Peoples Colony No 1

Temple Of Sound, 2001

"The essence of a collaboration is people... what drives them, their dreams, aspirations, their daily rhythms. We're not so dissimilar. On the journey I've travelled and worked alongside peoples of all cultures, tongues and walks of life - always improvising and never straying too far from the music."

Thus speaks Neil Sparkes, poet, painter, musician and global dub professor. Neil and fellow traveller Count Dubulah remember one particular late summer evening in 1993 with vivid clarity. It was at the WOMAD Reading festival and the two young global tearaways, already famed for their work in the pioneering global fusion outfit Transglobal Underground, were experiencing their first encounter with the tender ballistics of the late and legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's voice. It was, by all accounts, one of THOSE moments and in Neil's own words "an intense, joyous and overwhelming experience." The voice penetrated the blood and sinews and led to a deep interest in Sufism, the spiritual code that inspires Qawwali music from Pakistan. Neil explored the texts of the great Sufi poets like Farid Ud-Din Attars, Idries Shah and writers who embodied a Sufi aesthetic at one step removed like Paul Bowles. His interest was watered and fed by musical and poetical collaboratons with the likes of Kudsi Erguner, the Kurdish nay maestro, Hossam Ramzy, the Egyptian percussionist or ex-Last Poets wordsmith Jalal Nuriddin with whom Sparkes used to spend long nights discussing, cogitating, reasoning on Islam and Sufi's most famous text 'The Conference Of The Birds' by Farid Ud-Din Attars.

All of this seemed to be leading with its own inexorable logic to Spakes and Dubulah's direct involvement in a Qawwali project. The pair formed their own post-Transglobal vehicle for global sound exploration and called it Temple of Sound. The new vehicle came to the attention of Rob Bozas and Amanda Jones at Real World and they were signed to a publishing deal with Real World Works.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the Real World, Muazzam and Rizwan Ali Khan, the new stars of the great Ali Khan dynasty of Qawwali singers and grand-nephews of Nusrat himself, were looking to expand and 'collaborate' beyond the traditional frontiers of their music. Rashid Ahmed Din, who manages the brothers as he once did their famous uncle, takes up the story. "The idea of a collaboration came from me. Having worked with Nusrat in the past and now his nephews, who are carrying their family tradition, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of their Late Great Uncle. The group have been working with Real World Records for the past three years and now the record company felt it was the right time for them to have a collaborating album. It was the idea of the record company to collaborate with Temple of Sound. We never knew them or their work until they prepared some demo tracks for us while we were on our European summer tour. The demo work was very much liked by Rizwan and Muazzam and they were happy to work with Temple of Sound." Neil and Dubulah were, unsurprisingly, rabidly delighted by the idea. Yet they were also conscious of the fact that such collaborations can often be shallow and cheap in spirit, driven more by marketing greed than deep musical connectivity. "We all agreed this was not to be a mere bolting of beats to the groups identity" explains Neil. "This was going to be 21st Century Qawwali - organic meets technological, moving all our traditions forward. For all of us the album is a clear signpost of where our growing family of musicians who have undertaken this particular musical journey over the last ten years or more have been and can go." Furthermore, the collaboration had to be 50/50 or nothing at all.

Sparkes, Dubulah and engineer Cai Murphy got to work down at Real World, initially in the scary-sounding Bunker and subsequently in the studio's famous Big Room. "The rapport was immediate", remembers Sparkes. "Rizwan and Muazzam carry on their not inconsiderable shoulders the living Qawwali family tradition of several hundred years and with it bring their own insight and perception. Dubulah and I were keen to represent the ensemble feel and then target and highlight unique essences within the group." Rashid Ahmed Din played a vital role of bonding the two camps together in the studio. "Initially it was a bit difficult for both brothers to understand what to do and when" he says. "It was hard to adapt the singing to a fixed rhythm track given that they were not experienced in singing to a click or even to a strict time scale. It was made easier by planning. Through my experience with Nusrat and other artists in the West I was able to assist them in the mechanics of collaborating with a western group." Recalling the various sessions at Real World and then back in London at the studio in Wapping in the shadow of Hawksmoor's St Georges Church, Sparkes word scintillate with poetic excitement. "You can hear the sunrise on 'Paradise...' the last notes of the track fading as night turned blue then dawn spilling through the glass walls of The Big Room. The same with 'Palace at 4 am' written in The Bunker in the small hours after wandering the grounds dodging bats. With 'Solar East' you get that vibe, the studio atmosphere electric, control room always full during recording, Rizwan and Muazzam with us all the way."

The result of all these musical adventures is the album 'Peoples Colony No 1' which will see the light of day on the Real World label in early 2001. The family are all there, buzzing with the deep loping rhythms - Zafar Ali Khan the Bruce Lee of the tabla, the Cuban violinist Omar Puente sounding intriguingly Arabic, Jah Wobble and his booming bass shaking the fundamentals, Kevin Haynes injecting the spirit of Santeria into musical body with his percussion, Harry Becketts on the brass. As Sparkes recalls with pride, "At the end of every night - early morning, none of us wanted to leave." The result is majestic, taking up the Qawwali story from where it was left after Massive Attack's remix of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's 'Mustt Mustt'. There's talk of taking the project out on tour and collaborating on further in the studio next year. Sparkes will no doubt fly!

Reviews

  • Temple Of Sound & Rizwan-Muazzam Qawalli : People's Colony No.1 - CD £7.99 The nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan blend their exciting brand of qawwali singing with the Temple of Sound, Neil Sparkes and Count Dubulah (of Transglobal Underground) and their dubby, downbeat rhythms add a dash or two of Jah Wobble and the results are formidable, especially coupled to the Real World labels superb sound quality. Piccadilly Records (UK)
  • '...a full-tilt effort that is equal parts tradition and equal parts modernity with an occasional dab of zaniness. Impressive.' Dirty Linen (US)
  • ...purely ecstatic mixture of an ancient dialect-devotional Sufi poetry... 'One of the most beneficial factors of this technological age is the unification of numerous, distinct genres of music into one evolutionary sound. It is just an opportunity that has inspired Temple of Sound...to blend this intriguing blend of deep tribal beats to the ethereal vocals of Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali...The result is a purely ecstatic mixture of an ancient dialect-devotional Sufi poetry crooned in the Qawwali's unique guttural projection-with a lively blend of tablas, harmonium, violins and percussion.' Rhythm (USA)
  • It's an exotic, ear-grabbing combination... ...of traditional Pakistani sacred vocal wailing...blended with a sophisticated wall of sound.' Philadelphia Daily News (USA)
  • ...a vast battering-ram of a collaboration... ...distinguished by snatches of Pakistani vocals bobbing above massive beats, dub rhythms and house-shaking bass from Jah Wobble.' Q Magazine (UK)
  • 'Revelation time. How can you bring devotional Sufi music from India and Pakistan to a new audience of digital roots fans? The answer is to combine the talents of the late great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan nephews with a fascinating UK collective fronted by eccentric dance percussionist Neil Sparkes (of Transglobal Underground fame and a solo artist in his own right) underpinned by the distinctive bass antics of Mr. Jah Wobble. Sparkes et al provide a joyful backdrop to the powerful Qawwali voices with a mix of dub, funk, and urban beat, and if you feel a little uneasy at this modern mix of cultures don't worry, because integrity and musicality remain intact. Wonderful stuff.' Wax (UK)
  • '...all parties are to be congratulated for keeping all the traditions afloat in what may, in different hands, have turned out to be a very leaky boat. Worth checking.' Folk World (UK)
  • '...this has been made with a sensitivity to the classical form of Pakistani Qawwali singing that enhances it for the Western listener and brings it bang up to the minute without compromising its integrity in fully organic sufi-dubster style. Like an intricately woven Persian rug, be seduced by its patterns and marval at its imperfactions.' Wave (UK)
  • Do your body and soul a favour, seek out and enjoy... ...the luscious fruits of their labour. Straight No Chaser (UK)
  • Uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan would be proud that his successors are continuing his experimental bent. Anybody who saw Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali's nerve-shredding collaboration with Fun Da Mental at WOMAD in 1999 will be just about prepared for 'People's Colony No 1', a bewildering bass-heavy drum 'n' dub session overseen by Temple of Sound. Uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan would be proud that his successors are continuing his experimental bent. Mojo (UK)
  • A triumph of East/West fusion where Qawwali tradition meets western invention - via ex-Trans Global Underground stars and guests including Jah Wobble - to produce an admirable ambient Asian soundscape. ´ri-´ra (Ireland)
  • This complex album incorporates... ...the mystical Qawwali vocal techniques into Western digi-dance technology. Musicians featuring on the album include Jah Wobble, Omar Puente and the tabla master Zafar Ali Khan. Music Week (UK)