|Daily Times - Site Edition||Thursday, November 28, 2002|
CULTURE VULTURE: Let the music play on
What do the opponents of devotional music want to achieve by banning qawwali or dhammal? What is so threatening about rhythm and beat?
Twenty five years of making waves. That’s what the Wave Studio has been doing since 1977. Located on Waris Road, the studio is a leading sound recording studio and audio-visual centre in Lahore. It has produced hundreds of audiocassettes and promoted scores of upcoming singers in these 25 years. But what is special about this institution?
“Workshop Audio Visual Education” (Wave), is a studio set up by the Catholic Church of Pakistan. It has produced a large number of religious songs and is also regularly used by PTV and other music producers for recordings. Nur Jahan, the melody queen, once described the difference between Wave and other sound studios; “Music is considered sacred here. There is no one chewing paan here. Shoes are not allowed inside. The respect given to music is remarkable.” Most other sound studios are not only commercial enterprises but also have an unpleasant and crude ambience. Recordists shout at everyone, musicians crack vulgar jokes, the carpets are unclean and the dirty walls are marked with paan. Wave is different. It is clean, organised, and quiet.
It is not just the management but also their attitude towards music which makes the difference. For Wave music makers, music is a sacred art, used for propagating sacred texts and moral values. For commercial studios, it is just a job, and not a very respectable one at that. That the Christian clergy regards music highly was evident from the presence of top Catholic leadership at the Silver Jubilee celebrations at St. Anthony’s. Prominent among them was the Papal Representative from Rome and the Archbishop of Lahore, His Eminence Lawrence Saldhana, who has been a moving force behind the Wave Studios.
I couldn’t help comparing this with the hostile, at best ambivalent attitude of the Islamic clergy towards music and the performing arts. Others seemingly more interested also display an insensitivity at times. When one high-up cracked the “joke” that before being invited to the ceremony, she wasn’t aware of the difference between Wave studio and Waves Freezer, I did wonder whether the remark indicated a contemptuous attitude on the part of our media managers towards music. Should we put our musicians in the freezers of fundamentalism? Is this also the aim of the Data Darbar Management?
Only a few weeks ago the Data Darbar Management decided to throw qawwali out of the Data Darbar auditorium. “There is no room for musical instruments and music in Data Darbar,” it was proclaimed. The auditorium, where once Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and other leading qawwals of Pakistan, paid homage to the patron saint of Lahore and sung praises of Allah and his Rasool (PBUH), will now only be used for the purpose of reciting hamds and naats. The people of Lahore, who love their saint as well as the qawwali, are being forced to choose between the two. Qawwals have been a regular and integral part of the Darbar. Theirs is the first sound one hears upon entering the Darbar complex. The Thursday qawwalis have been a hot favourite of the Lahorites for a very long time. I wonder why Data Sahib’s thekedars have suddenly discovered that qawwali tributes are not appropriate for Data sahib.
A few years ago, an ugly incident took place in Chakwal, where fundamentalists from a Sunni outfit attacked a qawwali session at the “Urs” of a woman pir and destroyed the musical instruments. The DSP Chakwal was killed by their firing and the AC Chakwal narrowly escaped injury. I visited Chakwal to make a video report on the incident and was struck by the hatred of the Sunni Tehreek activists towards music. Of course, the organisers of the Urs were at a loss to understand why such a violent attack had taken place on a totally spiritual gathering.
Bulleh Shah also had to contend with similar puritans. It is said that the mullahs of Kasur got Bulleh Shah’s teacher Maluvi Ghulam Mohyyedin Kasuri to issue a fatwa against qawwali to prevent qawwali sessions at Bulleh Shah’s darbar. Bulleh Shah was devastated because qawwali for him was a medium of communicating with his master and his creator but he could not disobey his teacher either. Eventually Maluvi Kasuri realised his mistake and withdrew the fatwa. But the battle between naat khawni and qawwali still goes on at Bulleh Shah’s shrine.
During Ziaul’s Haq rule, attempts were made to ban qawwalis and dancing at shrines. Orders were issued to ban women devotees dancing at the mazaar of Shah Hussain. It never worked. Shah Hussain and Mela Chiraghan cannot be separated from dancing and singing. The sound of dhol still resounds at the mazaar. At the annual Mela, the ghungroo bells tinkling in the feet of devotees, both male and female, celebrate the dancing saint of Lahore.
What do the opponents of devotional music want to achieve by banning qawwali or dhammal? What is so threatening about rhythm and beat? What is vulgar or un-Islamic about singing sufi poetry? Is it wrong for the devotees to communicate with God through the medium of devotional music which enhances the spiritual experience?
Music has played an uplifting and purifying role since the beginning in all societies. All attempts to deny this role to music have failed, whenever and wherever. In India, a majority of the converts to Islam was inspired by Sufis and saints, who spread the message of peace and tolerance through qawwali and music. If the champions of Islam are looking for forces threatening to Islam, they should look elsewhere. Violence, injustice, exploitation, intolerance, corruption, crime, greed, illiteracy, pollution... there is plenty to fight against. It is pointless, in fact counter-productive, to crackdown on music.
Some time ago, I had a chance to participate in a creativity workshop with Wave Studio artists. We all worked together to create scripts, sets and music, linking them to themes of human-interest. It was fun and provided valuable training for Christian artists and activists working in the field of communications. I think such skills can be equally beneficial to Muslim groups who want to promote moral values through the media. But no one has ever contacted us for conducting a similar workshop for an ‘Islamic’ group. It is far better to train people to think and act creatively than to train them to hate and kill, isn’t it?
Shahid Nadeem is a playwright and TV producer of repute
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