Archive for the ‘Reviews – Books, Music, Movies, Art, Etc.’ Category

Music has no boundaries, says Pakistani Sufi singer

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Sanam Marvi

Meenakshi Sinha, TNN Oct 3, 2013, 08.46PM IST

NEW DELHI: Sanam Marvi, 27, is a popular Pakistani folk and Sufi singer who sings in Punjabi and Sindhi. Born in Hyderabad in a Muslim Sindhi family, she learnt her music from her father Faqeer Ghulam Rasool and Ustad Fateh Ali Khan of Gwalior gharana. She has travelled around the world and is considered one of the finest Sufi singers around.

Marvi sings compositions of Allama Iqbal, Baba Bulleh Shah, Baba Sheikh Farid, Alam Lohar, Sachal Sarmast and the Sufi mystic from Sindh, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. She has also appeared in two seasons of Coke studio.

In an interview with TOI sometime back, Marvi spoke on the importance of cultural ties to strengthen bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.

What is it about Sufi music that transcends boundaries?

Sufi music is about spiritual feelings. It teaches love, care and affection and gives us a message of peace and harmony. That’s why everyone loves Sufism. Music surpasses all boundaries. It is loved across the world and is respected the world over. It transcends borders.

When and how did you get hooked to Sufi music?

I grew up on Sufi music. From the age of seven, I started accompanying my father, Faqeer Ghulam Rasool, a Sufi singer to Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s shrine. Since then the music has stayed with me.

You also sing folk and ghazals. What are your thoughts on folk music?

I feel really great at the recognition Sufi, folk and ghazals amongst the younger audiences. There’s tremendous appreciation of such music amongst them. Folk music has always been an important form of music because it is based on traditional thoughts and practices. That’s why they are so popular.

Has the popularity of ghazals dipped post the era of Ghulam Ali and passing away of Jagjit Singh?

Ghazal is still appreciated. But the era of Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hassan and Jagjit Singh was the greatest. Sufi music is my absolute favourite because I get inner peace singing it.

How do you see Indian music scene as compared to Pakistan’s?

India is a huge market compared to Pakistan. Pakistani artists love to come to India and perform here. Performing in India is very important for all the Pakistani artists not only because Indians appreciate good music and good artists, but also because they get wider audience reach here. However, music has no boundaries and no one knows this better than the artists of both countries.

What is the state of music in Pakistan today?

Music is thriving. Sufi-folk music is very popular amongst the teenagers, especially since Coke studio happened. The youngsters in Pakistan like this kind of music a lot. There are dedicated followers.

Have things changed for art, music and culture under the present government of Pakistan?

The government of Pakistan facilitates the youth and artists in every field. Many good things are happening and people are encouraged in every field. Insha Allah, we shall have more friendly relations between the two countries in times to come.

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Tribute to Sufi music: A night to remember – The Express Tribune

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Sufi poetry interpreted through a combination of violin and tabla. PHOTO: AFP

By Mavra Bari

Published: May 13, 2012

Sufi poetry interpreted through a combination of violin and tabla. PHOTO: AFP


Famous violin virtuoso Ustad Raees Khan, accompanied by tabla nawaz Ejaz Hussain, mesmerised audience at Nescom on Friday by making the western instrument his own through eastern classical and folk renditions.

The duo manipulated the mood of the audience by playing more sombre songs in a higher, cheerful register and playing light songs in a melancholy note, adding individuality to their instrumental covers.

Read more of this article via Tribute to Sufi music: A night to remember – The Express Tribune.

ORIENT 2011: The International Festival of Oriental Music

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

ORIENT 2011: The International Festival of Oriental Music

May 11, 2011

By Laurence Boyce

TALLINN – The only festival in Northern Europe dedicated to authentic Asian music brings singers from far flung regions such as India, Tibet and Burma to (rather strangely) Tallinn Zoo for a feast of sound quite unlike anything that you may have heard before. This year the event is entitled ‘High Cultures’ which celebrates musicians who originate from some of the most inhospitable places in the world.

Sufism is the inner, mystical, esoteric, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam which has inspired poetry and traditional sufi dancing. One of the most well-known sufi orders is The Mevlevi – also known as the whirling dervishes due to their famous whirling dances – whose monastery in Istanbul allows the public to view the sacred sema ceremony. The festival will celebrate sufi music by playing host to multi-instrumentalist Fakhraddin Gafarov, who is considered one of the best in his country. He will be joined by the Azerbaijani Jafar Gafarov and the Semazen (whirling dervish) Sedar Adem Uslan who, since 1991, has been performing the ritual dance of sema as a dervish in the ancient music group of the Turkish Ministry of Culture. This brand of music and ritual is an intense and unique experience – those used to more sedate forms of performance will get something of a wonderful surprise. And there’ll even be another performance later on in the festival with sufi dancwers from Damascus.

Odissi is the traditional style of dance which originated in the temples of the state of Orissa in Eastern India and is one of the oldest surviving forms of dance, with depictions of Odissi dancing dating back as far as the 1st century BC. The themes of Odissi are almost exclusively religious in nature and most commonly revolve around Lord Krishna, and it’s famed for its unique and fluid movements. Renowned Odissi dancer Smt Bindu Juneja, whose skill in the form has taken her all over the world will perform at the festival alongside some maestro musicians from India.

Whist several Buddhist texts state that monks should renounce singing, music making, dancing and poetry, Buddhist music and dance is still an important means of striving for the higher spiritual goals. The mask dance festival is a widely celebrated event in Tibet that celebrates the birthday of Padmasambhava – the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Monks and nuns dance in masks depicting either animals or Buddhist deities, accompanied by wind instruments and drumming. It’s a glorious spectacle that celebrates both the power of religious devotion and its links to music. There’ll also be a performance by musicians who are linked to the Drukpa Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

Alongside the performances, there’ll be special workshops and exhibitions exploring many of the rich traditions and cultures that will be presented at the festival.

For those well versed in traditional Western styles of music, the Orient Festival will certainly provide something new yet strangely familiar. Estonians know only too well that music is far from a simple form of entertainment: it’s a vital form of expression that can often say so much more than words. The festival is a celebration of devotion and skill that weaves the mastery of singing with the spectacle of dancing.

For more information about the Orient Festival, which runs between May 11 – 15, please visit the site

via ORIENT 2011: The International Festival of Oriental Music.


William C. Chittick, Ph.D.: Sufism and the Path of Love

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

In My Opnion

This is an interesting article by one of the pre-eminent western scholars of Sufism today. He deals with a subject that is, in my opinion, far too ineffable to really do justice to it in this kind of venue. But a valiant attempt nonetheless. To me, this kind of thing cannot be taught by book learning or over the internet, except in the most dry, academic sort of way. The real thing must be experienced to be fully understood, and that requires a different kind of work.

Witness to this are two of the comments that were posted at the time I posted this. One commenter wishes that Chittick’s book were available for Kindle or audible books because of his own need for large print or audible books. In reality he needs neither of these but rather needs simply to spend a weekend in retreat with the Sufis. The second is a person who simply talks about his own experiences in retreat, and I understand his comment and appreciate it.

The third responds in my opinion in confusion. Without knowing the full hadith which Chittick calls “a famous saying” he misses the point – the fault of which is that this medium is not that suitable for these teachings. And especially when western authors water down the message by not making the point of where their information really comes from. Has it gotten to the point where people are afraid to admit wisdom, love and understanding as a part of Islam? In reality these are the core teachings and the heart of what we call Sufism nowadays. But worth reading for sure!

Sufism and the Path of Love

by William C. Chittick, Ph.D.

published in the Huffington Post

via William C. Chittick, Ph.D.: Sufism and the Path of Love.

Before modern times, sharia-mindedness played a much more limited role among Muslims than it does today. No doubt jurists devoted a great deal of effort to writing books on the fine points of law, and theologians dedicated their lives to investigating the mysteries of the divine nature. But these were the pursuits of scholars who often had little or no influence on the lived Islam of the people.

Those who asked questions about the meaning of life or felt the call of love for God did not seek guidance from jurists or theologians. Instead, they turned to teachers experienced in matters of the spirit. These teachers were called by a variety of names, “Sufi” being one of many. They were usually deeply learned in both jurisprudence and theology, but they considered these the groundwork for the real task of becoming fully human. From around the 11th century, many of these teachers reached out to vast audiences through poetry. The best known examples remain Ibn al-Farid in Arabic, Rumi and Attar in Persian and Yunus Emre in Turkish.

During the same period there was a flowering of prose works on love. One of the most influential authors in the Persianate lands was a man by the name of Ahmad Sam’ani, who died in 1140, 65 years before the birth of Rumi. He was a member of an eminent family of scholars from Merv, a great cosmopolitan city in Central Asia. Unlike some of his more famous relatives, he wrote only one book, a 600-page discourse on the 99 most beautiful names of God. During his own lifetime he was known as an eloquent preacher.

Sam’ani explains that God is motivated by love and compassion in everything he does. No matter which of the divine names we take as a starting point for meditation, we will find that it serves the purposes of love. This includes not only gentle names like merciful and forgiving, but also awe-inspiring names like severe and avenger.

Along with others who wrote on the same topic, Sam’ani understood love as an immediate corollary of tawhīd. God, in his absolute unity, embraces an infinity of possibilities. He desired to make these manifest: “I loved to be recognized,” as the famous saying puts it, “so I created the creatures that they might recognize Me.” Otherwise, why bother with creation?

On the human side, recognizing God’s merciful self-manifestation stirs up love for him. Since he alone is real, love for anything else is ephemeral and unreal. In any case, people cannot avoid love. They are full of desires, wants, wishes, loves, passions, cravings (as the consumer society knows so well). Created in the image of a loving God, they cannot not love. Their problem is that they cannot see beyond their noses.

Settling down in love depends upon achieving recognition of the One, because nothing can satisfy unlimited craving but the Infinite. Self-centeredness, however, makes love for fellow humans impossible, much less love for God. As Rumi said, the ego is “the mother of all idols,” the greatest obstacle to love.

Sam’ani’s book aimed at awakening people to beauty and alerting them to their innate love for God. Theologians could offer creeds, jurists could tell people what to do and what not to do, but all this was dry and stultifying if not leavened by love. In contrast, Sam’ani offered delicious prose mixed with occasional poetry, a fine sense of humor and wonderful anecdotes, in many ways prefiguring Rumi. Here is a typical passage from his book, urging readers to see through their own illusions and to engage in the really difficult task of overcoming the self:

Ash’ath the Covetous was passing by a tray-maker’s shop. He said, “Make these trays you’re making bigger. Maybe someone will give me something on one of them.” Here you have your own breast full of wishes, your own worthless heart! It is said that there were 360 idols placed in the Kaabah. If all the accountants in the world came to record the number of idols in your breast, they would be not be able to do so. In our times it is not necessary for Azar to carve idols, for everywhere in the world there’s someone with unwashed face, an Azari idol in his breast. “The ego is the greatest idol.” In the city a Zoroastrian is walking and wearing his cap, and you are walking with the turban of tawhīd on top of your head and a fanciful notion of tawhīd inside it. If turban and robe make someone a Muslim, then bravo, O leader of the sincerely truthful! And if “Zoroastrianism” means to attach your heart to two, well, you know what needs to be done. In short, know that nothing is given out on the basis of talk! Abu’l-Qasim Mudhakkir lived in Naishapur, though he was originally from Merv. He was a sweet-tongued preacher. Once he was holding a session and saying fine words. A man stood up and said, “If the work is done with talk, you have gone to the place of honor. But if this pot needs some seasoning, then you can’t settle down on the basis of words.” There was a singer who used to go to the home of a nobleman. Whenever he sang a song, the nobleman would say, “Bravo!” He would sing another song and again he would say, “Bravo!” The singer was also a poet. One day he said,Every time I sing, you say, “Bravo, sing another!”
But bravo doesn’t buy me any flour.

In the bazaar, you can’t buy anything with “Well done!” They want pure gold and unalloyed silver.

O respected man! In this road they want a burnt liver, they want a heart full of pain, they want footsteps with truthfulness, they want a spirit with love, they want togetherness without dispersion. If you have the hard cash, then the work is yours.

Indeed, the first trial you face is the trial of your own being. Gather this being and hand it back to the Sultan of tawhīd so that he may destroy it, for nothing can bring together a dispersed man except tawhīd. Tawhīd is assaying: discarding the specious temporal and selecting the authentically eternal.

Everyone in the world is attached to giving one and taking two. Those who follow this path are attached to giving all and taking one.

William Chittick is the author of many books on Sufism and Islam among them is Sufism: A Beginner’s Guide


An artist’s view of the Quran – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

The Word of God: Sandow Birk's American Quran" juxtaposes with its English translation and supporting artwork.Read more:

A wonderful review of what seems to be a very good and unusual art exhibit. Also, be sure to read down through the review to the description of 30 days, 30 Mosques which is a story of two people traveling around the US during Ramadhan. That also is worth a serious look.

via An artist’s view of the Quran.

An artist’s view of the Quran

Art review

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Long before an attention-seeking Florida pastor publicly burned Islam’s holy book, artist Sandow Birk began wondering about the contents of the Quran, so much in the news after the Sept. 11 attacks but little known in Western culture.

The Florida incident generated violent response half-way around the world. Mr. Birk’s musings generated an ongoing project to copy all of the book’s chapters and surround them with paintings.

After the wars began in Afghanistan and Iraq, there was “so much American debate about Islam — how threatening is it?” he said. He went to a bookstore and bought four English versions of the Quran and began to read them.

Mr. Birk, who grew up in Los Angeles, has been a lifelong surfer and has followed the waves across the world, including along the coasts of countries with large Muslim populations such as Morocco, India, Indonesia and the Philippines. During surfing trips, he investigated the culture, ate the food, toured the architecture including mosques, and heard the call to prayer.

“Public debate in the U.S. about Islam wasn’t really reconciling with my experience of it,” Mr. Birk said.

Five years ago, he began a series of paintings that combine the hand-written words of the Quran with gouache paintings of scenes from contemporary American life. Works completed as of December are in the exhibition “The Word of God: Sandow Birk’s American Qur’an” at The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side. A related symposium, ecumenical event and opening reception for an Islamic art exhibition at Michael Berger Gallery will take place this weekend.

Born in Ohio to Presbyterian parents but not brought up in a religious tradition, Mr. Birk doesn’t ascribe to a particular belief. But the exploration of religion is not new to him. Earlier he spent five years creating works based upon “The Divine Comedy.”

“I was completely immersed in Dante and Catholicism, and discovered things new to me [about that religion] as well.” But by the completion “I was really kind of done with it.”

Now he’s moved to an even longer commitment. There are 114 chapters, or Suras, in the Quran and five years in he is about half-way done. He considers each chapter a separate artwork which, depending upon length of the text, may comprise between two and eight paintings.

The paintings remind of Persian miniatures and of Christian illuminated manuscripts, having a delicacy and refinement of image centered with panels containing the words of Mohammed. Border designs and text spacers are based upon those that appear in historic Qurans.

But these works have a contemporary jolt provided by the images juxtaposed with the text. These are drawn from everyday life — a tractor trailer fills one page, a wedding another — and Mr. Birk’s experiences in particular, such as an underwater scene with scuba divers. The artist is also known for social critique, which seeps in as floating bodies left in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or Hispanic shoppers at a mini-mart painted with the image of Our Lady of Guadelupe.

Response to Mr. Birk’s work by Muslims has been positive, he said. When some of the early paintings were exhibited in New York City, groups of Muslims visited as word got around. Before a similar show opened in Los Angeles, elders of a local mosque were “outraged,” he said, but added that they hadn’t personally seen the work.

“Once it was up, they were OK.”

Mr. Birk said of the project, “I erased from my head everything I knew and approached it like a blank slate. If this is God sending a message, how do I read it in California today? God sent the rain down from the sky so we have food to eat. I get food from the supermarket. I didn’t experience the story of Noah’s ark, but I remember Katrina and New Orleans.

“The work is not illustration. It’s not didactic. It’s more like metaphor.”

Asked about the apparent parallels to Christian biblical stories, Mr. Birk agreed.

“Absolutely. The remarkable thing is it’s so familiar. You read it and you think ‘What’s the problem here?’ It’s Noah’s ark and Moses parting the Red Sea. That’s the first thing you notice — it’s very familiar.”

That may be the major lesson of Mr. Birk’s work and exhibition, something reflected in a related program at The Warhol last week, “The Word of God: Voices — 30 Mosques in 30 Days: Tales From an American Ramadan Road Trip.”

Brooklyn-based Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq traveled to 30 mosques in 30 states during the 30 days of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan last year. When they recounted parts of their trip with stories, photographs and video, the overall tone was travels across the U.S., not a culturally exotic exercise (

“We don’t see ourselves as activists,” Mr. Ali said. “We’re interested in telling authentic stories about Muslims in America.”

Tom Sokolowski, former director of The Warhol, summed it up with the comment that they could have been visiting Christian or Jewish sites. Overall, the experience was Americana.

“Commonality” is the word used by Tresa Varner, museum staff member and co-curator of the Word of God series, the intent of which is to “create a place where we can reflect on religion in our lives.”

Mr. Birk’s exhibition is the first in a five-part Word of God series this year at The Warhol that explores the texts of major faiths through the eyes of contemporary artists. The exhibitions will be supplemented by programming to complement each by expanded discussion.

“Each artist will be presenting their conceptual focus on these texts,” Ms. Varner said. “Sandow Birk is not Muslim. He’s just meditating on his interpretation of the Quran. Helene Ayon [the next artist to be featured] was raised in a strict Orthodox Jewish family but is also a feminist. Max Gimblett is a practicing Zen Buddhist.”

The remainder of the series will be: “The Word of God: Helene Aylon’s The Liberation of G-d and The Unmentionable,” May 8-June 26; “The Word of God: Chitra Ganesh,” concerning Hindu myth and goddesses, July 9-Sept. 4; “The Word of God: Max Gimblett, Budd­hanature,” Sept. 17-Nov. 27; and “Word of God: Jeffery Valance,” who created his own Bible, Dec. 3-Feb. 12.

“I’ve never read the Quran,” Ms. Varner said. “I don’t know much about Islam. This is as close as I’m ever going to get to the sacred text, to ask what are the connections between this and the text I was raised in.

“In the ongoing sensitive and factious debate between cultures, dialogue is the key.”