The Sounds of Connection: Umer Piracha explores the intimacy of traditional Sufi music in his new project Falsa
Earlier this week, a friend told Umer Piracha that his new band’s music is “the cure for alienation.”
“I like that,” muses the 31-year-old Philadelphia musician. When we first met Piracha, he was a solo artist with spacious originals sitting alongside covers of Radiohead. His voice soars like Jeff Buckley, his knack for ambience is innate, and recently he’s been expanding his sonic ambition from introspective singer-songwriting to moving, meditative ensemble performances with a group dubbed Falsa.
Rooted in expansive 14th century Sufi classical, Falsa sort of does for the music of Pakistan what Tinariwen does for the music of Mali; places it in a contemporary context, but keeping the traditional sounds and stylings very much in the forefront, asking modern listeners to engage with centuries of musical history. But where Tinariwen goes for the rock club highs, Falsa is decidedly more intimate — the band sees it as chamber music designed to bring people closely together.
They’ll do just that this Saturday, April 29th, when they play J.J. Tiziou’s famed West Philly House Concert series. Below, listen to a live recording of Falsa performing “Aaj Rang Hai” and read my interview with Piracha about the new project.
The Key: What led to you expanding into a band configuration?
Umer Piracha: Mainly the company of musicians I respect and the desire to perform alongside them as often as possible; and the discovery that “bigger than the sum of its parts” holds quite true, especially when the musicians genuinely admire each other. Also to keep growing as an artist as a band configuration presents new learning paths, and in a supportive context where one can absorb knowledge from fellow musicians and work as a team to meet the audience half way.
TK: What does the name Falsa signify?
UP: It’s the name of a tropical fruit in Pakistan that’s only very briefly in season and is tough to export; so I hadn’t had it in almost 10 years until I returned during Falsa season last year. I had forgotten all about it. So when I tasted it again it wasn’t quite a feeling of nostalgia; it was more that feeling of ‘home’ in the real sense, that there are things in life you can’t take with you; that you can only return to them. The 14th century Sufi music we perform symbolizes this journey inwards and across centuries of joys, sorrows and longings; and in doing so signifies a return to our collective humanity, particularly the experience of transcendent and lasting connection and peace that we’ve already known how to cultivate since a long, long time ago.
TK: Who are the other players, and what do they bring to the sonic table?
UP: Siddarth Ashokkumar brings another voice in the form of honey sweet Carnatic (South Indian) violin. His improvisations and tone always bring a deep emotional response from the audience. Tom Deis does traditional shadowing of the vocals and some reharmonizing on harmonium… Also some musical devices from Indian classical style guitar to add excitement to the improvisation sections and endings Rob Schwartz has brought a sensitive and steady feel to the rhythm as a percussionist, and the idea of playing a floor tom instead of tabla is an interesting twist from some traditional Sufi arrangements.
TK: You’re playing JJ’s house concert series, which is a wonderful way to experience music. What about that kind of setting lends itself to your band in particular?
UP: We are on a mission to connect people through music, especially in the age of spin where ‘connection’ often in actuality means isolation and loneliness. House shows such as JJs are neighborhood institutions created by discerning individuals and are on the same mission to cultivate real connection, to remind people that we can have higher expectations of each other and of our social contexts in terms of love and well being.
TK: What are Falsa’s plans for recording and releasing your music?
UP: Tom runs a studio known as horse head heart, and we’re going to get in there to record our rehearsals starting in April, and eventually just have an album! We will think about the particulars of the release after we have the recording, but it’s all happening!
Falsa performs live at J.J. Tiziou’s House Concert Series in West Philadelphia; for more information and to RSVP, click here.