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Farsi poetry Hindi poetry
of a music festival on Amir Khusro directed by Muzaffar Ali at New Delhi
Ali has this unusual gift of being able to rope in some of the best
talent at the right time and the right place - without probably fully
understanding the implications - and then being able to walk away with
the limelight, as most of his extravagant ‘creations’ turn out to be
quite exciting for the half-ignorant audience;
the classic example being his film Umrao Jan. The areas he delves into
– Urdu and Persian literature, aristocratic muslim culture, Islamic
mysticism and so on – are generally considered rare and exotic; not
many others are trying their hands on these, and therefore Ali tends to
be taken seriously with whatever he presents.
a 2-day music festival sponsored by the government of Delhi and Ali’s Dwar
pe Rozi Society, at Arab ki Sarai, New Delhi on 23rd and
24th March 2001, was supposed to be “an attempt to take
Khusrau to every child and intellectual across the length and breadth of
India and to all corners of the world.” But what it actually did was
to further obscure the 13th century poet-mystic in an almost cacophony
of musical noise as the artists of very different styles and cultures
were pitted against each other on-stage to show that Khusro’s music
and poetry transcends geographical boundaries.
star attraction was of course Abida Perveen from Pakistan, besides a
host of performing groups from India, Iran, and Tunisia – each of them
seeming to be exceptionally good in their own styles. But instead of
being given a chance to perform individually, a number of these groups
– at least three at a time - were put together on the stage to have a
musical dialogue which, at its best, could only charge the audience to a
rhythmic applause. However, whether it achieved anything musically or
intellectually is hard to say. As far as the music and poetry of Amir
Khusro is concerned, the artists of the subcontinent and even from Iran
could, and did present some of it, but the Tunisian music for instance,
had very little to do with Khusro was quite evident.
the first day, Indian qawwals Faraz and Shiraz Ahmad performed some
popular qauls and compositions ascribed to Khusro, followed by a
dance and music performance by children from the Vasant Valley School of
Delhi. Later, some classical and semi-classical compositions were
presented by the Dilli gharana’s young exponent Iqbal Ahmad Khan,
including a few of Khusro’s Persian ghazals. He and other vocalists
were further complimented by a group of Kashmiri sufiana musicians led
by Ghulam Nabi Namtahali.
The other intersting feature of this day was a Kathak dance recital by Lucknow's Manjari Chaturvedi based on the music of
Khusro, with vocals by Papiha Malik and others.
The other intersting feature of this day was a Kathak dance recital by Lucknow's Manjari Chaturvedi based on the music of Khusro, with vocals by Papiha Malik and others.
second day attracted a larger crowd mainly because of Abida Perveen. The
show started with painfully lengthy introductions by the compere Salima
Raza and the director Muzaffar Ali while the audience waited for
Fahimuddin Dagar to begin his qaul performance. However Fahimuddin
turned out to be a bit of a disappointment as he tried to render the
qaul (a popular form of Khusro qawwali) in what sounded like an archaic
dhrupad style with pakhawaj accompaniment! He was flanked on either side
by the two international groups – of Lotfi ben Abdelhamid Bouchnak from
Tunisia, and Reza Abaee from Iran, who played their music turn by turn
with notes and rhythms matching the lead Indian singer. Lotfi of Tunisia
in fact, was extremely touching at the rendering of an Arabic naa’t
or poem for the prophet Mohammad – containing many phrases from the
Quran and some muslim prayers.
it was Abida’s turn who was welcomed on the stage with a continuing
performance of the two international groups, together with a Sarod and a
guitar player from India. Her introductory alaaps blended
beautifully into the rhythmic jamming of the two groups - in fact soon
she was singing her Mun kunto maula… in the middle of this
Iranian-Tunisian- Indian-Pakistani accompaniment of a violin, violin cello,
synthesizer, flute, santoor, daffs, ney, sarod, guitar, harmonium,
dholak and many other instruments!
Those who are familiar with Abida’s typical traditional style (and had probably come to hear just that) waited for this inter-continental ensemble of sama to end so that they could hear her unhindered, but kept waiting till the end. The artists had either decided in advance to go into this kind of jugalbandi (dialogue), or the Iranians and the Tunisians were a bit too resolute to compliment Abida’s singing with their instruments without much thought. However the general impact on the audience – despite the terrible acoustics - was quite moving.
Abida sang some of the typical Khusrau compositions such as Chhaap
tilak…, Teri soorat ke balihari…, and Rung, but
her voice was often lost in the middle of an excessive drumming of the
Iranian duffs. At times one was reminded of those
spontaneous music sessions at the Osho commune, or of Hare Krishna
Mission, where various strains of rhythmic and loud instruments create a
psychedelic ecstasy within the participants, but not much music. Only
one song which sounded to be bringing some synergy between the three
groups in terms of music as well as the poetry, was Chashme-maste-ajabe
- a beautiful ghazal of Amir Khusro.
Isn’t a sufi Sama, which this programme claimed itself to be, supposed to be something else? The Chishti sufis have always stressed on the poetry and message of the song, rather than mere sensual quality of the sound in a Sama. In some of the earliest mehfil-e-sama (soirees), musical instruments were either taboo, or their use has been fiercely debated by the scholars. According to Nizamuddin Aulia himself, “Sama is that which is heard with ones heart and not by ones ears.” The chronicled accounts of the saint speak of mehfils where a qawwal - often Amir Khusro himself - used to simply recite a ghazal in Persian or Hindvi, mostly without accompaniment, and the words of the poem itself would bring the Sheikh to an spiritual ecstasy.
One can hope that in the future festivals of this kind, as promised by the Delhi’s chief minister Sheila Dikshit and Muzaffar Ali, one would be able to hear these traditional forms of music in their more original versions rather than these experimental renderings.
I recently saw in a Delhi music shop the double cassette recording of the above mentioned concert. If somebody (who did not attend the concert) has bought and heard it, and liked it, despite my criticism, do let me know. Though I won't waste my 125 rupees for it. I also saw an interesting review of the same album by Amitabh Aiyer which you may like to read here.
© Yousuf Saeed, 2001