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Music News: Having faith in music

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  • Zafar Khan
    Having faith in music Posted on 6 October 2011 - 01:53pm Last updated on 6 October 2011 - 01:58pm Bissme S. lifestyle@thesundaily.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 8, 2011
      Having faith in music
      Posted on 6 October 2011 - 01:53pm
      Last updated on 6 October 2011 - 01:58pm
      Bissme S.


      WHILE Muslim fanatics slam western music as negative and immoral, an American filmmaker, who is a Muslim convert, is attempting to put things in the correct perspective as far as Islam and music are concerned in his documentary, Deen Tight.

      In this cutting-edge documentary by Mustafa Davis who hails from San Francisco, various Muslim hip-hop artistes in the United States and the United Kingdom talk about how they successfull overcame challenges and reconciled their faith as Muslims with their western culture.

      In a recent interview, Mustafa, 38, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently to screen his documentary, shares his views on his work and other issues:

      ► On Deen Tight

      “When I embraced Islam in 1996, I learned that music was a taboo practice for Muslims. So I gave up listening to music and concentrated on studying my religion.

      “But I felt a void as my past had been shaped by the culture I grew up in, and music and dance were a major part of that experience. Many of my peers had similar experiences.

      “I decided to round up some Muslim artistes who I knew were involved in hip hop in some way. I wanted to explore this topic and really delve deep into the psyche of these artistes who attempt to maintain a balance between their culture and a faith that seemingly disapproves of it.

      “As someone who has experienced this, I knew I’d be able to tell this story from an intimate place. This was how Deen Tight came about.”

      ► On what motivated him to be a filmmaker

      “I’ve always been a visual person. I see the world in frames. I wanted to be a writer and tell stories. My stepfather was a photographer and I learned photography from him when I was 13. In high school, I studied arts and photography while in college, I studied photojournalism.

      “When I discovered the video camera, I found it a combination of all the arts I like – storytelling, writing, pictures and music. So filmmaking became a natural choice for me to express myself.

      “I put a lot of myself into my films. When my characters cry, I cry too. It can be emotionally exhausting. Every time I finish making a film, I tell myself that I’ll never make another. But I never keep to my word.”

      ► On Islam being the main focus of his documentaries

      “I make documentaries on any topic that I find interesting. I’ve made a documentary called One Heart Africa which focuses on orphans in Africa who have AIDS and HIV. Those I interviewed were all Christians. Being a Muslim is just a part of who I am. I am also a son, husband, father, friend, musician and a citizen of the world.”

      ► On Islam restricting artistic expressions

      “Some of the greatest artworks in the world were produced by Muslims. But people who misunderstand Islam claim that Islam frowns upon art as a waste of time. Look at the Blue Mosque in Turkey which happens to be one of the most beautiful architectural structures in the world. The Taj Mahal in India was conceived by a Muslim. Art has always been a part of Islamic traditions. So Islam does encourage creativity.”

      ► On his Islamic journey

      “I was 24 when I became a Muslim. I was born into a Catholic family but I was only a Christian in name. I got caught up in a lot of negative influences. I was tired of my lifestyle and wanted to be religious again.

      “A friend of mine introduced me to Islam and spoke to me about Prophet Muhammad. But I told him I would never be a Muslim.

      “That night, I went to a bookstore to buy a copy of the Bible. I also decided to check out a book on Prophet Muhammad and a copy of the Quran. I cried when I read the Quran. Two days later, I converted to Islam.”

      ► On misconceptions about converts

      “I spent 11 years studying Islam and I didn’t find anything that said that I had to be an Arab to be a Muslim. In fact, when Prophet Muhammad met certain tribes, he would speak in their mother tongue. He didn’t force them to speak in his dialect. He would even dress the way they dressed. It goes to show that the Prophet respected other cultures.

      “I’ve learned that Islam is like a river and your culture is like the riverbed. Islam just washes away the impurities. But your core culture remains. There’s always a misconception that Islam and western culture cannot mix. If this is true, then I don’t exist. I’m a convert. I’m an American Muslim.

      “I shed a lot of tears and went through hardships in order to balance my western culture and my Muslim faith. I know of American converts who have given up Islam but I find that they still believe in the religion. It’s just that they couldn’t take the pressure for them to be other than what they are.”

      Turkish doctors call the tune with traditional musical cures
      Istanbul hospital revives complementary therapy for a range of illnesses by playing ancient Arabesque scales and patterns
      Constanze Letsch in Istanbul
      guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 August 2011 17.29 BST


      Standing by the bed of a Cypriot patient who has just undergone vascular surgery, Dr Bingür Sönmez consults a screen monitoring pulse and blood pressure.

      Then a colleague pulls out a flute and starts playing a popular Turkish tune.

      If that appears an unusual approach to modern medicine, then it is. But according to doctors at the reassuringly modern Memorial hospital in Istanbul, it is producing results.

      Here, Sönmez and his colleague, Dr Erol Can, are reviving traditional Islamic music therapy, a form of medical treatment that is almost 1,000 years old.

      And they are convinced that, if used as a complementary therapy, ancient Arabesque scales and modes can produce significant psychological and physiological outcomes.

      Can, chief anaesthetist in the intensive care unit of the department, says that he discovered music therapy when he worked in a Sofia hospital in his native Bulgaria.

      Iraqi youth find new outlet in rap
      By combining folklore with western-style beats, Iraqi youth have created their own form of hip-hop music.
      Last Modified: 13 Aug 2011 14:59


      A new generation of Iraqis has found its own way of expressing despair and hope.

      Hip-hop is proving to be a powerful medium of expression at a time when millions of Iraqis are still struggling to return to normal life after years of war.

      They have grown up in a war-torn country, but their songs talk of hope.

      Jane Arraf reports from Baghdad.

      Islamic songs face myriad challenges in Arab world
      Published: Aug 12, 2011 23:39 Updated: Aug 12, 2011 23:39


      JEDDAH: Islamic songs of late have been gaining popularity among various sections of society in the Arab world.

      This is more evident by the tremendous response to video clips of songs by some prominent Arab singers aired by satellite channels.

      These singers can also draw packed audiences at various art and music festivals across the world. Despite all these positive factors, Islamic songs are still moving through a rough path, confronting various challenges and difficulties that stand in the way of their fast growing popularity.

      Arab News talked to a number of eminent Islamic singers, including renowned artist Mousa Mustafa, who came to Jeddah to attend various programs and festivals.

      They spoke at length about the various elements of Islamic songs and the major challenges facing this art form.

      They also covered topics such as the production of video music albums, public response toward Islamic songs, and the influence of modern technology and voice modulation techniques in the production of albums.

      “As Islamic artists, we face several hurdles while pursuing our career,” said renowned Islamic singer from Iraq Muhammad Al-Ghazzawi.

      “The major challenge I face is the difficulty in traveling to various countries because of my nationality. The complications for travel procedures as an Iraqi citizen have deprived me of golden chances to attend several major international festivals held in various countries.”

      He added that he also missed the opportunity to get to know the various forms of Islamic art in those countries as well as meet personally with the local Islamic singers and artists.

      Osama Al-Safi, a singer from the UAE, said Islamic devotional songs have triggered a controversy that threatens the art form.

      “As far as video clips are concerned, their success depends on whether the ideas match the songs and the location in addition to the type of cameras used,” he said.

      Regarding the public response toward the Islamic moral and religious songs (Nasheed), a spokesman for the Saudi Innovation team said: “There has been a growing response from the public to this art form even though it was not well known in the music world. All sections of society, including elders and youngsters, embrace this art form. Most of these singers use lyrics composed by prominent Islamic poets and writers who deal with a number of major social issues. They include lyrics by Ahmad Balghasoun, Salim Abdul Qader, Badar Al-Abnawi and Ojlan Thabit.”

      On the major challenges facing these artists, the spokesman said: “Most television channels are not giving sufficient air time to this form of music. There is also a shortage in the production of Islamic songs. Moreover, there is no collective working strategy and a clear vision for the Islamic singers.”

      He added that most of these singers do not have an academic background mainly because of the absence of any specialized institutes for them. The team’s first album “Mokhtalef” was a tremendous success and was second only to the album “Dikrayat” by Moshari Al-Afasi in sales.

      Echoing the same view, Ayman Halaj, a Jordanian artist, said the most important hurdle they face concerns production. He said that it is very difficult to find producers who share the artist’s vision.

      Referring to modern techniques and voice modulation, Al-Safi said: “There are two schools of thought with regard to the production of religious songs. One prefers not to use any musical instruments while the second uses all available means, including instruments. There is no doubt that modern technology would enable artists to perform in the best possible way.”

      He added, however, that there is no advantage to using musical instruments if the talent was not there and that a natural performance is more enjoyable than the one with embellishments.

      Regarding interaction with production companies, Mousa Mustafa, an artist from Syria, said: “As artists, we face difficulties in our dealings with production companies. We tried to conclude agreements with companies such as Rotana, but to no avail. They treat us as Islamic artists who are not popular in the circles of music. Therefore, most often these companies commercialize our art and then market them, or at least produce video albums out of our work.” He suggested companies also fail to pay any royalties to the artists.

      On his part, Turkish artist Masud Kortes is of the view that most video clips of music albums aired by channels are worthless. People want original music and songs that can impart in them guiding thoughts and provide them a pleasant atmosphere with its sweet words, he added.

      US Islamic hip-hop act on 'diplomatic mission' in Indonesia
      12 August 2011 Last updated at 05:13 Help


      American Islamic hip-hop group Native Deen are touring Indonesia on a "diplomatic mission", to help spread tolerance and faith through music.

      As the US scales down its presence in Iraq, Washington is keen to start focusing on "soft" power, so that it can increase its influence in Muslim-dominated countries.

      Indonesia is a key ally of the US, and is the world's most populous Muslim nation.

      Karishma Vaswani reports.

      Jazz album by Pakistan music veterans storms western charts
      Philanthropist Izzat Majeed's Sachal Orchestra pulls off unlikely musical coup
      Declan Walsh in Lahore
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 August 2011 14.15 BST


      The rich strains of eastern music have for centuries wafted across the rooftops of old Lahore. Now you might hear something new: jazzy riffs and a bossa nova beat.

      An ensemble of veteran Pakistani musicians has pulled off an unlikely coup – storming western charts with an innovative jazz album and prompting comparisons with Buena Vista Social Club's rediscovery of a lost generation of Cuban musicians.

      The Sachal Studios Orchestra has captured imaginations with a cover of Dave Brubeck's Take Five blending sweeping classical violins with sitars, tablas and other eastern instruments.

      The piece has brought praise from jazz greats – Brubeck, 90, says it is "the most interesting" version of Take Five he's ever heard – and propelled the orchestra's album towards the top of the iTunes jazz charts in the US and UK. The album, which includes versions of The Girl from Ipanema, Misty and Desafinado, reached the top 10 in both countries.

      "I'm so excited," said Riaz Hussain, the 55-year-old violinist who arranged the music. "I don't have words to express how I feel."

      Recording at premises on the edge of Lahore's walled city, the 60-strong orchestra mixes local legends with musicians recently enticed out of retirement, some from lives of poverty. Few knew much about jazz before.

      The project is the brainchild of Izzat Majeed, a millionaire philanthropist based in London. Eight years ago Majeed built a state-of-the-art studio for the orchestra: engineers from Abbey Road Studios provided technical advice, while western session musicians were hired to play instruments unavailable in Pakistan.

      Although it cost more than $2m (£1.2m), his motive is music, not money. "To be honest, I never really enjoyed business," said the 60-year-old, who made his money in oil, gas and finance (he was involved in the $500m-plus sale of a Pakistani bank in 2006). "But I truly love this." His creation draws on multiple influences, from Lahore to Rio to New Orleans. And the buzz is building. The song's video has attracted a flood of internet hits, an Oscar-nominated Hollywood producer wants to make a documentary, and concerts are planned for the UK and US this winter.

      Majeed's wider goal is to rub fresh magic from an old lantern. Pakistan's classical music scene was decimated in the 1980s, he said, when the dictator General Zia-ul-Haq crushed the local film industry, known as Lollywood. Several hundred musicians, employed to record film scores, lost their jobs. As the son of a hobbyist film producer, Majeed felt the loss personally. "Demand just collapsed after Zia," he said. "That guy dug the grave of Pakistan."

      The cull forced many musicians into less lyrical trades, where they remained in obscurity for decades. Majeed found his cello player running a tea stall; others were selling clothes or electrical parts. Mubarak Ali, a shy 48-year-old violinist, was selling vegetables from his bicycle, earning barely £2 a day.

      Now Ali's life has been transformed. At his home – a cramped two-room dwelling he shares with his wife, daughter and ailing 103-year-old mother – he lovingly lifted his cloth-wrapped violin from a case on the shelf. Then he pointed to a new fridge, DVD player and wooden bed. "Sachal paid for this, this and that," he said. "God bless Sachal. And God bless Majeed sahib."

      Although named after a Sufi poet, it hasn't always been harmonious at Sachal studios. In the beginning, rival musicians competed ferociously against one another, Majeed recalled. "They wouldn't let each other play," he said. And it remains little known, even inside Pakistan. Pursuing music rather than promotion, Majeed had done little to push the jazz album until a BBC interview propelled it into the charts 10 days ago. "We haven't been very good at marketing," he admitted.

      The confidence boost is urgently needed. Although Brubeck, Duke Ellington and other jazz legends performed in Pakistan in the 1950s, the turbulence of the past decade has isolated local musicians. Foreign travel is difficult and at home extremist violence has made concerts rare. So is growing conservatism – some Sachal musicians said they dared not practise at home, fearing they could offend pious neighbours.

      Now success has brought fresh hope. "This is the first drop of rain," said flautist Baqar Abbas. "It shows that Pakistan is not just a place of bomb and suicide attacks." Ijaz "Balu" Khan, the orchestra's tabla player, said his dream was "to play solo with the orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall".

      Such high hopes, and the Buena Vista comparisons, may be difficult to live up to; Majeed worries his musicians will not even get visas to leave Pakistan. But a second album is already in the works. "I speak music, I hear music. And now I want to live music," said irrepressible flautist Abbas.
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