Friday, October 12, 2007

Joyous Show with Spinning Coconut

By John Lusk - The Guardian - London, U.K.
Friday, October 12, 2007

Sufi group Sidi Goma finish their joyous shows with a display of mind over matter

Nothing quite prepares you for the stunt that rounds off a typical show by Sidi Goma. The 12-piece Sufi group from Gujarat begin their ritualistic performance with a sedate a cappella azan (Muslim call to prayer), followed by hypnotic percussive workouts, with most of them sitting down as they play.

Smouldering incense sends plumes of smoke billowing into the air. Rousing chants charge the atmosphere, and as tempos build and the cross-rhythms start to kick, one by one the drummers rise with ecstatic cries and gestures.

Shoulders swivel and heads roll as they circle the stage in their long white kurta robes with small trance-like moves.

They disappear almost unnoticed, leaving a sole musician twanging on the malunga, a one-stringed musical bow that could almost be a Brazilian berimbau, except that this is a group from India.

Then they slink back onstage daubed with masks of paint, in peacock feather skirts and headdresses that quiver with every step. Now their dances are wilder and far more expressive, as they playfully mimic animals and birds.

When the drumming and singing reach a crescendo, a coconut goes spinning into the air and a dancer leaps forward as it falls, bashing it open on his forehead to send a shower of milk over the stage.

By the time they leave a few minutes later, the stage is a slippery but fragrant mess, littered with shattered husks and rose petals.

It's just one of a wide range of fearsome-looking feats that Sufi Muslims such as the Sidis of Gujarat are expected to do to demonstrate the strength of their faith: "With all the music and song, we feel really powerful, so sometimes we even do a fire-walking dance.

But here that's not possible because it takes a long time to prepare the coals by burning the wood and so on, and also there's the problem of fire alarms," smiles Hamid. "So we only do the coconuts."

"It's basically a way of getting across that idea of mind over matter," observes their tour manager, Andi Langford-Woods. "And with the coconuts, it's a very spectacular way of expressing the way that they can concentrate, better than walking on broken glass or on coals."

Fans of the late great Pakistani qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan will recognise Sidi Goma having a crack at his signature piece, Mustt Mustt, on their one and only album, Black Sufis of Gujarat, which was released in 2005.

But much of the rest of their music points firmly to their roots in Africa, as the Sidis are descended from slaves and traders who arrived in India over centuries, probably from several different areas.

"I'm always trying to find out where, but nobody knows in the whole of my Sidi community," explains Hamid. He enthuses about visiting Africa for the first time in 2003. "It was a really good experience. It felt like all the people there were Sidis. All [the people] in my village look the same as they do!"

Sidi Goma's songs are mostly zikrs (prayers) celebrating their saint, Bava Gor, who is said to have travelled to India some time in or before the 15th century from either Ethiopia, Nubia or somewhere in east Africa, via the Middle East.

Conservative traditions of caste and tribe in India have largely prevented intermarriage, so to this day, the Sidis have recognisably African features, and their music incorporates distinctly African dance moves, call-and-response vocals and polyrhythms, as well as several instruments clearly derived from African models.

"We use some Swahili words in our zikrs and we have a big drum we call mugarman. These days, we make it out of metal for travelling, but we have the original one at our shrine, and it's the same height and design, made out of wood like the ones we saw in Nairobi."

Then there is the malunga - a dead ringer for the Angolan ungu, which became the berimbau in Brazil - and a now-disused lyre similar to Ethiopian instruments which Hamid was amazed to see in the British Museum.

All their music is based on 125 ancient songs passed on entirely by the oral tradition.

Travelling the world may have broadened their horizons, but it hasn't diluted their music, as Hamid insists: "We didn't change anything."

Sidi Goma perform in a double bill with Omar Faruk Tekbilek as part of the Barbican's Ramadan Nights tomorrow. Box office: 020-7638 8891

[Picture from: http://www.sidigoma.com/].

2 comments:

irving said...

Incredible :)))

Marina Montanaro said...

Yes, indeed, "Sufism's, many paths". Black Sufis of Gujarat are a joyous reminder. 'Eid mubarak!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Joyous Show with Spinning Coconut
By John Lusk - The Guardian - London, U.K.
Friday, October 12, 2007

Sufi group Sidi Goma finish their joyous shows with a display of mind over matter

Nothing quite prepares you for the stunt that rounds off a typical show by Sidi Goma. The 12-piece Sufi group from Gujarat begin their ritualistic performance with a sedate a cappella azan (Muslim call to prayer), followed by hypnotic percussive workouts, with most of them sitting down as they play.

Smouldering incense sends plumes of smoke billowing into the air. Rousing chants charge the atmosphere, and as tempos build and the cross-rhythms start to kick, one by one the drummers rise with ecstatic cries and gestures.

Shoulders swivel and heads roll as they circle the stage in their long white kurta robes with small trance-like moves.

They disappear almost unnoticed, leaving a sole musician twanging on the malunga, a one-stringed musical bow that could almost be a Brazilian berimbau, except that this is a group from India.

Then they slink back onstage daubed with masks of paint, in peacock feather skirts and headdresses that quiver with every step. Now their dances are wilder and far more expressive, as they playfully mimic animals and birds.

When the drumming and singing reach a crescendo, a coconut goes spinning into the air and a dancer leaps forward as it falls, bashing it open on his forehead to send a shower of milk over the stage.

By the time they leave a few minutes later, the stage is a slippery but fragrant mess, littered with shattered husks and rose petals.

It's just one of a wide range of fearsome-looking feats that Sufi Muslims such as the Sidis of Gujarat are expected to do to demonstrate the strength of their faith: "With all the music and song, we feel really powerful, so sometimes we even do a fire-walking dance.

But here that's not possible because it takes a long time to prepare the coals by burning the wood and so on, and also there's the problem of fire alarms," smiles Hamid. "So we only do the coconuts."

"It's basically a way of getting across that idea of mind over matter," observes their tour manager, Andi Langford-Woods. "And with the coconuts, it's a very spectacular way of expressing the way that they can concentrate, better than walking on broken glass or on coals."

Fans of the late great Pakistani qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan will recognise Sidi Goma having a crack at his signature piece, Mustt Mustt, on their one and only album, Black Sufis of Gujarat, which was released in 2005.

But much of the rest of their music points firmly to their roots in Africa, as the Sidis are descended from slaves and traders who arrived in India over centuries, probably from several different areas.

"I'm always trying to find out where, but nobody knows in the whole of my Sidi community," explains Hamid. He enthuses about visiting Africa for the first time in 2003. "It was a really good experience. It felt like all the people there were Sidis. All [the people] in my village look the same as they do!"

Sidi Goma's songs are mostly zikrs (prayers) celebrating their saint, Bava Gor, who is said to have travelled to India some time in or before the 15th century from either Ethiopia, Nubia or somewhere in east Africa, via the Middle East.

Conservative traditions of caste and tribe in India have largely prevented intermarriage, so to this day, the Sidis have recognisably African features, and their music incorporates distinctly African dance moves, call-and-response vocals and polyrhythms, as well as several instruments clearly derived from African models.

"We use some Swahili words in our zikrs and we have a big drum we call mugarman. These days, we make it out of metal for travelling, but we have the original one at our shrine, and it's the same height and design, made out of wood like the ones we saw in Nairobi."

Then there is the malunga - a dead ringer for the Angolan ungu, which became the berimbau in Brazil - and a now-disused lyre similar to Ethiopian instruments which Hamid was amazed to see in the British Museum.

All their music is based on 125 ancient songs passed on entirely by the oral tradition.

Travelling the world may have broadened their horizons, but it hasn't diluted their music, as Hamid insists: "We didn't change anything."

Sidi Goma perform in a double bill with Omar Faruk Tekbilek as part of the Barbican's Ramadan Nights tomorrow. Box office: 020-7638 8891

[Picture from: http://www.sidigoma.com/].

2 comments:

irving said...

Incredible :)))

Marina Montanaro said...

Yes, indeed, "Sufism's, many paths". Black Sufis of Gujarat are a joyous reminder. 'Eid mubarak!