| ||After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. |
In earlier posts, I have stashed youtube, golly, I love youtube, videos of the late qawwali master, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. In a movie about him, also on youtube, the narrator states that since it is forever forbidden for a woman to sing and perfom qawwali, sufi songs meant to bring the singer and the listener into a dissolving of the self in the divine, Nusrat's daughter would not be his successor. He, instead, taught his nephew, Ustad Rahat Ali Khan, who now is the head of this 600 plus year old family of qawwali singers.
Poking around, always looking for more into about women who play the drums, I came upon the website of a American couple who studied the art of singing qawwali in Pakistan with Rahat and his family musicians. Amena Chishty Qawwal is the first woman to perfom publically with a qawwali troupe in over 600 years, most likly in the entire history of qawwal. She plays tabla and appears to be a side singer in the troupe. Her husband, Tahir, is the lead singer and is really strikingly good for an artist who didn't grow up drinking in the music with his mother's milk. There are many moments in the music of his I've heard where he does cross into that state and I'm not aware I'm listening to a foreigner singing, although his pronouncation of the last syllable of "shakr" keeps pulling me back. In all fairness this is a difficult sound for a westerner to get correct. His musicianship is such that I've no doubt that, if he can continue his exposure to the sources of this tradition and the language, these small issues will disappear.....).
I'm too tired to make this a tidy looking link, so here you are - Fanna-Fi-Allah, or "Annihilation in the Divine," the qawwal troupe of Amena Chishty Qawal and her husband, Tahir Qawwal. http://fanna-fi-allah.com/index.html.
The video, on the home page, top right, is wonderful. It shows their troupe performing at a major sufi shrine in pakistan, Baba Farid Ganj-e-shakr at the urs, a yearly death anniversary festival. The wild men dancing are malang, wondering mendicants who act strangely, sometimes, as you see, and live outside the rules of normal existance, waiting for messages from dead or living sufi saints to tell them in dreams what to do next. There is a lot to say about malangs and one of my housemates from Pakistan days, Katherine Ewing, wrote on them (will have to dig that paper up....), but that is too intricate a subject for today's post.
While you are at it, listen to the radio interview. It's quite interesting, in part for the light it throws on being a westerner in Pakistan. Their positive experiences paralleled mine.
You know, I'm envious of Amena. I studied classical singing while I was in Pakistan, but nusic was not at the front edge of my life at the time and I passed by my teacher's wish that I be the first western woman to perform in North Indian classical styles. I've more than a few regrets that, having played western classical music much of my life, it took Bird's telling me about rudiments and my spending hours tracing the drum beats (excluding in my head, hard at first, the melody lines, and then, as I could hear better, discovering how the bass guitar and drum fused in a great groove) in my old sweetheart's Mudboy and the Neutrons blowing loud and free across my own personal airwaves to break loose inside me that part of my heart and spirit that is transformed by North Indian/Pakistani classical music and musical forms like the qawwal and the beats of my most dearly beloved drumset drummer, Levon Helm , of the late great The Band.
I can see a generation of women drummers sneaking up on the scene, and I'm glad to have been out there marching and protesting and being a party to a women's class action law suits, enduring all the insults and harassment, some of which finally broke me, all of which in its small way helped offer shoulders to stand on to the next generation of women, who now, as do their daughters, accept as a matter of right that "girls can do anything."
Oh, my dears, it was such a short time ago that the cultural limits on women were a virtual straitjacket. Be thankful you were born when you were, and don't ever forget how hard-won your seat at medical school, law school, MIT or in the first violin section of a major symphony were/are. It is so easy to forget that it was hardly yesterday when we were not welcome there.
And while you are at it, if that's your thing, claim your seat on the drummer's throne and start playing a totally in the pocket groove. My spirit is with you.
copyright ep hodges 2008