Musical Perspectives on September 11th

Introduction, Sakata, Racy, Questions

Responses to Roundtable

Discussion Board


Nazir Jairazbhoy

  1. I think what I’d like to do, to begin with, is just to point out that the current situation is something like the movement of a ship that is too heavily weighed on one side, and that side—with the gravity, the misery, and everything else—puts things into perspective that life is not all lost: we’re still alive and we’ve a long way to go. One of the best ways of doing this is to introduce a bit of levity into the situation—that is the best approach to things, I feel. So, I thought I’d tell you a story, which I hope, tries to put the Taliban in their place. What I’m going to get at today is that the Taliban is trying to destroy music. But that’s not the first time that this has happened.

  2. In India during the Moghul Empire the first emperors were very supportive of the arts, especially music, and helped support their development to a very high degree. Most Indian musicians today claim descent from the families of musicians during the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century there was a Moghul emperor by the name of Aurangzeb (1658–1707 CE), and he decided to withdraw his patronage from all the arts. He thought the arts were frivolous, unnecessary, were misleading people, and guiding them into all kinds of horrible situations. So when Aurangzeb withdrew all the patronage that the musicians had been used to, the musicians decided to put on a parade.

  3. They were walking along by the palace, and Aurangzeb asked, “What’s going on here?” His prime minister looked out and said, “Oh…I think it’s the musicians. They’re carrying a bier on their heads, and they’re saying that music is dead.” So Aurangzeb said, “Very good! Let them dig a really deep grave so that music will never raise never its head again.” Now we have music in India going even stronger than you can ever imagine it. So I say to the Taliban, “Remember what Aurangzeb tried to do and failed. You are going to fail, too, because music cannot be killed that easily. It’s a regular part of our beings.”

  4. photo of Vilayat Khan playing the sitarI have another story that is slightly humorous. It’s a continuation of Professor Sakata’s story about Vilayat Khan [pictured right], who performed in Afghanistan. I don’t know if you know much about Vilayat Khan, but there are a lot of stories about him—he’s a kind of legend in our time. Once, for instance, he is said to have found out in the middle of one of his concerts that there was a riot going on outside and that it would be unsafe for the audience to leave. So he kept playing—and playing and playing—until nine o’clock the next morning, just so that the riot could die down and it would be safe for the audience to leave. There are lots of stories such as that one.

  5. This story about Vilayat Khan concerns Afghanistan, and I thought Lorraine Sakata might know the source. Vilayat Khan went to Afghanistan and performed for the emperor. The ruler was so thrilled by Khan’s performance that he said, “What to you want? What can I can I give you?” Vilayat Khan said, “Well, I want a Mercedes.” And the emperor said, “I’ve got about two hundred in my stables…just take which ever one you want.”

  6. So good for Vilayat Khan, that was fine. Only when he took the car and it came to port in India, it wasn’t allowed to enter into the country because you weren’t allowed to have imported foreign cars at that time. So that car was stopped at the docks for two years! What finally happened was that one day Vilayat Khan was asked to go to perform in Nepal by the Indian government. The government was unsure about the culture of Nepal, and so they asked ruler in Nepal, “Who would you like to have?” And the ruler said, “Vilayat Khan.”

  7. So they went to Vilayat Khan and said, “Please go and perform in Nepal.” And he said, “What about my Mercedes? It’s stuck there on the dock. What are you going to do about that? I’m not going to play for you unless you get that Mercedes through.” So, finally he got his car, and went and played in Nepal, and was a great success. [audience laughs]

  8. Larraine Sakata: I have heard that story…

    Nazir Jairazbhoy: You’ve heard it?

    Larraine Sakata: Yes. [laughs]

    Nazir Jairazbhoy: You think it’s true?

    Larraine Sakata: Yes! [audience laughs]

    Nazir Jairazbhoy: You have to know what’s true and what’s not true!

  9. Music is a fabulous event in India, and the way that it is used is also fabulous. The problem is, of course, that everyone is now beginning to understand the power of music. So it isn’t only the “good guys” that are using music to break stereotypes, but the “bad guys” who are trying to use it to reestablish stereotypes by using music, in political campaigns, for instance. These political parties have songs, which are specially composed, which everyone starts singing. We don’t realize it, but what they’re doing is actually building up fundamentalist ideas, especially those used by the BJP [Bharatiya Jhanata Party]. They use songs to unwittingly preach against Islam by saying that: “India should be for Hindus and not for Muslims,” and so on. These songs, that certainly hint at these things, have a really big impact on society.

  10. I’m a Muslim, but not a very practicing Muslim. Still, I feel that what is happening now is very interesting, because in Islam music is completely forbidden by the fundamentalists. Yet, if you go to Pakistan, you find that there are two kinds of musics, one of which is pop music. Now, it seems really incredible to me that you hear pop music blaring everywhere in Pakistan and in India, and Muslims enjoy it as much as everyone else; but the fundamentalists decry serious music—that is, classical art music. It is very strange that they should let the wild pop music go on, and all serious classical music is restrained.

  11. Those who enjoy this serious music are usually labeled as “Sufis.” My experience is that the word “Sufi” is not really an absolute word. In my understanding, there are degrees of Sufism. There was a writer about twenty years ago, who wrote that seventy percent of the Muslims in India are influenced to some extent by Sufi ideas. Now what that really means is that we have a laity, (obviously there are practicing Sufis who are completely dedicated to their approach to life) a majority of people who are not practicing Sufis, but are influenced by some of their ideas. And one of the ideas is that music is the path to realization of God.

  12. Now for myself, for instance, I am not a practicing Sufi (otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you—I’d be off meditating or whatever), but I’m very much influenced by their idea of music being a valid experience which is akin to my experience of God, whatever that might be. So there are many people whom I would call, “Muslim Sufis,” and there also many Hindus whom I would call “Hindu Sufis.” That is, they believe in some of the musical tenets of Sufism without having completely relegated their lives to that experience.

  13. The Sufis have been using music for spreading their faith for centuries. And not only the Sufis: music in India is an extraordinary force because so many people there realize its value. Music is akin to humor. If you want to educate someone, start off with a funny story. That’s a common strategy in India with the traditional entertainers—they always throw in stories. Even priests will throw in humorous stories in the middle of their sermons, and they will invariably resort to singing. Some of the greatest saints are poet-saint-singers who composed poetry to be sung. They realized that to communicate ideas, you need music. And so music has been considered an integral part of society in Ancient India right down to the present time. Music can be used and misused—it can be used to break stereotypes, it can be used to create stereotypes.

  14. This dramatic event that just took place in September has its repercussions in India, too. I’ll give you an example: in September of 1994 there was a plague in India in a place called Surat. Not long afterwards there were audio cassettes being produced by singers who sang about the plague and spoke about the people leaving Surat to look for another place to live. So, you have a dramatic event like this that has its terror, which is then picked up by performers and musicians. I shouldn’t be surprised when I go back to India that there’ll be songs about the “earthquake” that hit New York which has touched us all so badly. There’ll probably be songs about this act of terrorism. And when we do find them, we will record them and, we hope, bring them back to you to play for you the next time we come. Thanks.

Introduction, Sakata, Racy, Questions

Responses to Roundtable

Discussion Board

Click here to go the the table of contents
click here to go the the top of article
click here to write to ECHO


Ubiquitous Listening

Draughon and Knapp:
Mahler and the Crisis of Jewish Identity


Musical Perspectives on September 11

Photo Essay

Review Essay

Allen Forte