Various Artists

Sufis at the Cinema: 50 Years of Bollywood Qawwali & Sufi Song 1958-2007

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This two-CD set including 25 tracks and running 159 minutes (about as much music as you can get onto two CDs) is subtitled "50 Years of Bollywood Qawwali & Sufi Song 1958-2007," and, indeed, runs in chronological order from Ismail Azad Qawwal & Party's "Humen To Loot Liya" from the 1958 film Al-hilal to Roop Kumar Rathod's "Moula Mere Moula" from the 2007 film Anwar. Since Sufism is more a religious movement within Islam than a style of music, it may be more useful to think of the compilation as addressing some of the more traditional Indian sounds to be found in the Indian cinema over the half-century. In particular, the development of qawwali, with its extensive vocal elaborations, can be traced, first in the performances of such major early figures as Mohd. Rafi and Asha Bhosle and really coming to the fore on the 11 and a half minutes of "Main Idhar Jaon Ya Udhar Jaon" from the 1967 film Palki, performed by those two principals along with Manna Dey. Qawwali's leading singer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, makes his first appearance at the top of the second disc with "Haq Ali" from the 1981 film Nakhuda, and by the end he is succeeded by his nephew, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Compiler and annotator Iain Scott is interested in the interaction between what is essentially a sacred music form and the sometimes very secular plot lines of the movies, and he suggests a loophole that may be familiar to Westerners, a certain ambiguity with regard to the word that translates into English as "love." It's "ishq," and, writes Scott, "wherever the word ‘ishq' is used it's open to interpretation: is it love of God or love for God's creation i.e. a man or woman?" That may help explain what those Sufis are doing at the cinema in the first place.

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