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Added 5th January 2011 by dubwise-er


Free Trade Hall
10th July 1988

Righto, music wise; not sure where I’ll go with this one.....Well I used to pretty much watch any programme that had some sort of musical connotation. There were quite a few such as T.O.T.P., Whistle Test, Tube, Oxford Road Show, What’s On, So It Goes, Revolver, Other Side Of Midnight; then others like Max Headroom, Rapido, Celebration and ones that were culturally specific such as Ebony, Black on Black, Eastern Eye and into T.V. shows like No Problem and Empire Road. I’m sure there’s plenty more but it was on Eastern Eye, a programme for the Asian Community, that I saw Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Well I’d never heard of him, never mind knew how to say his name but they had a whole show of him and his band live in the studio and it absolutely blew me socks off (my last pair!), as well as me mind and I don’t know why ,but it really moved me. My missis reckoned it was powerful but said it did something to her and she wasn’t sure she liked it. I wanted to find out more and decided I’d go and see him.
Well I went down to Rusholme and found endless tapes of him, mostly live, as that’s the way most “Qawwali” music was played; Qawwali music being a kind of spiritual and hypnotic chanting style, singing lines from the Qu’ran and related to the Dervish arm of Islam I believe; can’t say I know too much about it but I found it powerful and emotive to listen to. It’s a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, where these musicians would play for maybe 8 hours at a time , ad- libbing and scatting in almost a jazz be-bop fashion; and having travelled through Pakistan and India several years earlier, it would have been remarkable to come across something like that at a wedding or celebration somewhere out in the desert.
So on the night I headed along to The Free Trade Hall , which was only open on the ground floor level and about two thirds full. I went on me tod as no-one seemed particularly interested in going but I wasn’t going to miss it, and I took my seat a few rows back from the front. It was a four hour performance with one interval and I got there about an hour into it. Well there was plenty of clapping and cheering and things happening that I didn’t have a clue about. The band were playing and singing but Nusrat wasn’t coming on till after the interval. Nevertheless I was enjoying it albeit slightly confused, and at the interval I popped out for a tea and some of the great food they had in the foyer, it being an all Asian affair.
At the start of the second half a lady and her husband, sat a couple of seats along, asked me if I was enjoying it and did I understand what was going on. Well I said I didn’t really so she invited me to sit between them and they’d explain things to me. I was a bit unsure but I thought why not...Turned out the husband was the Pakistani ambassador to Ireland and they were good company. Nusrat was a huge man and had the most astounding voice I’ve probably ever heard. He just sat there, cross-legged with his eyes shut and slowly each track would build and build, with hypnotic repetition and call and response chanting, and the drums, tablas, harmonium, cymbals and whatever else the 12 piece troupe were playing, bringing it along to a crescendo; and all the while the big man would raise and lift his arm conducting it all, and nearly doing the flying lotus , lifting himself off the floor as he scaled to the highest notes, almost in a state of trance.
Along with all this the audience were shouting, cheering, clapping and generally going off like a frog in a sock. Sometimes people came spinning up the isles to the front of the stage, again almost in a trance like state , occasionally throwing money to the singers and players and sometimes having to be carried back to their seats; slightly reminiscent of old footage of James Brown being helped off stage in his old Apollo days,(well to my mind anyway). A couple of times men in turbans did a similar thing and you’d think City had just scored! As my new friends, the ambassador and his wife explained to me, for a Sikh to show that amount of regard and respect to what is basically Islamic music is very high praise indeed, and although Sikhs and muslims have their differences it was again an example of the power music can have on individuals and even nations. They also explained that much of what they were singing were quotes from the Qu’ran and when the crowd heard something that held a particular resonance for them, that’s when they became more vocal and urged the musicians to sing/ play variations on that theme which really did give it that feel of free jazz, as much of it was impromptu and therefore never the same way twice.
Along with all this there was a young lad of maybe 12 who was sat on the stage with the orchestra and nearer the end, as Nusrat sang and scaled he would look at the young lad and encourage him to try and copy what he’d just done; obviously nurturing and training him. This form of music is passed on down the families through generations and basically they come from wandering minstrels of the desert. The young lad would try and copy what his teacher did, often not so well , but they would do it again till he got it right and of course the audience cheered/ clapped and loved it; it was very heart-warming and moving to watch.
So for me it’s one of the most memorable gigs (event would probably be a better word), I’ve ever been too and although I didn’t get much of it I certainly understood something special was going on. I’d seen The Cramps, Devo, Talking Heads, Herb Miller (!), and many others in that room but never heard anything like that before, and left with a warm feeling . Whenever I’ve travelled in different countries and cultures I’ve always searched out and purchased local music; and although it can sound very different from place to place it mostly serves the same purpose, and I like that. I was talking to a Lebanese guy a couple of months back how I quite like Arabic music and maybe coming from the Celtic gene pool all those millennia ago, from Northern India and across Europe, that that might have something to do with it; he replied “naah mate, you just like music...”. Well I was a bit put out, another dream theory shot down, but he was probably right. Funny though how the musical scales of some of these cultures do seem to have remarkable similarities. Like Ed Banger once shouted “I ain’t been to no music school...” but it is interesting though...
Later on Nusrat did a version of “Mustt Musst” with Massive Attack which I did think was a killer but then there was a horrible techno-ey version put out which I didn’t really get at all; it’d be similar to doing a Bhangra version of “Come by Ya Me Lordee...”, what’s the point?. It’s a bit of the same thing I have with some of the Global Music approach. Although on paper it sounds like a good idea it often ends up sounding like homogenised mush, with a Noah’s Ark approach of taking a bit of this, throwing it in with a bit of that and seeing what comes out. I think if it’s strong enough in its own context and culture it doesn’t need to be channelled through some over-produced format and diluted and sanitised for general mass consumption. Each to their own.... He also did a song with Tiny Tim’s son, Eddie Vedder; can’t remember what it was though.
I mentioned before that for a while, on a Thursday night, The Hacienda ran a Bhangra night which I never managed to get too, if only out of curiosity; don’t seem to have a flyer for that. Was hoping to get a bit more uploaded but if I keep insisting on going off on one....well that’s what happens....

Latest Discussion

“That was hands-down the best commentary on an artefact on this site, and possibly on the entire internet. Funny how a slip of paper can elicit so many memories and ruminations. That's what I *love* about MDMA. Bravo, Mr. Dubwise-er. More power to your elbow.”
05 Jan 2011
“me too, andrew! do you have anything to share?”
05 Jan 2011
“Such a great write-up.! 'Frog in a sock!'”
05 Jan 2011
“@Abigail. I might well have some bits and bobs to dig out. Bear with.”
05 Jan 2011
“Have You Any Live Recordings Of Him i-e Concerts etc
My email Is
If You Have Something Then Please Let Me Know.
Waiting For Reply.”
24 Feb 2015
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