Monday, October 29, 2007

Sufi Jazz

Under the rubric of Sufi Jazz, many artists are making a name for themselves and some are famous, in what is considered great and beautiful music. And even though Sufism is itself eclectic and genuinely intellectual, Sufi jazz therefore must be more intellectual, almost anti bourgeois, proletarian, commonplace. The very heart of Sufism is an act of rebellion, an act against the established religious order of its times. It is an intellectual response to any totalitarian stranglehold, but this Sufi Jazz is only Jazz and no zikr!

The very concept of a popular music that is religious and acceptable, that is popular and mainstream is somehow more acceptable to bourgeoisie values than a music that is religious and on the wrong side of the established sensibilities. For that takes it somehow to be almost in opposition, in perpetual fight against an establishment that wants to reduce it and diminish its loudness. For any new kind of expression is almost tantamount to a rebellion, even if this new voice only sings and does not proclaim to preach. If it assumes the shrill voice of a cult, if it becomes loud or if it assumes the voice of discontent, then it usually falls foul of the establishment and becomes cultist, and in the end that spells its doom.

Sufi's of various denominations have always kept one or another type of music as part of their repertoire, albeit religious. And yet, it is only the whirling kind of Sufi or dervish that gets the maximum publicity in the Western world for that seems an event, an anthropological event, another difference between us and them and perhaps another point to refresh the argument of clashes of values. Most Sufis don't usually start dancing de novo, there are moments that lead to it and it is a consuming act, a religious act as I understand, one that is born of humility in the beginning and passion and fervour afterwards, leading to what should eventually be an ecstatic phenomenon.( A psychological act)

The dervishes that whirl in Turkey do so in devotion, for a purpose and it is part of a process called supplication. Now all religions use music, in temples and churches and so on. And yet, that is heard and even sold as part of a genre called devotional. However, this new music of Sufi jazz, marketed and branded, sung and imported, and recognised as part of world music goes perhaps against the very concept or grain of such music, for it is immaterial, away from any form of jazz , ( and by jazz I mean colour, rush, delight, or fame) this negates the very concept of this music for this is private, born out of desire and love, torture and melancholy.

If the proponents sell this to an audience that is susceptible, that wants and thinks that it has partaken of a particular Sufi or religious experience, then surely it is another form of a nauseating commercialism, a kind of designer emancipation, a thing I would unhesitatingly call- commodity fetishism. For it sells a myth, an experience, a tear and a whirl, a dream, sighs and welds together experiences for different people that are actually un -understandable, for at its very heart, intense or even normal Sufi chat is profoundly difficult to understand, as it is extremely philosophical and not commonplace.

I am not for a moment saying that this kind of music is not enjoyable. I only think that its basic colour, its figure ground must be understood. It is only after that, after that discussion, that its suitability for new listeners can be discerned and he or she actually whisper what this Sufi Jazz is. We see in the past Hindu sages doing what the rest consider beyond reach. Similar distance needs to be had before one can begin to understand the elements of what is now designer Sufism generally. Till then, more Kind of blue.


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