Pakistani performers win praise from leading US newspaper
NEW YORK: Not only Pakistani folk singers and musicians won the hearts of New Yorkers on Tuesday, the opening day of the first-ever Sufi Festival here, their stirring performance in the City’s Union Square won a rave review in a prestigious American newspaper.
The New York Times headline ‘Songs of the saints, with love, from Pakistan’ says it all. The three-day festival was organized as a direct response to the car bomb plot in Times Square and recent bombings in Pakistan.
“Hands waved overhead. Voices shouted lyrics and whooped with delight. Children were hoisted onto parents” shoulders. In the tightly packed crowd a few dancers made room to jump. T-shirts were tossed to fans from the stage,” was how Jon Pareles, the Times’ art critic, depicted the joyous mood at the concert in lower Manhattan.
“Yet in the songs that Abida Parveen was singing, saints were praised. They were Islamic saints, the poets and philosophers revered by Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam,” the Times noted. Thursday’s coverage the Times was in sharp contrast with sustained negative portrayal of Pakistan in the US print and electric media alike.
The concert was organized by Pakistani Peace Builders, an organization which was formed after the attempted bombing in Times Square by a Pakistani-American.
The group, spearheaded by Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon, seeks to counteract negative images of Pakistan by presenting a longtime Pakistani Islamic tradition that preaches love, peace and tolerance.
Critic Pareles wrote, “The music’s message was one of joyful devotion and improvisatory freedom. Ms. Parveen, one of Pakistan,s most celebrated musicians, was singing in a Sufi style called kafi.
Like the qawwali music popularized worldwide by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, kafi sets classical poems “about the love and intoxication of the divine, about seeking the spirit within” to visceral, handclapping rhythms and vocal lines that swoop and twist with passionate volatility.
“Ms. Parveen carried songs from serene, hovering introductions to virtuosic euphoria. Long, sustained notes suddenly broke into phrases that zigzagged up and down an octave or more; repeated refrains took on an insistent rasp and became springboards for elaborate leaps and arabesques; quick syllables turned into percussive exchanges with the band. Each song was a continual revelation, making the old poems fully alive. Â“While the crowd was there for Ms. Parveen’s first New York City performance in a decade, the rest of the program was strong.
The Soung Fakirs, from Sachal Sarmast Shrine in Sindh, danced in bright orange robes to devotional songs with vigorous, incantatory choruses. Akhtar Chanal Zehri, though he was introduced as a rapper, was backed by traditional instruments and seemed more of a folk singer, heartily intoning his rhythmic lyrics on a repeating note or two and, eventually, twirling like a Sufi dervish.
“Rafaqat Ali Khan, the heir to his family’s school of classical singing (khayal), was backed only by percussion, pushing his long-breathed phrasing into ever more flamboyant swirls and quavers.
The tabla player Tari Khan, who also accompanied Rafaqat Ali Khan, played a kinetic solo set that carried a 4/4 rhythm through variants from the Middle East, Europe, New York City and (joined by two more drummers) Africa.
There was also instrumental music from the bansuri (wooden flute) player Ghaus Box Brohi. “On the modernizing side, Zeb and Haniya, two Pakistani women who started their duo as college students at Mount Holyoke and Smith, performed gentler songs in the Dari tradition, a Pakistani style with Central Asian roots, with Haniya adding syncopated electric guitar behind Zeb’s smoky voice.
Under wooden flute and classical-style vocals the Mekaal Hasan Band plugged in with reggae, folk-rock and a tricky jazz-rock riff. But the lyrics quoted devotional poetry that was 900 years old, distant from the turmoil of the present” Meanwhile, the Pakistani troupe, drawn from the countryÂ’s four provinces, entertained New York’s diplomatic community at an event hosted by Ambassador Hasroon.
Several heads of diplomatic Missions accredited to the United Nations and senior UN officials were among a large number of the Pakistani community members packing the main hall of Roosevelt Hotel. The diplomats were treated to a wide variety of Sufi recitations by Abida Parveen and other celebrated Pakistani artists.
Source: Daily Times