Pakistani Music Maestro Teams Up With Grammy-Winning Producer

By Sonya Rehman

In perhaps one of the most exciting developments in the global music sphere, a Pakistani classical music giant, Ustad Naseeruddin Saami, will be collaborating on a multi-CD album with Ian Brennan, an Irish-American record producer who won a Grammy Award in 2011 for the Best World Music Album.

“[Saami] is a world class vocalist, both virtuosic and soulful at the same time…and that is a rare feat,” stated Brennan, who has worked with musicians from Romania, Italy, Cambodia, Rwanda and Mali. “Beyond that, he has devised a new micro-modal system that is incredibly complex, but in no way feels complicated. It is so inherently musical, that through it, the majority of listeners could find access to new sonic vistas without realizing how far afield they have been led from standardized and rote systems.”

Ustad Naseeruddin Saami. Photo: Kohi Marri.

The collaboration between Saami and Brennan was thanks to one of Saami’s own students, Ali Sethi, a young Pakistani singer from the city of Lahore who contacted the producer over email last summer after Sethi heard an album Brennan had recorded for the Malian folk band, Tinariwen.

Ian Brennan. Photo by: Marilena Delli.

Interestingly, both Sethi and fellow-student, Zeb Bangash, had been trying to bring Saami’s music to a wider audience for two years. “His tutelage had a transformative effect on our lives,” Bangash stated, “As his students, we couldn’t fathom why someone like him didn’t have albums for the world to experience his music.”

“I felt Brennan’s sensibility would be perfectly suited to conveying the intricacy and intensity of Saami’s singing, which is all about the melodic space that exists between conventional notes, and requires a similar sensitivity to the artist’s environment and spiritual context,” Sethi said.

After expressing an interest in the collaboration, both Brennan and Saami were introduced over a Skype call by Sethi and Bangash a few days shy of New Year’s Eve last year.

Due to meet and begin recording the album this year, Brennan hopes the project will bring Saami overseas for international performances.

“[He] is in a class by himself, “Brennan stated, “I’m hopeful for the day that he will be recognized worldwide and take his rightful place as one of the greats in modern Pakistani musical history.”


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