Discovering the Sufi soul

Sound-centric

Discovering the Sufi soul

Sufi poets have, over centuries, influenced artistic expression in various forms. Having been inspired immensely by Sufi ideology, singer and actress Vasundhara Das has decided to give a musical tribute to the great Sufi saints. Her latest album, The Shah Hussain Project (Volume 1), sees her collaborating with the iconic Mir Mukhtiyar Ali who represents the 26th generation of artistes who have successfully kept alive the oral tradition of Sufiana Qalam.

Talking extensively about the journey leading up to the conception of the album, Vasundhara says, “I think that somewhere deep down, there has been a large impact of Sufi ideology in my life. It did not happen at home, but more so through the roller coaster ride that has been my life so far — the experiences, the people, and the situations. So, that explains why when I came into contact with the work of the likes of Kabir, Shah Hussain, Bulleh Shah and so many others, at a time when my mind was ready for it, I felt like I had come home. I remember being really excited that these people, who had lived so many centuries before us, seemed to have written about us, today, in our time.”

“When I looked around me to share my eureka moment with friends in my generation, from cities like the one I come from, not many knew what I was talking about. As a musician, I have been aware of the fact that music can reach out and touch people’s lives like nothing else can,” she explains.

Considering this, she delved into a whole range of books about Kabir, Shah Hussain and Bulleh Shah. Researching and reading the poets simultaneously, she felt drawn more to the works of Shah Hussain. “The poetic finesse, the beautiful metaphors and the rhythmic structure appealed to the musician in me.” she says. Somewhere around this time, she met Mir Mukhtiyar Ali after a concert in Bangalore, and it became evident that both wanted to collaborate and create music based on the poetry of Shah Hussain.

Hazrat Shah Hussain wrote mainly in Punjabi, Saraiki and Sindhi. His poetry consists entirely of short poems known as kafis. They are characterised by beautiful metaphors written in rhymed lines set to rhythmic meter and lend themselves very well to music. Many of his kafis are part of traditional qawwali repertoire. The key aspect of the poetry is the fact that though it was written centuries ago, the thoughts are still relevant in our time.

Speaking about the project, Mukhtiyar goes on to say, “Shah Hussain’s work is non-controversial, and there are no religious innuendos in his poetry. In every poem, he points in the direction of love and harmony, he tells us to keep learning and live our lives full of love. He takes arrogance and ego as the biggest enemy of man. His poems often talk about destroying social inequality among men and walking the path of love together.”

Going on to talk about keeping his tradition alive, Mukhtiyar says, “The musical traditions of the Mirs are at a precarious threshold. These are the days of reality shows and Bollywood music, and the younger generation is smitten by them. It is becoming difficult to keep youngsters interested in our heritage because these days, even those who understand our music do not listen to it much. Everyone wants something new.”
He feels one of the ways to take his music across to the world is through active collaborations.

About his current collaboration with Vasundhara, he says, “Every person I met at The Active Studio through The Shah Hussain Project have been people who understood and accepted me the way I am. They were very loving and treated me with kindness and compassion, and that is why I could put my heart and soul into the work here. This is the first time I am collaborating with not only a female singer, but also a band.”

Musically, The Shah Hussain Project is contemporary. Vasundhara says, “There are many influences from India and around the world in music. Yet, the music is Indian. Our intention here has been to create music, which, just like the poetry, is from the past, in the present, going into the future. And that has been the mandate for the treatment of sound. The idea is to take the music out on tour to be performed live in front of audiences in India as well as abroad.”

The other major contributors to the album are drummer/producer Roberto Narain, who was instrumental in steering the sound of the project with great care and expertise, Rajan Tisge on the keyboard, Assam-based Vishal J Singh and Hemanth Diwakaran on the guitar, and Bangalore-based bass player Shalini Mohan.

The album, which released early last month, is already soaring up several charts online. The Shah Hussain Project Volume 2 is currently under production. It will be a continuation of the first volume of the series, and will once again feature Mir Mukhtiyar Ali.

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