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You talk about Sufi qawwali, why don’t you think like Sufis?

As Hamsar Hayat’s voice sliced through the night air, the audience, canopy of trees and its tall shadows at Horniman’s Circle seemed magically frozen.

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You talk about Sufi qawwali, why don’t you think like Sufis?
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Music of the mystics finds a growing market in India, thanks to a surge in ’urban spirituality’
 
As qawwal Hamsar Hayat’s voice sliced through the night air, the thousand-odd audience, canopy of trees and its tall shadows at Horniman’s Circle seemed magically frozen.
 
Outside the gates, however, there were angry voices. Guards and organisers would not allow a couple who were leaving to pass on their tickets to their friends so that they could watch the concert instead.
 
“Sufi qawwali pe baat karte ho, zaraa Sufiana socho (You talk about Sufi qawwali, why don’t you think like the Sufis?),” said the woman sardonically before leaving. The other couple was let in immediately.
 
Ruhaniyat, a music festival held recently in Mumbai, showed that the music of the mystics is getting increasingly popular in Indian cities. Music makers say this genre has grown by 15-20 per cent over the last couple of years.
 
“It’s ‘city spirituality’. City people come to Bauls’ (roaming minstrels of Bengal) akharas, spend a couple of hours and go back happy. They don’t want a deeper take,” says a cynical Parvati Baul, who had performed at Ruhaniyat. “There is a great deal of inner confusion in urban India. We are looking at our country from the point of view of foreign anthropologists. For them, music of the mystics is like a whiff of fresh air.”
 
Anwar Husain Niyazi, whose troupe regularly performs at a dargah in Jaipur, says the ‘flexible’ Nusrat Fateh Ali and the ‘brilliant’ Ghulam Shabri had brought Sufi music into urban consciousness. Then came Abida Parveen with that booming voice and a dishevelled, mystic chic about her. “Yeh malik se milane wali cheez hai (It makes you one with the creator),” says Niyazi with a smile, adding that the Sufi large-heartedness can be humbling.
 
By the turn of the century, the film industry had started reinventing Nusrat’s ‘Mast Mast’ and other songs in its capsule format. Recently, Pooja Bhatt’s Paap used Sufi music extensively.
 
The music industry recognised the trend early. Younger artistes Rahat Fateh Ali, Rabbi, Kailash Kher, Hansraj Hans and Zila Khan are known to sell well. The Music Today album with Gulzar’s lyrics--’Ishqa Ishqa’--even has a video version. Sufi pop, says Shaheen Jehani of Music Today, has arrived.
 
Ninaad Music’s Mahesh Babu is planning a range of albums including solos of Parvati Baul, Kachra Khan and Banda Nawadi. “Experimental Sufi music is selling. ‘Rabbi’, for instance, did quite well,” he says. “We do traditional stuff, try to bring in the original and introduce new textures of sound.”
 
Talent spotting is probably the best part. Babu travels across the country, sits in the dargahs, meets little-known artistes… and thousands share the spoils.
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