Monday, June 11, 2012

Mystical songs of the poet Kabir - Mukhtiyar Ali at Batha

Mukhtiyar Ali and the poet Kabir
'The light of the sun, of the moon and of the stars sparkles brightly: the song of love rises ever higher and the rhythm of pure love beats time' -  Kabir

The great poet Kabir was born around 1440 at Varanasi, and adopted into a family of Muslim weavers. He soon became a disciple of the celebrated Hindu ascetic Ramananda, who taught in the north of India the religious reawakening that Ramanuja had already brought to the south in the 12th century. It was this mystical religion of love that Kabir celebrated in his poetry, beyond any religious affiliation.
Bura jo khojan main chala
bura na mileya koye
anthar khoja apno so
mujhsa bura na koi -Kabir

(I went out in search of the worst person
And later, on searching my own soul,
Realised that none could be worse than me,
For looking for the worst in others)

The musicians and poets of Rajasthan embody one of the most brilliant traditions of the Indian sub-continent. Dazzling, charming, unashamed of beauty and virtuosity, these musicians of the desert have the majesty of their environment: Rajasthan, the ancient 'Land of Princes'.

In the desert palaces of Rajasthan these performers, told epic tales of war, mystery and love of the ancient heroes and later, they sang the songs of the great mystical Sufi or Hindu poets, like Princess Mira Baï or Kabir, for those who had converted to Islam.

Mukhtiyar represents the 26th generation of a humble community which has successfully kept alive the oral tradition of Sufiana Qalam.

This lineage is something that Mukhtiyar Ali, feels passionately about. "The Mirasi lineage which has preserved the heritage of Sufiana Qalam - through all these generations - witnessing war, droughts, religious backlash and economic penury is today falling apart in the consumer-driven world we have created. Much of the folk traditions and music forms are tottering today and are lost in lifestyles offering instant gratification as comfort, where everything needs to be compressed into seconds and rarely is there time to experience the lifetime that traditional music offers".

Despite economic hardships and the onslaught of globalisation which threatens to dilute much of folk traditions and music forms, Mukhtiyar has stood firm and kept alive the oral tradition of Sufiana Qalam. He has made the best of the opportunities that have come his way. His performances in India and abroad get overwhelming responses. His empathy with Kabir's anti-caste secularism, is particularly popular.

Gaoon bajaoon… sab ko rijhaoon…
albeli mastani… deen dharam se begaani…
(I sing and play, I entertain everyone;
I am unaware of caste or religious barriers)

Mukhtiyar is not only a Sufi singer  but a folk musician and his performance today embodied both the simplicity and the exaltation of a true poet of oral transmission.


Magical mysticism was the aura of this afternoon’s concert at the Batha Museum. While Mukhtiyar Ali emotively sang the words Kabir, the audience hung on his every intonation, facial grimace and gesticulation.

After initial prayers, the energy levels surged and playing one of the two harmoniums on stage, Mukhtiyar Ali showed why he is so revered. His voice, so light and pure, at times blended and became indistinguishable from the voice-like sound of the harmonium. The dholak and tabla inserted the rhythms beautifully.

However in a Festival first this year, the concert-goers were also able to understand some of the meaning behind the words as well. Mukhtiyar would pause, speak to the audience, and an Indian translator, Priyanka Singh, would repeat his words in French - - malheureusement, seulement en français..

Priyanka Singh

“Is there a messenger who knows how much love I give to God?” Mukhtiyar asked.
“If you are looking for God he will appear in a flash.
“The senses make me dance. Where is the path to follow, the path of my heart?”
And later he said, “As Kabir was saying ‘in the village far away there is no moon, no light, no water.’”

Being able to understand the essence of the poetry gave an extra dimension to the performance that has been lacking in the previous concerts.

Zainab Shamis from London said the inserted translations were invaluable. “It helped me to understand where he was coming from – it’s to do with finding a vision of God in a beautiful way, wherever you are, in any time of your life.
“It was amazing, very, very beautiful.”

Tariq Binshakoor, visiting the Festival for the second time from England, enthused about the concert.“I have an Indian heritage so this type of music is my thing,” he said. “I understood much of it and I think music is best enjoyed when understood, it takes the experience to a different level altogether. If you don’t understand the words you can appreciate it but not on the same level. For other concerts I think it would be great if there could be some material to help the audience understand, it makes such a difference.”

Understanding is important because there are serious politics in the lyrics of Kabir, but there is also a huge dose of love and joy.  In the end, this was a fine concert and one that gave the audience the lift they needed on a warm afternoon in Fez.


Festival Programme
Festival in the City
Sufi Nights
Festival Forums
Festival Eating Guide
Art during the Festival #1
Art during the Festival #2
The Enchanted Gardens of Fez
Last Minute Accommodation

Text contributions: Sandy McCutcheon and Vanessa Bonnin
Photographs: Sandy McCutcheon, Vanessa Bonnin and Suzanna Clarke


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