Saturday, 22 November 2008

Mozart and Beethoven meet Khan: The Musical Interplay of Religion and Culture

I had the utmost pleasure of attending a very special concert last night, on the invitation of the Rhead family from Dumbarton. The world renowned Sarod player, Amjad Ali Khan, was performing with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the City Halls, Glasgow. An enchanting ensemble of music with a mixture of Mozart, Beethoven and Khan. A wonderful fusion of ‘east’ and ‘west’ that had me wondering if these musicians had cracked what we academics have spent a lifetime trying to unravel. The way in which music brings hearts together into a shared humanity was pretty overwhelming for me. It would be good to have more musical, cultural programmes like this which highlight our shared sense of the world as opposed to politically motivated ones.

The first part of the programme started with Mozart’s Overture to 'Idomeneo', K366 and then Beethoven’s Symphony No 8 in F, Op 93. The second part was featuring the music of Khan in which the Scottish Chamber Orchestra dabbled in some pretty intense South Asian sounds and from the smiles on their faces and the tapping of their feet, they were enjoying every minute! In the first part of the programme we saw the orchestra wearing black but in the second part there was colour, red in particular.

Talking about the collaboration, Amjad Ali Khan commented:
“I was very happy and honoured when the Scottish Chamber Orchestra approached me to write a Sarod Concerto for them. David Murphy was to conduct the entire concerto and also put my thoughts together. He has a great regard for Indian classical music so he could understand and read my vision.”

Conductor David Murphy said:
“It became immediately apparent to all of us that something very special could come out of this collaboration - Khan Sahib was thrilled at the affinity the SCO LAB players had for his music, the LAB were similarly thrilled by Khan Sahib’s vibrant musicality and I was delighted that a truly creative musical dialogue without barriers was taking place between musicians from East and West. It was then that the idea for a concerto for sarod and concertante group was born, and immediately took wing.”

Amjad Ali Khan life long dream of performing at the Baha’i House of Worship in Delhi was fulfilled in the year 2000 with his sons Aman and Ayaan. "I have had a dream for sometime now, which I want to share with you," he wrote. "I have wished to perform, most humbly, with the Baha'i Temple in the background." The concert was held as part of the opening ceremony for the international "Colloquium on Science, Religion and Development" organized by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of India and the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity.

When asked how he (Khan) reconciled his mainstream Islamic faith with the Baha’i faith he said, "I feel connected to every religion of the world. Water, air, fire, flowers and music have no religion, but their beauty is universally acknowledged. I feel drawn to any religion that is not fanatical in its approach but teaches love of other humans." Let us all reflect upon these sentiments!

And we Scots are proud to have had this man perform in a land where "We're a' Jock Tamson's Bairns"

Enjoy Khan playing the Sarod below.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Religion should 'Liberate' more than 'Moderate'

I had a wee chuckle to see that the BNP’s members lists have been leaked, which has created widespread pandemonium. The members are worried of being ‘outed’ and the BNP seem silently happy that they get coverage which dismisses the accusation that they are a party for the ‘skinhead’ types. I listened to a Radio 4 interview of the BNP leader who presented his views earnestly and with great pride. I was left wondering what it is that makes the far right strong? Was there anything to be learnt from this party?

The BNP are a lost cause because they have a barrage of institutions against their policies of exclusivism, racism and white elitism. But what I want to question is the extent to which the views of the BNP have been condemned but through a moderate agenda because maybe...there still lurks some demons in our closets? If a far right party is to be countered then surely its counter would be a far left/progressive response? Is the centrist response of many good enough? Are we really saying that race is not an issue in the UK? When I was dancing the streets, not literally, of Brooklyn on the night of Obama’s victory I heard a black man shout ‘Racism is Dead’. It made me wonder if he was actually right? Or is racism dying? In the same way moderation is dying to make way for real progressive values, socially and religiously. And now we see the media arguing whether it is right to argue that Obama is indeed a ‘black’ man because to be black, for these commentators, one needs to be a descendant of black slaves and definitely not from a mixed race background, let alone being cared for by white grandparents!

I’m remembering my undergraduate classes with Dr. Mary Keller who introduced me to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, and the ground shattering work of Cornel West, ‘Race Matters’.

It must be accepted that the BNP are an honest party, they say what they have to say and you either love them or loathe them. We have a firm substance to react against and condemn their policies. As for the ‘politically correct’ majority in the UK it may be a different tale to be told. This is why I believe ‘moderation’ is a disguise for a deeper malaise which many are not willing to unveil. In politics we see how moderates/centrists rule but in theology and religion we see how the boundaries are so much more liberated. For theology and religion is a not a matter of votes or power, if you’re saying ‘yes it is’ then you’re reading too much political Islam! Theology and religion is progressive and it belongs to every individual believer, not an institution or political party. When theology and religion becomes a thing to ‘possess’ it loses its liberation. In the same way I firmly believe that religious leaders, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Ayatollahs are in a very difficult position for their role is highly politicised and the burden of pleasing the masses may quite easily force them to overlook their own personal progressive thoughts on an issue and become ‘moderates’.