This is a multi-year project led by artist Tasawar Bashir and composer and sound artist Scott Wilson under the umbrella of the Qawwali Research Unit in collaboration with BEAST, BEER, Sampad, New Art Exchange, and others, exploring the combination of the Sufi devotional music Qawwali with electroacoustic resources. The project aims to engage new audiences from both sides of this cultural divide, rethinking the idea of what Qawwali might be, while bringing this unique and powerful music to experimental art audiences, and highlighting its rich history in Birmingham. To date the project has had three phases.
This first stage took the form of a ca. 40 minute multi-media work, which included new experimental music by composers Emma Margetson, Charlie Lockwood, Helene Hedsund, and Scott Wilson. The piece takes as its starting point and inspiration a recording of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Ni Main Jana Jogi De Naal (I will go with the Yogi) performed live at the Luxor Cinema Birmingham in September 1980. The original provides a kind of framework for this musical palimpsest, with new musical vistas folding in and out of this landmark qawwali performance. The new experimental pieces reflect on the Sufi philosophy of Bulleh Shah whose poem about the tragic lovers Hir and Ranjha serves to open listeners hearts and minds to the struggle to attain the Oneness of the Sufi Way. These new aspects of the piece are based upon the original recording, as well asother recordings by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (of the same piece and others). This work has been presented multiple times in Birmingham (BEAST, CrossCurrents Sufi-Sonic event) and elsewhere in the UK (NAE, Electric Spring).
Originally presented in a large scale multichannel format, a stereo reduction is available here:
The second phase, Qawwali Shrine, involved a collaboration with Sampad, Alan Wing’s research group at the University of Birmingham’s School of Psychology, producer Harmeet Chagger – Khan, and BEER, with funding from Arts Council England. Experiments looking at the emotional affect of Qawwali music for members of Birmingham’s Asian community informed improvisations by BEER using Qawwali derived sound materials. Public presentations were made at the Midlands Art Centre, the University of Birmingham, New Art Exchange and the work was presented at a number of academic events (notably the Music Makes Waves Symposium, and the Exploring Muslim Art, Culture, and Heritage in Britain Conference).
The most recent phase has involved collaboration with Hamza Akhram Qawwal and brothers from Karachi, with support from Birmingham Weekender/Culture Central, Sampad, Salt Arts and the British Council. Although still in its early stages, our plan is that this will lead to a concert length event with BEAST and the group.
Other future events include plans for a related installation at New Art Exchange. Bashir and Wilson have also pursued somewhat related projects, most notably producing sound for the touring Birmingham Qu’ran Exhibition. This involves three different presentations, most notably at the Sharjah International Book Fair, where it was visited by more than 14000 people.