Musical siblings Sukhawat Ali Khan and Riffat "Queenie" Salamat are, in essence, musical royalty -- descendants of Chand and Suraj Khan, the virtuosic court musicians who sang morning ragas to Akbar the Great during his rule over the Mughul empire in the 1500s. During the 1960s and 1970s Sukhawat and Riffat's father, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, achieved superstar status throughout the world, singing for presidents and kings and influencing the style and classical devotions of the world's most recognized qawwal, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. As would be expected of any such filiation, Sukhawat and Riffat availed themselves of 500 years of musical history, picking up their father's mastery of dhrupad, a poetic elaboration of raga said to have evolved from Vedic scriptures, as well as his genius for the more imaginative, improvisational khayal style.
Sukhawat began singing when he was 7, quickly following in his father's footsteps by serving before royalty and heads of state. But when he and Riffat moved to the Bay Area, the family tree took an astonishing turn. First in the form of the Ali Khan Band and now as the much more unapologetic Shabaz, Sukhawat and Riffat couple their majestic voices with Western dance beats. On Shabaz's new self-titled release, synthesizers and keyboards accent the ecstatic vocalizations of Sukhawat and Riffat, which is the opposite orientation of most exports from the Asian Underground. But while the family's vocal tradition is clearly central to Shabaz, the group's third full-time member, multi-instrumentalist/producer Richard Michos, never allows the background sounds to become servile. This is club music, fueled by hypnotic rhythms, brisk beats, and textures as adventurous as the voices they accompany. Shabaz performs on Friday, Jan. 25, at the Elbo Room with DJ Sep opening at 10 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 552-7788.
Besides the New Year event Hogmanay, there is no Scottish holiday celebrated with more zeal -- and more Glenfiddich blackouts -- than the birthday of the national poet Robert Burns. It doesn't matter that Burns died in 1796; to most Scots, no other poet, living or dead, offers truer insights into the human condition. And they appreciate his zest for life, which, whether it abetted or assuaged the illness from which he died at 37, offers delightful opportunity for emulation. Customary Burns Night rituals revolve around piping, poetry, hooch, and haggis (the plebeian dish of entrails that separates the men from the girls and the Scots from the Brits). Though some of the rituals, such as the "Marching of the Haggis," the "Piping of the Haggis," and the "Addressing of the Haggis," seem designed to postpone rather than to venerate the actual "Eating of the Haggis," the ceremony should not be missed -- especially this one, as it will be led by the Edinburgh Castle's foremost man of words, Alan Black. Burns Night will be celebrated on Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Castle at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 885-4074.