Ustad Saami is a 75 year old Pakistani singer who is the only practitioner of Surti left in the world, described by his label as “pre-Islamic, multilingual (Farsi, Sanskrit, Hindi, the ancient and dead language of Vedic, gibberish, Arabic, and Urdu) music.” It has been handed down generation to generation for thousands of years. It is a form of Pakistani classical music, and the focus here is the voice.
Beginning his career in the 1950’s under the tutelage of his uncle, Ustaad Munshi Raziuddin from when he was 11 years, Naseeruddin Saami has focussed extensively on Khayl style of singing, which is a Hindustani form of classical music, with the singer often as in this case accompanied by harmonium, tambura and tabla. There are links to the intensely devotional Qawwali music popularised by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, in terms of instrumentation and call and response – or at least to these western ears.
It’s amongst some of the most powerful music you will ever hear. There’s a purity and intensity, anguish and joy in Saami’s plaintive wails. It’s not just about the notes he hits – apparently he’s working across a 49 note scale (as opposed to the west’s 7), and there is a fair bit of jaw dropping vocal gymnastics, however it’s about the emotion he imbues. There are whole worlds living inside his music and he gives voice to it, creating a unique kind of devotional hypnotism. Part of Glitterbeat’s Hidden Musics Series, there’s something incredibly honest about this music, the drone of the instrumentation, the devotion of his sons who provided the backup responses and chants. This is really incredible music. Sacred music. It will purify your soul.