By Nazeel Azami
I begin in the name of God Almighty.
Melody and song have been a part of my life since I first started repeating Bengali songs as a toddler, and used to search for the source of that intriguing melody – the evasive cassette player. Spiritual song was flowing through my family before I was born.
As I grew up, mainly in London, my mother helped to nurture my attachment to the art by encouraging me to sing a variety of very meaningful spiritual songs which she had collected, many of which were produced in Bangladesh by our own relatives and their friends. Many of these people took spiritual song very seriously. And they sang from their hearts.
As I grew up learning these songs, something else was becoming clear to me. Most of the people around me did not want me to make my work very ‘musical’ in the sense of using musical instruments. They wanted almost all efforts to be focused on good words, voice and even melody. Now for those who have developed a deep connection with and sense of all things musical, I believe avoiding musical instruments completely can appear to be a difficult matter. At this point, it often becomes important for them to find out what is clearly halal [permissible] and what is clearly haram [impermissible] with regard to instrumentation, from scholars they trust. For someone who doesn’t listen to music, or even listens occasionally, I don’t think he or she will fully appreciate why this is such a big deal for some of us.
The English term ‘Music’ is a very broad term which encompasses many aspects of melodic recital. I am not aware that there is a similar term in Arabic, not even ‘muusiiqaa,’ that encompasses these meanings. ‘Music’ does not refer only to musical instruments; it may refer to the sound of a voice, an instrumental sound or even a sound found in nature. A search on ‘music’ in a dictionary or even Wikipedia will show you what ‘music’ has come to encompass.
No doubt, there is a great deal of ‘music’ that can be produced without actually using traditional musical instruments such as pianos, guitars, flutes and even drums, but for the ‘musician’, or the ‘musical artist’, such limitations can sometimes make him feel that his work is incomplete; the power of his faculties unmet, his potential unreached.
For most ‘musical artists’, furthermore, all melody, beat, rhythm and harmony, whether produced by a human voice, an acoustic instrument, or circuits in an electronic keyboard, are part of music. There is no difference – except in the vibe of the music, its associations, its story and its message.
I believe ‘music’ is what we make it. And I think we need good music – music that helps us embrace our reality (with a smile) – not just forget about it. And God knows best.
I think many artists among the Muslim community are in a good position, if God wills, to explore ideas and produce music with this kind of message, without compromising on their values. Do we not need music like that for our younger brothers, sisters and children? There are respected scholars of Islam who will support and encourage this.
But I hope you will agree with me on one thing: no music – song or melody or instrument or gathering – can really change someone’s heart for the better, unless the person allows that to happen; unless the person is willing to receive. Many of us are not in a mode of reception; these days we are used to taking – not giving. We want to enjoy life – but we don’t always want to help others enjoy it. And I think that makes us less able to understand many a song – indeed, many a wise word. That’s why we often don’t cry anymore when we hear a powerful song.
I believe that if we do all the things that we know we are supposed to do, musical verse will bring with it new meaning for us. The words of a song or poem are empty if we don’t have the life experience we need to make sense of it.
I was asked to write about where I think Muslim music would be in 10 years’ time. If you know anything about music, you’ll know how hard it is to predict where it is heading. But there’s one thing we can demand and expect from our Muslim artists over the next 10 years: that they will make good music.
Nazeel Azami is a Recording Artist with Awakening Records, with whom he produced his first album, ‘Dunya,’ in 2006.
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