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29 December 2011

A musical journey to the mystique

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By Syed Muthahar Saqaf

The New York City reverberated with soul-stirring fare presented by Najmuddin and Saifuddin.
Reverberation of sacred Qawwali, a popular and traditional Sufi musical form of the Indian sub-continent, at the inaugural of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts' New Galleries, in New York city recently, was a rousing tribute to the unique occasion meant to honour the diversity of cultures.

The rendering of Qawwali on the occasion of international significance exemplified its popularity worldwide.

The Morocco's Gnaoua music was the other musical concert selected for the occasion.

Qawwali, which has been part of India and Pakistan's Sufi tradition since the 13th century, was a perfect foil for Morocco's Gnaoua music that emanated from enslaved people who came into Morocco centuries ago through the slave route via Timbaktou.

The Gnaoua community is also known as Bilalis because they follow Hazrat Bilal, the Prophet Mohammed's Ethiopian muezzin, or caller to prayer.

The enchanting Qawwali performance rendered by famous Pakistani singers – Najmuddin and Saifuddin brothers, added in no small measure to the dazzle of the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and later South Asia.

Popular across the world, Qawwali is a very interesting way of preaching the tenets of Sufism and serves as a guide and teacher through philosophical songs based on love and peace. The music from Qawwali is mystical and symbolises ‘Zikr,' which is taking God's name.

Captivating performance

People from various countries, who had come down to attend the inaugural, enjoyed and experienced the mystique power that perhaps only Qawwali can create.

The brothers captivated the audience with their soul-stirring Qawwali and the variety of Sufi songs that they presented in rich, deep voices provided an ideal setting for heavenly music.
Also, the way the troupe presented kalams, ghazals and nazams with ease and involvement enchanted the audience.

The repeated applause bore testimony to the popularity of Sufi music even in alien lands.
Saifuddin Mehmood and Zafeeruddin Ahmed on the harmonium, Mughisuddin on the tabla and Naseem Ahmed on the dhol (cylindrical drum) provided ample support.
Qawwal Najmuddin and Saifuddin, are the direct descendants of the leader of the first Qawwali chowki, or ensemble, formed by Amir Khusrao, a Sufi mystic and called as ‘Father of Qawwali,' in the 13th century.

The group consisted of young musicians, who came to be known as Qawwal Bachhey.
The current day ensemble continued in their family's musical tradition for more than 700 years.
Both the brothers are now based at Karachi, Pakistan, but often tour India to sing at Dargahs and Sufiana mahfils (gatherings). They were part of the U.S. National Caravanserai: A Place Where Cultures Meet U.S. National Tour.

“Qawwali enjoys a very good patronage in the U.S. and Qawwali groups from India and Pakistan perform in various parts of USA often. Every time, the hall is jam packed,” said Zeyba Rahman, creative consultant for public programmes of The Metropolitan Museum, New York, and artistic director for the U.S. National Caravanserai: A Place Where Cultures Meet.

The Gnaoua group that Moroccan-American musician Hassan Hakmoun brought together included his family members and friends, who are musically inclined, including the multi-instrumentalist Brahim Fribgane.

The musicians of both the ‘Qawwali' and ‘Gnaoua' forms, met for the first time before the Museum concert and were delighted to learn about each other's traditions.

Each group performed separately at first and then came together to perform the specially chosen sacred repertoire for the audience at the New Galleries, who gave the musicians a standing ovation thrice in the course of one evening.

“The occasion proved to be a unique inaugural concert programme that was a rousing tribute to the amazing new galleries and to the richness and diversity of Muslim cultures. It seemed most fitting to bring together two great traditions to show the distinctions and common grounds that are their hallmarks,” added Ms. Zeyba Rehman, who is also Creative Consultant of Public Programmes to celebrate the opening of the Metropolitan Museum's new galleries.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

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