By Shershah Ahmed: Sandaraa, eloquently meaning ‘song’ in Pushto, is somewhat of a magical enigma in this day and age. Effortlessly blending multiple traditional genres (Asian and European) together into a meld of emotionally resonant tracks is what they do best consisting of musicians from all walks of life.
With Zeb Bangash (from Zeb and Haniya fame) at the helm, backed up by a formidable force of various leading musicians from Brooklyn New York, lead by clarinet virtuoso Michael Winograd, Sandaraa takes inspiration from legendary artists such as Sabzal Saami, Beltoon, Haji Saifudin and more. The band aces at infusing their own style into their songs, with a unique and inspired approach to music. Their latest album is a very clear example of that.
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The self titled album starts off with ‘Jegi Jegi Lailajan’, a track that begins with a traditional meld of tablals, dhols and Zeb’s lilting vocals. More traditional instruments join the fray, as it transforms into an upbeat segment which will definitely have you tapping along to it. The fact that the song isn’t sung in Urdu or English gives an added boost to the sense of traditionalist music that Sandaraa encompasses. The middle of the song includes more modern and Western instruments such as wind and horn instruments that are perfectly melded with our very own homegrown instruments, forming a very captivating track.
The next track, is entitled ‘Mana Nele’ starts off in a similar manner to the first track, sans the dhol and tabla combo. Bells, chimes and other such instruments are sparsely laid out to complement Zeb’s vocals, forming a very atmospheric effect. The other instruments kick in, on what is almost an odd time signature, enough to make you scratch your head.
This track brings in the western drums that go perfectly with the structure of the track and definitely don’t feel out of place. In fact, they lend a sense of gravitas to the track, and it’s grandeur escalates as more western instruments are added to the mix forming an all around solid track.
Coming in at number 3 is ‘Bibi Sanem Janem’, which starts off as if this is not an eastern band but a jazz band from New York. The illusion does not last long, as the East and West are yet again combined, into a scintillating track that gets that foot tapping once more! Zeb’s vocals are spectacular at complementing the music and feel heartfelt and commanding at the same time. The middle segment of the song is purely instrumental with a multitude of instruments vying for the spotlight, and somehow succeeding at the same time. A song that definitely needs to be played and seen live!
The second last song on this album is ‘Dilbarake Nazinin’ begins with an acoustic guitar which plays a more Eastern classical tune than most would expect from the instrument, however it totally fits with the sound and forms a melody that is very pleasing to the ears. You just know this song is going to kick things up a notch after the mellow intro. It almost deludes one into believing it’ll be a slow song, that is until that notion is thrown out of the widow with a sudden upbeat segment that appears out of nowhere. The song however keeps one guessing, as it reverts back into the slow ballad that it originated as and the effect is certainly mesmerising. All instruments are on point here, with every musician lending their weight to the sound, and none of it comes across as forced or pretentious. It might be the best song on this album, clocking in at over 7 minutes.
The album’s last song is entitled ‘Haatera Tayiga’ starts off with an up best drum and bass combo overlaid with Zeb’s vocals, that explodes into a wind instrument laden segment which is a joy to listen to! The song brings the same formula to the table and is not much different from the previous four songs, but it’s all done so well that it never seems monotonous or boring. All in all, a strong showing for an unorthodox band.
Sandaraa makes sense, plain and simple. The mix of Eastern classical music with the wind instruments from the West are a winning combo which is evidenced by the fact that through the support of the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, Sandaraa has received major grants from the prestigious MAP Fund, Chamber Music America, and Puffin Foundation. That in itself is a prestigious achievement, and the band certainly has an exciting future ahead of it. For more release from Sandaraa, keep watch on Taazi.com!