Charkha - Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

By: Muniba Kamal

10 May, 2009

Charkha is not more than an album; it's a labour of love for all involved to carry on the legacy of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's Charkha is the most haunting record in the market right now. Though the hype around it may not have built up because of the subtlety of the record, but now it seems to have filtered in and through and regularly features on the charts. It's been a slow burner but on first listen one can tell that this is a record that will burn long and gain strength. Charkha is classic in every sense of the term.

The videos on music channels all over, 'Tere Bina' and 'Kanday Uttay', are only the tip of the ice berg here. Charkha is music to listen to in solitude, preferably with dim lighting. The reworking of Bullay Shah's 'Charkha' and Shah Hussain's 'Sainyaah' included, most songs on the album are a reworking of the qawwalis in Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's repertoire. The only original compositions are 'Tere Bina', 'Na Janay Kahan' and the unsurpassable 'Jiya Dhadak Dhadak Jaye' that became a superhit in India in 2005 when Mahesh Bhatt used it for the film Kalyug. Already a star in India after 'Mann Ki Lagan', 'Jiya Dhadak Dhadak Jaye' ensured that Rahat become a voice in demand across the border; beyond the realm of the Bhatt family.

He sang 'Naina' for Vishal Bharadwaj's critically acclaimed Omkara (2006), 'Main Jahan Rahoon' for the surprise blockbuster Namastey London (2007) , 'Bol Na Halke Halke' for Yashraj Films Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007) , 'Jag Soona Soona Lage' for the Shahrukh Khan magnum opus Om Shanti Om (2007) and the haunting 'O Re Piya' for Madhuri's come back film Aaja Nachle (2007). Yet it is Charkha, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's solo album that is truly satisfying listening for the qawwali aficionado as well as for those who like trippy lounge music of the sort that Thievery Corporation and Buddha Bar records have made so popular amongst the party crowd looking to chill out to sounds that carry on from where the DJ leaves off.

The sound of Charkha

Carefully constructed by Rohail Hyatt, Charkha is a sonic delight. The visual landscape reminds one of a desert in bloom. The musicality is sparse but tasteful (barring the remixes of 'Charkha' and 'Tere Bin', that gradually race thumping into a manic assaulting beat, but more on those later). The album opens with the sublime 'Charkha', that reworking one of the immortal kalams of Bulleh Shah, that puts a whole new spin on the phrase 'the wheel keeps on turning'. With the twang of a guitar occassionally interjecting the more consistent percussion that seems to be modelled on the clapping that traditionally accompanies a qawwali performance, Rahat's vocals build up to the chant 'Aaja Har Charkhe De Gheray Main Tainoon Yaad Kardi'. The sound is modern and yet familiar because the form of qawwali is not interfered with and that has been Rohail Hyatt's aim throughout the album.
"You can't mess with the form," Rohail resolutely maintained when he set out to do Charkha years ago.

Rohail seems to have learned how Westerners worked with Rahat's illustrious uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. There was Peter Gabriel's 'Mast Qalander' remix that burnt dance floor all over the world, but which remained an aberration for the true followers of qawwali and then there was Michael Brooks' interpretation of the Nusrat first in Mustt Mustt and then more noticeably in the super sublime album Night Songs that will never lose it's incredible replay value. Qawwali is music that you sink yourself into and let it seep in; even as electronica can make it more accessible to the modern world it is important that qawwali retain its essence, which is spiritual to the extent that it caused musician Jeff Buckley to famously comment "Nusrat is my Elvis".

And this is precisely what Charkha does. It elevates Rahat to a whole new iconic level. Rohail Hyatt has played acoustic guitars, percussion and done the programming for most of the songs. Assad Ahmed has played electric guitars on the album. Abbas Premjee also comes in for a song. Rahat's troupe is employed for another. But essentially Charkha is all about Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and his craft. It focuses on the qawwal and his qawwalis and being so true to what it sets out to be is the album's greatest strength.

After the mindblowing title track, the album launches into the mesmerizing 'More Ang Ang Baje', it's followed by the sonorous 'Rang Rangeela' and then there is 'Tere Bina' which speaks of the sweet pain of parting with a beat that quickens as suspense gathers. On the album it is the song that launches the searing intensity of the next three songs that grab you by the jugular.

'Kanday Uttay' is the only song that employs Rahat's humnawa, who contribute backing vocals on this track; Ballu Bhai from the famed Tafu Brothers of Lahore is responsible for percussions and Dildar who performed with Nusrat and then Rahat was roped in to lend tablas to the track. 'Kanday Uttay' is a scorcher. It is nothing like what you will hear when you watch the glammed up Indian-directed video, unless you close your eyes.

This is followed by 'Dunga Pani' with lyrics by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan that is a slow slash your wrists and die melody that takes you to the cavernous depths of inner despair of the worst kind. And this is followed by 'Aj Hun' that begins with haunting classical guitars that can only be done by Abbas Premjee coupled with the rat-a-tat done by Rohail that sounds suspiciously like a matka. 'Aj Hun' is somber song that picks up as Rahat Fateh Ali Khan picks up with his melodic Sa Re Ga Ma, racing through the notes before taking the lyrics to a brighter, happier, uplifting place.

After the intensity of the 'Kanday Uttay', 'Dunga Pani' and 'Aj Hun', Na Janay Kahan is a breath of fresh air. It was originally composed by Rahat's father Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan. It's a song as opposed to a qawwali, but when you have Rahat singing, it's a perfect example of how a trained vocalist can lift a ballad.

Then come the remixes of 'Tere Bin' and 'Charkha'. Boy would one love to hear them playing at a rave and one is sure that they will. Without the irritating jhankar beats that keep Indian remixes from being truly enjoyable, these are a lesson in how Eastern music can be uplifted by electronica to suit the dance floor without being reduced to being perfect soundtracks to the sleazy clubs typified in the Indian film Chandni Bar.

Sandwiched between the two remixes is Shah Hussain's 'Saiyaan' that is electrified to a thrilling intensity but without ever overshadowing Rahat's voice or getting in way of the lyrics that tell of love and longing so great that one would give it all up for the 'Saiyaan'.

The album fittingly ends with 'Jiya Dhadak Dhadak Jaye', which we have already heard and been entranced by since 2005. It belongs more in this album Charkha than it did in that film Kalyug. The irony is that had 'Jiya Dhadak Dhadak Jaye' not been given to that film, one doubts that a project as ambitious and pure as Charkha would have seen the light of day in Pakistan.

The making of Charkha

Charkha is a project that started many years ago. With Rahat being based in Faisalabad and Rohail Hyatt in Karachi it was a difficult undertaking. Faisal Rafi was the crucial bridge between Rohail and Rahat shuttling between Karachi and Faisalabad as and when necessary.

With a deep abiding love for Sufi music, Faisal Rafi went full throttle into the working with Rahat while at Sajjad Panjwani's Visible Changes. Since he had done the last few shows with Nusrat before his demise, Sajjad had put him onto a project with Rahat which he worked on with Shahi Hasan. This is when Rahat was known as Nusrat's nephew and skeptics believed that with his squeaky voice, he would never be able to live up to the towering legacy of his uncle. Rahat proved the naysayers wrong with 'Mann Ki Lagan', produced by Shahi Hasan and Faisal Rafi. Used by Pooja Bhatt in her super flop film Paap, the song went on to become a superhit. Rahat had proved himself in Bollywood and only greater things would come.

It was after the success of Paap in 2003 that Saregama showed an interest in Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's music and the deal for Charkha was made. A few weeks after Rahat's return to Pakistan, his father who had not been keeping too well passed away. As it works in gharanas, Rahat became the head of the clan and was out of musical action for a year. By the mid–2004, Faisal Rafi wanted to set the project rolling, but Shahi was busy, so it he took it to Rohail Hyatt to produce.

Rohail Hyatt outdid anything Rahat had done with the standout track 'Jiya Dhadak Dhadak Jaye'. Years in the making, Charkha could find no takers in Pakistan. It was 2005 and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's star had yet to rise in Bollywood and credible music labels had yet to come out in Pakistan. Who would be interested in a classically trained singer who had no chance of becoming the heart throb of millions and thus help push colas, ice cream cones and mobile phones into the market via his endoresement? The answer is no one.

And so the strategy was strike India, where the tradition of trained playback singers ensures that classical ustads have merit. Mahesh Bhatt, who had shown an interest in the music was given 'Jiya Dhadak Dhadak Jaye' to use in Kalyug. The song was an immediate hit when it came out. Saregama became even more interested in Rahat's solo album and Rohail and Faisal took it upon themselves to deliver the goods.

There were songs that had to be rewritten and simplified. Like the second track that opens with the words 'Mohe Ang Ang Baje Madhur Bansuri, Torey Yaadon Ki Chhaiyyaan Taley', which is adapted from the Sufic song that goes 'Moray Makhdoom Bajay Madhur Bansuri Teray Gullar Ki Chhaiyaan Taley'. Makhdoom was a saint in India and the song describes him playing the flute under the shade of the gullar tree.

Ahmed Anis, a childhood friend of Rahat's has adapted the lyrics to make them more listener friendly for a greater audience.

"The qawwalis are in so many dialects that the average listener wouldn't be able to understand them. We changed the lyrics to make them more accessible," Faisal Rafi tells Instep. "But there was also the respect factor. Hazrat Makhdoom was a saint, and the minute you put out an album in India, chances are the videos will feature semi-clad women dancing to the songs. We didn't want to disrespect Sufi saints."

Yet, Faisal is quick to pint out: "Anis Ahmed redid the lyrics, but the soul is the same. 'Makhdoom' is replaced with 'Ang Ang' and 'Gullar 'with 'Yaad'. The substitute is true to what Sufis sing about."

It's an intelligent logic and one that Rohail Hyatt and Faisal Rafi applied while going about remaking and rewriting with Rahat and his team. These ancient qawwalis that are truly the songs of the soil. And there is something about them that gets people whether they understand the language or not. Eddie Vedder came under the magic of Nusrat's craft, as did Jeff Buckley, Peter Gabriel and Michael Brooks and countless others. Charkha puts Rahat Fateh Ali Khan on the plain that Michael Brooks put Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on with Night Songs. Charkha is world music that the people anywhere in the world would respond... as they did with Nusrat. And it is the perfect launch for Rahat at a time when he has shed the slightly shrill nervous voice to sing from the heart (and the stomach at times) as his uncle had foreseen he would.

The significance of Charkha

At Rohail Hyatt's Coke Studio recently, it was Rahat's performance that was the most riveting out of all the artists. He's acquired the same quality Nusrat had of hypnotizing you with the power of his voice and the control he exerts over it. Rahat can make his voice ring out to the heavens and take it down to the soothing effect of falling rain. And like any classical musician, he will only get better with time.

Success has come also much easier to Rahat than it did for his uncle. While Nusrat broke out into the West and the world at large rather late in life, he was touching 50, Rahat has made it much younger and with India under his belt, he is perfectly poised to take on the mission his uncle began.

"Many have said I have compromised my faith by coming to the West. But this is not so. To travel the world and open the hearts of those whose were previously closed is a joy worth the other sacrifices," said Nusrat in an interview to Andy Carvin while he was alive. It was a man speaking about the opposition to his openness towards collaborating with Westerners within the classical music gharanas of Pakistan. Yet Nusrat reached out to the world because he realised that like all things, qawwali too must evolve.

As Pakistan, with the rise of media and a young population, becomes a different place in sync with the rest of the world, it is imperative that qawwali change tack and reach out to both the younger audience and the world at large. This is what Charkha does for Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and it is important that he carry on this path even as he chases those Bollywood hits that can make a Pakistani musicians' career these days.

One doubts that Rohail Hyatt's production of Charkha can have rivals amongst Bollywood music composers (the only person one can discount is AR Rahman) who are very good at making filmi songs. The problem with Rahat's Bollywood foray has been that the songs he has sung there employ him as a fine singer and are pleasing to the ear, but they lose the intensity of his art which is qawwali. Nusrat also fell into this trap when he did songs like 'Afreen Afreen' with tacky instrumentation that did no justice to his craft. And then there were also gems like 'Piya Re'. And ironically, the best Rahat Fateh Ali Khan song after 'Jiya Dhadak Dhadak Jaye' has been 'O Re Piya' from the film Aaja Nachle; the rest have been hack jobs.

With Charkha, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan gets a brilliant showcase, in front of which his forays into Bollywood fall short. One hopes that there is a sequel to this album and that it is put together as thoughtfully and tastefully as Charkha.

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Posted on: 31 May, 2011
GarciaWilliams
GarciaWilliams says...
Replying to arshwinderI agree with you. After his father he is the only one who can carry his torch ahead. Thanks God for providing another legend to us.
Posted on: 27 January, 2011
6700ejaz
6700ejaz says...
rahat fatha ali the best
Posted on: 19 September, 2010
nomanhyder
nomanhyder says...
Replying to THE_PREMbest sentence
Posted on: 09 September, 2010
papapapapa
papapapapa says...
i love u
Posted on: 11 August, 2010
MALIK KASHIF
MALIK KASHIF says...
RAHT ALI KHAN SE KOI YE POCHE KE UN KO SANSO KI MALA KA MUTLAB PATA HA
Posted on: 03 July, 2010
MALIK KASHIF
MALIK KASHIF says...
nusrat fathe ali khan ke listner jab tak 5 sal na sune koi samg nahi sakta
Posted on: 03 July, 2010
THE_PREM
THE_PREM says...
HE IS MY SPIRIT AND MY GURU.........
Posted on: 24 May, 2010
falak
falak says...
I only wanna say that Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali khan anu ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan are the two sides of the coin
Posted on: 18 May, 2010
iseecom
iseecom says...
He did s show in Sydney last month ... and the whole Indian and Pakistani audience was just stunt ... he is the greatest singer Pakistan has ever produced ... salute to these kind of people who bring galory for the country.
Posted on: 31 March, 2010
M.AVEZ
M.AVEZ says...
HE IS VERY GOOD SINGER GOD GIFTED HIS VOICE TOUCH HEARTS
Posted on: 21 February, 2010
suruchi mishra
suruchi mishra says...
rahat fateh ali khan is a good singer. unki to baat hi alag hai.
Posted on: 30 December, 2009
momna
momna says...
rahat ki behan ko khottey ka lora
Posted on: 06 December, 2009
momna
momna says...
rahat fateh khan is lund & chutia singer
Posted on: 06 December, 2009
momna
momna says...
rahat fateh khan is lund singer
Posted on: 06 December, 2009
arshwinder
arshwinder says...
after ustad nusrat fateh ali khan i like to liten d voice of rahat fateh ali khan
Posted on: 17 May, 2009

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