Ustaad Naseerudin Saami’s excellence went ignored from right under our noses when he performed Mundari in Coke Studio season 4. For most people, it was just another one of those ‘classical types’ rendering pitch-perfect alaaps to modern music.
With 609,853 hits on YouTube, the song remains one of the least viewed videos of Pakistan’s most viewed music show. Perhaps classical music is elitist in nature and we are not be entirely blamed for this sheer lack of awareness but fortunately, once again a foreign collaboration has saved the day for us. Ian Brennan, who won a Grammy for producing Malian folk band, Tinariwen’s album Tassili, is all set to collaborate with Ustad Naseerudin Saami.
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“I will be using this opportunity to present Khayal Gayaki as intended and presented by my ancestors,” Saami told The Express Tribune in a telephonic conversation. “The producer has shown interest in our most ancient works and I am very happy to render it for him.”
Naseerudin Saami and his family are taking forward the legacy of Khayal Gayaki and Qawwali as inherited from Hazrat Amir Khusrau. Saami is heir to Miyan Saamat Bin Ibrahim, the only student Khusrau ever had.
“Khayal is the heritage of ancient Muslims which has come to us via Hazrat Amir Khusrau. We have been performing it for the past 700-800 years and are trying our best that the essence of this craft, the beauty of Khayal and seamlessness of its rendition is maintained to the core – and so far we have been appreciated for that.”
The nature of Brennan’s collaboration with Saami is not finalised yet but he is sure that it will not be a fusion piece. “If fusion music is what is coming to your mind then there’s nothing like it. I’ll only present Khayal Gayaki like it should be presented.”
Saami is excited about bringing global attention to a craft that Pakistan is not really known for. “I tell people that one cannot say that a particular art form is less commonly practiced in one country than another. Even if you do, we should be proud of the fact that we are being acknowledged for something that we were not really known for. I am proud to have been invited to collaborate as an artist hailing from Pakistan.”
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This collaboration was made possible through the efforts of Ali Sethi and Zeb Bangash, who are both Ustaad Saami’s understudies. “A few years ago I heard a Grammy-winning record by Tinariwen. Its purity struck me at once - it had this scintillating combination of urgency and transparency, you could hear a whole civilisation in the music,” Ali Sethi recalled while talking to The Express Tribune.
“I had wanted precisely this kind of aesthetic to make a record for my Ustaad, who is a repository of medieval musicology. So I spent several months trawling the internet for Tinariwen's producer until finally, last year, I found him: I sent Ian a hopeful little email with some samples of Saami Sahib's music. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Elaborating on Saami Sahib’s contribution to the world of classical music and the prospects of this collaboration, music archivist and the president of Tehzeeb foundation, Shareef Awan shed some light.
“The most elegant thing about Saami Sahib are his mannerisms and body language while singing. It looks very spiritual. I don’t know how he manages to create this aura but it captivates every viewer and listener. I think this collaboration would be a beautiful venture,” Awan told The Express Tribune.
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