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Posts Tagged ‘nusrat fateh ali’

A new battlefront has been created in Pakistan.

This war finds its roots in the plight of the ailing music industry in Pakistan. An article by Madeeha Syed published in Dawn on February 16, 2017 talks about an overcrowded internet where artists are struggling to be heard and it suggests that a better revenue model for musicians lies in live performances.

The rebooted first season of Pepsi Battle of the Bands, therefore, presents an opportunity for hope, not just for Pakistani rock bands, but for music and its powerful ability to engage, connect and enthrall. Whereas, in the past popular rock and pop bands – Vital Signs,  Strings , Junoon and Noori – had emerged one after the other over a long period of time, in Pepsi’s battle it was uplifting to see the performance of  a larger number of fresh bands in a single season.  Each band had its individual style and there was diversity within the members of the bands, from women vocalists to minorities, many wer represented.  It was encouraging to see this vibrant and modernized face of Pakistan, which we do not get to see much of in western media.

Kashmir Band

The Band Kashmir

I’m sure it was difficult for the judges to choose a winner out of a batch in which each band was outstanding. Nonetheless, the show was becoming exciting after each episode. The competition between the finalists, Badnaam and Kashmir delivered several heights of melodic excellence.  For me, personally it was hard to judge who performed better than the other. I was more involved in discovering two diverse approaches to  music –  a Sufi musical message by Badnaam, and a more westernized (I think judge Fawad Khan called it “atmospheric”) tone by Kashmir – and realizing that both are equally popular in Pakistan.

The Sufi tradition of music started with the ancient bards who popularized the songs of their beloved saints by performing at the shrines and festive occasions. This is how this rich tradition passed from one generation to the next and reaches us through Pathanay Khan, Allan Faqir,  Nusrat Fateh Ali,  Abida Parveen and several others.  Some twenty years ago, as judged by the popularity of Sufi lyrics and music by Junoon, it became apparent that Sufi  music engages the younger audience as well.

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Badnaam

The rise of Badnaam (check out their rendition of “Khwaja ki Deewani“) as runners up confirms the continued demand for devotional and inspirational music. But more than that what might have appealed to many in the Battle of Bands was a fusion of the eastern and western traditions, something Pakistani musicians are especially good at.

For me the best specimen was Kashmir’s version of Pathanay Khan’s signature song which shows how a classic can be reinterpreted with modern instrumentation and still be as mesmerizing.  Atif Aslam deserves recognition for requesting the audience and judges to stand up for a moment in the memory of that great Pathanay Khan, who was truly an avatar of our ancient bards.

I am eager to see how this new group of musicians enriches audiences not only in Pakistan, but the world over. And may all our battles be as musical and inspirational as this one.

 

 

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The recent news of 14 year old Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen, had shaken the world. But life goes on, Malala is recovering and I got distracted to a Sufi music ensemble. For the “first time in Midwest” said the advertisement while describing the event as “mystical fusion and mesmerizing Sufi songs.” Star performers were Ustad Hidayat Hussain Khan (son of legendary late Ustad Vilayat Khan) on Sitar and vocals, and the Grammy winner, Steve Gorn on flute. But what has Sufi music to do with terrorism?

Power of music can be calming and inspiring, it can be furious too. Raag Deepak, they say, is capable of igniting fire and can set forests ablaze; Raag Malhar can come to the rescue by bringing in rains. Legend and the film have it that Akbar the great Mughal emperor tested if it could also melt rocks. He ordered a competition between Tansen, one of his nau-ratans (nine gems) and Baijnath Mishra, a young obscure musician. And he let his anxious courtiers witness the supernatural spectacle.

In reality, however, Akbar believed in the powers of the saints and had walked barefoot to the shrine of Saleem Chishti to beg the great saint for the birth of a son. (watch the first scene of Mughal-e-Azam).The miracle did happen, Akbar was blessed with a son, he named him Saleem after the saint; Saleem the Moghul is popularly known as Jehangir.

Sufis and music go together. Sufi songs are hymns to the divine and odes to the beloved saints; set to music these can stir hysteria. Some of the Sufi saints have been poets and some of their disciples have written devotional verses that are still recited around their shrines and beyond. When Ustad Hidayat recited Amir Khusro’s evergreen “chaap tilak sub cheen lee mujh say naina milaikay” (here is a recording from one of his earlier concerts) it mesmerized a versatile crowd mainly consisting of Indians, Pakistanis and Americans. If music is the universal language it can be the binding force between nations, we can turn the pages of history to confirm this.

Sufism is a phenomenon of the vast and diverse non-Arab Muslim World. South Asian Sufism is immersed in poetry, music and dance, and nowhere it has been as effective as in India where it made Islam thrive in a climate of religious pluralism and where Sufis came to be venerated by non-Muslims. Even today the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer, attracts both Hindu and Muslim pilgrims from all over the country. The age old mystique continues in Pakistan where shrines such as of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in Sindh are equally revered by the Hindus of Pakistan. Let’s not forget that Sufi saints themselves lived above religious and ethnic prejudices. Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, is known to have practiced yoga and meditation. Shah Abdul Latif of Sindh, traveled with the yogis to perform pilgrimage to Hinglaj Mata, the western most holy place of the Hindus. Sufi saints of Kashmir are even confused with Vedic rishis.  The legacy of tolerance continues as the musicians from India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Trinidad and United States ended their concert in Columbus, Ohio, by paying tribute to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Pakistan. And this reminds me of Runa Laila, a Bengali singer, singing the same song in the seventies of Pakistan.

The concert was a fundraiser for Asha Ray of Hope, a non-profit organization that protects women against domestic violence. Sufi music ensemble was just the appropriate choice as shrines had always been sanctuaries for women in South and West Asia. In their hours of anguish they often wail at the shrines and invoke dead saints through songs and dance. Women can even rise to sainthood in Sufi Islam, Rabia may be the most known women saints of the Muslim World but there are obscure women scions of ordinary saintly houses in rural Pakistan who are symbols of comfort to the many distressed women of their neighboring villages. Militant Islamist groups are certainly against this brand of Islam. In 2009 few days before bombing the shrine of Rehman Baba in Peshawar, they had warned the custodians to stop women from visiting the shrine. Three years later they have stooped to the level of targeting young girls who advocate education. Talibans eventually destroyed the Rehman Baba shrine, the grief and anger bought Afghanistan a step closer to Pakistan as the Afghan government responded by bearing the costs of reconstruction of the shrine. Rehman Baba is revered in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the tribal belt between the two countries; his poetry echoes in the Pashtun land.

Sufi saints continue to keep the countries united even in the worst of times. Sufi bondage between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India is worth recognition by the foreign policymakers of these countries. Perhaps this can be one of the strong pillars of the Afpak policy of Obama administration. Sufi music is equally evolving, it has the power of conquering the youth as it adjusts to the new trends and even creeps in the contemporary non-religious realm. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan has set the trend. And here is the Bollywood version, enjoy.

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