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Monday, May 10, 2021

Sing like an Egyptian

The Nile Sufi group brings an ancient musical ritual from Egypt to Mehrangarh Fort as part of the World Sufi Spirit Festival

Written by Somya Lakhani |
February 24, 2013 3:50:10 am

A deep silence spreads through Srinagar Chowk at Mehrangarh Fort on Friday,as 12 Sufi musicians from Egypt begin to play. Called Nile Sufi,they are performing on the opening day of the second World Sufi Spirit Festival and have kept the setting simple — the illuminated wall of the fort as the backdrop and earthen pots with flickering flames on stage. It is the music that makes an impact by evoking the surreal and the magical.

The music lovers,who have gathered in Jodhpur for the performance,have little idea of what to expect from a dancing and singing Sufi group from the land of the Nile. The performers,as it turns out,have the answers ready. They begin with the mellifluous notes of the flute accompanied by thumping percussions and,unusually,loud breathing sounds — wrapping these into a harmony that is as still as the darkening,evening air at the venue. By the time the musicians begin reciting an Arabic poetry remembering Allah,the 300-strong audience is in a spell.

An age-old Sufi ritual of Egypt,the performance is known as “Zikr” in Arabic,and the Dier-based group is among the best-known ensembles in the country. “This singing and dancing is done for our spiritual guide,such as a pir . We call out to people to free their minds and purify their heart and soul,” says Ramdan Abdul Nabih Ghanan,leader of Nile Sufi,with the help of a translator. He doesn’t know how old the tradition is but it has been a part of his family for three generations. “Zikr” is a common ritual in rural Egypt and mostly performed during religious feasts and in dargahs. The sugary sound of the flute,the fast beats of the daphli and the robust calls to Allah fill the air with such energy that many in the audience find themselves on their feet,dancing.

The poetry has no title and has not been picked up from books either. Ghanan and his group go around the country and talk to people and it is these conversations that they sing and dance to. “I use some poetry that my father left behind and write some of it,” he says. In one rendition,they compare the beauty of god to the beauty of women,and,in another,they sing about being in peace with nature. “We are always amazed by the audience reaction. They don’t understand our language but they get the meaning and get involved,” says Ghanan.

The highlight of “Zikr” are the dance movements — bowing and rotating movements of the four mystics in gallabiyya (long kurtas) and aemma (turban). The group will also perform at the festival’s sixth edition at Nagaur on Monday.

Rabbi’s rhythm

Rabbi Shergill doesn’t need to try too hard. On Day One of the World Sufi Spirit Festival,he had the audience in his grip as he performed numbers such as Challa and Bullah ki jaana and less-known tracks such as Aadhi kraanti and Ganga. More than 700 people attended the hour-long gig and though the guitars and vocals were a bit off-tune at times,it was an exciting performance.

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