Tuesday, February 24, 2009

R. Rahman: The Genius

This is a great achievement for all of us that the music of India has been recognized by the Oscar academy and A.R. Rahman was awarded an Oscar for his composition "Jai Ho". However, what I wish to insist upon that the song which been adjudged the best by the Oscar Academy, was not the best of the Musician. A. R. Rahman has composed several beautiful songs which are better than the present one for which he has been awarded the Oscar. Some of the songs which fall in this category are:

'Dil hai chota sa' from the movie 'Roja', all the songs from the movie 'lagaan', 'tu hi re' from 'bombay' etc. but the international community did not notice him earlier. The movie 'lagan' was nominated for the Oscars but could not get the appreciation of the Jury there.

I would like to draw the attention of the reader to the fact that these awards generally do not reflect the best masterpieces of the era. A well thought of market strategy has to be involve in to all this. Therefore, the saying that all that glitters is not gold, fits correctly here. I am not against Rahman or the Oscar Academy. But my contention is that an artist should not be judged by the the awards showered upon him but by the masterpieces he has created. The awards are the recognitions or the appreciation of the artist but not the testimonies of excellence. I am happy that Rahman has been recognized by the Oscar Academy but it is also true that his originality and uniqueness has been well known to all of us even before this award.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscars At last!

Finally, 'Slum dog Millionaire' has been able to grab eight Oscars and Bollywood has been given recognition by Hollywood. Although Directors like Satyajit Ray had left their imprints on the Western cinema yet Slum dog Millionaire has created history by winning eight Oscars out of ten for which it was nominated.

It is a great day for the Indian cinema and also for the entertainment Industry. A. R. Rahman's music has always been original and unique in more than one aspect. He is one of the persons who always keep on experimenting with all available avenues. His music has been recognized by the Jury of Oscars. It is a matter of great respect for the musician. Let us congratulate the whole Cast of Slum dog Millionaire for winning Oscars and pride for Indian art and cinema.

Today, on this occasion, I remember Professor morse's words.

Professor morse was asked in an interview, "In the course of your experiments at the university, there must have been occasions when you felt you were at a dead end, knowing not which way to turn."
"Of course, yes," he answered. "Such situations happened more than once."
"Then, what was your reaction?"
"I prayed for light, more light."
"Did God give you what you asked for?"
"Yes, He did," answered the Professor. "So it is that I have always felt that I never deserved the honours that came to me from Europe and America. All this is due to God's help. I wasn't in any way superior to other scientists. The Lord had to bestow this gift on mankind, and He had to choose someone. I am grateful that He chose to reveal it through me."
We can easily understand why the inventor's first message over the telegraph was, "What God hath wrought!"
Whenever we find ourselves at the end of the tether, knowing not which way to turn, let us go to God. And when the answer comes, let us not forget to praise the Lord, "Not mine, but Thine be the glory, O Lord!"

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jazz music and Indian Fusion music:

Under this heading, we will analyse the newly emerging fusion and the jass music. Indian popular music or the Indipop is mostly consistent of the above musical forms. Although movie melodies are also an inseparable part of the Indipop, but initially, the jazz and fusion have influnced our music. The film music is affected with these forms of music too. That is why, we will discuss the movie melodies under the heading of newly emerging career options and not under the present heading, "the newly emerging trends and traditions in the field of music".

1 Western popular music, with special reference to jazz music:

In the western world, the concept of the popular music or the pop music is slightly different. There the popular music has been developed through different groups consisting of regional aspirations. In the Subcontinent, these local cultural aspirations are called the folk traditions and music based upon these aspirations happens to be the folk music of the region concerned.

Here we would see how jazz music was evolved through different phases. We are aware that in the United States there had been a struggle between the blacks and the whites. It was not that this struggle was limited to the America only. The racial discrimination was going through all over the world, especially, during the nineteenth and twentieth century. This struggle is reflected in the history of jazz music too.

2 Jazz History

Researchers and historians are still learning about jazz history; there are many and various opinions about what is important in the history of jazz. What follows is an overview of jazz history that provides a foundation for this study.

The Origin of Jazz - Pre 1895-1950

A review of New Orleans' unique history and culture, with its distinctive character rooted in the colonial period, is helpful in understanding the complex circumstances that led to the development of New Orleans jazz. The city was founded in 1718 as part of the French Louisiana colony. The Louisiana territories were ceded to Spain in 1763 but were returned to France in 1803. France almost immediately sold the colony to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.

New Orleans differed greatly from the rest of the young United States in its Old World cultural relationships. The Creole culture was Catholic and French-speaking rather than Protestant and English-speaking. A more liberal outlook on life prevailed, with an appreciation of good food, wine, music, and dancing. Festivals were frequent, and Governor William Claiborne, the first American-appointed governor of the territory of Louisiana, reportedly commented that New Orleanians were ungovernable because of their preoccupation with dancing. The colony's culture was enriched not only from Europe but from Africa as well. As early as 1721 enslaved West Africans totaled 30% of the population of New Orleans, and by the end of the 1700s people of varied African descent, both free and slave, made up more than half the city's population. Many arrived via the Caribbean and brought with them West Indian cultural traditions.

After the Louisiana Purchase, English-speaking Anglo- and African-Americans flooded into New Orleans. Partially because of the cultural friction, these newcomers began settling upriver from Canal Street and from the already full French Quarter (Vieux Carre). These settlements extended the city boundaries and created the "uptown" American sector as a district apart from the older Creole "downtown." The influx of black Americans, first as slaves and later as free people, into uptown neighborhoods brought the elements of the blues, spirituals, and rural dances to New Orleans' music. Ethnic diversity increased further during the 19th century. Many German and Irish immigrants came before the Civil War, and the number of Italian immigrants increased afterward. The concentration of new European immigrants in New Orleans was unique in the South. This rich mix of cultures in New Orleans resulted in considerable cultural exchange. An early example was the city's relatively large and free "Creole of colour" community. Many of them were educated in France and played in the best orchestras in the city. In the city, people of different cultures and races often lived close together (in spite of conventional prejudices), which facilitated cultural interaction.

For instance, wealthier families occupied the new spacious avenues and boulevards uptown, such as St. Charles and Napoleon avenues, while poorer families of all races who served those who were better off often lived on the smaller streets in the centers of the larger blocks. New Orleans did not have mono cultural ghettos like many other cities.

New Orleans' unusual history, its unique outlook on life, its rich ethnic and cultural makeup, and the resulting cultural interaction set the stage for development and evolution of many distinctive traditions. The city is famous for its festivals, foods, and, especially, its music. Each ethnic group in New Orleans contributed to the very active musical environment in the city, and in this way to the development of early jazz.

A well-known example of early ethnic influences significant to the origins of jazz is the African dance and drumming tradition, which was documented in New Orleans. By the mid-18th century, slaves gathered socially on Sundays at a special market outside the city's rampart. Later, the area became known as Congo Square, famous for its African dances and the preservation of African musical and cultural elements. Although dance in Congo Square ended before the Civil War, a related musical tradition, called "The Mardi Gras Indians" tradition, surfaced in the African-American neighborhoods at least by the 1880s.

Mardi Gras Indian music was part of the environment of early jazz. Several early jazz figures such as Louis Armstrong and Lee Collins described being affected by Mardi Gras Indian processions as youngsters, and Jelly Roll Morton claimed to have been a "spyboy," or scout, for an Indian gang as a teenager.

New Orleans music was also impacted by the popular musical forms that proliferated throughout the United States following the Civil War. Brass marching bands were the rage in the late 1880s, and brass bands cropped up across America. There was also a growing national interest in syncopated musical styles influenced by African-American traditions, such as cakewalks and minstrel tunes. By the 1890s syncopated piano compositions called ragtime created a popular music sensation, and brass bands began supplementing the standard march repertoire with ragtime pieces.

3 Early Development of Jazz - 1890 to 1917

Brass bands had become enormously popular in New Orleans as well as the rest of the country. In the 1880s New Orleans brass bands, such as the Excelsior and Onward, typically consisted of formally trained musicians reading complex scores for concerts, parades, and dances.

The roots of jazz were largely nourished in the African-American community but became a broader phenomenon that drew from many communities and ethnic groups in New Orleans. "Papa" Jack Laine's Reliance Brass Bands, for instance, were integrated before segregation pressures increased. Laine's bands, which were active around 1890 to 1913, became the most well known of the white ragtime bands. Laine was a promoter of the first generation of white jazzmen.

A special collaborative relationship developed between brass bands in New Orleans and mutual aid and benevolent societies. Mutual aid and benevolent societies were common among many ethnic groups in urban areas in the 19th century. After the Civil War such organizations took on special meaning for emancipated African-Americans who had limited economic resources. The purposes of such societies were to "help the sick and bury the dead" - important functions because blacks were generally prohibited from getting commercial health and life insurance and other services.

While many organizations in New Orleans used brass bands in parades, concerts, political rallies, and funerals, African-American mutual aid and benevolent societies had their own expressive approach to funeral processions and parades, which continues to the present. At their events, community celebrants would join in the exuberant dancing procession. The phenomena of community participation in parades became known as "the second line," second, that is, to the official society members and their contracted band.

Other community organizations also used New Orleans-style "ragtime" brass bands. Mardi Gras walking clubs, notably the Jefferson City Buzzards and the Cornet Carnival Club (still in existence), were employers of the music. By the turn of the century New Orleans was thriving not only as a major sea and river port but also as a major entertainment center. Legitimate theater, vaudeville, and music publishing houses and instrument stores employed musicians in the central business district. Less legitimate entertainment establishments flourished in and around the officially sanctioned red-light district near Canal and Rampart streets. Out on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain bands competed for audiences at amusement parks and resorts. Street parades were common in the neighborhood, and community social halls and corner saloons held dances almost overnight.

New Orleanians never lost their inclination for dancing, and most of the city's brass band members doubled as dance band players. The Superior Brass Band, for instance, had overlapping personnel with its sister group, The Superior Orchestra. Dance bands and orchestras softened the brass sound with stringed instruments, including violin, guitar, and string bass. At the turn of the century string dance bands were popular in more polite settings, and "dirty"music, as the more genteel dances were known, was the staple of many downtown Creole of colour bands such as John Robichaux's Orchestra.

But earthier vernacular dance styles were also increasing in popularity in New Orleans. Over the last decade of the 19th century, non reading musicians playing more improvised music drew larger audiences for dances and parades. For example, between 1895 and 1900 uptown cornet player Charles "Buddy" Bolden began incorporating improvised blues and increasing the tempo of familiar dance tunes. Bolden was credited by many early jazzmen as the first musician to have a distinctive new style. The increasing popularity of this more "ratty" music brought many trained and untrained musicians into the improvising bands. Also, repressive segregation laws passed in the 1890s (as a backlash to Reconstruction) increased discrimination toward anyone with African blood and eliminated the special status previously afforded Creoles of colour. These changes ultimately united black and Creole of colour musicians, thus strengthening early jazz by combing the uptown improvisational style with the more disciplined Creole approach.

The instrumentation and section playing of the brass bands increasingly influenced the dance bands, which changed in orientation from string to brass instruments. What ultimately became the standard front line of a New Orleans jazz band was cornet, clarinet, and trombone. These horns collectively improvising or "faking" ragtime yielded the characteristic polyphonic sound of New Orleans jazz.

Most New Orleans events were accompanied by music, and there were many opportunities for musicians to work. In addition to parades and dances, bands played at picnics, fish fries, political rallies, store openings, lawn parties, athletic events, church festivals, weddings, and funerals. Neighborhood social halls, some operated by mutual aid and benevolent societies or other civic organizations, were frequently the sites of banquets and dances. Early jazz was found in neighborhoods all over and around New Orleans - it was a normal part of community life.

Sometime before 1900, African-American neighborhood organizations known as social aid and pleasure clubs also began to spring up in the city. Similar in their neighborhood orientation to the mutual aid and benevolent societies, the purposes of social and pleasure clubs were to provide a social outlet for its members, provide community service, and parade as an expression of community pride. This parading provided dependable work for musicians and became an important training ground for young musical talent.

New Orleans jazz began to spread to other cities as the city's musicians joined riverboat bands and vaudeville, minstrel, and other show tours. Jelly Roll Morton, an innovative piano stylist and composer, began his odyssey outside of New Orleans as early as 1907. The Original Creole Orchestra, featuring Freddie Keppard, was an important early group that left New Orleans, moving to Los Angeles in 1912 and then touring the Orpheum Theater circuit, with gigs in Chicago and New York. In fact, Chicago and New York became the main markets for New Orleans jazz. Tom Brown's Band from Dixieland left New Orleans for Chicago in 1915, and Nick LaRocca and other members of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band headed there in 1916.

4 Spread of Jazz - 1917 to the Early 1930s

In 1917 the Original Dixieland Jazz Band cut the first commercial jazz recording while playing in New York City, where they were enthusiastically received.

The Victor release was an unexpected hit. Suddenly, jazz New Orleans style was a national craze. With the new demand for jazz, employment opportunities in the north coaxed more musicians to leave New Orleans. For example, clarinetist Sidney Bechet left for Chicago in 1917, and cornetist Joe "King" Oliver followed two years later. The appeal of the New Orleans sound knew no boundaries. By 1919 the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was performing in England and Bechet was in France; their music was wholeheartedly welcomed.

King Oliver, who had led popular bands in New Orleans along with trombonist Edward "Kid" Ory, established the trend-setting Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1922. Also in Chicago, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings blended the Oliver and Original Dixieland Jazz Band sounds and collaborated with Jelly Roll Morton in 1923.

Perhaps the most significant departure from New Orleans was in 1922 when Louis Armstrong was summoned to Chicago by King Oliver. His mentor, Louis Armstrong swung with a great New Orleans feeling, but unlike any of his predecessors, his brilliant playing led a revolution in jazz that replaced the polyphonic ensemble style of New Orleans with development of the soloist's art. The technical improvement and popularity of phonograph records spread Armstrong's instrumental and vocal innovations and make him internationally famous. His Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings (1925-28), including his celebrated work with Earl Hines, were quite popular and are milestones in the progression of the music.

Jelly Roll Morton, another New Orleans giant, also made a series of influential recordings while based in Chicago in the 1920s. Morton's compositions added sophistication and a structure for soloists to explore, and his work set the stage for the Swing era.

New Orleans musicians and musical styles continued to influence jazz nationally as the music went through a rapid series of stylistic changes. Jazz became the unchallenged popular music of America during the Swing era of the 1930s and 1940s. Later innovations, such as bebop in the 1940s and avant-garde in the 1960s, departed further from the New Orleans tradition.

Once the small-band New Orleans style fell out of fashion, attempts were made to revive the music. In the late 1930s, recognizing that early jazz had been neglected and deserved serious study, jazz enthusiasts turned back to New Orleans. Many New Orleans musicians and others were still actively playing traditional jazz. Recordings and performances by Bunk Johnson and George Lewis stimulated a national jazz revival movement, providing opportunities for traditional jazz players that persist today.

From about 1900 on, there were three types of bands playing in New Orleans. There were bands that played ragtime, ones that played sweet music, and the ones that played nothing but blues. A band like John Robichaux's played nothing' but sweet music and played the dirty affairs. On a Saturday night Frankie Duson's Eagle Band would play the Masonic Hall because he played a whole lot of blues.

Nick LaRocca told in this interview about his experiences.

"The Livery Stable Blues" became a national hit. It was all over the world, even down in Honolulu and all where American forces went...we entertained over a million men... I played on the bill with Caruso. I played on the bills with Jolson. I played on the bills with Eddie Cantor."

This description about the jazz music shows that initially it started in the United States of America. However, it rapidly spread to other parts of the world too. Those who were fed up of the traditional music welcomed it. As it had ample scope for elaborations and combination of creativeness as well as the appeal of rhythm, musicians all over the world embraced it with an open heart. It was more suitable to the subcontinent as it provided the scope for new creations, which the Western music lacked very much. Thus, the musicians [emmetures as well as the professionals alike], stood by jazz. This also influenced the popular music of our region. We can easily see the impact of jazz on our movie melodies. Therefore, it can be concluded that this stream of jazz music contributed immensely in giving shape to Indian popular music in general and the music of the subcontinent in specific. This kind of music is still attracting many musicians [vocalists or instrumentalists].

We have already observed that film music has played a great role in constituting the Indipop. In the west also, the cinema had its role to play but it was not as great as in our region. There in the western music, different musical groups began the trend of popular music. This is true that this kind of music was neither the classical type nor could it be called the regional music. That is why; it was called the pop music or the popular music. In the western music, rhythm plays a great role in deciding the type of composition. Rhythm is the variation of the length and accentuation of a series of sounds or other events. Rhythm involves patterns of duration that are phenomenally present in the melody It is most associated with music, dance and the majority of poetry. The study of rhythm, stress, and pitch in speech is called Prosody.

Rhythm is the only essential element because Music can be played with Rhythm only. The Indian synonym of rhythm is Laya.

This statement implies to the popular music only and not the classical music. Some genres of music make different use of rhythm than others. Most Western music is based on divisive rhythm and non-Western music uses more additive rhythm. African music uses poly rhythms, which is the simultaneous sounding of two or more independent rhythms while Indian music makes use of complex circles, called Talas.

Jazz is the art of expression set to music! Jazz is said to be the fundamental rhythms of human life and man's contemporary reassessment of his traditional values. Volumes have been written on the origins of jazz based on black American life-styles. The early influences of tribal drums and the development of gospel, blues and field hollers seems to point out that jazz has to do with human survival and the expression of life. The meaning of jazz soon became a musical art form, whether under composition guidelines or improvisation, jazz reflected spontaneous melodic phrasing.

Jazz developed in the latter part of the 19th century. From black work songs, field shouts, sorrow songs, hymns, and spirituals that are harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic elements were predominantly African. Because of its spontaneous, emotional, and improvisational character, and because it is basically of black origin and association, jazz has to some extent not been accorded the degree of recognition it deserves. European audiences have often been more receptive to jazz, and thus many American jazz musicians have become expatriates.

5 Country Music

Any kind of Music is a form of art. Country music, the first half of billboards country and western music category, is a blend of popular musical forms originally found in the Southern United States.

Many songs have been adapted to different country music styles. Few of the famous country style artists are Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley, Charlie Pride, Patsy Cline; Bob Williams ... The most important instrument used in country music is the Guitar.

The songs of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and the Sons of the Pioneers put the Western in Country and Western Music. Much of this music was written for and brought to the American public through the cowboy films of the 30's and 40's and was widely popular.

In the context of the Indian subcontinent, we can say that Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bangla, Tamil and all other regional music can be called the country music. However, we should keep in mind that the albums, which are released in the name of such regional, or the country music, cannot always be included in the same category. We have developed, in due course of time, different kinds of indipops like the Punjabi pop, Gujarati [Garba style] pop, Tamil pop etc. that is why, while going through the music of the private albums, it is very difficult to classify the kind of the music produced. Most of these albums follow the rules of the pop music ant hence can be labeled as the albums of the popular music.

Never the less, our folk music is very rich. Most of the musicians are convergent on the fact that the classical music has originated from the folk music itself. At the beginning, there was only the folk music. As the time passed, and we became more civilized, we made different sets of rules for different kinds of music. From this point onwards, the classical music came into existence. Not only that, our folk music also contributed a lot in forming the popular music of the era. Most of the private albums of Indipop are based upon the Punjabi folk songs and so on.

However, jazz music has developed in the Subcontinent during twentieth century. we could not part ourselves from the cultural heritage imposed upon us by the foreign rulers, even After independence from the colonial regime of the Britishers. We borrowed immensely from the west during the British rule as well as after the independence from it. Although this cultural impact can be analysed in many different ways but here we would restrict the topic to music only. Our classical music took new turns after the independence. Many of our artists went abroad in order to show their skills. They took part in many music concert and performed amidst the new kind of audiences. These musical performances were taken very positively on the international arena. The artists of music from the Subcontinent were welcomed at various international music forums. They showed their talent in different countries and in different music festivals successfully.

But we are aware that the exchange of culture cannot be unidirectional. It is a process of give and take from both the sides. Therefore, during the British rule, the two great cultural traditions of the East and the West, took many ideas from each other. In these ideas, there were many artistic ones. We took many new trends from the western music. Jazz was one of them. The Indianized version of the jazz was very popular in the world of music not only in the subcontinent but all over the world. Sufi music bands came into being. Not only that, in the field of the pop music, many new experiments were taken up. It is the result of these experiments that the indipop music is growing manifolds. We can see this give and take if we observe the activities of our pop and jazz musicians.

Recently, Indian pop has taken an interesting turn with the "remixing" of songs from past Indian movie songs, new beats being added to them.

Indian-Pop has made its way in American pop music with singers like Rishi Rich (working with Britney Spears), Jay-Z (working with Panjabi MC), Timbaland, Missy Elliott, and Truth Hurts. A suit for copyright infringement of a Lata Mangeshkar song has been filed against Truth Hurts' song, "Addictive". Indian-Pop entered American movies with the movie, Moulin Rouge!. Its main number, "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend (Hindi)", featured Alka Yagnik's song " Chamma Chamma" from the Indian movie, "China-Gate". Popular rock musicians of Indian descent in the US include Kim Thayil of Soundgarden and Tony Kanal of No Doubt. Grammy-winning jazz singer, Norah Jones, is the daughter of sitarist Pandit Pt. Ravi shankar of international fame, (US-born Sue Jones being her mother). Indi-Pop has has made its way in the UK pop through songs and remixes by the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Erasure, Bananarama, and Samantha Fox. Pop singers of Indian descent in the UK include Talvin Singh and Freddie Mercury of British band Queen, (who was born in Zanzibar, Tanzania, and started his first band in an Indian boarding school in Panchgani). Indo-British band, Cornershop, also fuses Indian and Western music. In Canada, Indo-Canadian musicians include Dave 'Brownsound' Baksh (a former guitarist now forming his own band, Brown Brigade); percussionist Safwan Javed (of the pop-rock trio, Wide Mouth Mason); bassist, vocalist, and producer Chin Injeti (formerly of the trio, Bass is Base); Ian D'Sa (of Billy Talent); and Ashwin Sood (drummer) husband of Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan)). In the Scandinavian pop music scene, musicians of Indian descent include Yusaf Parvez of the Norwegian black metal bands, Dimmu Borgir/DHG/Ved Buens Ende/Code. Newest entrant is Punkh an indo-german hiphop act that has stormed the indian scene with the song "Punjabi na aawe". The lead singer Deepak Nair is also the front man of the indo-german rock band GURU.

In fact, Indipop has borrowed a lot from the American jazz. The similarity between the American popular music and the Indipop has also been described by Peter James Kvetko

1.     Thriving consumerism: In both 1950s America and 1990s India, an era of economic prosperity lead to individuals with more spending capital than perhaps ever before and also lead to a boom in savvy marketing techniques by businesses.

2.     Youth culture: In both contexts, teens and young adults had a disposable income to buy products geared specifically at them, as well as the audacity to declare themselves on the vanguard of a major social change in which the old order would be overthrown.

3.     Technological advances: Whereas rock 'n' roll thrived because of television and vinyl records, Indipop emerged alongside satellite television, cassettes and CDs.

4.     Stylistic rebellion: While rock 'n' roll upended the established Tin Pan Alley song style and its mode of musical consumption based on sheet music, Indipop issued a challenge to the established aesthetics of Indian film songs.

This analysis shows that our musicians are recognized worldwide. They are adaptive of the changes which take place due to different reasons and which are beyond the control of any of us. These musicians know no boundaries. Their performances are excellent and they wish to be recognized by their talents and not by their names or faces.

Playback singer Runa Laila from Bangladesh, Mehandi Hassan, Ghulam Ali and the great Sufi qawwal Nuserat Fateh Ali from Pakistan, and many Indians Srilankans etc from the world of music are getting popularity at the international levels. This has opened new proportions with regard to employment opportunities for the upcoming musicians from the subcontinent.

6 Indian Fusion music, the Fusion of the Subcontinent:

Music of the subcontinent has a strong feeling of love and compassion. In this era of petty politicians, when international terrorism is spreading its fangs all over, it is our music which can provide a powerful tool against the hatred and disbelief which is being spread by the fundamentalists of the society. Fundamentalists and fanatics are barking up the wrong tree. Never ever has any obstruction or suppression of culture stopped the arts and music from transcending national boundaries. Secular artists are increasingly stepping forward to uphold multicultural ideals.  

"Music has no religion -- like water, air and fire -- and it connects the world, rather than divide," declared Salman Ahmad, the founder of the Sufi-rock band of Pakistani musicians. He denounced the culture of intolerance and asserted that his music has been enriched because he worked with renowned musicians throughout the world. A devotee of the Islamic mystical tradition of Sufism, Salman believes in humanity's oneness with the divine, and has furthered that vision in his lyrics by making the Junoon band a voice for peace and international understanding. Like the Bhakti-Sufi music patronized by Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, who founded the Chishtiyya order in Ajmer, Junoon invokes the necessary ideological support to Salman's musical mission to bring about emotional integration of the people worldwide.

The multicultural and pluralist culture of India, which became a catalyst for the interaction between the traditional and modern music of today, may be credited to a number of male and female Bhakti saints - Mahavira, Kabir, Chishti, Nanak, and Mirabai, among others -- poets and musicians from all occupations and religions. With the advent of Vedanta (end of the Vedas), also called the Upanishads, during the 10th-11th centuries, the intellectual basis for the Bhakti (devotion) movement was mainly provided by the great Hindu theologian and philosopher Ramanuja. Several, often contradictory, schools of thought arose, representing an unprecedented diversity in beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, and atheism. In the Nyaya-Sutras, the overwhelming focus is on rational and scientific thinking and analysis that emphasizes human understanding as natural phenomena and physical processes occurring in nature. 

However, it was not until Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti (A.D. 1141-1230) arrived in India and promoted music and dance in centres called khanqah that a new composite culture of syncretism began to develop. Chishti skillfully combined the notions of Bhakti devotion with Sufi mysticism in order fully to assimilate India's multicultural plurality. These cultural centres gradually developed into gharanas, a system of social organization in which groups of musicians are linked by lineage or apprenticeship and who adhere to a particular musical style. The gharanas also served as the cradle of Indian classical music. A special style of singing the phirat or 'free run' of the classical music, Raag, was devised and sung for the first time by Ustad Bade Mohammad Khan at the Gwalior gharana. Another stalwart, Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, is credited with the invention of the dohri or dugun ki phirat. 

The interfaith lyrics that Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539) composed were based on both his Hindu and Muslim mentors -- Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas, and Sheikh Farid. Sikh tradition has it that at the age of 30 Nanak Dev would say no more than repeating: "There is no Hindu. There is no Muslim." Accompanied by Mardana, a Muslim rabab player, and another colleague Bala, a Hindu, Nanak travelled extensively in India and abroad, as far as Mecca and Baghdad. 

Today Pt. Ravi Shankar embodies this marvellous tradition. He was born into a Hindu Brahmin family in Bangladesh and studied under Allaudin Khan (1862-1972), the founder of the Maihar gharana of Indian classical music. Ravi Shankar married his guru's daughter, the sister of Ali Akbar Khan, a famous player of sarod. The Indian sitar is said to have been invented by Amir Khusro (1253-1325), a devotee of the Chishtiyya order, after the Persian 'Sehtar', from the saz group of musical instruments. The international cultural connotation is also evident from the Persian musical ensemble, rabab, sarod, sarangi and tabla, which became an integral part of South Asian musical instruments.  

In Bangladesh, Ravi Shankar was inspired by the Baul tradition that is a unique heritage of Bengali folk music. Bauls are wandering minstrels and itinerant singers who do not belong to any religious denomination. The lonely Baul roams places, trying endlessly to find his identity through music, devotion, and love. Their songs invoke traditions that can be interpreted as a revolt against the conventions and bindings of established religions. They believe that the 'spirit' does not reside in an unknown heaven but instead can be traced within us through love and compassion for one other. In the Proclamation issued by UNESCO in 2005, Baul traditional songs were included in the 'Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.'  

Aware of the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism to the Bengali secular folk and classical music, Ravi Shankar, together with his friend Paul Harrison, organised 'The Concert for Bangladesh' at the United Nations headquarters in 1971. He also played with Yehudi Menuhin and attempted to synchronise South Asian and Western music, as Salman's band Junoon is doing at present alongside international artists like Alicia Keys, Melissa Etheridge, and Annie Lennox. 

Supporters of the Taliban and other Islamic extremists groups consider music to be their main enemy. They have attacked music-related shops and cultural institutions. DVD and CD shops were banned and became the targets of hardcore militants' homemade bombs. They championed General Zia-ul-Haq's Islamist legacy of fundamentalism in Pakistan. The military dictator tried his best to suffocate Pakistan's traditional Sufi culture by emulating Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi Islam. He banned all forms of cultural activity, including figurative painting, singing, dancing, and music, categorising them as blasphemous. The extremity of his Islamic fanaticism is shown by his ban on the staging of the all-time classic 'Heer Ranjha' by the renowned freedom fighter and theatre personality, Sheila Bhatia, and her troupe. The ban was on the ground that "Islam does not permit a show where Heer would be enacted by a woman."  

The most effective harbingers of sanity today are the secular artists increasingly stepping forward to uphold the multicultural ideals. Several groups in the genre of Sufi-rock groups have recently sprung up in South Asia. Among them is Falu, a Mumbai-born singer whose formidable vocal style complements a mix of Indian classical and alt-rock, and Jeet's band of musicians called Singh, which combines rock with Indian music. The band of Pakistani singer Abrar-ul-Huq was cheered and applauded by young people at Trafalgar Square in London as he sang to a massive crowd.  

In 2006, the South Asia Foundation (SAF) invited 40 performing artists from the eight SAARC countries -- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka -- who put up a spectacular show at UNESCO House in Paris on the theme, Oral and Intangible Heritage of South Asia. India's foremost ghatam player, Vikku Vinayakaram, and the famous Sufi singer from Pakistan, Saeen Zahoor, were clamorously applauded. Zahoor learned kalams of poets like Bulleh Shah and lyrics of Rumi from his guru, the Indian Sufi Ustad Raunka Ali of Patiala. Born and raised in Okara, a village, Zahoor became a 'street singer' performing for decades at Sufi dargahs, shrines, and festivals in Pakistan and India. The international community discovered him in 1989,when he performed his first concert on stage, and he is now world-famous. 

The highlight of the opening of the Institute of Kashmir Studies in Srinagar on May 26, 2008, will be a performance by Junoon, led by Salman Ahmad, and the Singhs band of Jeet Singh. They do not subscribe to the notion of "art for art's sake." Junoon recently performed at the Nobel ceremony in Oslo, in honour of the winners of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, Al Gore and Rajendra Pachauri. The acoustic Sufi music concert was dedicated to the lawyer's movement in Pakistan, the restoration of the Supreme Court judges, and the independence of the judiciary. It was yet another landmark in support of Pakistan's civil society, media, students, and rights activists who have heroically protested against authoritarianism. Like the western rock stars such as Sting, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Bono, and Bob Geldof, who are supporting worthy campaigns -- against poverty, disease, vanishing rainforests -- Junoon music is an antidote to religious extremism and terrorism. Salman Ahmad was designated a U.N. Special Representative for HIV- AIDS.

As a prelude to the shape of things to come, more than a million people participated on the eve of Pakistan's recent general elections in the commemoration at Pakpattan village of the anniversary of a Sufi saint from the Punjab. Waleed Ziad, a Pakistani economist who attended the feast, described the pageantry of dance, poetry, music, and prayer. He noted that religious life in Pakistan has traditionally been synonymous with the gentle spirituality of Sufi mysticism, the traditional pluralistic core of Islam. Even in remote rural areas, spiritual life centres not on doctrinaire seminaries but on Sufi shrines. Recreation revolves around ostentatious wedding parties, Hollywood, Bollywood, Lollywood, and Pollywood in the North West Frontier Province. 

'Peshawar Spring' is how the people of NWFP have jubilantly called the victory of the secular and liberal Awami National Party, founded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. "We Pushtuns are the children of Badshah Khan's progressive thoughts and ideals," declared Asfandyar Wali Khan, a grandson of the 'Frontier Gandhi,' as thousands of people took to the streets and bazaars, dancing Punjabi Bhangra and playing local Pashtun folk music. Thousands of bus drivers once again slipped cassettes or CDs into the stereo players of their decorated vehicles.

Indeed, fundamentalist and archaic politicians are barking up the wrong tree. Never ever has any obstruction or suppression of culture stopped the arts and music from transcending national boundaries. Nor is there any question of this happening in a globalised world of new technologies, the market economy, individualism, diversity, pluralism, and mobility - the markers of 21st-century life.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!


Love is so very special
Yet can make you feel so lost
It can arrive just like the springtime
And melt away like morning frost
You must find ways to nurture
Always grow your love with care
Never ever take for granted
The love that you both share
Mistakes are bound to happen
You may hurt each other's heart
Yet don't give up to easily
It will tear your love apart
Love resembles a bright flame
That lights a dark starry night
Never ever let this flame burn down
Rekindle with all your might
Take a moment every day
Look deep into each other's eyes
Never hesitate to show affection
Small gestures will keep a love alive
Talk openly about your feelings
Take time to show that you care
Treasure each and every moment
Because to find true love is rare

Regards and love, holding hands.