Strange and wonderfully unpredictable are the ways in which music affects listeners, proving that it is a universal language that transcends all boundaries. And when the listener happens to be a musician with a fertile and receptive sensibility, you could witness some truly exciting musical pollination. Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Madni from the album Songlines by The Derek Trucks Band could well be cited to illustrate this point. Followers of qawwali legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sahab will instantly recall the two individual tracks, namely Sahib Teri Bandi and Maki Madni, from The Last Prophet on the Real World Records catalogue. Derek Trucks, founder of The Derek Trucks Band, ace American guitarist and songwriter with many awards, including the coveted Grammy, borrows liberally from the two Sufi tracks to create a third track that leans heavily on the source tracks, and yet isn’t a cover version.
Deeply influenced by qawwali, Trucks also learnt to play the sarod from none other than Ali Akbar Khan sahab. Unfamiliar with Trucks’ prodigious talent, I was recently introduced to his work through the Sahib/Maki track by my son Dhaval, who sometimes introduces me to artistes that I possibly would not have discovered on my own. With no background information on Trucks, and no album notes to refer to, the first thought that came to my mind was that his guitar showed a marked influence of the intonation, glides and gamaks that are an integral part of Indian classical music. The use of a tanpura drone reinforced this impression right through the 1.58 minutes of the alaap-like preface to the track, that leads to a steady rhythm pattern over which Trucks lays out the opening line of Sahib Teri Bandi, as written by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. His alaap does not adhere to any specific raga, but explores melodic spaces in an unhurried sort of way. Critics seem to have found his elaboration too cautious, but I found nothing tentative about the manner in which he approaches the melody. To the contrary, he adapts the melody, replacing the supple fluidity of the voice with a sure but differently accented revamping suitable for the guitar.
Musical bridges: Derek Trucks (centre) with his band in a jam session. Derektrucks.com
In the original qawwali rendition, the rhythm maintains a steady pulse throughout, creating the heady trance so typical of the genre. Trucks clips the rhythm at two points in a smart deviation from the original. This might enrage orthodox music lovers but to listeners like me, who do not feel the need to cook up a vociferous contest for superiority between the original and the adaptation, it is a delightful departure from the original. For his improvisations, Trucks chooses spaces between the main melody where he soars away from the sthayi, only to return with a deft sweep. It is only after a good 7.15 minutes into the 9.54-minute-long track that Trucks brings in the main line of Maki Madni. Holding on to only a fragment of the line, Trucks lets the rhythm build up a storm and reveals the melody more completely only when the rhythm settles back, guided by a device often used in qawwali. Moving back into Sahib Teri Bandi, the track ends in a superb tribute to Nusrat sahab.
It was in August 1997 that death stifled the voice of the legendary singer. Fourteen years later, it feels good to hear how death, in some ways, can be defeated by music and musicians.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org