An interview with Brooklyn Qawwali Party
“The sacred sounds that I yearned to find in western jazz were emanating from Nusrat in this completely foreign music” (Brook Martinez, Percussionist and Founder of the Brooklyn Qawwali Party)
It is not often that you find something as unique and as fresh as Brooklyn Qawwali Party (BQP) while surfing for music on the internet. For a qawwali aficionado like me, to hear a note by note rendition of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s most famous qawwalis played through instruments like the trumpet and the tenor saxophone, was nothing short of divine.
The Brooklyn Qawwali Party is an ensemble of eleven proficient Jazz musicians who got together to pay tribute to someone they think of as “one of the world’s greatest vocalists” – vocal mastodon Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
I recently interviewed Brook Martinez, the founder and percussionist for the BQP to talk about why they formed the band and prospects of playing in Pakistan.
1. When did you decide to form the Brooklyn Qawwali Party?
2004. By this time, I had been a longtime fan of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. However, what sparked the creation of BQP was when I noticed my fellow New York Jazz musicians passing around one of his CDs. I had no idea that they’d be interested in this kind of music. When I got a hold of this specific recording (“The Last Studio Recording” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party) and had a listen, it hit me: What if a group of NY jazz musicians were to try and play this music?
Qawwali and Jazz have many similarities and a fusion of the two could be beautiful and powerful. So I went home, googled to see if anyone else was already doing this. When I did not find anything, I began to transcribe music from the CD. I called up my friends, we got together and BQP was born.
2. Being hardcore Jazz musicians, what was it about qawwali that eventually forced you to form a unit dedicated to this sort of music?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one thing about qawwali that inspired us to form BQP. It’s a combination of many things: the rhythm and beat of the music, the beautiful and haunting melodies, the virtuosic improvisations, the depth and spiritual nature of the music and poetry. All of this made me feel that there is a common musicality between jazz and qawwali.
3. Why Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan?
I chose Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s music for several reasons. First, it was his recording that inspired the creation of BQP. Second, he was the artist who opened up qawwali music to western audiences. It seemed a natural extension of what he had already done. Third, his arrangements and virtuosic improvisations lend themselves very well to our adaptations. Because we perform this musical without vocals and lyrics, it helps to have more dynamic passages in our arrangements to keep the music moving and interesting.
4. Who else is a part of BQP and what instruments do you incorporate?
Tony Barba on tenor saxophone
Ryan Keberle on trombone,
Brian Drye on trombone,
Ben Holmes on trumpet,
Loren Stillman on alto saxophone,
Rob Jost on French horn,
Mike Gamble on electric guitar,
Noah Jarrett on acoustic bass,
Kris Davis on harmonium,
Conor Elmes on percussion,
and Brook Martinez (me), on the drums.
5. Have people accepted this form of music even though your renditions are purely instrumental?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. From the start I was very concerned about how people would react to us transforming this music. What’s kept me going is the constant influx of emails and notes from all over the world telling me how thrilled they are that BQP exists. Many have written that the music has brought them to tears (in a good way!) to listen to this adaptation.
6. Have you people ever thought of flying down to Pakistan and playing for the audience here?
We have thought of playing all over and anywhere in the world, although we’ve mostly performed locally in the US. Traveling with an 11-piece band can be quite costly so we would need the proper sponsors to make a larger international trip possible.
7. Do you think Nusrat Fateh Ali’s dream of a universal existence of music and promoting peace and humanity will see the light of day?
I think it has already seen the light of day! Music is everywhere and modern technology has allowed anyone to listen to music from anywhere in the world. Most music, by its very nature, promotes peace and humanity innately. The sound of music brings instant peace and joy into the hearts of most. It sustains us and gives us hope that there is good and beauty in the world. We hope BQP brings joy and hope into people’s hearts.
8. Any messages for your fans in Pakistan?
Thank you for listening to us and accepting us into your ears and hearts. We are honored to perform this music.
To learn more about Brooklyn Qawwali Party visit heir official website: http://bqpmusic.com
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.