Ustad Shagan / Noor Jahan
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Ustad Shagan
Noor Jahan
World Village (www.worldvillagemusic.com)

cd cover The music of Pakistan is world renowned thanks to the voice of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. But Pakistani music has much more to offer. From the time before partition and independence, it was the birthplace of many masters of Hindustani music like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and the homeland of Salamat Ali Khan, the Sabri Brothers and contemporary names like Abida Parveen and Faiz Ali Faiz, many of whom never got the attention they deserve because they were overwhelmed by the Indian stars. Among the best kept secrets of Pakistan is surely Ustad Gulam Hassan Shagan.

He is a wonderful singer of the Gwalior Gharana. This gharana (school) is the oldest among the khayal styles, and probably the school that gave birth to all the others. The main issues of this school are simplicity of structure and the relaxed madhya-laya (medium tempo), and Ustad Shagan displays both.

Ustad Shagan presents 4 different ragas, accompanied by his son Qadir Shagan (second voice and harmonium), Sajjat Ali Khan (tabla), and two other sons, Mazhar (harmonium), and Azhar (tampura).

The opening title is "Raga Des Todi," a morning raga. They start with a short alap that quickly evolves into a charming theme in a slow tempo. The composition is developed by the Maestro's voice, always sustained by his son's singing. This recording was made in 2000 when Ustad Shagan was already in his seventies, but the voice remains strong. There are many exchanges between the two voices, more in a jugalbandi (duet) style than in the typical solo performance. Toward the end of the piece the tempo increases with a new composition that leads to a charming conclusion.

The following tracks maintains a similar structure. A "Tarana" (composition without words using only word-less syllables) is in Raga Megh, a monsoon raga. Again the alap is very short, perhaps to please the listeners who have difficulties with long, abstract solo introductions. The tempo is a little fast and the general atmosphere is more vivid, with intense call and response between the two main voices.

"Raga Shudh Sarang," a mid-day raga, is the fastest composition of the CD. The recording ends with "Raga Suha Kanara" in medium tempo, with a composition sung in unison and with the beautiful improvisation by Ustad Shagan sustained by Qadir Shagan.

Noor Jahan offers an interesting opportunity to discover a singer not well known outside of his country and a confirmation of the enormous amount of music and the great number of musicians from the Indian subcontinent, still one of the richest areas of musical creativity today.

One minor defect is that the liner notes are vague and very short. Once again a nice package was chosen over a more prosaic but information-rich booklet. Often, the liner notes of a recording are the only way to discover information about an artist, particularly the great but overlooked voices. - Renzo Pognant

Available from cdRoots


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