Oh, we had a divine time today at The Esplanade’s current performing arts festival, A Tapestry of Sacred Music! We saw two free performances: Kirtan: Devotion of the Sikhs by Gurmat Sangeet Academy and Exaltation of the Divine by Nurulhuda Islamic Ensemble.
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I’ve witnessed the Sikh tradition of kirtan, or Gurmat Sangeet, having grown up in and out of gurudwaras my entire life. (Sindhi Hindus, like my family, have established unconventional practices and heritage in the context of their diaspora.) Kirtan pairs call-and-response chanting with musical accompaniment; its devotional lyrics and a gentle, rhythmic ebb and flow help devotees center their thoughts to meditate with a clear mind and establish a connection with the Supreme Being.
Gurmat Sangeet Academy’s performance was sublime. The sounds of the rabab, a plucked string instrument, and the dilruba, a bowed string instrument, move me so. And my toddler just loved the final kirtan, a “waheguru” (Supreme Being) mantra of sorts. “[Maternal grandmother] says that!” she said, recalling the many times my mother would rock her to sleep, singing devotional hymns.
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Nurulhuda Islamic Ensemble was founded in 1983 to promote the art of the Malay frame drum, or kompang or hadra, and since then, it has been ever-improvising with the dhol, daff (a South Indian frame drum), and harmonium, and adopting qawwali into their performances. Qawwali, Sufi devotional music, is a popular musical influence to the descendants of South Indian Muslim migrants in Singapore.
Some South Indian Muslim ensembles in the region sing qawaali-inspired music in South Indian languages, such as Tamil and Malayalam. (Qawwali is traditionally sung in Urdu and other North Indian languages.) This use of language creates a unique genre of Islamic music from the melting pot that is the Malay Peninsula.
Nurulhuda Islamic Ensemble’s performance, however, offered only Urdu qawwali—four tunes written by the late, great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, including “Mera Piya Ghar Aya” and “Allah Hoo.” But what an incredible, spirited performance it was! Sadly, only one or two audience members (one of whom was my child) were swaying, moving, or clapping along.
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A Tapestry of Sacred Music continues through Sunday. I have to teach on Sunday, but tickets are still available for the 7:30pm performance of Mystique of the Manganiyars and Langas by Divana Ensemble. Go! And please tell me all about it.