Music can be transforming, healing, inspiring exciting, disturbing, soothing, and profoundly moving—but what makes it sacred?
Nearly all religious and spiritual traditions use the human voice and select musical instruments as expressions of, and connections to the sacred. The vibratory experience of attunement with the sacred is created not only through the intent of the musician, but through the sincerity and the vulnerability of open-hearted listening. In the words of Hafiz: “People say that on hearing the song the soul entered the body, but in reality the soul itself was song.”
Sufi music has been part of the ritual practice of sama’ from the tenth/eleventh century CE (if not earlier). A sama’ session usually starts with music and singing of poetry and gradually builds up to chanting of a name or phrase (remembrance of God) under the direction and attention of a Sufi master. Although there is a difference between Sufi music as ritual practice and Sufi music as performance, there is no question that in both instances the sacred is the focus of the production and its guiding force.
The source of the sacred is within and without, in silence and in sound. Here we offer a selection of sacred music from all traditions, including Sufi music.
Gita Govinda : “Priye Charuseele” – Sanskrit Poem of Jayadeva
LOVE, PASSION AND DIVINITY
JUDITH ERNST AND VASUDHA NARAYANAN ON EROTIC POETRY AND DIVINE LOVE IN THE SONG OF SONGS AND HINDU TRADITIONS
– SUFI Journal Issue 81
Of the imaginative themes that mystical poets may use to invoke their love and longing for union with the divine, eros has proven throughout the ages to be one of the most potent and challenging. While this approach makes explicit use of the imagery of sexuality and love play, the aim of the poet is something far beyond a sensual narrative of lovers hungering for each other’s bodies. Here the poet rides the language of the sensual to realms of the sublime. Origen (185-254), the African scholar considered by many to be the first important mystic theologian of Christianity, believed that this was the most appropriate way of using language to surpass itself, writing that “God himself must be Eros if the Eros implanted in us is what returns us to him.” This tradition of the religious erotic, which can be found in the songs and poems of many traditions and cultures, invokes the highest of love relationships through imagery that uses the language of bodily desire as a gateway to express intimacy with the sacred. Read more.
Lian Ensemble with Sima Bina
Musical Collaborations and Beyond – SUFI Journal Issue 83
Listen to each of the ten albums that Lian Ensemble has produced during its 16 year recording history and one of the first realizations that strikes you is the quality of the guest performers and the rightness of the fused sounds. Again and again one is struck by unexpected musical combinations that nonetheless have a timeless quality, enveloping listeners in a cloud that transports them beyond themselves. The surprisingly perfect unity the group creates between different musical traditions resonates with samā, the Sufi principle of music in which the devoted darvish hears with spiritual ears the ancient anthem of the one God, causing the listener to vanish so that only tawhid (unity) remains. The key to Lian Ensemble’s enduring presence in the Los Angeles and wider world music scenes is this ability to reinvent themselves with each new project. Read more.
Ajoy Chakraborty, Rashid Khan, Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, Anindo Chatterjee, Bhavani Shankar tribute to Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.
Coleman Bark’s introduction to Tagore’s Gitanjaliin – Sufi Journal Issue 81
Rabindranath Tagore is one of the great universal mystics. As you read his Gitanjali (Song Offerings), you feel the depth and the honesty of his experience, “the great lifelong adventure,” he calls it.
“We are in the process of being created. We may not know exactly what is happening. But we feel the flow of life in us to be one with the universal life outside. The relation of my soul to this beautiful autumn morning, this vast radiance, is one of intimate kinship; and all this colour, scent, and music is but the outward expression of our secret communion. This constant communion, whether realized or unrealized, keeps my mind in movement; out of this intercourse between my inner and outer world I gain such religion, be it much or little, as my capacity allows: and in its light I have to test the scriptures before I can make them really my own.” Read more.
Rumi – Poem of the Atoms – By Armand Amar – From the movie Bab’ Aziz
Trust In Love: Bab’ Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul – SUFI Journal Issue 81.
Bab’ Aziz is the third film in director Nacer Khemir’s desert trilogy, and it is arguably his most approachable work to date. Khemir tends toward a surreal approach and this works brilliantly in the context of this decidedly Sufi story. The characters that populate the film do a great deal of searching, all in different forms, but seemingly towards the same goal: simply, to find the Beloved. Read more.
A Dream in Nihavend featuring Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol on the Continuum Fingerboard
The Ecstasy of Music – SUFI Journal Issue 89.
At the turn of the millennium, successful jazz musician Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol embarked on an odyssey of discovery that would profoundly reshape his musical career as a composer and performer. Fourteen years later in December 2014, Sanlıkol’s composition “Vecd,” a piece that channels the rhythmic and spiritual essence of Turkish Sufi music through the instruments and modalities of western orchestral music, was nominated for a Grammy Award. On the eve of opening his latest operatic project, Sanlıkol shared his story with SUFI. Read more.
American Sufi Project (USA), at Sufi Sutra 2016 Goa
Out of the “Melting Pot” – The American Sufi Project – SUFI Journal Issue 90.
In the summer of 2012, tech entrepreneur Sharib Khan happened upon a dergah (Sufi meeting house) on his way to Friday prayers in New York City, and began to take part in the Thursday dhikr (devotional chanting) sessions. Inspired by the dhikr and the musicians he met there, Sharib set about forming a group to record an album of Sufi devotional music, encompassing all of the various Sufi traditions represented by those who gathered at his dergah. The result was the launch of the American Sufi Project (ASP) and their first album, (Vol 1). Sharib and Dan Kurfirst, Creative Director of ASP, sat down with us to share their story. Read more.
Sain Zahoor – Kalaam Bulleh Shah | Sufi Fest – Peace Jam 2014
Pakistan’s Mystic of Music – SUFI Journal in Issue 83.
There are people who walk the earth as if they have walked upon it for centuries. Sain Zahoor Ahmad is one of them. A living repository of the poetry of Baba Bulleh Shah, Zahoor is known for his ektara (one-stringed instrument), bell-clad feet and colorful garb reminiscent of Joseph’s “coat of many colors.” Bulleh Shah, a 17th century Punjabi poet famous for his heartrending poetry, breathes again in the vocal chords of Sain Zahoor. Read more.
Hossein Omoumi and Jessika Kenney perform for Dalai lama
Singing from the Heart – SUFI Journal Issue 84.
The first time singer Jessika Kenney heard someone sing Persian Avaz, it was the great Ostad (master) Mohammad Reza Shajarian on his recording of Ostad Parviz Meshkatian’s great composition, Bidad (Injustice).
“I had just returned from Indonesia and my mother gave me the CD. It became like the Bible for me. I latched onto it with fervor, listening to it multiple times a day… I think there’s something about Dastgah Homayoun [the scale in the classical Persian Radif music system in which Bidad is performed]. It evokes an ancient Persian atmosphere. I was in love with that piece, but thought that this music was something I could never do; it was the most profound singing I had ever heard.” Read more.
‘Om Namah Shivaya’ – Krishna Das
Krishna Das was interviewed for SUFI Journal in Issue 83.
“The melodious, open-hearted singing of Krishna Das—or KD, as friends and fans most often call him—has carried the devotional power of Indian kirtan music to millions around the world. Ecstatic fans have turned him into something of a rock star of Indian devotional music, making him arguably the most famous performer of kirtan in the history of a musical form dating back five hundred years. ” Read more.
‘Paare Loye Jaao’ by Parvathy Baul
Parvathy Baul shared her thoughts with SUFI Journal in Issue 83. She continues to share her spirit and joy through music.
“The Baul say that we are searching, and this path of searching is itself the aim of the search. Music is ever existent in all the creation, in life and in death. As we say, when the universe was created there was only the sound OM. The ektara (one string instrument) is held mostly by the right hand of the Baul singer and held very close to the right ear, which gives the singer a constant Om sound. On this base the Baul voice travels. Music opens the heart; music can be a vehicle to transcend, to transform, and to bring a direct experience of inner happening here and now. A Baul would say that I sing and dance to impress my beloved so my beloved will come and reside in my heart. My master once told me, “A song is nothing but dance of breath.” For a Baul, music is the straight way to connect to the divine.” Read more.