Archæology

The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

I want references!

Having proved myself a geek, I’ll now demonstrate that I have a bit of the academic in me too. Why are CD liner notes typically so uninformative? Admittedly, excepting the case of greatest hits compilations, most popular Western music CDs provide the lyrics (if any) of the music. This would seem to be a minimum requirement for lyrics which are not in English (when the disc is intended for an English speaking audience). Sadly, this requirement is not often met, as any look at CDs of vocal classical music will demonstrate. Is it really so hard or costly to provide such basic information?

The worst example I’ve seen, though, of a failure to provide any useful supplement is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Shahbaaz from Real World (I would link to the page on the particular album, but the site uses frames). About the track Beh Haadh Ramza Dhasdha, the notes say:

A translation of these words is not given here. To most people they would mean little without a great deal of academic explanation. Many of the lyrics Nusrat sings are challenging in this way. They are like verbal puzzles full of puns and references and mean more each time they are heard. Only listeners thoroughly versed in the history, literature and languages of Islam fully understand them.

Thank you, note writer Pervaiz Khan, for putting me in my place. I don’t object to being told that the music has depth and context, but I do object to the total failure to help a listener who is not immersed in the culture to understand what s/he is listening to. Even if I don’t grasp everything about the words, why can’t I make a beginning? Where are the pointers to other resources from which I can learn? (Yes, I can do my own research; that’s not the point.) To compound the problem, not only is a translation of the lyrics not provided, but also neither are the actual lyrics. Surely they would be useful even to a knowledgeable one?

In short, the notes are worse than useless, providing no information for either the new or the experienced audience, and discouraging the former from learning more. I can’t even mark up the name of the song with its language, because the notes don’t say what it is (Urdu? Persian?) — how am I going to learn this language if I don’t know what it is? I shouldn’t have to search around for the answers to such basic questions.

To end positively, the two CD set The Final studio recordings (of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) from The American Recording Company (I couldn’t find this album listed on their badly designed site) provides the lyrics in English translation and the original (using the correct script, no less). There are even a few notes with the translation. So, that’s the minimum requirement met in one case.

Posted by jamie on May 4, 2003 18:52+12:00

Comments

Panjabi, I believe…

Don’t worry, if it’s not in the web it’s not worth knowing (just kidding ;)

try http://www.nfak.com/messages/493.html

Posted by: Fionnaigh on May 5, 2003 10:21+12:00

Thanks, Fionnaigh. I saw that message when I was researching the entry, but didn't want to definitively state that the lyrics (rather than the original poetry) are in Panjabi. On some recordings Nusrat has introduced works which are in Persian, but I haven't heard him do so for those in Urdu or Panjabi. I don't know why that is.

Posted by: Jamie on May 5, 2003 10:42+12:00