Sami Yusuf’s latest discovery, Hesham Abdul Wahab …

Posted on January 20th, 2015

78The British singer/songwriter Sami Yusuf’s record label Andante Records has added a new artist to its stable: the Indian singer Hesham Abdul Wahab, who brings together the haunting sounds of Middle Eastern and traditional South Asian instruments in his newly released album Qadam Badha (Step Forward).

The 10 songs, in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Malayalam and English, were composed in collaboration with Yusuf and produced in Dubai and India, and draw from the core of devotional music. They feature the crisp rhythms of the santur (hammered dulcimer), the sitar (a stringed instrument), daf (frame drum) and darbuka (goblet drum). The title track has been composed by Yusuf, while Wahab has included a cover version of the late Pakistani qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Mast Qalandar.

Wahab, who is from Kerala, was picked up by the five-year-old record studio when he was completing a sound engineering course at the SAE Institute in Dubai in 2011. The singer, who has also lent his voice to several Malayalam films, tells The National about his musical career and his new album.

Tell us about your journey into music.

I was born in India but was raised in Riyadh and my parents are still there. In 2007, I left to be a part of the reality TV show Idea Star Singer on the Asianet channel, and that was when I was recognised by the audience here and in India. But my journey began much before that. It goes all the way back to when I was in grade 3, when my teacher heard me singing and encouraged me. I began singing at private functions in Riyadh. Then my focus shifted to composing music and playing the piano when I was in grade 7.

Do you have any professional training in singing?

I have trained under several gurus in Carnatic and Hindustani classical music. My grandfather was a qawwali singer. He used to sing in the palaces and courts in Kerala in the 1930s. That’s probably what I’ve inherited. I’ve also been taking training in Arabian music.

How did you get noticed by Andante Records?

I sang one of Sami’s songs – You Came to Me – on a TV show and shared the video on his Facebook page. They re-shared it saying they loved the performance. That’s how they got in touch with me. Because the record label is based in the UAE, as well, they got in touch with me when I was studying here.

What is the theme of the album?

We started work on the album four years ago with the idea of creating something commercial for India. But then we changed direction and began incorporating the poetry of Sufi poets Bulleh Shah, Rumi and Amir Khusro. The title Step Forward was conceived as a response to all the events and bloodshed around the world. I want to send out a message of peace and harmony through my songs. You’ll notice that the cover art, which is by a Turkish designer, is symbolic, too. It depicts two trees blossoming in a cold winter, which speaks about a positive future after dark times.

Tell us about the Arabian sounds incorporated in the songs.

Along with instruments such as the sarangi (a Hindustani instrument) and bulbul tarang (banjo), we have also used some Arabian instruments. Sami is an expert in it and I began learning the nuances of Arabian music under him and his team. His songs have a lot of vocal effects and a raw edge to them, quite unlike the Indian music I am familiar with.

What’s going through your mind now that your first full album is about to hit stores?

Excited beyond words. This album is an extension of my life. Everyday I worked on it, I learnt something new, both about myself and the music. I want Qadam Badha to evoke and touch people the same way that creating these songs has touched me. I want to create a place in the mainstream for traditional and divine music.

What are your next projects?

I am working on music productions and recordings with musicians worldwide, from Iran, Turkey, Qatar, India and more. I will also go on a world tour of the album, which I will begin by opening for Sami Yusuf’s upcoming concert in the United Kingdom later this year.

• Qadam Badha is available on iTunes for Dh37. Visit www.andantestudios.com for more information about the artist

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