Friday, May 09, 2008

Sufi Hamburgers & Vanilla Sufi Meera

By Priya Kanungo, "Melody of the moment" - The Financial Express - Bombay, India
Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sufi-rock, Sufi-pop, Sufi-Kathak, Sufi-hip-hop…perform anything, but keep the “Sufi” tag. That’s what gets the audiences. Sufi ‘anything’ sells.

This is the premise on which most artists and organisers work today. Actually it’s a belief that has been gathering momentum over the years and now seems to have reached a crescendo. And, as an informed art lover said recently — next you’ll have Sufi hamburgers doing brisk business too.

As with anything that becomes popular, there’s a good side to Sufi music becoming the melody of the moment and there is a bad side too. The good is that there is a long list of informed listeners today. They understand Sufi poetry and hence listen to singers who would otherwise have remained undiscovered. In fact many of them are the reigning stars of the firmament today.

The bad side to the Sufi music wave is its ‘Page3ification’. So throw in words like “Allah”, “Maula”, “Ali”, string them together with a catchy/haunting tune, and Viola! you have urban India lapping it up, cheering, ‘if music be the food of love, play on’. And to top that, when the invite says ‘Sufi music over cocktails’, then who’s complaining?

To separate the grain from the chaff, Sufis believe it is possible to feel close to — to be united with — the almighty while one is alive, instead of waiting to die and then go to “heaven”. So the main purpose for the Sufi is to let go of the concept of duality and the quest for unity with the divine in this lifetime.

Sufism is believed to be the mystical arm of Islam, and the Sufis (those who practice Sufism) use metaphors and poetry to get this message across. Sufi music then, is this poetry, set to music. It finds resonance in the mystical forms of other religions too, like Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

But strangely, now when a set of Meera Bhajans is rendered, (which is part of the Bhakti form in Hinduism, which draws parallels with Sufism) it goes under the banner of Sufi music.

Earlier, a Meera Bhajan was just vanilla Meera Bhajan. Now, the belief is you club it under a Sufi banner, and you’ll draw a sizeable audience. That otherwise you might be singing to empty chairs.

Eminent Hindustani vocalist, Shubha Mudgal couldn’t have brought this point home better when she narrates: “I sang a song for the film Raincoat — Mathura Nagarpati — which speaks about Krishna. A few months later, I read an advertisement for the song, describing it as “ecstatic Sufi”! I don’t see how it gets a Sufi label.

So many times it isn’t the artist, but those who market the recordings that are to blame. They feel there will be more people willing to buy the album if you label it as some sort of Sufi music.”

The Sufi boom, according to cultural theorist and singer Madan Gopal Singh began soon after the Babri Masjid demolition on Dec 6, 1992, with Sehmat organising Anhat Garje, a Sufi-bhakti music festival, where classical, semi-classical and devotional music was performed “as a symbol to counter religious intolerance.”

But when you cut to today’s Sufi fare, Singh says: “What people are getting by with is a masquerade. They are simulating something that is Sufi. There is no adherence to history or structure. The music has been reduced to an instant consumerist spaceand the whole idea of fakiri is gone. It is now a lifestyle statement.”

Sufi music might have become just a fashionable tune to hum for some, but then there were eminent artists like the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose voice reached out to not just Indians and Pakistanis, but to people around the world. And thanks to him perhaps, “Rumi is the most popular poet in the United States,” according to New York-based cultural entrepreneur and Board Chair of World Music Institute, Zeyba Rahman.

Very optimistic about the place Sufi music occupies in the world today, Rahman says:

“The message of Sufism — of love, inclusiveness and hope — married to folk tunes that are set to foot-tapping beats makes it very attractive to people around the world.

What is important is the text — lyrics that have been written by Sufi poets. If you take the text out of the tune, it could be any music. So the text is the spine of Sufi music.”

Corroborating Rahman’s point that Rumi has universal appeal, Mohini Kent, a Britain-based multi-talented artist drew much appreciation for her play Rumi: Unveil the Sun, which incorporates music, dance, drama and the celebrated poet’s Farsi ghazals adapted to Urdu. In fact, she says it was her European room-mate who introduced her to Rumi’s poetry.

In India, however, most credit film-maker Muzaffar Ali for putting Sufi music in the spotlight. And for introducing acclaimed Pakistani singer Abida Parveen to us.

Talking about this mystical journey of his Ali says:

“Jahan-e-Khusrau was conceived out of my passion for poetry, which I have used in my films too. And as you mature and evolve, you are drawn towards poetry of surrender and submission. This led me to Sufi poetry and to the breaking down of the ego.”

When quizzed about the kind of music that is on offer today in this genre, Ali is diplomatic. He says:

“People are free to give their art any nomenclature they like.” But to be a good Sufi singer he feels you need to have submission. Unless you burn and bake in it, keep a low profile, you cannot draw people.

“Pyaasa jaata hai kooen ke paas, kooan to pyaase ke paas aata nahin (the thirsty goes to the well. The well does not come to him).”

He observes that some Sufi singers get soiled in their musical journey, “while others like Abida Parveen shine because of their musical journey.”

Acknowledging Ali’s contribution to the blossoming of Sufi music in India, Sanjeev Bhargava, founder of Seher, an organisation for the promotion of the arts, says: “It is good that some Sufi musicians have gained recognition, but every cultural organisation has the responsibility to refine the tastes of the masses. Just featuring a couple of stars and calling it a festival of Sufi music is not on.

What we try, therefore, in our Bhakti Utsavs and other programmes is to have a cleverly curated show where there is a mix of stars and new talent. Otherwise it becomes a cut-paste job
each year.”

So just check out the events listing on any given day. It might not be a cut-paste job, but the word Sufi does show up somewhere, in some form. Perhaps the cultural industry is now writing the new form of Sufism.

1 comment:

Air Setitik Community said...

Please visit us at htp://airsetitik.tk

Friday, May 09, 2008

Sufi Hamburgers & Vanilla Sufi Meera
By Priya Kanungo, "Melody of the moment" - The Financial Express - Bombay, India
Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sufi-rock, Sufi-pop, Sufi-Kathak, Sufi-hip-hop…perform anything, but keep the “Sufi” tag. That’s what gets the audiences. Sufi ‘anything’ sells.

This is the premise on which most artists and organisers work today. Actually it’s a belief that has been gathering momentum over the years and now seems to have reached a crescendo. And, as an informed art lover said recently — next you’ll have Sufi hamburgers doing brisk business too.

As with anything that becomes popular, there’s a good side to Sufi music becoming the melody of the moment and there is a bad side too. The good is that there is a long list of informed listeners today. They understand Sufi poetry and hence listen to singers who would otherwise have remained undiscovered. In fact many of them are the reigning stars of the firmament today.

The bad side to the Sufi music wave is its ‘Page3ification’. So throw in words like “Allah”, “Maula”, “Ali”, string them together with a catchy/haunting tune, and Viola! you have urban India lapping it up, cheering, ‘if music be the food of love, play on’. And to top that, when the invite says ‘Sufi music over cocktails’, then who’s complaining?

To separate the grain from the chaff, Sufis believe it is possible to feel close to — to be united with — the almighty while one is alive, instead of waiting to die and then go to “heaven”. So the main purpose for the Sufi is to let go of the concept of duality and the quest for unity with the divine in this lifetime.

Sufism is believed to be the mystical arm of Islam, and the Sufis (those who practice Sufism) use metaphors and poetry to get this message across. Sufi music then, is this poetry, set to music. It finds resonance in the mystical forms of other religions too, like Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

But strangely, now when a set of Meera Bhajans is rendered, (which is part of the Bhakti form in Hinduism, which draws parallels with Sufism) it goes under the banner of Sufi music.

Earlier, a Meera Bhajan was just vanilla Meera Bhajan. Now, the belief is you club it under a Sufi banner, and you’ll draw a sizeable audience. That otherwise you might be singing to empty chairs.

Eminent Hindustani vocalist, Shubha Mudgal couldn’t have brought this point home better when she narrates: “I sang a song for the film Raincoat — Mathura Nagarpati — which speaks about Krishna. A few months later, I read an advertisement for the song, describing it as “ecstatic Sufi”! I don’t see how it gets a Sufi label.

So many times it isn’t the artist, but those who market the recordings that are to blame. They feel there will be more people willing to buy the album if you label it as some sort of Sufi music.”

The Sufi boom, according to cultural theorist and singer Madan Gopal Singh began soon after the Babri Masjid demolition on Dec 6, 1992, with Sehmat organising Anhat Garje, a Sufi-bhakti music festival, where classical, semi-classical and devotional music was performed “as a symbol to counter religious intolerance.”

But when you cut to today’s Sufi fare, Singh says: “What people are getting by with is a masquerade. They are simulating something that is Sufi. There is no adherence to history or structure. The music has been reduced to an instant consumerist spaceand the whole idea of fakiri is gone. It is now a lifestyle statement.”

Sufi music might have become just a fashionable tune to hum for some, but then there were eminent artists like the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose voice reached out to not just Indians and Pakistanis, but to people around the world. And thanks to him perhaps, “Rumi is the most popular poet in the United States,” according to New York-based cultural entrepreneur and Board Chair of World Music Institute, Zeyba Rahman.

Very optimistic about the place Sufi music occupies in the world today, Rahman says:

“The message of Sufism — of love, inclusiveness and hope — married to folk tunes that are set to foot-tapping beats makes it very attractive to people around the world.

What is important is the text — lyrics that have been written by Sufi poets. If you take the text out of the tune, it could be any music. So the text is the spine of Sufi music.”

Corroborating Rahman’s point that Rumi has universal appeal, Mohini Kent, a Britain-based multi-talented artist drew much appreciation for her play Rumi: Unveil the Sun, which incorporates music, dance, drama and the celebrated poet’s Farsi ghazals adapted to Urdu. In fact, she says it was her European room-mate who introduced her to Rumi’s poetry.

In India, however, most credit film-maker Muzaffar Ali for putting Sufi music in the spotlight. And for introducing acclaimed Pakistani singer Abida Parveen to us.

Talking about this mystical journey of his Ali says:

“Jahan-e-Khusrau was conceived out of my passion for poetry, which I have used in my films too. And as you mature and evolve, you are drawn towards poetry of surrender and submission. This led me to Sufi poetry and to the breaking down of the ego.”

When quizzed about the kind of music that is on offer today in this genre, Ali is diplomatic. He says:

“People are free to give their art any nomenclature they like.” But to be a good Sufi singer he feels you need to have submission. Unless you burn and bake in it, keep a low profile, you cannot draw people.

“Pyaasa jaata hai kooen ke paas, kooan to pyaase ke paas aata nahin (the thirsty goes to the well. The well does not come to him).”

He observes that some Sufi singers get soiled in their musical journey, “while others like Abida Parveen shine because of their musical journey.”

Acknowledging Ali’s contribution to the blossoming of Sufi music in India, Sanjeev Bhargava, founder of Seher, an organisation for the promotion of the arts, says: “It is good that some Sufi musicians have gained recognition, but every cultural organisation has the responsibility to refine the tastes of the masses. Just featuring a couple of stars and calling it a festival of Sufi music is not on.

What we try, therefore, in our Bhakti Utsavs and other programmes is to have a cleverly curated show where there is a mix of stars and new talent. Otherwise it becomes a cut-paste job
each year.”

So just check out the events listing on any given day. It might not be a cut-paste job, but the word Sufi does show up somewhere, in some form. Perhaps the cultural industry is now writing the new form of Sufism.

1 comment:

Air Setitik Community said...

Please visit us at htp://airsetitik.tk