A Modern Ghazal

Week 13

Is art timeless? Here I am setting a classic ghazal which I sing to modern music to experiment with the effect. In the musical expression we explored from Pakistan, words of remembrance of God were accompanied by music, sometimes even music that is reminiscent of that which is commonly used in secular songs. I know this is highly controversial as we learned from the video of Salman Ahmad that was played in class: music is banned in parts of Pakistan and yet people love listening to it and singing praises for Allah with music. In this post, I wanted to see what would happen if a classic ghazal was mixed with modern music. Would the music be perceived as Islamic or would the words of the ghazal be ignored and secularized?

It is interesting to pair something that is now taken as an Islamic form of art (Rumi’s Masnavi is equated to the level of a Persian Quran) with another form of art that is highly controversial and sometimes forbidden. Yet the ghazals are often of a controversial nature and topic. But despite the references to ideas that are often considered un-Islamic, such as the drinking of wine, the ghazal is considered an Islamic genre of poetry and many Muslims revere the works of Rumi and Hafiz as instructing and inspirational. Overtime, people have come to appreciate them as Islamic, but music hasn’t quite attained the same level of acceptance. Both forms of art used here are questionable–the question is: will there come  a time when there is a genre for “Islamic” music such as there is for Islamic art and Islamic poetry?

You may want to turn up your volume to hear the music.

Ghazal with Modern Music

This composition sets Rumi’s “Bi hamegan be sar shavad” to the music from Robbie Williams’ song “Feel”. The original song is about the feeling of love that is almost spiritual so the themes of the ghazal and the song are similar.

When singing the ghazal to different genres of music while I was experimenting, I found it hard to nail down a tune that would display the words of the ghazal without overpowering the composition. Once you set something to music, the danger is that the listener will get carried away by the music itself and ignore the words which the artist may want one to focus on. It was hard to find modern music that would match up with the sentiments presented in the ghazal while matching its the rhyme and rhythmic pattern, but I think the music from “Feel” does some justice to the ghazal. At some points, the music actually helps bring out the words more.

Something interesting I tried to do with my composition was to combine a classic Persian ghazal with Western music. This week in class we learned about Islam in the west through different musical genres and read The Reluctant Fundamentalist for discussion which is a controversial book in many aspects. It too attempts to combine and reconcile ideas from the east with those of the west. The main character is from Pakistan and he goes to the United States and learns Western ideals which he then takes back with his to the East. My composition takes a trinket from the East and immerses it in music from the West, forming a work that emphasizes the words from classic Persian literature with western-style music that hopefully makes the work accessible to a broader audience and allows them to gain meaning from the ghazal.

In combining two genres of art from two different geographic and idealistic regions of the world, I try to show that human experience and expression don’t have to be separated by categories. They can come together to form even more meaningful works. I hope you enjoy listening!

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