Monday, October 09, 2006

Rock, Bhajan & Qawwali

i wasn't too happy to miss the rock show by INXS that happened in Mumbai, lat Thursday. later, when an old friend gave reviews of the show, it added to my misery...apparently it was an excellent concert with the new lead singer, JD Fortune (who was found through the popular reality show) doing an excellent job.

currently, i am reading a book gifted to me by another old friend on my 30th birthday. its a fine book comprising essays on music & literature, by the famous Czek writer, Milan Kundera known for his abstract writing style in the realm of fiction. this book is called 'Testaments Betrayed'

if you are wondering, whats common between the above two statements (besides the 'old friend' bit), read the following passage take from the above mentioned book. its taken from the chapter on the famous composer 'Stravinsky' but its got to do with rock music.

"At jazz concerts people applaud. To applaud means: I have listened to you carefully and now I am declaring my appreciation. The music called "rock" changes the situation. An important fact: at rock concerts people do not applaud. It would be almost sacrilege to applaud and thus to bring to notice the critical distance between the person playing and the person listening; we come here not to judge and evaluate but to surrender to the music, to scream along with the musicians, to merge with them; we come here to seek identification, not pleasure; effusion, not delight. We go into ecstasy here: the beat is strong and steady, the melodic motifs are short and endlessly repeated, there are no dynamic contrasts, everything is fortissimo, the song tends toward the highest range and resembles screaming. Here we're no longer in those little nightspots where the music wraps the couple in intimacy; we're in huge halls, in stadiums, pressed one against the next, and, if we're dancing at a club there are no couples; each person is doing his moves by himself and together with the whole crowd at the same time. The music turns the individuals into a single collective body: talking here about individualism and hedonismis just one of the self-mystifications of our time, which (like any other time, by the way) wants to see itself as different from what it is." (i shall reflect on this line in some other posting).

brillaint reflections on the essence of rock music. interestingly, two other forms of music, both belonging to the Indian subcontinent and both carrying devotional flavours, embody the same kind of mood as mentioned above by the great writer. they are the following:

a) Bhajans: Popularised by the proponents and founders of the 'Bhakti' movement like Meerabai & Tulsidas, and took place in northern India in the 15th century. Bhajans are songs written and sung for a particualr diety (usually, Krishna) with minimal instruments and a huge chorus. Usually, they begin slowly, building a tempo, and then get into a loop of lyrics and melody which are then repeated several times. The desired effect is to feel-at-one with the concerned diety and some of the devotees really end up feeling that way...The powers of music!

Late Kumar Gandharva, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Pt jasraj are some of the great muscians who have recorded lots of these Bhajans for the likes of us to appreciate. Perhaps, you can enjoy them and try to find the link that I am talking about.

b) Qawwalis:
This style was the expression of the 'Sufi' movement, which was parallel to the 'Bhakti' movement, during the same period of time and in the same geography. It was the Moslem counterpart to the Hindu 'Bhakti' movement. Once again, lyrics written to express love for God sung in a loopy sort of way and repeated until one gets into a trance and starts to believe that he/she is at-one with the Creator.

The genius of Late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan took this form of music to the world arena and with the help of rock artistes like Eddie Vedder and Peter Gabriel, turned it into world-music.

Interesting, how music is universal and connected...always


gentleman said...

another 'old friend'pointed me this way, old man. mast hai, maza agaya stumbling, like finding some brown left uncharred in the black. full hitech lowlife bangaya be tu, sahi hai. main bhi kholta hoon. (blog.) sahi hai

Anonymous said...


You have drawn an important distinction between rock and jazz. I would like to add a few comments.

I think historically classical and jazz musicians have been typically more educated about their art than their audience. This is true of all classical music, Indian Western and any other. Western classical music is really old European music. And jazz is nothing but American classical music if one might call it that since it is old American music ( only 200 years old and as old as that country ). Because it is based on improvisation though it is constantly changing which European classical music is not. The musicians are more educated because it took them years of study either at a conservatory or a school of music. Many modern jazz artists for example have passed thru the Berklee College of Music or some other well known college of music. Ditto for the Indian classical musician who learnt a particular gharana from a guru or a famous proponent of that genre. Perhaps it took years by the time you learnt your tenth raga. So a lot of painstaking study was involved

This means that the players of jazz and classical music have always seen themselves as a notch or sometimes several notches above their audiences. This often means that the players of classical or jazz are often talking down to their audiences although this might not be their intention. They are often saying to their audience
' Come up to my level' without expressly saying so. I think that it is possible that when the audience responds with an applause they are really saying " we understood that" or "we appreciated that" ( they are refering often to a complex passage or improvisation). In other words the audience is telling the players with their applause that they have indeed come up to their level in their undertanding of that music. The 'wah wah' at Indian classical music concerts does much the same thing.

This also perhaps explains why you have jazz and classical music appreciation sessions. You don't need one for jazz and folk music because it is the language of the people. This is not to say that in a real sense jazz or classical music is high class because it is a notch above. Unfortunately historically both these forms of music needed a patron ( read king or a rich person ) to promote the music. This perhaps associated these genres with class. However all music has low class origins typically in the folk music of a country. Beethoven's scherzos for example can be traced back to the music of Neopolitan fishermen!



ghaza said...

I love you :)

P.S.: Trivia question "Name a Quentin Tarantino movie that features Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the sound-track?"

Answer: "Natural Born Killers" ........ I don't know if there are any others but when the gruesome violence starts and then Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's rendition erupts in the background, the feeling is simply exhilarating :)

But still I too totally miss the feeling of a packed and en-tranced rock concert!!!!!

meraj said...

ghaza...'Natural Born Killers' is by Oliver Stone but yes it uses Nusrat for its soundtrack.

Another movie wherein Nusrat's voice does the magic is 'Bandit Queen'

ghaza said...

natural born killers is directed by oliver stone but written by tarantino :)