Sufi Darbar—the Nagaur Sufi Music Festival—will be held in the precincts of the 800-year-old Nagaur fort near Jodhpur for the second consecutive year, featuring musicians from India and abroad. The festival will feature qawwalis by the Sabri brothers of Jaipur and the Bandanawazi group from Hyderabad. Also performing will be the famous Egyptian singer Naglaa Fathy, accompanied by Mohamed Farghaly, who plays the string instrument oud. The Sidi Goma group, comprising the Sidis of Gujarat who are of east African descent, will perform ritual songs called the baithi dhamaal .
Lounge spoke with Kailash Mehra Sadhu, who will be singing Sufiana mausiqui from Kashmir at the festival. Sadhu was taught by composer and santoor player Pandit Shamboo Nath Sopori and then guided by his son, Bhajan Sopori. Besides Kashmiri, she has also sung in Urdu, Kannada, Punjabi, Gujarati and Hindi. Edited excerpts:
Love notes: Sadhu at a concert.
Whose compositions do you generally sing?
Jammu and Kashmir is the land of Sufism and has always been steeped in the Sufi ethos. We mostly sing compositions by Rahim, Samad Mir, Mahmud Gami and Such Kral. And of course, the saint-poet Lal Ded’s vakhs and Nund Rishi’s shruks (both forms of aphoristic verses).
Do musicians prefer traditional instruments?
Yes, the accompanying instruments used are all traditional—the Kashmiri sarangi, rabab, santoor, tabla and dholak. The only non-traditional, “modern” instrument used is the harmonium.
How has Sufi music evolved in Kashmir?
The compositions are now being made lighter. Earlier we would sing a muqaam—the equivalent of a raga in Hindustani classical music—for half an hour to 45 minutes, but now that has been reduced to 5-10 minutes. There is always a stronger percussion component in any performance now—in addition to the tabla you’ll find the dholak and keypads.
How is Kashmiri Sufi mausiqui different from Sufi music in the rest of India? And how popular is it outside Kashmir?
Lal Ded’s vakhs and Nund Rishi’s shruks lend a different flavour to Kashmir’s music compared to the rest of the country, but music knows no language. I have seen this when singing before audiences in places like London and the US. The music of Kashmir is so rich in melody and so full of rhythm that its appeal cuts across cultures.
Are the young listening to this music?
I teach in a college and I have found that kids like listening to Sufi songs. As it is, Sufi compositions always work at two levels, the worldly and the spiritual. It is entirely up to the listener how to interpret it. For anyone, the appeal of pop music is never lasting. I feel that the future of traditional devotional music is bright.
What is the scope for innovation in Sufi music?
Innovation is essential and any change—whether it is new compositions or variations in melody, or the use of new instruments—that is faithful to the spirit of tradition is good.
Sufi Darbar will be held at the Nagaur fort, near Jodhpur, Rajasthan, on 31 January and 1 February. For details, log on to www.nagaursufifestival.org