Baul music: the spiritual songs of Bengal’s wandering bards

The Bauls, traditionally been lineage of wandering devotional musicians, are vital to Bengal’s cultural history. Baul can be literally translated as ‘an affliction with the spirit of wind’, hinting at the style’s poetic, folkloric themes as well as the ecstatic, trance-like states it seeks to evoke – batul, the original Sanskrit root word, can also describe a stateContinue reading “Baul music: the spiritual songs of Bengal’s wandering bards”

Apocalyptic ambitions: Alexander Scriabin and the Himalayas

Raga mythology overflows with supernatural tales – it is said that Malhar melodies can cause the rains to fall, and that past Hindustani heroes such as Tansen and Baiju Bawra (‘Crazy Bawra’) could use music to summon fire, enchant deer, and inspire the flowers to bloom. Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915), though he lived and died 5,000kmContinue reading “Apocalyptic ambitions: Alexander Scriabin and the Himalayas”

How a teenage Zakir Hussain ended up on the Grateful Dead’s psychedelic ranch

We often forget how many of Indian music’s global stars led an international life from their early days. Ravi Shankar, to give just one example, first came to Europe aged ten, as a dancer in his brother Uday’s groundbreaking troupe in the early 1930s. A generation later, he would tour America in his own right,Continue reading “How a teenage Zakir Hussain ended up on the Grateful Dead’s psychedelic ranch”

Kathak: the athletic mathematics of North Indian classical dance

Kathak is North India’s best-known classical dance style. Traditionally a solo form, it mixes Hindu symbolism, Islamic Mughal ideas, and some decidedly earthy influences too – dancers draw from the sensuality of India’s courtesan traditions as well as from divine mythology. Modern kathak is globally renowned for matching physical storytelling techniques exacting, explosive movements andContinue reading “Kathak: the athletic mathematics of North Indian classical dance”

Joyful experiments: three snapshots of global Sufi music

Hypnotic musical performance has always been central to Sufism, the ‘mystical dimension of Islam’. Sufi music has been spreading around the world for centuries, mixing with whatever creative cultures it may come across and spawning countless stylistic offspring. Here are three modern snapshots from global Sufi music… Dhafer Youssef – oud & vocals Dhafer Youssef, an extraordinary,Continue reading “Joyful experiments: three snapshots of global Sufi music”

What is Sufism? Why is music so important to the Sufis?

Sufism is often described as the ‘mystical dimension of Islam’. In the West, mention of the word may conjure up a disconnected jumble of associations – whirling dervishes, headlines about persecution by the Taliban, and links to various modern spiritual practices. But while the tradition itself is subject to much unnecessary mystification, its core tenetsContinue reading “What is Sufism? Why is music so important to the Sufis?”

Qawwali: how euphoric Sufi chanting captured the world

Qawwali – a famous form of Sufi spiritual song – can sound oddly familiar even to those who haven’t heard it before. Indeed, the style’s strident chanting and relentless tabla loops have always been designed to captivate in anyone in attendance, aimed at inspiring shared experiences of the divine, and states of ego-loss and extreme spiritual focus.Continue reading “Qawwali: how euphoric Sufi chanting captured the world”