The 75-year old Pakistani Ustad Saami is one of the last remaining musicians to practice a thousand-year-old tradition of the Khayál music, widely considered a precursor of qawwali music that originated in Pakistan. Even under threat of Islamic fundamentalists, at risk of his own life, Saami continues the ancient tradition of this art of singing. In November, he will give a very rare live performance at Le Guess Who? festival in Utrecht. 

The Khayál master spent his entire life as a dedicated practitioner of a vanishing art, one passed on from generation to generation since the 13th century. He sings in a microtonal system: his voice is able to minutely veer between 49 different notes, seven times the Western scale. The Arabic word for Khayál is “imagination”. Saami shapes the notes with his hands as he sings inimitable scales. 

Most khayál practitioners now hide their knowledge, possessively passing their skills down through family only. Meaning that in the end, these traditions will probably fade away. Ustad Saami’s mission is to share his knowledge with the world, so that the music may live on freely and his message is contemporary and universal: “to sing is to listen.”

Under the guidance of Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan, the music of Ustad Saami was recorded for the first time and the album ‘God Is Not a Terrorist’ was the outcome. This album embodies Saami’s goal to pass on his knowledge of the Khayál music to the next generation and the foreign world.

In collaboration with the record label Glitterbeat and producer Ian Brennan, Le Guess Who? festival presents Hidden Musics, a concert series that introduces unknown and under-represented global sounds. With Ustad Saami being the last great singer who masters the techniques of the ancient “khayál” music, it’s an extremely rare privilege to have him perform at Le Guess Who? in Utrecht on Saturday 9 November. 

Le Guess Who?
November 7-10, 2019
Utrecht, The Netherlands

Ustad Saami:

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