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     Volume 7 Issue 4 | January 25, 2008 |

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Straight Talk

A Brief Musical Interlude

Nadia Kabir Barb

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.


To my mind music is not only the food of love but food for the soul. The other day I was sitting at home in the evening giving my TV remote control a thorough work out by channel surfing. Nothing really caught my fancy until I happened to chance upon a programme which made me stop and listen. The singer seemed to reach out and touch my soul with his incredibly beautiful voice. The remote control remained untouched for those few minutes and as if in a trance, I just sat and listened with rapt admiration. I could not have told you who the singer was or even which song he was singing, only that it was sublime.

If you think about it music is an integral part of everyday life for most of us. We hear lullabies as children, sing nursery rhymes in school, and of course spend our adolescence and adult hood listening to music. Not only that, but music is also an important part of weddings in many cultures, some religions even use singing as a form of worship such as singing hymns or devotional songs.

When I was a child, I remember having had singing lessons which went on for about a year or so. Sadly, being young and foolish, instead of taking these lessons seriously and concentrating, I spent most of the time resenting every minute of them as my Ustadji (singing tutor) and Tabalji (tabla master) would come in the afternoon during the week. My mind would barely ever be on the “raag”, Rabindra Sangeet or Nazrul Geeti my Ustad was trying to teach me. All I could think of was my friends laughing and playing outside without me. The faster I could get the session over with, the sooner I could join my friends. It was only years after I had given up that I regretted wasting those lessons as I grew to realise what a wonderful form of expression being able to sing is. I tell myself that at least I can appreciate people with musical abilities even if I have none myself.

Someone once said “Music is what feelings sound like” and I could not agree more. If you think about it, there are songs or some kind of music to empathise with a whole spectrum of emotions, whether it is love, passion, sorrow, happiness or even anger. When we are in love, we find ourselves drawn to songs that reflect the feelings we are experiencing and sometimes even when we are confronted with grief we find solace in music. There have been times when I have heard a song or listened to a piece of music and it has made my heart ache or brought tears to my eyes and I am sure that I am not the only one. Sometimes I hear music so beautiful; I find myself almost inadvertently holding my breath just in case any movement or noise shatters the enchantment of the moment. On the other hand, different types of music can euphoric state of mind as well. What a miserable world it would be if it were devoid of music.

We all have our own personal tastes in music and there are even songs we associate with different times in our lives or particular incidents and have a significance which is meaningful to us. In a way music seems to transcend all boundaries and as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, it “is the universal language of mankind”. You do not have to belong to any race, religion, cultural, or socio economic background to appreciate and enjoy listening to music. We all hum a tune or sing along or tap our feet to a song. Even if you do not speak the language, it is possible to enjoy a melody or tune. This is not to say that some types of music may be exquisite to one person and totally unappealing another. For example, Opera is a form of singing that not everyone finds palatable but then again someone who has never heard Rabindra Sangeet may find it less than enjoyable. Although if you take a look at how music is evolving, both the East and the West are gradually becoming more and more now influenced by each other.

Whether it is being at an Abida Parveen concert, listening to Mehdi Hassan singing live, hearing Ornob and his haunting melodies or Ravi Shankar blow us away with his sitar playing, I think these are experiences I will remember for a long time to come. There is an added element when someone performs live and you find yourself engulfed by the music around you. Abida's powerful, gravelly voice had a mesmeric quality to it and you could not help but find yourself enthralled by the captivating Sufi songs and it was almost as if your heart was resonating to the music you were listening to. Hearing her singing those qawalis and ghazals in the dark auditorium was truly a spiritual experience. Mehdi Hassan's performance was awe inspiring. His total mastery over each of the songs he sang was fantastic and I can only describe his voice as extraordinarily smooth and mellifluous. So many of us in the audience found ourselves with our eyes half closed and allowing the music to wash over us. As for Ravi Shankar, what can I say --- there is magic in his fingers. The combination of his sitar and the beat of the tabla was superb.

I still wish I could sing but that would probably not give me as much pleasure as I get from listening to someone else performing. Nowadays all we have to do is switch on the radio or television, put on our CD or as my children have introduced me to and initiated me into, find songs on the internet and we can listen to our favourite songs or piece of music any time we want to. Thank goodness for technology.

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