Atish by Najma

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Atish: Romantic Fire with Wailing Saxophone

Jun 26, 2001 (Updated Jun 26, 2001)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Pleasantly arranged, Western-friendly collection of South Asian ghazal songs.

Cons:Not much, though lyrics and/or translations would be helpful.

The Bottom Line: Try this one for a fresh, accessible take on an ancient Asian musical/poetic art form.


This is the second Shanachie release by the British-born ghazal singer and composer Najma Akhtar, a young woman of Pakistani and Indian Muslim ancestry. I first discovered this artist when I checked a copy of this tape out of the local library system, and later bought my own copy when I could afford to.

Ghazals have a long and colorful history; they are usually romantic poems set to music, often by the singers themselves. The poems relate to romantic love in either a secular or religious-mystical context, and have often been used by Sufi poets to express a love of God in romantic metaphorical terms. Traditionally, ghazals are most often sung by men, and frequently express a female viewpoint. Female singers have a roughly equivalent traditional song form called thumri, which often expresses a MALE view of romance. It's a strange sort of role-reversal that I don't really have an answer for at the moment.

In any case, Najma fell in love with the ghazal tradition while attending traditional ghazal singing sessions (known as mehfil-e-ghazal) both in Pakistan and in Britain. Her own performance of them, however, bridges both Eastern and Western musical styles. Her ensemble includes a traditional Indian violinist, a tabla player, an electronic keyboardist and a jazz saxophonist. This is an Anglo-Indian performer who likes her ghazals with a bit of jazz flavoring.

On this album, the selections themselves are songs traditionally popular among ghazal fans, including a haunting rendition of "Apne Hathon" and a rather rocking version of "Ghoom Charakhana" with a flashing sargam (classical Indian form of vocal improvisation) sequence toward the end. The Western saxophone and Eastern violin bounce and clash together, and somehow complement each other amazingly well. Najma is also quite adept at harmonizing vocals (a peculiarly Western feature that is only just beginning to become popular in the Subcontinent), as well as Indian classical-influenced vocal improvisations. The album ends with a ghazal-like treatment of the Linda Ronstadt hit, "Faithless Love", with lyrics that certainly resemble translations of ghazal verses, including references to "faithless love [that] like a river flows." This addition has been panned by critics who apparently did not get the point that this contemporary song is a kind of ghazal in English, with themes shared by its Urdu-language equivalents. Apparently, faithless love inspires wistful verses and lovely melodies in many lands besides our own.


Recommend this product? Yes


Great Music to Play While: At Work


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