A voice from the roots

I went to Mecca but I did not find the truth,
Even though I prostrated myself a hundred thousand times over,
I went to the Ganges but I did not find the truth,
Even though I bathed myself a hundred thousand times,
I held the rosary; I turned the beads in my hand,
But I did not turn the heart in my breast.
I went inside the mosques and the temples
But I did not go inside myself.

These heart throbbing lines by Bullah Shah were sung by Arieb Azhar in the most inspiring voice in his concert ‘A Melodic Expression of Spirituality’ last Thursday. His songs sat the audience on the edge of their seats, wrapped in mysticism. This concert was organised by Asian Study Group (ASG) in collaboration with Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) as a seasonal event with the theme ‘Peace and Tolerance’. Besides concert, the event also featured a painting exhibition of 10 oil paintings by Shafique Faruqi titled “Mysticism through Colours.

First impression can be deceiving as apparently Arieb Azhar is one cool dude, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and shaved head covered in a bandana. But when he played the first single from his album Wajj, ‘Husn-e-haqiqi’ he captured the hearts of audience through his magical voice. The single is set to the Sufi poem written about a hundred years ago. It ponders the beauty of truth and the nature of god. It's not unheard of for these poems to be sung, but never in quite this way.

With scintillating voice, he then sang “Allah Hoo- Alif Allah Noor Paay” and continued with mystic poetry of Bullah Shah, Sultan Bahu, Sarmad Sehbai, Khawaja Ghulam Farid and Guru Nanak. By the time, he sang the Rajhistani folk song ‘Kesarani Balam (Long haired beloved), the audience was completely overwhelmed. At the concert, Arieb Azhar was accompanied by Zeeshan Mansur on guitars, Akmal Qadri on flute, Amir Azhar Rubab on Bass and Ajmal Khan on ‘tabla’, all of them truly did justice to their instrument playing.

Arieb said ‘True music is the union between the individual and the universe - a release, rapture, celebration, quest, and lament of the human spirit. If I am able to touch that in the moments of my life, I will consider myself fortunate’. He continued, ‘Some of my earliest memories are of Shaukat Ali singing Saif-ul-Muluk, and later of Abida Parveen’. He added that he found the ‘feel’ he was looking for but the task of interpreting it in songs was far from over!

Fascinated with music for as long as he can remember, Arieb Azhar grew up listening to Eastern and Western classical and folk music that influenced his love for ‘roots’ music, and has always used the guitar as an accompanying instrument. The artist went to Croatia and Yugoslavia at the age of 19 for his studies and spent the subsequent 13 years there. In 2003, he moved back to Pakistan with the aim of immersing himself in the music of the Subcontinent. According to him, “I felt I needed to return to my roots in order to rediscover the genuineness of my music.” He has performed and been involved in leading music festivals of the country, such as the Rafi Peer World Performing Arts Festival and Sufi Festival, and more recently, the Coke Studio Projects.

Hats off to Asian Study Group and Pakistan National Council of Arts for organising a truly scintillating event - that was a relief for people watching violence on their TV screens. Events like this demonstrate the world that we are a land with our roots in the powerful ideology and life long struggle of great people rather than a country of terrorists. Love, peace and divine knowledge through direct experience of God are some of these powerful messages.


Bushra Naz
Published on: 14 October 2009, Daily Mail
(The e-paper)
For my other writings, see the archives.

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