“Backed by tanpura, harmonium and tablas, Saami sings with multiple accompanying voices, rising in front of them with electrifying force and terrifying beauty. Precious, melancholy valedictions for a 1000 years of sound.” —The Wire
Following his critically acclaimed debut, God Is Not a Terrorist (2019), 49-note scale microtonal vocal master Ustad Saami returns with an epic part two. Pakistan Is for the Peaceful presents an even more immersive work, comprised of just three extended tracks and again produced 100% live at the master’s rooftop home in Karachi by Grammy-winner Ian Brennan (Tinariwen, Zomba Prison Project, The Good Ones), with musical accompaniment provided by Ustad’s four sons.
Ustad Saami is the last living surti master, a precursor of the ancient Islamic devotional music of qawwali.
As The Quietus noted: “when Ustad Saami dies, these forty-nine notes die with him.”
The seventh release from Glitterbeat’s acclaimed Hidden Musics series.
At age seventy-six, Ustad still practices from 4 AM to noon most days, drilling himself with exercises. Though his physical hearing has declined and he requires in-ear aids for daily communication, his powers of perception continue to rise.
As a child, he was the chosen one from his family and his master forbade him to speak for years. During this period, he was only allowed to express himself vocally, not verbally. He studied for thirty-five years to perfect this system before he ever even stepped onstage. It was the same trajectory as puff pop-stars, only inverted — they start performing prematurely and get even more flaccid over time.
Instead, Ustad explores the subtlety of human emotion through microtones, an attempt to turn “negatives positive” through the reclamation of those tones deemed out-of-tune.
01. Prayer For a Saint (19:50)
02. Aman (Peace) (20:22)
03. True Notes (“Happy Morning”)(06:33)
Following Saami’s debut album, a World Music expert in Los Angeles was flummoxed that she could not find any reference to the master’s system on the internet. Ironically, this absence of reference actually stands as proof rather than refuting his rarity. It cannot be found elsewhere precisely because it is his system— a customized work of recovery— with Ustad the only living vocal practitioner.
— Ian Brennan
“Goose pimples are abundant as his voice soars and curls high up into the vaulted ceiling like shimmering protoplasm, finding transcendent understanding beyond words.” — Mojo (review of Le Guess Who? 2019)
For an artist that had never before appeared onstage outside of Pakistan, Ustad Saami began his international touring career auspiciously. In 2019 he wooed major festivals with set lists often made up of a single musical piece stretching non-stop for over an hour. These debut appearances were at WOMAD (UK and Australia) and the Le Guess Who? Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands. Saami has already been booked for the 2021 Roskilde Festival in Denmark.
Pakistan Is for the Peaceful was recorded live at the master’s rooftop home in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2018.
The master is accompanied by his four sons: Rauf (group leader, harmonium, vocals), Urooj (primary response vocalist, tambura number one), Ahmed (tambura number two, vocals) and Azeem (tablas, vocals).