Gig Reviews

Seeking the Beloved (A Festival of Sindhi Sufi Poetry)

When: 21 November

Where: Sophia High School Auditorium, Bengaluru

She jumps into choose safe waters is the route of imposters those who love take on the mighty river..

-Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai

(translation by Anju Makhija & Hari Dilgir, from Seeking the Beloved, Katha, 2005)

The theme of love across the varied realms of spirituality and philosophy often presents a dichotomy, the base sensual love   or the earthly beloved and the elevated undying divine love for the immortal beloved. Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai was an iconoclast, like Kabir or even Rumi before him. In the late 17th and early 18th century, he pushed the boundaries of Islam and Vedanta, marrying the rich imagery of the two in his poetry. A product of Sindh, he wandered the areas of Sindh, Gujarat and Rajasthan in search of his voice, a copy of the Quran and the Masnavi of Jalalluddin Rumi his constant companions. He would use the knowledge that these works armed him with to compose poetry of his own, spoken through the heroines of the famous love legends that thrived in the region. Eventually, he created the Waee style of poetry and song. Once a popular style in Pakistan and India, it has whittled down to just two surviving performers in India, although it remains much more prevalent across the border.

Mitha Khan Jat and Sumar Khan from the village of Bagadia in the Banni region of Kutch sat bewildered in a tiny segment of the sprawling Sophia auditorium stage. The mics, the audience in their Sunday best, including a large section of the local Sindhi population and the English explanations, seemed like an alien nation to them. But when they started plucking their dhamburos and singing, the audience let loose a collective gasp. The Waee style isn’t for the faint hearted. It requires an open mind, a sensitive ear and a yearning for understanding cultures far removed from your own.

Divided into a non-metric wailing called the baith (reminiscent of the Mongolian throat singers and the Sufi singers of the Middle East and Egypt) and a more structured section called the Waee, they will demand your complete attention from the moment they begin. The unearthly nature of their note progressions might have caused a little initial discomfort due to our own impatient ignorance. But as the performance wore on, a meditative air took over and we found ourselves, eyes half closed, mind cleansed by the voices of the last two remaining Indian Waee performers.

The show was opened by the much more accessible Mooralala Marwada, with the impeccable metronome of Parbat Jogi’s dholak keeping him on his toes. The mustachioed Moorala sang in the Kaafi form of music that has evolved and been adopted by the Hindu singers of Bhitai. With his instant classic, mero man laago fakiri ma, Moorala touched that special place in our souls reserved only for the most genuine melodies and music. His group was the perfect foil to the Waee singers that crisp November day in Bengaluru.

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