Sunday, August 25, 2013

Folk Music from Neyshaboor (Nishapur), Khorasan, Iran - Cassette published in Iran end of 1980s or beginning of 1990s

Chaharomin Djashnvareh Mousiqi Fajr 
(4. Fajr Music Festival)

Neyshaboor - Mahali (regional or folk music from Neyshaboor or Nishapur)

Beautiful recordings of regional or local music (Mahali) from Neyshaboor in northeastern Khorasan. We had already posted a number of recordings from Khorasan before, one from northern and two from eastern Khorasan. American edition of a cassette originally published in Iran. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Khansahib Abdul Karim Khan (1872-1937) - LP published in India in 1966

This LP is a collection of some of the 78rpm records by one of the greatest and most influential singers of last century. See below for his biography.

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan
by Smt. Susheela Misra
(From: "Great Masters of Hindustani Music" by Smt. Susheela Misra.)

In the early decades of this century, Khan Saheb Abdul Karim Khan dominated the world of Hindustani music for well over a generation, and he was a trend setter in this world in more than one sense. He created a new style or gharaana and gave an elan to the history of Hindustani music. He has been acclaimed as the "maestro who conceived, evolved, and popularised the Kirana gharana", and in fact, he changed the entire mood of Khayal and Thumri-singing. Dr. S.N. Ratanjankar wrote to me once about him: "In the late Ustad Abdul Karim Khan Saheb's sweet, tender, and tuneful voice, the Hindustani melodies appeared in a role and mood quite different from those in which they presented themselves in other voices...It was like a walk in a cool, moon-lit garden of sweet-smelling flowers that one felt when listening to the perfectly tuneful, and dreamy cadences of Khan Saheb's music One was lifted up into a dream land. The dream haunted the mind long after the music had ceased. The Khan Saheb never sang a raga, but was in holy communion with it. It was the very divine world, as it were, which made you forget the opposites, and led you to the perfect unity with the Supreme spirit".
Those who have been able to hear the Ustad's music only through his gramophone records, become aware of many shortcomings in his style such as the nasal twang in the voice produced through "a deliberately constricted throat", lack of bol-alaaps, bol-tans, rhythmic play, variety and grandeur. But, his contemporaries who had the good fortune to hear him in person were completely hypnotised by the sweetness of his music and his aesthetic emotion-filled rendering of ragas. Late Prof. D.P. Mukherji who was a reputed music connoisseur, wrote: "Abdul Karim Khan would invite us to enter into the sanctum of music where he was the high priest. He was not an orthodox singer. He would not even sing a composition through. His asthayi was not always true to form. He would make unexpected permutations and combinations. . . . . , But who cared when Abdul Karim Khan was on the dais ! This unorthodox man was a genius. ...Some of the finest exponents of Khayal today are either his pupils or his pupil`s pupils. "
His shishya-parampura includes a long array of celebrities such as Sawai Gandharva, Baharebuwa, Sureshbabu Mane, Balakrishnabuwa Kapileswari, Dasarathbuwa Muley, Roshanara Begum; Hirabai Barodekar and many others who in their turn, have groomed another generation of reputed singers like Bhimsen Joshi, Feroz Dastur,Gangubai Hangal, Manik Verma, Saraswati Rane, Prabha Atre and others.
Abdul Karim Khan was born in 1872 in Kirana near Kurukshetra in the Punjab. Subsequently the style or Gharana that he evolved was named after his birth place, Kiraana. In his perceptive book, "Indian Musical Traditions", Sri Vamanrao Deshpande rightly says that "each gharana has its origin in the distinctive quality of the voice of its founder and it is this quality which broadly determines his style." To this I would also add that the temperament of the founder also plays a considerable role in moulding the style of the gharana.
Abdul Karim Khan was perhaps the first North Indian musician to study Karnatic ragas and incorporate several of them into Hindustani music. His records of songs in "Kharaharapriya", "Saaweri", "Hamsadhwani", "Abhogi" etc. as well as his style of sargam-singing are proofs of his great admiration and love for Karnatic music. Perhaps no single classical musician in those days did so much for the promotion of mutual understanding between Hindustani and Karnatic music as the late Khan Saheb did. The greatest quality of his music was "emotion par excellence", and that was the reason why his classical music was able to move audiences everywhere, whether in the North or South of India. I know of many young men and women in South India who took to Hindustani music, charmed by the spell of Khan Saheb's music. The ecstatic tributes of a discerning western musician and critic after hearing the Ustad, prove how really exalted music overleaps all barriers and transports listeners into a transcendental world.
The critic writes: "I heard him melt half and quarter tones into one another with the effect of magic--- He was a conjurer of sounds...Who that has heard him can forget him. . . ! He not only sang sounds but he became every turn and twist in the song. The atmosphere became surcharged with a musical magic I have contacted nowhere else!".
The Kirana musical lineage came mostly from instrumentalists--chiefly Sarangiyas. After receiving his training from Kale Khan and Abdulla Khan, Khan Saheb went over to Baroda where he was appointed as a court-musician because of his great merit. After some years, he left Baroda for Bombay, and then went to Miraj. Wherever he went, his sweet voice and captivating style of singing won for him numerous admirers. From there, he proceeded to Hubli and Dharwar and stayed with his brother Abdul Haq. The two brothers often used to sing together. A notable pupil he acquired at this time was Rambhau or Sawai Gandharwa who later on, became one of his best disciples by sheer dint of practice. The Ustad was very punctilious about his early-morning daily practice, and Rambhau unfailingly practised with his conscientious guru every morning. A true "pilgrim of melody engaged in his eternal quest of swaras", Khan Saheb was constantly on the move. When he went to Patna, Roshanara's mother became his pupil.
In 1913 Abdul Karim Khan founded the Arya Sangeet Vidyalaya in Poona. It was a unique institution because the Ustad not only imparted whole-hearted musical training, but himself supported numerous poor and deserving students, took them on tours to give musical variety shows, and trained them up to play on various musical instruments. The ustad was an expert on many musical instruments, especially the Veena and the Sarangi. An expert in repairing musical instruments, he carried with him his set of tools for repairs everywhere because tuning the Tanpuras and perfecting their "Jawaaris" was almost an art in itself with him. The famous Sitar and Tanpura makers of Miraj revered him and looked up to his opinions for guidance.
A branch of this magnanimous institution was founded in Bombay in 1917, but it throve for only 2 or 3 years. When the School had to be closed down, Khan Saheb migrated to Miraj where he built a house of his own, and settled down at last. Though Miraj became the centre of his activities, he continued his musical tours all over the North and even into the far South. During his stay in Hyderabad and the Madras Presidency, his list of admirers and disciples in South India swelled and his popularity grew so much that whichever town he visited, people garlanded him and took him in a grand procession like a king. The ustad was greatly drawn to the music loving people of the South, and he was one of the early Hindustani musicians to kindle a great love for Hindustani music in the people of the South. He had, and still has, hundreds of admirers in the South. In spite of all the fame and adulation that he received, Abdul Karim Khan always lived frugally like a Sadhu, and like the Rishis of yore, Khan Saheb trained his disciples under the Gurukula system. He not only trained them thoroughly in music, but also bore the entire cost for feeding and clothing them out of his own earnings from concerts! Though a devout Muslim, and a devotee of Pir Sayyid Shamma Mira, a mystic saint (whose dargah is famous in Miraj), Khan Saheb was, like Kabir, a devout Hindu too, it is said. In his musical works he used to write '"OM TATSAT SAMAVEDAYA NAMAHA". Although born in a musical Muslim family (on 1lth Nov.1872), Abdul Karim took pride in his Hindu ancestors like Nayak DHONDU, a court-musician of Raja Man Singh of Gwalior (1486-1516 A.D). His first public concert was at the age of 11 (in 1893). Besides being such a great vocalist, Khan Saheb had also an amazing mastery over such varied instruments as Been, Sarangi, Jaltarang and Tabla. In Maharashtra great men like Lokamanya Tilak and Gopalakrishna Gokhale were drawn to his music. In the South, he became a favourite musician in the Mysore darbar, and his music was highly appreciated by great Karnatak musicians like Tiger Varadacharier, Muthiah Bhagawatar and Veena Dhanammal. He also created a stir by advancing the "Shruti Samvad" theory in collaboration with the British musicologist Mr. E. Clements, and is said to bave given a fine demonstration of 22 Shrutis (micro-tonal distances) with the help of 2 Veenas at a public function' presided over by Dr. C.V. Raman.
One of the most melodious classical musicians we have had, Abdul Karim Khan's music always created a sublime atmosphere. The soothing quality of his specially cultivated voice, and his reposeful style of singing were such that the singer as well as his listeners forgot themselves in a sort of "trance". Many of his musical heirs have surpassed him in technical virtuosity, but few have achieved "that degree of hypnotic effect" through music. Not only did he develop his own "Kirana" style of Khayal-badhut, but in his voice even the Thumri "shed its gossamer erotic undertones" and assumed instead "the character of a sad, pensive, and devout supplication". Many reputed musicians of today refer to Abdul Karim Khan Saheb as "Sachche swaron ke devata" (the master who sang perfect notes). He had cultivated a special way of voice production so that his sweet and melodious voice mingled indistinguishably with the drone of the Tanpura strings. This was acquired by him through years of strenuous "Mandra-sadhana", early morning practice for several hours in the lower notes. He stressed on voice culture in his pupils also; and even when he was at the zenith of fame, he never gave up this daily "mandra sadhana". Another outstanding quality of his music was its emotional element. Whatever he rendered, whether a Khayal, Thumri, Hori or Bhajan; the rendition "mirrored his whole inward being". While singing Khayals, he concentrated mostly on "ALAPI", and avoided "layakari", "boltans" etc, probably because he felt these might spoil the emotional atmosphere built up by him. Kans (grace-notes), and "gamakas" as in the Sarangi, and beautiful long unbroken "meends" (glides) as in the Veena, were some of the chief embellishments of his music. These and the emotion which he poured into his Thumris were so moving that often huge audiences wept when he sang some of his famous Thumris surcharged with feeling. The Gramaphone Company has done a great service by re-issuing many of his short items on a long-playing disc and striving to give us glimpses into his impassioned outpourings. Through these records of songs like "Jamuna ke Teer", "Piya Bina Nahi Awat Chain", "Gopala, Karuna kyon nahi--", "Piya ke milan ki aas" and "Naina raseeli", we can but have just flashes of those unforgettable hours a Khan Saheb Abdul Karim Khan transported his hypnotised audiences into a world of pure, sheer melody. On inspired days, he is said to have elaborated one Raga or a single Thumri for hours, and kept his audience spell-bound throughout. Being fond of Alap-ang, Abdul Karim Khan always preferred to sing expansive ragas like Lalit, Jaunpuri, Marwa, Malkauns, Todi, Darbari and so on. Among his chief disciples, Pdt. Balkrishnabuwa Kapileswari deserves special praise for running a school, "Shree Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya" carrying on the traditions of his great Ustad. In 1963 he published SHRUTIDARSHAN, a valuable research-work in music incorporating the findings of his guru and his own. The book won for him 2 important awards.
The traditions of generosity and hospitality that Abdul Karim Khan set up at the munificent annual "Urus" of Mirasaheb in Miraj (where he used to feed hundreds of fakirs and encourage musicians lavishly) have been kept up by his devoted widow BANUBAI, and disciples like Hirabai. Numerous were the poor music-students whom Khan Saheb had supported and trained in music. Another example of his generosity is that during his musical tours, he always took his accompanists also with him in the same compartment.
Although frail-looking, Khan Saheb maintained excellent health through regular exercises, disciplined habits, and frugal living. His photographs show him as a tall, slim person dressed immaculately in a black achkan, a cane in hand, a typical moustache and a red gold-bordered turban, and most striking of all, his dreamy eyes about which Mr K. Subbarayan narrates an interesting little anecdote in the Bhavan's Journal (1972):
Mystified by the dreamy eyes of the Khansaheb, Mrs Annie Besant had once discreetly enquired of a disciple whether the master was addicted to any drug. "Indeed", came the reply, "He is very much addicted to the intoxication of music!".
In 1937 Khan Saheb went down to South India to give music soirees in various parts of the Madras Presidency. A huge crowd of admirers saw him off at the Madras Station and nearly smothered him with garlands. He was on his way to Pondicherry with some friends. Feeling very unwell and restless, he detrained at one of the intermediate stations to take some rest. Before lying down, he sang his prayers set in Rag Darbari and then lay down to sleep for ever! It was a most unexpected end and yet so like this great and good artiste to round off his earthly existence with a tuneful bhajan! At the loving insistence of his admirers, his body was taken in a special car to Madras, and thence to Miraj, crowds paying their last homage to the departed singer through out the journey. At Miraj, Banubai gave him a magnificent funeral. Memorial programmes to this great musician are held every year in the month of August.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Firoz Dastur (1919-2008) - Dedicated to Kirana Gharana - Cassette from India

Thanks to Ambrose Bierce for sharing this cassette.

A Tribute to Pandit Firoz Dastur

Having passed away on May 9, Pandit Firoz Dastur, the doyen of the Kirana Gharana and a disciple of Sawai Gandharv, leaves behind a legacy that is hard to equal. Having commanded a singing career of six decades, Dastur's music touched many souls and moved several hearts.
As gratitude for his teaching and a celebration of his luminosity, Shrikant Deshpande, one of Dastur's disciples along with disciple Girish Sanzgiri and Srinivas Joshi, son of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, will be organising a tribute to Pandit Firoz Dastur on Saturday, May 17 at Pudumjee Hall, Maratha Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture, Tilak Road between 6pm and 8pm. Organised by Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal, which also organises the Sawai Gandharv Sangeet Mahotsav, the event being open to the public, will see 15-minute performances by each of the artistes followed by an eulogy to Dastur.
Recalling fond memories of his guru, Deshpande says, “Noble of character, the disciples of Panditji rather than sharing a guru-shishya relationship were great friends of his. And he was the only guru that I know of who wouldn't even hesitate from apologising to his own disciple on the occurrence of a mistake.”
Dastur was also one of the pioneers of the Sawai Gandharv and has participated in almost every festival since its inception, his gopala being a consistent favourite there. Anand Deshmukh, who has been compering Sawai Gandharv since 20 years, relates of his gentleness of mien and his lightheartedness. “The stalwart, inspite of being such a tall artist, was down-to-earth and sans any grandiosity.” He brings to memory an opportune instance when Deshmukh had the chance to interview Dastur at his house on Grant Road in Mumbai and several chats with him in green rooms at Sawai Gandharv. “He always said that his genteel performances are not his, but instead it is his guru who is playing through him,” Deshmukh relates of Dastur, “He was also always respectful of young artists and always listened to their music.” He also recalls of how when Dastur jokingly denied the audience the pleasure of his rendition of gopala, through shouts of gopala, the audience moved him into singing it for them once again.
Everyone remembers Dastur's dulcet, gentle voice, as does singer Neena Faterpekar. ”A softspoken human being, his music resonated the same characteristics,” she says, “I have been seeing him since I was a child as he knew both of my grandmothers and we had nice family moments together.” His study of voice culture, aalaps and the styles of Kirana Gharana were great. “He always encouraged my music and would always sit in the front row during my concerts. Though he gave me tips, he always enthused me to pursue and continue with my style of music,” she says emotionally.
Dastur, having been a father figure to him, Srinivas Joshi was always astounded to be in the presence of Dastur and how he, inspite of his greatness, possessed such rare humility and mingled with his juniors. Having grown up listening to Dastur, Joshi says that his loss will be paramount to music and to Kirana Gharana. “His devotion to his guru and to his parampara is something everyone should work to imbibe,” says Joshi.
Kirana Gharana has lost a great exponent and many artistes have lost a friend and a mentor. Though without his presence, Sawai Gandharv wouldn't be the same, his company and his devotion to music would be treasured and perhaps that is what Dastur will see as an apt homage.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Hadj Larbi Ben Sari (1867-1964) - Musique Andalouse Algérienne - LP from Algeria

Great representative of the Arabo-Andalusian tradition of Tlemcen, the so-called Gharnati style.

Side 1:
1. Kadira Hirak Ala Bnadim Elghrib (El Ghrib)
2. Touichia Ranil (more correct: Touchia Raml) El Maya
3. Betna Fi Hana

Side 2:
1. Ghoziali Sakour Nabet
2. Ya El Ouacham

Larbi Bensari

Larbi Bensari et Boudelfa animant un mariage à Tlemcen (d'après Bachir Yellès)

Cheikh Larbi Bensari (né à Tlemcen en 1867- mort à Tlemcen en 1964) est le maître du gharnati et du hawzi tlemcénien. C'est l'artiste le plus en vue de l'école de Tlemcen au début du xxe siècle.
Larbi Bensari est issu d'une famille tlemcénienne modeste. Il fut recruté en qualité d’apprenti coiffeur, chez un grand maître de musique andalouse Mohammed Benchaabane dit Boudelfa, qui dirigeait un orchestre; mais si Cheikh el Arbi était un piètre élève dans la profession de coiffeur, il excellait, par contre, dans la musique andalouse que lui enseignait son maître; le jeune Sari, élève studieux, animé d’une très grande volonté, apprit vite à jouer de tous les instruments, et particulièrement le r’beb et l'alto. Boudelfa, reconnaissant quelque temps plus tard que son élève est devenu un virtuose, lui confia la direction de son orchestre.
Initié par Makchiche, M'naouar et Boudelfa, il a su mettre en pratique les ressources de son étonnante mémoire, de son intelligence musicale et de sa volonté pour réussir à s'imposer comme l'un des meilleurs exécutants de la ville. «Sous le direction attentive de connaisseurs, nombreux à l'époque, autant que censeurs avertis et sévères et qui ne font grâce d'aucun faux pas, il réunira tous les suffrages. Sa maîtrise et son talent feront très vite de lui un chef d'orchestre incontestable. »
Sa palette allait du hawzi au 'arûbi, au madh, et du gharnati au ça'nâa, il s'intéressa également au gharbi. Il accordait cependant une place prépondérante à la musique classique ça'nâa. Il laissera à sa mort plusieurs noubas sur les 24 que compte la musique de Zyriab.
L'artiste a représenté l'Algérie en 1900 lors de l'Exposition Universelle de Paris. A l'invitation de Si Kaddour Benghabrit, il donnera un concert à l'occasion de l'inauguration de la Grande Mosquée de Paris en 1926. En 1932, il est de nouveau sollicité pour représenter son pays au Congrès de musique arabe du Caire.
Cheikh Larbi Bensari constitue une pièce maîtresse dans l'analyse de la sociologie de l'art musical à Tlemcen du fait même que sa technique pédagogique d'apprentissage et sa rigueur d'interprétation établit le rapport d'allégeance culturelle de Tlemcen vis-à-vis de Grenade.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hamza Shakkur (1947-2009) - Munshid from Damascus, Syria - Chamiaate - Chant Soufi

Beautiful cassette by the great munshid from Damascus, Syria

Sheikh Hamza Shakkur: Syrian master of mystical song

by Suleman Taufiq
24 February 2009

Bonn, Germany - Sheikh Hamza Shakkur, a well-known interpreter of traditional Arab music, died in Damascus on 4 February 2009 at the age of 65.
The way in which Sheikh Hamza Shakkur could lull his listeners into a trance-like state by grace of his singing alone had to be seen to be believed. He possessed not only vocal talent, but also a powerful, sonorous and all-embracing voice capable of playing counterpart to an orchestra and filling an entire room.
His musical intuition was borne of a spiritual power that drew listeners into the mystical tradition of Sufism. His bass voice with its richly rounded timbre made him one of the most famous singers in the Arab world.
Shakkur was born in Damascus in 1944. At an early age he received a thorough training in Qur’anic recitation according to the Syrian tradition. His father was the muezzin at the local mosque who taught Shakkur the basics of spiritual recitation. At the age of ten, Shakkur assumed this role, thereby becoming his father’s successor.
Although he never learned to read music, he built up a repertoire comprising thousands of songs by learning lyrics and melodies by heart.
Among the mystics of the Sufi community he began studying the hymns of mystical love, a form of expression that is still highly respected in Arab society. Having studied the entire spiritual repertoire of Islam he was in much demand as a singer. He also made numerous recordings for the radio.
Later he became choirmaster of the Munshiddin (a group of individuals who recite the Qu’ran) at the Great Mosque of Damascus and performed at official religious ceremonies there, which made him immensely popular in Syria. The Great Mosque in Damascus is one of the most sacred sites in Islam.
Shakkur belonged to the traditional Damascus school of music. He felt a close bond with the Mevlevi Order, the community of “whirling dervishes”, and strove to preserve the continuity of their repertoire. This community is known for its whirling dance ritual, the epitome of Eastern mysticism. Dressed in wide swinging, bell-shaped white skirts and camel-coloured felt hats, they whirl to classical music and chanting.
Sufis believe that life is an eternal circular motion out of which everything arises and in which everything exists and passes. Their ritual dance symbolises the spiritual source of Sufi mysticism. If the dancer goes into a trance, he experiences himself as suspended in God’s love, as part of this eternal divine movement.
This mystical brotherhood met in lodges, and preserved the original songs, which were divided into suites, modes and rhythms.
The Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus has its own specific vocal repertoire in which sacred suites are known as nawbat, a term originally used for secular songs that were written in Arab Andalusia and became known there as muwashahat.
Reciters such as Shakkur, typically accompanied by a choir, took from the repertoire of the mosque the mention of God’s 99 divine names and the birth of the Prophet Muhammad and chanted them in a powerfully expressive manner, rigorously mobilising rhythm to support their songs. In this way, he succeeded in gradually putting gathered listeners into a trance or a state of meditation.
In 1983 Shakkur and French musician Julien Weiss founded the Al Kindi ensemble, through which he succeeded in introducing this music to Europe and America.
The ensemble specialised in music from Arab-Andalusia and its repertoire covered both religious and secular themes. Its interpretations were heavily steeped in tradition. Weiss created an Arab musical ensemble with the Arab lute, oud, ney, kanun and a variety of rhythm instruments.
Shakkur selected songs with very diverse rhythms and melodies that impressively demonstrated his musical phrasing and improvisational talent. Particular emphasis was placed on preserving the unity of the sequence of songs and their musical mode as well as on playing songs in the traditional manner.
Shakkur was a religious man and had a religious title. Nevertheless he sang not only religious but also secular songs. He followed the tradition of the Sufi community for whom music is an integral part of religious ceremonies and the medium through which the human soul comes closer to the divine.
Shakkur preferred the vocal improvisation of Arabic music. He mastered the art of Arab emotional singing like few others and understood how to adjust intuitively to the emotions of each audience in order to captivate and enthral it.
Source:, 17 February 2009,

Sheikh Hamza Shakkur Talks About Sufi Music

By Sami Asmar
Sheikh Hamza Shakkur's voice emanates spiritual power that draws listeners into the mystical tradition of Sufism. Born in Damascus in 1947, Sheikh Shakkur is a quranic reader and hymnist. He is also the choirmaster of the Munshiddin (reciters) of the Great Mosque in Damascus and serves at official religious ceremonies in Syria, where he is immensely popular. His bass voice with its richly rounded timbre has made him one of the foremost Arab vocalists. Shakkur is the disciple of Said Farhat and Tawfiq al-Munajjid and feels the responsibility to assure the continuity of the repertoire in the Mawlawiyya (Mevlevi in Turkish) order.
Damascus was the capital of the Ummayyad dynasty and a principal stage in the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Sufi mystical brotherhood known as Mawlawiyya met in places known as zawiya and adopted the original chants grouped in suites (waslat) in particular modes (maqamat) and rhythms (iqaat). The Great Ummayyad Mosque of Damascus possesses a specific vocal repertoire, where sacred suites are known as a nawbat, a term originally used for the secular songs developed in Arab Andalusia known as muwashshat. Typically accompanied by a choir, a vocalist such as Sheikh Hamza Shakkur extracts from the repertoire of the mosque the naming of God (dhikr) and the birth of the prophet (mawlid) in a serene expression that has a rigorously organized rhythm. Thus the vocalist progressively leads the assembly into a trance or a state of meditation (ta'ammul).
In the early ninth century, when the Muslim mystics organized their Sufi brotherhoods, they adopted music for their meditation as a way of reaching the state of ecstasy, a source of new vigor to the body and soul. In Sufism,sama' denotes the tradition of listening in a spiritual fashion to music of all forms. This suggests that the act of listening is spiritual, without the music or poetry being necessarily religious in content. The major preoccupation of the mystics was to give the ecstasy real content and the music true meaning.
The Mawlawiyya order was founded in Konya, Anatolia, by the Persian poet Jalal al-Din al-Rumi (1207-1273). Although the ritual is primarily associated with Turkey, local traditions have existed in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq since the 16th century. The Mawlawiyya of Damascus are very few and have been threatened with closure on many occasions. The personal prestige of Sheikh Hamza Shakkur has rescued them, for he has reached celebrity status that has allowed him to generate support for the small group.

We met with the Sheikh, who led the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus in a great concert in Los Angeles, accompanied by al-Kindi Ensemble.
Asmar: How do you describe Sufism to Westerners?
Shakkur: This is a very difficult question but nothing is too difficult for a Sufi. Tassauf is only for those with convictions about the belief in God and his prophet. Trust in God must be blind. When encountering Westerners who may not have reached the spiritual level required for full understanding, there are seven languages that the Sufi can use to communicate with them. The Sufi practitioner needs to be advanced and highly capable in order to communicate via these seven languages. First is the Arabic tongue, the language of the Quran, which is universally appreciated as a beautiful language. Second is the language of music, which is also universal, needless to say. Third is the language of the eyes; the eye is the window to the soul. Fourth is language of silence; this is an important one for a hymnist, reader or musician, for the appropriate length rest at the appropriate time is part of the communication scheme. The language of silence is also manifested in the saying that silence is the sign of agreement. For example, in an old tradition, when a man proposes marriage to a woman, her silence is taken as an acceptance. Fifth is the expression of feelings. Sixth is physical expressions (taabir) or body language. Seventh is the language of the soul, as Islam is as much a spiritual religion as it is practical. The key to all these is that they have to come from the heart, truly, or else the communication fails.
Asmar: What does the whirling of the Mawlawiyya signify?
Shakkur: It is important to note that the Mawlawiyya is only one of the expressions of Sufism, not its only representation. In the Dhikr of God, one can be moved to stand, sit, lean, whirl, rotate the neck, become silent or whatever other physical expression comes as a first reaction. The whirling of the Mawlawiyya is inspired by the rotation of the Earth and cycle of blood circulation in the body. Circular motion has great significance in the wisdom of the creator.
Asmar: What distinguishes the Ummayyad mosque from other mosques?
Shakkur: The Mosque of Bani Ummayya has very distinctive hymns and melodies, even the call to prayer (azan). Historically speaking, Salaheddine al-Ayyubi, several centuries ago, encouraged the people to sing specific chants in this mosque as he prepared them to battle the crusaders, and that started a long tradition of wonderful hymns in the form of nawbat. But this was not formally organized until the scholar Sheikh Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi who, inspired by al-Ayyubi, built on the tradition using his own amazing spirituality and added lyrics and tunes and eventually set up guidelines for the repertoire of the Ummayyad Mosque. He also introduced musical instruments. Before him, they only used drums.
Asmar: Are instruments allowed inside the Mosque?
Shakkur: No, not inside the mosque, but in the courtyard and the Mawlawiyya zawiya.
Asmar: What was the accepted use of these instruments?
Shakkur: Sheikh al-Nabulsi wrote a book on the proper use of music in our tradition called "Al-Dalalat Fi Sama' Al-Alat" (The Signs of Listening to Instruments). He stressed that musical instruments have good uses to praise God and express spirituality and bad uses as a tool of seduction or material gain. He also composed two calls to prayer (azan) that are different from the standard ones you hear elsewhere. He created a group azan in which a soloist calls Allah Akbar (God is Great) and a choir repeats after him in a special melody. He is also credited for a different tune for the so-called Azan al-Imsak, which is the call to prayer 10 minutes before the sunrise azan. We also chant the azan in the maqamat siqah and Bayyati as well as the standard Hijaz and Rast maqamat known throughout the Islamic world. Damascus is unique in having options for four maqamat for the azan.
Asmar: Are you also saying there are extra azan (calls to prayer) beyond the standard times?
Shakkur: We have tarahim, special prayers between azans. Also every tower (maazanah) in the mosque has its own version of the azan. It is quite a sophisticated arrangement.
Asmar: What is the relationship between the Andalusian Arab heritage and the repertoire of the Ummayad Mosque?
Shakkur: There is a clear link between the two. Many traditions were carried back to Damascus through North Africa where they prospered more in the Mosque community than elsewhere. We even use the same terminology, such as nawba, that you still hear in North African classical music of muwashshat. What has developed in the repertoire of the Ummayad Mosque, however, is unique and clearly distinct from the Andalucian or North African traditions despite the historical connections.
This article appeared in Vol. 7, no. 36 (Summer 2001).

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sabri Moudallal (1918-2006) - Munshid from Aleppo, Syria - Mouled recorded 1995 in Berlin

Beautiful tape by the legendary munshid and singer of the classical  Arab music of Aleppo, Syria. Here Sabri Moudallal, with his ensemble of munshidin, presents a traditional Mouled an-Nabi (birthday of the prophet) repertoire, partly accompanied by Bendirs (frame drums). I obtained this cassette in the late 1990s at a concert he gave in the Haus der Kulturen in Berlin. 

1918 -2006

Born in Aleppo in 1918, highly esteemed by native Aleppians but scarcely known beyond the city limits, he has almost always lived outside the " star system ". His talent was revealed relatively late on his life, from the seventies on, when he gave a series of concerts in Paris with his group of the time, a vocal quartet known as " The Muezzins of Aleppo ". Ever since then he has received constant requests from abroad, has been appointed principal muezzin of the city and was even decorated in 1996 by Farouk Hosni, the Egyptian Minister of Culture.
His lack of interest in promoting his art has actually handicapped him in the past to such an extent that his name is not even to be found amongst those quoted in the two key works on contemporary Syrian music, by Adnân Bin Dhurayl (Damascus 1988) and Samîm al-Sharîf (Damascus, 1991). Sabri Moudallal was one of Syria's greatest vocal artists, with a prodigious output as a composer. He has taken the art of the flourish to its highest degree, even developing a vocal technique enabling him to take his breath whilst singing. Although he remained a faithful adept of the sacred song, he was equally at home in the secular repertory. In spite of his great age, he was still pursuing his career. He was a pupil of Umar al-Batsch himself, and his great speciality was the wasla, of which he was a true master in every aspect, down to the most minute detail. Like his master he had also put his hand and skill to composition in the traditional style. There are several very beautiful songs by his hand ; two of these " Ahmad yâ habibi " and " Ilâhî " have been recorded for " The Aleppian Music Room ". Sabri Moudalal passed away in August 2006. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sheikh Yasin al-Tuhami - Vol. 3 - Sufi music from Egypt

Another cassette from Egypt: this time one by perhaps the greatest of Egyptian munshidin.

Sheikh Yasin al-Tuhami – Egypt

Sheikh Yasin al-Tuhami - Egypt
'Your spirit is mingled with my spirit, as amber is mingled with perfumed musk.'
Mansur  al Hallâj
Sheikh Yasin declaims the great Sufi poets. In a theatrical way, he searches for harmony through suffering, a suffering that is heard in his voice, broken with the emotion of a thousand sleepless nights. He uses his voice to accentuate words torn from another Islam. This is the Islam of the streets, the villages, the gallabiyas and the shisha; the last bastion of the poetry of the people of the Nile.
In his singing, the mythical 'habibi' (darling) of Egyptian song becomes a repeated incantation. The Sufi breath meanders between life, death, rebirth, hope and despair.
In the songs of this munshid (singer of poetry), there is the idea of something unfinished. In his way of fashioning a word or a rhyme, Sheikh Yasin seems to lose himself in a labyrinth that makes him an eternal pilgrim in his poetry.
Sheikh Yasîn al-Tuhâmi is unquestionably the most important Sufi munshid in Egypt today. Born in 1948 Yawata, a village community near Assiut, Sheikh Yasin had a traditional religious education learning Koranic recitation, the religious sciences and classical Arabic, all subjects that would enhance his career.  As no family member had ever been a munshid and there was no opportunity for him to learn the inshad at school, he therefore learned this art in his own way, by listening in at local Sufi gatherings.  He was also influenced by famous munshidin he heard on the radio, as well as Koranic singing and the great stars of Arab music such as Nasr al-Din Tubar, Mustafa Isma’il and above all, Umm Kalsoum.
Today Sheikh Tuhâmi is booked months in advance with more than 100 cassettes and CDs on the market, and a large number of private recordings on video and audio circulate among his fans. From his home in the charming small vilage of Hawatka near Assiut, he travels across Egypt for more than 200 nights every year, visiting Sufi gatherings from Aswan to Alexandria. His innovative style, his performance and his success have spawned many imitators that form a veritable  madrassa (school) based in the middle of Egypt and radiating his influence out across the country.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Amin al-Dishnawi - Vol. 2 - Sufi music from Egypt

Here another beautiful cassette from Egypt. 



Sheikh Amin al-Dishnawi est aujourd'hui un personnage clé du petit monde des mûn-shiddin (chanteurs de l'inshad suffiya, le chant soufi de Haute-Égypte). Le mûnshid est le dernier grand personnage du monde populaire égyptien. Il est à la fois homme de foi, chanteur, poète, comédien, prophète et un peu magicien. On le traite avec déférence mais exigence, car, comme tout artiste en représentation, il doit constamment donner le meilleur de lui-même. Âgé seulement d'une trentaine d'années, Amin al-Dishnawi a déjà atteint une grande renommée proche de ses aînés, tels Ahmad al-Tuni ou Yasin al-Tuhami. Mais chacun de ces personnages possède son propre caractère. Au délire scénique d'Ahmad al-Tuni et au déchirement ténébreux de Yasin al-Tuhami, s'oppose la simplicité presque naïve du Sheikh Amin al-Dishnawi.
Amin al-Dishnawi possède l'apanage parfait de l'homme saint, il est affable et poli, (dans le sens arabe adab qui signifie bien se comporter avec son entourage). Le rayonnement de son regard fait mieux comprendre comment la recherche extatique n'est, peut-être, qu'une tentative à retrouver l'émerveillement de l'enfance.
Les magdoub (fous de Dieu ravis par l'extase) et les mudrib (aspirants à la présence de Dieu), aiment la sainteté que dégage Amin al-Dishnawi, cette faculté à révéler le divin qui facilitera l'état de transe, lors du dhikr, la danse rituelle soufie. Amin al-Dishnawi est censé posséder une très grande "baraka", celle qui peut rejaillir sur toute une assemblée en quête d'exceptionnel.
Car le mûnshid est un avant tout un transmetteur: c'est par son inspiration et son habilité à déclamer les grands textes poétiques, que l'auditoire obtiendra le sentiment de délivrance propre à ces cérémonies. La révélation, dans une société traditionnelle, reste le moteur fondamental de l'inspiration, à l'opposé de notre monde profane animé par l'idée de l'art comme émanation de la créativité humaine.

See also: