Narmeen Iftikhar - 'Jazbaat'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Narmeen Iftikhar, a classically trained artist from Guwahati, Assam, a northeastern state of India. Iftikhar boasts a broad resume with a bevy of accomplishments and collaborations, and she has also released a number of albums. Her latest studio endeavor is ‘Jazbaat,’ a record that she describes as “an emotional journey.” Let’s dig into it and discern if it’s worth including in your indie music collection.

First and foremost, I’d like to preface this review with a few vital notes. In the history of the Independent Spotlight, I’ve only had a number of classical or semi-classical Indian music acts come across my desk. Thus, it’s always an immense treat to receive music the likes of Iftikhar’s. Also, Iftikhar classifies ‘Jazbaat’ as a “ghazal” album, which is a lyric poem with a fixed number of verses and a repeated rhyme, often focused around themes of love.

Like many westerners, my earliest introduction to Indian music was via The Beatles and Ravi Shankar. From 1965 onward, George Harrison injected a massive amount of Indian influence into the Fab Four’s records, which was influenced heavily by Shankar. From Shankar, westerners like myself were able to dig deeper into the region’s traditional musings. Music like that prepped me, as someone who is mostly foreign to Indian music, to enjoy a record like ‘Jazbaat.’

Of course, I do not speak Hindi, so I cannot speak to the lyrical content of ‘Jazbaat.’ I wish I could, because ghazal music is focused largely around its lyricism, but I’m unable to do that as an English speaker. Hence, when listening to ‘Jazbaat,’ I found myself queuing the album up on my sound system and letting it fill the atmosphere of my surroundings in its entirety several times over. I probably listened to ‘Jazbaat’ three or four times through before I began penning this review.

The songs on ‘Jazbaat’ are very long, the shortest of the lot are just under six minutes in length, and most of them are far longer. Iftikhar’s voice is absolutely stunning through and through on this collection. My favorite excursions through her lovely crooning were ‘Garche Sau Baar’ and ‘Na Siyo Hont Na Khwabon.’ Her vocals are remarkably subtle. They hold an incredible amount of emotion in each nuanced verse, and I’d go as far to argue that one does not need to speak Hindi to feel the emotion and weight of each song.

The instrumentation on ‘Jazbaat’ is gorgeous as well, embracing a beautiful landscape of world instruments. Iftikhar is versed in Hindustani classical singing and Hindustani classical odissi dance, so I’d venture that the backing instrumentation on ‘Jazbaat’ was likely recorded and performed by other musicians. The musical compositions on the record are breathtaking, and the atmosphere of songs like ‘Hosh E Hasti Se’ perfectly accentuates Iftikhar’s voice.

Even on the album’s longer tracks, songs like ‘Jab Tere Shehr Se Guzarta Hoon,’ I found myself moved into a sublime trance. That song in particular has a rather intriguing percussion section. The seven and half minute ‘Gulon Mein Rang Bhare’ is equally compelling, as the instrumental solo sections wonderfully accentuate Iftikhar. In truth, there isn’t a song on ‘Jazbaat’ that isn’t a pleasure to dig into.

I cannot pretend I have an abundance of knowledge about Indian music. As a critic, it rarely comes across my desk. As previously mentioned, without artists like Ravi Shankar, I likely wouldn’t have ever gone down the world music rabbit hole of Indian music at all. I can, however, speak to how ‘Jazbaat’ made me feel as a human being and a lover of the art. It’s a moving collection of songs that offer beautiful soundscapes of vocals and instrumentation. From beginning to end, it’s an album you could turn on and be swept away by its surreal beauty at any time. I must laud Iftikhar for that. I’d highly recommend exploring this album if you’re at all itching for a world music indie record that explores Indian music styles.