Music of the Times
Does sufi music have what it takes to keep people’s interest?
Sufism has been an integral part of the Pakistani culture and has impacted the way of life in a great way. Among other things that it has inspired, it has left a long-lasting effect on the music produced in this region, giving birth to a new genre. The inspiration for sufi music comes from the works of famous sufi poets such as Amir Khusro, Bulleh Shah, Khawaja Ghulam Farid and others.
Sufi music is all about emotions. It gives the universal message of peace and harmony and teaches love and devotion. This is the reason why people from completely different backgrounds are able to connect to sufi music even though they may not understand the language in which the message is conveyed. The forms best suited for the expression of Sufism aesthetically are
and with the being the most famous one. Legends like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan played a vital role in spreading this form of music all over the world..
Some well-known Pakistani sufi singers are Abida Parveen, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Wazir Ali Shah, Sohrab Fakir, Sanam Marvi, Fareed Ayaz Qawwal
and Sain Zahoor..
Before its addition to mainstream music, sufi music was confined to rural areas and was mostly performed at shrines. Hardly a few people know the names of the sufi music performers who are world famous today. Their raw talent was discovered by music aficionados and their work was further refined. They were also given a platform to showcase their talent. Many such artistes like Sain Zahoor and Papu Sain are now world famous for their music.
The genre has gone through many changes over the years and has adapted to modern trends in music to stay relevant to the current times. That is why more and more people are listening to sufi music. The urban population, especially, seems more inclined towards it. The trend of having qawaali functions at wedding ceremonies is gaining popularity among the upper-class..
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the boom in the media industry gave young artists an opportunity to display their talent on a wider platform. With the increase in TV channels, new artists emerged. It was also the time when some rock musicians experimented with sufi music, making it popular like it was never before. The rock band Junoon is credited with the amalgamation of rock music with sufi kalam. Their music became famous all over the world, even at places where Urdu or Punjabi is not understood.
Halfway through the decade, Coke Studio was launched. From combining
qawwali with bhangra and ghazals with rock, this music has created a fusion of various popular musical genres and has gathered artistes from all over the country under one roof.
The popularity of sufi music is also increasing as it is being showcased at larger platforms such as the Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement. The fusion of sufi music with rock and pop music is attracting more and more people, especially the youth who can relate to this form of soulful and spiritual music. In addition to established sufi musicians, such shows are also giving a platform to new talent.
As a result of such experimentation, sufi music produced in Pakistan is gaining international popularity. Pakistani sufi musicians are performing at concerts and cultural programs around the world. In 2010, Pakistani artistes Sain Zahoor, Rizwan-Muazzam and Pappu Sain opened the concert series at Ruhrtriennale – the biggest cultural festival of Europe held in the northwestern area of Germany. They mesmerized the audience with their enthralling performances in a threehour concert.
But how long will the interest of the urban dwellers in sufi music last? In today’s world, does sufi music have what it takes to keep the people attracted to it? Ventures like Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement may attract people towards this genre of music, but it is likely that their interest may be short-lived.
A counter argument given in this regard is that sufi music has existed in one form or another for centuries. It has retained its distinct identity despite all the fusions and experiments. Therefore, it can be safely said that sufi music is here to stay. However, it may keep changing its forms to stay relevant in this fast-changing world.
The writer is a student at the Lahore School of Economics. She regularly writes on social issues.