Friday, 29 March 2013

When Worlds Collude - 6 (Sufi Syncopation, Coke Studio Pakistan and Modjo's Mojo)

A strain of music, the origins of whose unique characteristics I have strained to unravel, is that of the Sufi tradition. [And that was a rather strained attempt at humour.]

Sufi music has many fans around the world, even as it has earned the opposition of fundamentalist Islamists who frown upon music itself. I'm not going to talk about the religious/spiritual aspects of Sufism here, merely its music.

Quite apart from its devotional aspect (a trait it shares with the music of Hinduism's Bhakti movement), I've found its style to be repetitive (in a good sense) and hypnotic. One website says "Sufi spiritual music is often highly-syncopated and hypnotic", and Wikipedia defines syncopation as a general term for "a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm"; a "placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur."

I love this scene from Jodha Akbar (itself a movie about worlds colluding - a Hindu Rajput princess marrying a Moghul emperor) where a group of Sufi singers (who later in the clip show themselves to be "Whirling Dervishes") cause the emperor Akbar to go into a trance and join them. Incidentally, the Whirling Dervish tradition is itself an example of worlds colluding, because it originated in Turkey, among the followers of the Persian mystic Rumi. And to add coincidence to collusion, the actual name of both emperor Akbar and Rumi was Jalal-ud-din Mohammad.

Watch for Akbar's trance between 5:00 and 5:40.
(I couldn't find a clip with English subtitles that was also high-definition. If you want subtitles and don't mind poor resolution, try this instead.)

In more recent times, we have had the opportunity to hear Sufi singers from Pakistan, thanks to the platform provided by Coke Studio. A very pleasing example is this duet by traditional Sufi singer Arif Lohar and pop singer Meesha Shafi, with a great cast of supporting singers and instrumentalists.

 Alif Allah ("A is for Allah") - Another devotional song with a hypnotic quality. I managed to find a clip with the original Punjabi lyrics as well as an English translation.

In 2000, Modjo came up with their hit single "Lady". Although not devotional by any means, it has the same repetitive, hypnotic quality of Sufi music. Thirteen years later, I still haven't tired of this song. [After "Lady", Modjo seemed to have lost their mojo, and they just faded away.]

Suitable for atheists - hypnotic music without the spiritual overtones

Sufi music remains one of my favourite genres of music, although I don't claim to understand it. I attended a concert of Indian Sufi singer Kavitha Seth when I visited Vadodara (Baroda) in 2011-2012 and blogged about it.

To paraphrase Monty Python:
Apart from algebra, algorithms, astronomy and navigation, advances in optics, the round earth theory, horticulture (coffee, cotton, oranges), medical and surgical techniques, cuisine, cosmetics, architecture, art, calligraphy and Sufi music, what has Islamic civilisation ever done for us?

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