Andholan/ Mekaal Hasan Band
IN its first two albums ‘Sampooran’ and ‘Saptak’, the Mekaal Hasan Band (MHB) wonderfully mixed classical bandishes and traditional Sufi compositions with western elements like rock and jazz. The Lahore-based group uses the same mix on its latest album ‘Andholan’, but there is one major difference.
With popular vocalist Javed Bashir leaving the band, MHB has now gone in for a female vocalist in Indian singer Sharmistha Chatterjee. Considering that fans were bound to compare any male replacement with the incomparable Javed, that’s an intelligent move. For her part, Sharmistha has a strong Hindustani classical base, a good command over the ragas, and blends well with the energetic rock and jazz backdrop that embellishes most tunes. She also sings harkats and murkis freely, though there are occasions when one wishes the compositions had used less of them.
Besides her, the album features the supremely talented Mekaal on guitars, the brilliant Mohammed Ahsan Papu on flute, Amir Azhar on bass and Louis Pinto ‘Gumby’ on drums. In their forthcoming live projects, the rhythm section will comprise Mumbai-based drummer Gino Banks and bassist Sheldon D’Silva.
The album contains eight tracks, and the highlights are the innovative song structures, and the masterly coordination between guitars and flute. Interestingly, the band had a song called ‘Andholan’ on its album ‘Saptak’, but that’s not featured here.
The opener ‘Ghunghat’ is a version of poet Baba Bulleh Shah’s well-known Sufi kaafi ‘Ghunghat ohley na luk sajna, mein mushtaq deedaar de haan’. With its crisp guitars, flute and drumming, it sets the pace. Next, the band presents ‘Champakali’, based on the raga of that name. Papu’s flute is mesmerising, and a wailing guitar stretch glitters at the end.
‘Bheem’ is an adaptation of the traditional raga Bhimpalasi bandish ‘Ja ja re apni mandirwa, sun paave morey saas nanadiya’. The composition has earlier been rendered by classical vocalists Pandit Jasraj and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, and by Delhi fusion band Advaita, but MHB lends its own touch.
‘Sayon’, also based on Bulleh Shah’s poetry, is one of the strong points of the album. Slower than the other tunes, it has a soothing flute portion, with Sharmistha showing her vocal prowess on the lines ‘Aao sayon ral deyon ni vadhai, main var paaya raanjha maahi’.
‘Malkauns’, based on raga Malkauns, uses the composition ‘Aaj more ghar aayela balma’, once sung by the great Ustad Amir Khan. Mekaal is in great guitar form on ‘Sindhi’, producing a couple of crackling solos. ‘Megh’ starts with a folksy flavour, and picks up tempo. The final piece ‘Kinarey’ cuts down the pace, and is a simple, sing-along charmer.
All in all, this is another feather in MHB’s cap. The band has a distinct sound, and the tunes are strong enough to merit repeated hearing.
RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding