Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rock’n’Roll Jehad

By Vaibhav Jain, *Quick 7 With Salman Ahmad* - Nazar - Austin, Texas
Friday, November 13, 2009

On November 7, 2009, Nazar representative Vaibhav Jain spoke with Salman Ahmad backstage just after he performed alongside Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Pt. Samir Chatterjee and Daniel Weiss in a fusion concert at Westlake High Shool in Austin. The concert was organized by Aid-Austin, which is a voluntary non-profit organisation that focuses on tackling problems faced by rural India.

1) What has touring America been like for you?

You know, what I love about touring America is the diversity of the audience. As you saw tonight - I mean we had people from India, from Pakistan; we had people from Texas. It’s a mini planet Earth and it’s always fun to play your music to a diverse collection of people because you really find out – is the music speaking to everybody or not. And tonight what we saw, was amaz … I mean I had an amazing feeling, you know. I feel we were connected to the audience, the audience connected to the music, and we all became a circle of light.

2) What has your experience, and I know that you came here a couple of years ago, with the Austin crowd been like?

I mean … it’s so hip and I remember the last time we came – I think it was Samirji and me, right? And … everyone singing along, knowing each of the words and enthusiastic. Great audience, awesome audience! Awesome Austin.

3) What dimensions has playing Sufi Music had on you and your musical self?

Well, you know, my earliest memory – I write in my book coming up; it’s called Rock’n’Roll Jehad; comes out in January – my earliest memory is – I’m four years old and I see a Qawwal singing taans. And, you know, a four year old kid doesn’t have any, sort of, comprehension of words but the emotion was so incredibly powerful that I just knew that something had to do with Qawwali in my heart. And then, when I listened to the Blues and Led Zeppelin, I found a connection there. Led Zeppelin, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – you know I could hear in my head a natural connection happening there. So, Sufi music for me, really, is a foundation. It’s a foundation to build things on and then, obviously, so many influences, you know – Jazz, Classical Rock, Bollywood, you know. It’s a … I mean it’s an ocean. It’s a cliché, but it’s an ocean of vivid colors – sound colors, you know. And Qawwali is like the, you know, they call the unity – sort of holding everything down.

4) How successful, according to you, is the marriage between music and spirituality?

Well, look, music is the highest form of spirituality. You know music sometimes – I’m not saying that it should replace religion – music is a way to access the spirit in which there’s all-inclusiveness, na? You don’t have to sort of …. There’s no right of passage. The only right of passage is that you breathe and you connect with the heart.

5) You’ve made music with so many other artists from so many different traditions and backgrounds. What’s been your most memorable performance, or a stand out musician you played with – something that really stands out and makes you go, “Woah man! That was the best one”?

You know, in my career, so many incredible moments. But if I were to pick out right now, playing the first ever rock concert in Srinagar at the edge of the Dal Lake, surrounded by the Himalayas and having 10-15,000 college kids going crazy – you know, singing louder than the band was an incredible experience. The other thing about it was that we had death threats against because they said that if you play a rock concert here, we’re going to shoot you. So, we still went. And the kids jumped over barbed wire to come see the show. So that was an amazing thing. And then, just now, a concert at the United Nations General Assembly on September 12 was incredible. There’s going to be a DVD coming out – pretty intense. I have a charity organization called SSGWI (ssgwi.org)* and if people go there, they will be able to access that. It was a multi-artist concert – we had … Junoon was there but there was Samirji, Samirji’s son Divyakar on Dholak, Klezmer artist Yale Strom. Then we had the hip-hop band Outlandish, and Gavin Rossdale.

6) What are your personal feelings and expectations from a concert of this nature? Expectations before it and feelings after and during, I guess.

Yeah, you know the expectations, for me are that we are, as musicians, able to honestly connect with one another. Because, you know, the thing is you can’t lie through music. The moment you try to lie through music, people see it, you know. So the expectation was that if we can connect on-stage, then I knew the audience was going to connect. And that’s what happened. And the other thing is, I have never performed with Danny and Mohanji before. So, it was like jumping into water … into the ocean and just swimming, you know. I hope that we can do this more often because I think people feel how easy it is for a musician to have a conversation, you know. And if people could do that as well with each other, with strangers – that would be an awesome place, you know.

7) Even as we speak, Pakistan is grappling with militants. There was an article in the NY Times about how Sufi music can be used to counter the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even as I say this to you, what’s your first impression, what do you think? Are you more like, “Yeah man, it can!” or “Wait! No way”?

Well, it has! You see, Sufi music has been there for 700 years in India and Pakistan, right? And many, many people came who wanted to stamp it out. And we were having this conversation … I believe … do you know why the Taliban hate music? Because they realize the power of Sufi music. It frees the soul, it frees the mind and there is no fear. When the lights are all turned on, you can’t be scared of anything. So I believe that music – Sufi music – needs to be promoted in Pakistan. This concert that I did at the UN was a concert about bringing souls together. It was for the IDP’s3 in Northern Pakistan who are escaping the Taliban. And when that whole concert is going to run on Pakistan television, the Taliban are going to freak out because this is what they fear. That if people start uniting themselves through arts and culture, where the hell are we gonna go?

Glossary
1. Qawwali - form of Sufi devotional music popular in South Asia
Qawwal - Qawwali singer
2. Taan – rapid melodic phrase
3. IDP - Internally Displaced Person (here, from the Swat Valley)

*Visit SSGWI, Salma & Samina NGO

Picture: Salman Ahad. Photo by:
Jsome1

1 comment:

tagskie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rock’n’Roll Jehad
By Vaibhav Jain, *Quick 7 With Salman Ahmad* - Nazar - Austin, Texas
Friday, November 13, 2009

On November 7, 2009, Nazar representative Vaibhav Jain spoke with Salman Ahmad backstage just after he performed alongside Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Pt. Samir Chatterjee and Daniel Weiss in a fusion concert at Westlake High Shool in Austin. The concert was organized by Aid-Austin, which is a voluntary non-profit organisation that focuses on tackling problems faced by rural India.

1) What has touring America been like for you?

You know, what I love about touring America is the diversity of the audience. As you saw tonight - I mean we had people from India, from Pakistan; we had people from Texas. It’s a mini planet Earth and it’s always fun to play your music to a diverse collection of people because you really find out – is the music speaking to everybody or not. And tonight what we saw, was amaz … I mean I had an amazing feeling, you know. I feel we were connected to the audience, the audience connected to the music, and we all became a circle of light.

2) What has your experience, and I know that you came here a couple of years ago, with the Austin crowd been like?

I mean … it’s so hip and I remember the last time we came – I think it was Samirji and me, right? And … everyone singing along, knowing each of the words and enthusiastic. Great audience, awesome audience! Awesome Austin.

3) What dimensions has playing Sufi Music had on you and your musical self?

Well, you know, my earliest memory – I write in my book coming up; it’s called Rock’n’Roll Jehad; comes out in January – my earliest memory is – I’m four years old and I see a Qawwal singing taans. And, you know, a four year old kid doesn’t have any, sort of, comprehension of words but the emotion was so incredibly powerful that I just knew that something had to do with Qawwali in my heart. And then, when I listened to the Blues and Led Zeppelin, I found a connection there. Led Zeppelin, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – you know I could hear in my head a natural connection happening there. So, Sufi music for me, really, is a foundation. It’s a foundation to build things on and then, obviously, so many influences, you know – Jazz, Classical Rock, Bollywood, you know. It’s a … I mean it’s an ocean. It’s a cliché, but it’s an ocean of vivid colors – sound colors, you know. And Qawwali is like the, you know, they call the unity – sort of holding everything down.

4) How successful, according to you, is the marriage between music and spirituality?

Well, look, music is the highest form of spirituality. You know music sometimes – I’m not saying that it should replace religion – music is a way to access the spirit in which there’s all-inclusiveness, na? You don’t have to sort of …. There’s no right of passage. The only right of passage is that you breathe and you connect with the heart.

5) You’ve made music with so many other artists from so many different traditions and backgrounds. What’s been your most memorable performance, or a stand out musician you played with – something that really stands out and makes you go, “Woah man! That was the best one”?

You know, in my career, so many incredible moments. But if I were to pick out right now, playing the first ever rock concert in Srinagar at the edge of the Dal Lake, surrounded by the Himalayas and having 10-15,000 college kids going crazy – you know, singing louder than the band was an incredible experience. The other thing about it was that we had death threats against because they said that if you play a rock concert here, we’re going to shoot you. So, we still went. And the kids jumped over barbed wire to come see the show. So that was an amazing thing. And then, just now, a concert at the United Nations General Assembly on September 12 was incredible. There’s going to be a DVD coming out – pretty intense. I have a charity organization called SSGWI (ssgwi.org)* and if people go there, they will be able to access that. It was a multi-artist concert – we had … Junoon was there but there was Samirji, Samirji’s son Divyakar on Dholak, Klezmer artist Yale Strom. Then we had the hip-hop band Outlandish, and Gavin Rossdale.

6) What are your personal feelings and expectations from a concert of this nature? Expectations before it and feelings after and during, I guess.

Yeah, you know the expectations, for me are that we are, as musicians, able to honestly connect with one another. Because, you know, the thing is you can’t lie through music. The moment you try to lie through music, people see it, you know. So the expectation was that if we can connect on-stage, then I knew the audience was going to connect. And that’s what happened. And the other thing is, I have never performed with Danny and Mohanji before. So, it was like jumping into water … into the ocean and just swimming, you know. I hope that we can do this more often because I think people feel how easy it is for a musician to have a conversation, you know. And if people could do that as well with each other, with strangers – that would be an awesome place, you know.

7) Even as we speak, Pakistan is grappling with militants. There was an article in the NY Times about how Sufi music can be used to counter the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even as I say this to you, what’s your first impression, what do you think? Are you more like, “Yeah man, it can!” or “Wait! No way”?

Well, it has! You see, Sufi music has been there for 700 years in India and Pakistan, right? And many, many people came who wanted to stamp it out. And we were having this conversation … I believe … do you know why the Taliban hate music? Because they realize the power of Sufi music. It frees the soul, it frees the mind and there is no fear. When the lights are all turned on, you can’t be scared of anything. So I believe that music – Sufi music – needs to be promoted in Pakistan. This concert that I did at the UN was a concert about bringing souls together. It was for the IDP’s3 in Northern Pakistan who are escaping the Taliban. And when that whole concert is going to run on Pakistan television, the Taliban are going to freak out because this is what they fear. That if people start uniting themselves through arts and culture, where the hell are we gonna go?

Glossary
1. Qawwali - form of Sufi devotional music popular in South Asia
Qawwal - Qawwali singer
2. Taan – rapid melodic phrase
3. IDP - Internally Displaced Person (here, from the Swat Valley)

*Visit SSGWI, Salma & Samina NGO

Picture: Salman Ahad. Photo by:
Jsome1

1 comment:

tagskie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.