Ustad Saami, 76, is the custodian of a centuries-old musical tradition. Microtonal, pre-Islamic and multilingual, he is the only practitioner of Surti left in the world, and it’s believed that when he dies, the music will die with him. It’s also a musical style that leaves him vulnerable in his country of residence, Pakistan, viewed by Islamic fundamentalists as heretical given that it predates Muhammad.
Ustad Saami. Photo supplied
One of Saami’s fiercest champions is the American Grammy Award-winning producer Ian Brennan, who in 2016 flew to Pakistan to record an album with Saami at the behest of two of his students. Released in 2019, God is Not a Terroristmet with significant critical acclaim, seeing Saami take his music all over the world. He’s soon to play as part of WOMADelaide, and Brennan – who often gives interviews on behalf of Saami, who speaks limited English – is enthusiastic about the opportunity to introduce audiences to a tradition that’s more modern sounding than they might initially assume.
“I think it came through in the album and comes through in live performance – this is not ancient music. It might have ancient origins...