- I think
what Id 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 sidewith the gravity, the
misery, and everything elseputs things into perspective that life
is not all lost: were still alive and weve a long way to
go. One of the best ways of doing this is to introduce a bit of levity
into the situationthat is the best approach to things, I feel.
So, I thought Id tell you a story, which I hope, tries to put
the Taliban in their place. What Im going to get at today is that
the Taliban is trying to destroy music. But thats not the first
time that this has happened.
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 (16581707
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.
They were walking
along by the palace, and Aurangzeb asked, Whats going
on here? His
prime minister looked out and said, Oh
I think its
the musicians. Theyre carrying a bier on their heads, and theyre
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. Its a regular part of our beings.
have another story that is slightly humorous. Its a continuation
of Professor Sakatas story about Vilayat Khan [pictured right],
who performed in Afghanistan. I dont know if you know much about
Vilayat Khan, but there are a lot of stories about himhes
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 playingand playing and playinguntil nine oclock
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.
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 Khans performance
that he said, What to you want? What can I can I give you?
Khan said, Well, I want a Mercedes. And
the emperor said, Ive got about two hundred in my stables
take which ever one you want.
So good for Vilayat
Khan, that was fine. Only when he took the car and it came to port
in India, it wasnt allowed to enter into the country because
you werent 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.
So they went to
Vilayat Khan and said, Please go and perform in Nepal.
And he said,
What about my Mercedes? Its stuck there on the dock. What
are you going to do about that? Im 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
- Larraine Sakata:
I have heard that story
Youve heard it?
You think its true?
Sakata: Yes! [audience laughs]
You have to know whats true and whats not true!
- 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 isnt 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 dont realize it, but
what theyre 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.
- Im 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 musicthat 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.
- 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.
- Now for myself,
for instance, I am not a practicing Sufi (otherwise I wouldnt
be sitting here talking to youId be off meditating or whatever),
but Im 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.
- 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. Thats a common
strategy in India with the traditional entertainersthey 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 misusedit
can be used to break stereotypes, it can be used to create stereotypes.
- This dramatic event
that just took place in September has its repercussions in India, too.
Ill 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 shouldnt be surprised
when I go back to India that therell be songs about the earthquake
that hit New York which has touched us all so badly. Therell 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.
Sakata, Racy, Questions
Responses to Roundtable