ve heard. Susan Mayo is a professor of cello in the American state of Kansas. This version is light to the point of being delicate. Yet, the multiple and intricate paths the quartet pursue bring a freshness and vigour all their own.

A word of thanks to Sadiq M Alam for the translation of Dam Mast Qalandar.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.