Pakistani hip-hoppers share songs of peace
Although Sukhawat Ali Khan proudly considers himself an American, he loves his native country, Pakistan, equally well.
As a vocalist with Shabaz, a trance/hip-hop group out of San Francisco, Ali Khan has the best of two worlds. He lives in a country he dreamed about as a child in Pakistan while promoting his native country’s music in the United States.
Ali Khan moved to New York City from Pakistan 20 years ago when he was 18. While growing up, he thought America was exotic.
“A lot of Americans go to India and Pakistan to experience the different cultures, music, peoples. I came here because of the same opposite attraction. I thought the U.S. was the coolest place,” said Ali Khan, who has lived in the Bay Area for the last eight years.
“The other reason I moved to this country was to help my father establish this beautiful music of India and Pakistan elsewhere besides India and Pakistan, to promote the music,” Ali Khan said.
His father was Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, a classical Indian singer whose ancestors were court musicians for Akbar the Great, 16th century emperor of the north Indian land called Hindustan. The classical Indian singer performed around the world; his son hopes Shabaz will follow his father’s footsteps in promoting Middle Eastern cultures.
Shabaz, which performs tonight in Grass Valley, features devotional singing from the classical Pakistani tradition intertwined with contemporary global dance beats.
The lyrics are all about love and peace.
“The music’s message is in the memory of God, that there should be love, that God is love,” Ali Khan said. The devotional chants become contemporary with the addition of rock, funk, hip-hop, reggae, jazz and shades of Jimi Hendrix. (Ali Khan calls Hendrix’s guitar riffs brilliant.)
Besides Ali Khan, the other Shabaz members are his sister Riffat Salamat, who also grew up in Pakistan, and Salamat’s husband, American multi-instrumentalist and producer Richard Michos.
Michos spent several years exploring Indian music; he was a student of both Ali Khan and his father, who died last year. Michos adds hip-hop, dance, rock and jazz to the siblings’ traditional Pakistani sound.
Ali Khan views this musical blending of the ancient with the contemporary as symbolic that different cultures are recognizing and even incorporating aspects from other cultures.
“It’s very easy to melt with the music,” Ali Khan said, “and sing blessings of peace.”
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America, Ali Khan observes, Shabaz’s audiences seem even more attentive to the trio’s songs.
“Shabaz means bird, symbol of freedom and love, universal truths,” the Pakistani-born musician said. “Even before Sept. 11, Shabaz has sung that we should sing and dance instead of killing each other.
“I’ve always said I’m a citizen of this planet, there’s no bondage, no need to fight each other, we’re one,” Ali Khan continued. “That’s what the music’s saying – that no one is the best. Your different color, different religion doesn’t matter.”
Although Ali Khan is not a politician, he hopes his group can help further world peace.
“We will keep on spreading this stuff,” Ali Khan pledged. “If we drop one message of love and if a lot of others keep doing it to cover the whole planet, maybe no one will get hurt anymore.
“War is not a good thing at any cost or for any religion,” he added. “If everyone starts shouting peace, singing peace songs, I believe we can change the negative energy into positive energy. Right now the energy’s scattered.”
Ali Khan says musicians need to write songs imploring listeners to be kind to, and love, each other.
“It’s our duty to send beautiful shouting out,” he added. “Like Bob Marley said, ‘Everything’s going to be all right.’ Later the music can come back to whatever. Right now, our message has to be stronger than ever.”
Know and Go
WHEN: Tonight at 8
WHERE: Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley
ADMISSION: $10 for KVMR members, $12 for nonmembers, free for children under 12
INFORMATION: 274-8384 or 265-9073
Altar dedication also slated at arts center
In conjunction with Shabaz’s concert tonight, Nevada County residents will perform during a community dedication of an Afghan rug weaver altar.
The free dedication will start at 7 p.m. at Center for the Arts in Grass Valley.
The 40-minute dedication will include song and dance presentations by Tynowyn and Blue Lotus, and the Shakina Sahar Dancers. Loraine Webb will read mystic poetry of Hafiz and Rumi.
Name changes, but not Shabaz’s sound
Until six years ago, Shabaz was known as the Ali Khan Band.
The name change occurred because other Asian groups used “Khan” in their names.
It’s still the same three members in Shabaz and the same sound (Pakistani sounds with American influences including hip-hop, dance and rock).
Shabaz has two records out under its former name through City of Tribes and a self-titled CD under Miles Copeland’s Mondo Melodia label.
Shabaz, which plays almost every week along the West Coast, has a concert tonight in Grass Valley.
Sukhawat Ali Khan, one of Shabaz’s two vocalists, goes back to Pakistan every winter to perform with family and attend music festivals.
In the last 10 years, Ali Khan has seen Western music increase there in popularity.
“The younger crowd is starting to like hip-hop. They’re open for the best in music,” said Ali Khan. “It’s even more popular in India.”
Tonight’s concert will be broadcast on KVMR-FM (89.5) from 8 to 10.
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