Recently I came across an interesting question on Quora: What are the things that Pakistan does significantly better than India? Coke Studio was one of the top answers there and the answer is really spot on! Coke Studio Pakistan has really got it right in terms of the concept and its implementation and of course the music. Their seventh season kicked off a few months back and they have some really good pieces this time.The piece that especially stands out for me is Main Sufi Hoon by Abida Parveen and Ustad Rais Khan. This is a Sufi composition based in Raag Baageshri.
The Artists: Abida Parveen, a pioneer Sufi musician is definitely among the best artists alive today and one of my personal favorites. There is a mystical aura around her that is intriguing yet inviting. The purity of her soul and her musical penance reflects in her clairvoyant voice. Her vocals have an exquisite husk and vibrato which is not to be mistaken as an inherent characteristic. Such a voice can only be attained after years of Riyaaz. I often hear people complementing singers about what an amazing voice they have; I feel that’s a really bad way to compliment a good singer ! Such a compliment almost implies that a singer’s voice is a result of some genetic lottery. It is important to appreciate the effort that goes into a mesmerizing voice, into a structured performance and not just attribute it to some act of fate.
Ustad Rais Khan comes from a rich Sitar tradition, he is the nephew of the revered Ustad Vilayat Khan. He is an imminent classical instrumentalist and was a pioneer of the Mewati Gharana of the town of Indore in central India. He developed his own unique style of performance integrating elements from Hindustani classical vocals and existing Sitar techniques and also incorporating exquisite meend in his alaapi (improvisation of the Raag). Here is a beautiful rendition of Raag Yaman Kalyan.
It is interesting to see how differently both Abida and Ustad approach the stage. For Abida, the performance is an internal meditative process. Her eyes are mostly closed. For the first few times she makes an effort to put back her headphones as they slip from her head, but eventually she gets so engrossed in the musical atmosphere that she forgets about them completely. In contrast, you see Raees Khan being outward in his performance. He communicates with other musicians and gets immersed in the musical atmosphere through this interaction. The final destination for any artist is the same: eternal bliss; But each has their own way of getting there !
Lyrics: Sufism talks about realizing the ultimate truth and being one with the highest power. The practice of Sufism, also called Tarigat is a path of love and devotion, a practice which endorses peace. It involves enlightenment of the inner being, not by logic or intellectual proof but by self experience and revelation. To me, Sufi philosophy seems very close to the Hindu or Yoga philosophy of Adwaita where again, the ultimate goal is to be one with divinity through self realization.
This particular Sufi composition is by Saint Kabir. Kabir is an interesting philosopher/poet, associated with Hindu, Islamic, Sikh and Sufi ideologies alike. Hence you find a unique mix of words like ‘Maula’, ’Quraan’, ‘Mullaah’, ‘Pandit’, ’Hari’ in this poetry. A particularly powerful Doha (a set of two lines) in this composition is:
In essence, it says that as long as your ego is hovering over you, you cannot hope to be one with God. Till then, we are in a state of ignorance and internal darkness and light can usher in only when we are able to transcend beyond our ego. In spirit, it reiterates the Adwaita philosophy mentioned before.
Instrumentation: With a Sitar maestro on the stage, there isn’t much instrumental effect you need. They have done exactly that and have kept the rhythm and overall effect mellow. There is minimal use of drums and a pleasant Dadra (a six beat rhythm cycle) on the Tabla. They are using a soft six-beat rift on the guitar. The Sitar of course, takes care of all the interludes ! Towards the end, lot of instruments merge in, there is a greater drumming effect and all of it leads to a wonderful climax.
For the more interested listener:
This piece is set in Raag Bageshree, a predominant Raag in Hindustani classical music. This Raag is performed at night time and has a sort of pensive melancholic mood. It has a komal (Flat) gandhaar and komal nishaad with a meend, which effectively create the intended mood. A nice introduction to the Raag is this Drut by Sanjeev Abhyankar. Another beautiful rendition on the Sitar is by the evergreen Ustad Shahid Parvez.