Jaubi: Coltrane, Ragas & Peace

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​The band Jaubi features an international lineup originating from the U.K.: Marek “Latarnik” Pędziwiatr (left), Qammar “Vicky” Abbas, Ali Riaz Baqar, Zohaib Hassan Khan, Ed “Tenderlonious” Cawthorne and Kashif Ali Dhani.

(Photo: Sebastian Jóźwiak)

A chain reaction ignited when London’s multi-instrumentalist and producer Ed “Tenderlonious” Cawthorne shared his passion for ragas with the founder of Astigmatic Records, Łukasz Wojciechowski. “Why go to India when you could record with Jaubi in Pakistan?” he replied. With the addition of Polish pianist and composer Marek “Latarnik” Pędziwiatr (EABS/Błoto), an extended line-up of Jaubi was born, leading to the spiritually informed album Nafs At Peace.

North Indian classical music, hip-hop, modal and spiritual jazz weave across the album’s tapestry, a collection of seven tracks that explore forgiveness, betterment and faith. OnZari,” Zohaib Hassan Khan bows an elevating melody on the sarangi — a four-stringed instrument found in Punjabi folk music — which glides in tandem upon a cooler-than-ice groove. Abundant polyrhythms contribute to a climbing momentum on “Raga Gurji Todi,” while the title track rocks and sways like unsteady breath, conjuring images of pain and prayer. “Seek Refuge,” recorded in Norway with the Vox Humana Oslo Choir, is a divine and gentle opener. The album has a penchant for sensitivity, groove and even a few beat drops, with no air of predictability thanks to the skill of Ali Riaz Baqar on guitar, Zohaib Hassan Khan on sarangi, Qammar “Vicky” Abbas on drums, Kashif Ali Dhani on tabla and vocals, Tenderlonious on flute and soprano saxophone) and Marek “Latarnik” Pędziwiatr on keyboards. Perhaps the album’s most important quality is its ability to start conversations.

“People [in the band] were speaking to me individually about problems in their life at the time: deaths, divorce, drug addiction — really sad stuff,” said Jaubi guitarist and lead composer Baqar from his home in Melbourne, Australia. “We immersed ourselves into the music.” The album was recorded predominantly in Lahore, Pakistan. “The beauty about that trip was that the recording studio had access to a rooftop. We would only stop when the Islamic call to prayer happened. So we would go from one spiritual experience — playing music — to go outside and be with God.”

The concept of Nafs is a complex Islamic philosophy, which relates to the “self” in context of ego, desire, sin and much more. Although themes of Islam are entwined in Nafs At Peace, not all members of the band are Muslim. “I come from a religious family, but I’m not religious,” Baqar said.

“Two or three years before the album was recorded in April 2019, I was in a very dark period of my life and had stopped playing music.” Weighed down with questions, Baqar dedicated himself to studying the Quran. “I got fed up of believing the negative stereotypes about Islam, so I read it for myself.”

He brings attention to the album cover, which he was seeing for the first time. The sleeve shows a black-and-white photograph of a woman praying.

“When I was going through that dark period, that’s what I would see every day; it’s my mom — praying for me,” he said. “I’m in a very happy place with myself and my music [now], and I have the courage to tell my parents that I don’t really believe in religion — but I believe in God.” He pauses, deep in thought. “In the golden age of Islam, it was strongly encouraged to have critical thinking; to actually question the Quran, question Islam — and that’s what I went back to.”

Recording Nafs At Peace enabled the musicians not just the time to bond over a shared love of ragas and each other’s disciplines, but it also provided a time for healing and starting anew — a kind of musical purge. With one of the members soon to be married at the time of recording, Baqar guided him with the following advice: “Just imagine when you solo, that you’re asking your wife for forgiveness for all the things that you’ve done. And that she’s accepting you in three weeks.”

With influences being many and varied, there was one reference point for Baqar that pivots this truly international collaboration. “I was listening to a lot of John Coltrane and in particular, A Love Supreme,” he said. “I started reading the notes on that album; he wrote it as a way of praising God — and he was a student of Ravi Shankar, studying classical music and ragas. Today, when I listen to his music, I can hear elements of Indian music in there. I thought, why don’t I try to write a spiritual jazz raga, so to speak?”

That’s how Jaubi arrived at the album’s title track, “Nafs At Peace,” a track that invites you on a journey to the self — whatever stage you’re at. DB



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November 2021
Joey DeFrancesco
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