10.20.11Gibson Guitar India Interviews BQP
09.23.11India Abroad Magazine - The Qawwals of Brooklyn
06.10.11The Express Tribune on BQP
04.12.11Music Review: Brooklyn Qawwali Party
02.16.11Wall Street Journal - Finding a Rhythm in the Space Between Styles - by Martin Johnson
Built on a foundation of hand claps, tablas, harmonium riffs and urgent, husky harmonies, the Sufi devotional music of the Pakistani Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948-97) was captivating, his high tenor swirling above the appealing rhythms. In his lifetime, Mr. Khan collaborated with Peter Gabriel, Eddie Vedder and many others. Since his death, his music has been remixed for the dance floor or used in dance-company soundtracks. But the Park Slope-based percussionist Brook Martinez has found the most innovative adaptation of Mr. Khan's music yet: It's the repertoire for an 11-piece big band called the Brooklyn Qawwali Party.
Mr. Martinez, who is 33, formed the band in 2004, and it soon began playing monthly at Tea Lounge in Park Slope. Its following has since grown via gigs at Joe's Pub and globalFEST. On Saturday, the group will perform at Barbès.
"I was really impressed with how well they captured the spirit of the music," said Bill Bragin, director of public programming at Lincoln Center, who booked the band during his days as director of Joe's Pub. "It's not a dalliance. Brook has a lot of integrity and a real serious interest in this music."
During his freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Martinez met Nate Chinen, now a music critic for the New York Times, who introduced him to key jazz recordings. The music of John Coltrane, in particular, resonated. "So much of what I heard was based in spiritual practice, not entertainment," Mr. Martinez said last week over tea at a wine bar in his neighborhood. "It interested me far more than pop music."
Then, to pursue his interest in music, the percussionist from Ambler, Pa., transferred to New York University in 1998 and took a part-time job at the Manhattan-based World Music Institute, a leading presenter of traditional dance and music. At NYU, he fell in with a crowd playing free jazz, but he began to grow dissatisfied with the music. "It was exciting to play," he said, "but I felt it wasn't connecting with the audience."
The World Music Institute had been one of the main presenters of Mr. Khan's concerts in New York, and its library of discs provided Mr. Martinez with access to a formidable catalog of the Pakistani artist's work. Mr. Martinez made mixtapes and gave them to his musician friends. They were so enthusiastically received and circulated that sometimes the tapes found their way back to him, sent his way by people unaware he'd put them together.
After several years of enthusiastic study of Asian music and culture, Mr. Martinez began thinking about merging his Eastern and Western musical interests. "I related so well to Khan's music," he said. "There was a lot of call and response, improvisation and simple melodies." He structured his band to parallel a traditional Qawwali combo—with horns to mirror the voices, percussion, harmonium—and then added his own twist: bass and guitar.
Kris Davis, a pianist and composer who plays harmonium in the band, said she was attracted by the tightly structured spontaneity within the music. "The improvisations are shorter," she said via email. "They are little interjections in between a repeating melody, and those sections get passed around many times within the group."
The Brooklyn Qawwali Party has released one self-titled recording on its own label, and its four tunes ably capture the urgent harmonies and intricate rhythms of Qawwali while incorporating new influences, most notably a snarling guitar riff to the classic "Mustt Mustt."
"We're a bit too world music for most jazz clubs and a little too jazz for some nonjazz clubs," said Mr. Martinez, citing a shortage of proper venues for the band.
In the Brooklyn Qawwali Party, Mr. Bragin sees a parallel to Antibalas, the Brooklyn-based Afrobeat ensemble that began as a tribute band focused on the music of Nigerian superstar Fela Anikulapo Kuti but has emerged with a sound all its own, as well as to Red Baraat, a Brooklyn band that blends northern Indian music with rhythm-and-blues brass playing.
"There's an edge, a versatility, and a sense of the hustle it takes to survive here in their music," he said. "It's all so distinctly New York."
—Mr. Johnson writes about jazz and popular music for the Journal.
12.28.10Is America A Part Of The World?” Part 3: challenging the way we think about American and World Music!!
08.18.09High on Sufi Jazz Grooves - BQP featured in RockOm.net
Click above to read the interview with BQP.
05.18.09BQP - Band of the Week in BRM, Beyond Race Magazine
The legendary Pakistani singer and composer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has been known for transforming and modernizing Qawwali music, the devotional music of Sufi/Islamic culture. Nusrat, who was also known as "The Emperor of Qawwali," has inspired and influenced many Western musicians today such as The Brooklyn Qawwali Party, an eleven-piece Brooklyn based jazz group that honors and adapts Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's music. The band uses Nusrat's simple melodies in Qawwali and then creates improvisations based on the melodies in jazz. The vibrant band excites audiences with their dynamic melodies, singing, and clapping at venues all over New York City.
Brook Martinez, BQP's founder and percussionist, studied Jazz and Contemporary music at New York University. While taking a class on Classical Indian Music he discovered Nusrat and Qawwali music. "After college I got a job at the World Music Institute, a not-for-profit that presents world music at shows in New York and they were the Nusrat Fateh-Ali Khan presenter's back in the ‘90s before he died in ’97," adds Martinez. He worked as their sales manager and realized that they had more of Nusrat's CDs than any other artist in their entire world music catalogue.
"So he was just all around there, so I was checking out these CDs and got really into it. But the idea came about was when the people I played jazz with started listening to Nustrat Fateh Ali Khan on their own. Without me being like, ‘Hey check this out’," he says. Martinez's friends came to him asking if he had heard of the composer and passed him a copy of Nusrat's last studio recording made by Rick Rubin. "I was borrowing it and listening to it and then I had the idea, ok these guys are excited about this, lets try to adapt this to our jazz idiom. Both related in terms of improvisations. And in both jazz and Qawwali you have a simple melody that's played and then improvisations are based on the melody,” Martinez explains.
According to Martinez, his friends instantly recognized that it was a good idea and wanted to be a part of the band. He invited everybody over and began to transcribe songs from Nusrat's CDs. He would write down the music so that everyone was able to read it in Western notation. "They were all on board from the start, we sat with the music for a little and made a couple of sets of the music and then we started playing at The Tea Lounge in Park Slope every month back in 2004," he says.
All BQP'S songs are direct transcriptions of CDs of Nusrat’s music. Martinez claims that in Qawwali music, you never have the same performance twice because it is always changing in form when new ideas are introduced, and it results in improvising differently. "So what I did was when I started transcribing… I would transcribe the whole thing directly and than we'd play it exactly how he played it without our own improvisations. Since we've started we have gotten more comfortable in the music, so we're able to improvise the forms of the music just like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan did," he says.
Qawwali music began as an expression of Sufi Mystical Poetry about 700 years ago, mainly in areas in South Asia that had a strong Muslim presence. Martinez says the music began in Afghanistan and the Middle East and moved into Pakistan. The songs are sung mostly in Urdu and Punjabi. The vibrant music is known to transport its listeners into a spiritual and ecstatic state, where they feel united with God. "For me, personally, I've pretty much started the band from a musical element. We have this spiritual music that we're playing and I've sort of left it for each individual member to interpret where they are spiritually and filter it into the music," he says. He claims he was very conscious about not putting any religious dogma into the band. "I wanna bring out the spirit of the music, which is the essence, you know Sufi is a mystical sect of Islam that transcends into a very intimate relationship with the divine, and so I leave it up to the individual players in the moment of the music to really feel their spiritual expression."
"Our group, we basically take Qawwali, we take the melodies of it. We don't speak Urdu. So my approach was very simplistic in a way, like we were inspired by the music. When I listen to Qawwali, I don't understand the poetry but I hear the music that he's singing even though I don't understand his words. So from that we take these melodies and play them on our instruments," says Martinez. Martinez, being the drummer, plays on his drum set and the melodies are basically stated in horns, like jazz horns, saxophone, trumpet, french horn and trombone. They become the voices of the group playing the melodies instrumentally.
The band is looking to put out another album sometime next year. "I'm transcribing more and more music and finding the songs I want to present on the next CD. I'm really excited about making a second CD and contrasting it with the first," he says. He claims that the first album really presented what the group does live as a band. Their second album is going to be more polished. "It’s not going to be so much what we do live, but how we can be creative with these songs in the recording studio and create an album that’s really interesting to listen to,” he says. He hopes to have the album out in the fall.
Another goal of theirs is to do some international performances. "We've been asked to play a festival in Toronto, and then in Detroit and then Lincoln Center. And we're sort of putting the word out and the word is out in Europe, Asia and different places. The music is danceable, but it’s spiritual, it’s fun and it has a lot of pretty appealing elements and it’s pretty easily marketable as Western-ish playing Eastern Music. There is a lot of potential there… Hopefully we'll get out to Europe soon," he says.
The band will be performing next month at The Brooklyn Museum's first Saturdays celebration on June 6th in celebration of Middle Eastern and South Asian culture. They will also be performing at Majestic Theater June 11th in Detroit, MI.
- Johanna Marie Ferreira
02.11.09BQP featured in premier World Music Magazine: Songlines! 10th Anniverary Issue - March 2009
Featured in the "Making Waves: Who's Riding the Crest?" Section.
"Lahore… Delhi… Brooklyn? Well, maybe Kings County, New York State, will never be
an epicentre of traditional Sufi music, but Brooklyn Qawwali Party are reshaping the
centuries-old sounds of South Asia in their own jazz improvisation image.
Founder Brook Martinez and his band had only their shared love of the legendary
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to go on when the group came together in 2004. “We kind of learned the structure of the songs by transcribing,” says Martinez. The group cheerfully admits little to no knowledge of the languages, religious meaning, or stylistic underpinnings of traditional qawwali. But no matter: they ride atop the crashing waves of each song in a funked-out musical ecstasy of their own. A typical BQP set includes some of the master’s best-known songs like ‘Mustt Mustt’ and ‘Allah Hoo’, with the songs’ refrains shouted out joyously over some thickly textured brass. Their DIY spirit has found some serious support in NYC and across the wider world as well; a collaboration with Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali – a group featuring two of Nusrat’s nephews – is reportedly on the way soon." ~Anastasia Tsioulcas
01.14.09APAP: Brooklyn Qawwali Party at GlobalFEST
As if New York isn’t culturally overloaded enough. Every year, when the conference sponsored by APAP - the Association of Performing Arts Presenters - hits New York, the senses of industry music professionals are bludgeoned by the world’s finest talent. Throughout the conference’s fanfare, there are two music events where critics line-up for in great anticipation - GlobalFEST, curated by Bill Bragin, and, Winter Jazz Fest, booked by Brice Rosenbloom. Click here to read the NY Times review of Winter Jazz Fest, which I unfortunately missed. There were two acts at GlobalFEST that caught my ear: The Brooklyn Qawwali Party and The Hot 8 Brass Band, which, in case you missed, is slated to perform in Queens College at the Kupferberg Center, February 14th. I was struck most by The Brooklyn Qawwali Party, a ten-piece orchestra, primarily comprised of jazz-trained musicians. They are devoted to the music of Pakistani Sufi legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. After hearing the group, I can’t help but be reminded of Antibalas, another large jazz instrumental group that famously focuses its repertory on another overseas legend, Fela Kuti. The Brooklyn Qawwali Party would seem to be a perfect match for U.S. State Department’s American Musicians Abroad program, where artists spread diplomacy and understanding through the common language of music. Can you imagine what Pakistanis would think of this Sufi-jazz group from Brooklyn? - Simon Rentner
03.12.08A Brooklyn jazz band breathes new life into Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's sufi music.
Published in "Little India" Magazine, the largest Indian publication in the US.
By Madhu Bhatia Jha
Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is more than just a great musician and sufi singer for percussionist Brook Martinez. He is the spirit that binds the 11 members of his all Caucasian band, the Brooklyn Qawwali Party, founded in 2003, which performs jazz to Nusrat's music.
Growing up with hip-hop, sufi music did not feature in Martinez's teenage world. Then, one evening, he saw Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on a VH1 Awards ceremony. "I heard Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for the first time then and my first reaction was 'who is this large Pakistani guy'? That performance completely bowled me over."
Martinez, who studied jazz and contemporary music at New York University, says the decisive moment that led to the formation of Brooklyn Qawwali Party came after he heard Nusrat's interview on a TV channel. "Nusrat said qawwali is like jazz. That immediately caught my attention. Nusrat himself said that he improvises his music, and that's when I got the idea to play and popularize Nusrat's qawwali music through the medium I know best - jazz."
Martinez picked up some of Nusrat's songs, transcribed the music and began rehearsing with other musician friends who were also fans of Nusrat. Shawn Trail, a percussionist in the band, remembers walking into a music store and picking up his first Nusrat CD by chance: "I was just looking at some CDs when I saw a CD of Nusrat's final studio recording. The packaging and the beautiful art work was so interesting that I decided to buy that CD! Though I must add that the packaging might have drawn me to Nusrat, but it was his music that blew me away."
Many in the band had heard Nusrat's music on their own, while others had been introduced to his music by Martinez. The band was established in 2003 under the temporary name Martinez's Qawwali party and performed its first gig at a friend's apartment in Red Hook in Brooklyn, New York.
Qawwali is a vibrant, improvising musical tradition that dates back 700 years ago. The songs that constitute the qawwali repertoire are principally in Urdu and Punjabi.
The improvisation tradition of qawali has served the Brooklyn Qawwali party well as the group plays Nusrat's music to their individual instruments. Says Tony Barba, a saxophone player in the band, "I am trained in jazz and find a lot of similarity in sufi music and jazz. Both improvise while being performed live, have solos and repetition of themes."
Martinezs explains, "Nusrat also introduces Hindustani classical while singing qawwali. We follow the main components of qawwali, meaning we repeat the melody in jazz and then one person goes solo. We have designated clappers as well. It's the same in qawwali."
Martinez adds, "We decided that we won't sing the songs since the words were unfamiliar to us and we weren't sure of our diction. We included just basic chorus words to give the effect, like Dum Mast Kalandar and Allah Hu."
Performing in public was not easy at first. Recalls Martinez of the debut public performance at the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn in September 2003: "I was really scared. I did have thoughts like who am I to play this music? I am neither sufi, nor Pakistani or even South Asian. I wasn't sure how the audience would receive us."
But the gig was a hit and since then the group has attracted many South Asians fans, some of who do a double take. Oftentimes, South Asian audience members recognize a song, Martinez says, "There are tentative smiles and whispers amongst the audience when they realize that we are all white Americans playing their music. The response though is extremely positive in the end."
Tony Barba adds: "When we play, we do try to see how the audience is reacting. There are times when the audience face lights up, because they recognize the music or the song and then they start clapping. That's really satisfying for us."
A fan, Shridhar Bhave, who has attended many of shows, says: "The main thing about BQP is it transcends all the borders and barriers of language, religion, countries and race. It actually shows the power of music. It's a unique experience listening to Allah Hu from a jazz ensemble."
Another fan, Avantika Pandit, adds: "I am extremely impressed. It is something very different and unique. For me as an Indian, who knows Nusrat's style of singing, watching Caucasians performing it in a jazz form - this format itself intrigues me!"
The group, in turn, has introduced many of its fans to Nusrat's music, says Barba, "There are many people, friends of friends and relatives who have not been exposed to Nusrat's music but now, after listening to his music at our performances, they are huge fans of Nusrat!"
Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is the spirit that binds the 11 members of the Brooklyn Qawwali Party
jazz band together.
Barba, who had developed an interest in Indian music, says he was struck by Nusrat's voice and melody the first time he heard it: "I had never been exposed to any qawwali before and when I heard him, I was awe-struck. Sufi music sounded similar to Indian music to me, but still different in some ways. In fact, I know people who don't know anything about qawwali or what kind of music it is, but if you mention Nusrat's name, they know who he is!"
Brooklyn Qawwali Party, which performs regularly at Brooklyn's Joe's Pub, performed at the Indian and Pakistani Independence Day parades in New York last year.
Whatever the language or the event, the central theme of qawwali remains spiritual, exemplifying the devotion and love for the Divine. That devotion seems evident on the faces of members of the Brooklyn Qawwali Party. Percussionist Trail says playing Nusrat's music is equivalent to praying: "It is definitely a spiritual practice for me. I have reached a higher state of consciousness while playing qawwali music."
Martinez adds, "We are not westernizing sufi music. It is just a pure expression of our feeling in our unique way. It's not pure, but it is borne out of immense love and respect for Nusrat."
The sentiment is shared by Barba: "For all the members in the band, music is spiritual in nature. When we play it, we experience it. We were conscious that the members we put together know that and relate to that feeling."
Says Trail: "Most music tends to have a direct connection with the creator. Nusrat's voice seems to have a direct connection with the universe. I had heard sufi music in Morocco, but Nusrat went further than his own vision."
11.04.07New York Times - Sunday Arts Section - by Ben Ratliff
"Some of the smartest and most deeply enjoyable working bands in New York these days are essentially repertory groups, taking the music of a single composer or a single far-afield idiom and feeding it back through a new sensibility. Liking BROOKLYN QAWWALI PARTY doesn't depend on if you know what Qawwali is. (It's ancient Sufi devotional music from the Indian subcontinent; each piece is long and heavily rhythmic, working up to climax after climax.) Nor does it depend on how you feel about Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, its most revered practitioner. This is an 11-piece band with brass, reeds, harmoniums, drums and percussion that piles texture into Mr. Khan's melodies, ultimately transforming them; it's joyous music, and this band adds all the extra fun and funk it knows."
03.18.07An Ode to the King of Qawwali - by Aseem Chhabra
In the late 1980s, I remember walking by a flee market in New York City’s Greenwich Village. There, by chance, at a music stall, I bought my first cassette of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan — a new recording by Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. I had heard Khan’s haunting voice on Gabriel’s Passion — the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ and I was curious to learn more about this man and his music.
These were the early years of Khan’s career in the US. He was still to be discovered by the likes of Oliver Stone — who used his music in Natural Born Killers (and Khan was not happy about that) and Tim Robbins who had an extremely fruitful collaboration with the Pakistani singer for the soundtrack of his film Dead Man Walking. After Khan’s death in 1997, his nephew Rahat inherited his uncle’s legacy as he continues to perform on Hollywood film soundtracks — from Shekhar Kapur’s Four Feathers to Mel Gibson’s latest violent saga Apoclypto — about the fall of the Mayan Kingdom.
Recently these thoughts passed through my mind as I walked in the same neighborhood on the way to Joe’s Pub — a club dedicated to music from around the world. I was going to listen to a group of young American jazz musicians who have formed a band dedicated to Khan’s music. A 14-member ensemble — they call themselves the Brooklyn Qawwali Party or simply BQP. The musicians are all from Brooklyn, hence the band’s name.
This is also not the first time that musicians in the US have taken to Khan’s music. Jeff Buckley referred to Khan as “my Elvis” as he sang Yeh Jo Halka Halka Saroor Hai. And Eddie Vedder collaborated with Khan on the Dead Man Walking album.
But what sets BQP apart is that they only perform Khan’s music. The musicians perform in other jazz bands, but when they meet under the BQP umbrella it is just pure Khan’s music.
The Joe’s Pub event, BQP’s first performance in Manhattan coincided with the release of the band’s CD — also called BQP. On Joe’s Pub’s small stage were four horn players — with saxophones and trombones, two guitarists, three percussionists and one man on a harmonium. Also in the band were two young women who clapped to the beats of qawwalis. An all white band, playing music popularized by a Pakistani musician.
The band started with Man Kunto Maula — a serenade of horns with the subtle sound of harmonium. Few people in the audience recognized the qawwali, but they were receptive to what they heard — eastern sounds emerging from western musical instruments.
Although BQP is gaining fans — their South Asian base is still small. There were only a handful of South Asians in the audience. But I recognized a young IFS officer who is currently posted at the India’s Permanent Mission to the UN. I later asked him how he heard about the band and he told me that it was through his colleagues at the mission.
The next item was also a lesser known qawwali by Khan — Beh Haadh Ramza Dhasdha — but the soft sound of the horns, electric guitar, the rhythmic clapping was quite mesmerizing. You could shut your eyes and be transported into a different setting — Khan sitting in the center, his brothers, nephew and the rest of the qawwals around him. The slow pace of the music picked up until it reached a crescendo — and then the back and forth improvisation which is the trademark of a great qawwali performance. At times BQP sounded like an East European jazz ensemble and at other times like the fun sounds of Indian wedding bands.
Allah Hu started with the band members actually singing the two words and clapping. The instruments took off with the line Yeh Zameen Jab Na Thee, Yeh Jahan Jab Na Tha. The transition was perfect and smooth. By now some people in the audience were dancing — something I remember very well from all of Khan’s concerts I attended in the 1990s.
And finally the band played Mustt Mustt. Like in Allah Hu the band took break from playing the instruments to clap and recited the words Mustt Mustt. It was a great moment, Khan’s most famous qawwali transformed into an energetic band performance.
The word about BQP is spreading. They have a couple of more performances planned later this month — in Brooklyn and elsewhere. I plan to see them again, this time in their native setting of a jazz club in Brooklyn.
Aseem Chhabra is a freelance writer based in New York who has previously written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and Time Out, New York bloggers’park.
02.28.07Humanity’s Best Bridge-builder
Despite all the smear tactics and propaganda that we encounter through the world’s mass media outlets regarding Pakistan, the country has still been fortunate enough to be home to millions of hospitable, compassionate people who strive to make this world a safer, better place for all. I could go on and on with the names of Pakistanis from the world of finance to art, from architecture to science, from fashion to films, who have certainly made a marked difference in the lives of their fellow citizens, but more importantly, whose impact can be felt by people across borders, in faraway lands.
It is in such times that I cannot help but be saddened by the absence of the great singer, late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It may have been 10 years since his untimely death, but for those of us who were enraptured by his musical genius, it seems just like yesterday. Thankfully, his memory has been kept alive by countless musicians and non-musicians alike, and it is these people to whom we owe much gratitude. In this day and age, music can do, and has done, a great service to the cause of peace, unity and harmony. But it is indeed a pleasant surprise when the ones who carry the torch forward do not understand the language the song is sung in.
This is what enthralled me most the first time I went to see the Brooklyn Qawwali Party (BQP) perform in late 2005. None of the 14 or so band members understood Urdu, or for that matter, the taal and raags being used, yet they still managed to keep the essence of Nusrat’s music alive as they played their string, percussion and wind instruments with fervour and enthusiasm that night many months ago.
BQP has since come full circle now, having released their first CD consisting of four songs: Mustt mustt, Mann kunto Maula, Beh haad ramza dhasdha, and Allah hoo. Needless to say, the songs energise and captivate the listener, but what continues to amaze me is how experiential their concerts can be, much like when Nusrat performed. None of the band members has seen him live or in person, yet each performs with the same gusto and zest that a Sufi soul performer would.
As I sat in the audience and listened to trumpeter Jesse Neuman introduce the group at their CD release party a few nights ago, I was humbled and elated. Here were some regular, all-American folks who happened to listen to his music and have now become not only diehard fans, but also propagators of Nusrat’s noble message. “We are honoured to be able to bring Nusrat’s music to you; music that is centuries old and that, we hope, will live on for centuries to come,” Jesse said to a crowd full of people.
Nusrat sang of love for God, for the beloved and for humanity around us. He has touched the lives of millions all over the world. I remember growing up listening to his music and watching countless foreigners, who could not understand a word of what he sang, yet they were in a deep trance and understood that something so compelling could only take one to a higher plane of existence. The words meant nothing, the experience everything.
As BQP’s music makes its way into the hearts of thousands of New Yorkers, one can only marvel at the fantastic job the group is doing to bring the richness of Sufism and Pakistani music to mainstream America. We in South Asia are quite familiar with this heritage, but what to say of those who are only familiar with images of terror suspects? I am honoured that in a post-9/11 world where Pakistanis aim to build alliances and relationships with the rest of the US, they have allies and partners that are doing just as good a job as any ambassador can.
Whoever said building bridges was an engineer’s job?
by Zeeshan Suhail
02.21.07BQP on NPR
"...like somehow Pakistan met Brooklyn in the Nigerian compound of the late Fela Kuti..." -John Schaefer, National Public Radio - WNYC - Soundcheck
09.19.06Transcending Musical Borders
Today @ GA [BQP leader's alma mater], Brook Martinez ’96 returned to the GA stage along with his band the Brooklyn Qawwali Party. Known as BQP on the New York club circuit where they have been gaining in popularity, the band played their unique fusion of American jazz and Pakistani folk music to rapt Upper and Middle School audiences. The performance is part of GA’s on-going effort to provide our students with a broad cultural education and to increase their appreciation for sophisticated musical styles.
Always a talented musician, Brook was active in the jazz band during his years at GA. After graduating from NYU where he studied jazz, Brook played with a number of bands (including the folksy RoyalPine), worked for the World Music Institute and founded POP!, Percussionists of the People, an interactive workshop facilitating cultural awareness by exploring African, Brazilian and American rhythm traditions. As part of his own musical evolution, Brook became fascinated by Sufi devotional music popularized by the revered Pakistani musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose family has been performing this traditional mystical Islamic music in an unbroken line for the past six hundred years. Nusrat was brought to world attention by Peter Gabriel and reached out to Western audiences, ultimately producing over 125 albums, and collaborating on several fusion recordings with western performers.
Inspired by Nusrat’s improvisational style and raw energy, Martinez formed Brook’s Qawwali Party (later renamed Brooklyn Qawwali Party) in 2004. After faithfully transcribing the Pakistani devotional folk music, which is traditionally performed with 10 to 12 singers, 2 tabla drummers and a harmonium (a hand-pumped portable Indian organ) player, Martinez adapted the pieces to be performed instrumentally rather than chorally. He then recruited a dozen talented jazz musicians to join the “party,” the Qawwali term for supporting members.
Akshai Raj ’07, a gifted musician and composer dividing his time between GA and Julliard, is no stranger to Indian and Pakistani music. He declared today’s performance “…the most satisfying fusion of Western and Asian music I’ve ever heard.” Why? “It was simultaneously authentic and original. They perfectly blended the Eastern style of repeating melodies, soloing and the structural arc. Yet they are playing it with Western instruments and making it their own. They actually managed to capture the energy of devotional music. Most Western artists do not understand that building a meditative trance should draw you in, not put you to sleep.”
Following the morning assembly, Brook and BQP gave a master class to students in Chris Horner’s Jazz Ensemble. They began by listening to samples of Nusrat’s original vocal compositions, and then exploring the BQP interpretations. Students divided into instrumental groups and were taught the simple repeating melody before they got back together to get the “party” started. A few intrepid eighth graders also jumped into the Upper School jam session. “It was interesting and fun to play,” raved Shaina Olitsky ’11. “The rhythm was so upbeat, it makes you want to get up and dance.”
NOTE: The group's self titled CD will be released February 24, 2007 at Joe's Pub at 9 pm. The band performs regularly at the Tea Lounge, Knitting Factory, Tonic, South Paw and other clubs in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
by Andrea Owens 09.19.06
Germantown Academy Newletter
08.24.06Pakistani Post Quote
“...BQP manages to maintain the rhythm and essence of Sufi soul music...” -Zeeshan Suhail
08.22.06World Music Central
“Imagine Antibalas if they had been listening to Nusrat instead of Fela, and then building jazz centered improvisations around it. Like Toubab Krewe and Nomo, it's the kind of thing that sounds a little scary on paper, and then you hear it and realize that they kill it, and find a unique new spin.....funky, smart, loving, and they are really finding their own voice. Closest comparison might be Bollywood Brass Band from the UK, but I think BQP are even more interesting and inventive." -Bill Bragin, director of Joe's Pub at the Public Theater
02.26.06New York Band Plays Sufi Tunes
New York: What began as an experiment for a group of jazz musicians from Brooklyn, New York, has caught on as a popular mix of western and oriental music form.
Inspired by the recordings of the late great Sufi maestro Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Brook Martinez founded Brook's Qawwali Party [now The Brooklyn Qawwali Party] in 2004.
"Nusrat even said his music was very close to jazz music because it involved improvisation. That's the initial seed which led me to play his music with jazz musicians because our music is based on improvisation too," says Martinez.
With horns replacing the vocals - except in the chorus - Brook's Qawwali Party or BQP as it is popularly called, plays music which is a quirky take on qawwali.
BQP comprises five horn players, three percussionists, a guitarist, a bassist and a harmonium player. Interestingly, harmonium is the only instrument they kept from the original compositions.
"Two compositions that get the crowd going - Mast Mast, which we sing along to and Allah Hu, because they are the most recognisable songs that we play and the beat's so wonderful that people start dancing," says Martinez.
Presently, the band is seeking the rights for certain Nusrat songs for their debut CD, and among those they're dealing with is the manager for Nusrat's nephew Rahat Ali Khan.
Brooklyn is America's hipster borough. So, it's not surprising that this is where you find qawwali mingling with jazz. And that's an arrangement that makes for intriguing music.
by Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Video news story of this piece ran on Entertainment Tonight on CNN-IBN (www.ibnive.com), and South Asia World, (which is available on the Dsh network (www.southasiaworld.tv) and South Asia World is also available on BSkyB. CNN-IBN in the UK)
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