Global Beat Fusion: Visions of the World

30 01 2009

By Derek Beres

The underlying themes of the following three documentaries represent some form of unity, an exploration at the foundation of indigenous cultures heading into the future with a solid understanding of what has brought them here. With any evolution, growing pains exist, and the directors and producers of these three fine films have done their best to show that while governments and popular media often present one side of a story, many others exist. The unity of Islam through musical means, the convergence of South Asian folk with modern technologies, and the plight of Saharan desert dwellers and their familial and social rites make up this trio of cinematic travels. Sit back and enjoy the ride, for there is much to be learned, and even more to be enjoyed.

Sufi Soul: The Mystic Music of Islam
“Because its bases are in every human mind already,” writes Idries Shah in his celebrated work, The Sufis, “Sufic development must inevitably find its expression everywhere.” Director Simon Broughton and host William Dalrymple explore Sufism, the “mystical” sect of Islam, in this fascinating documentary as ripe with music as it is with messages—namely, the underlying current of all spiritual faiths that bonds and unites humans. Given the diverse nature of the music covered in this brief film, one can expect Sufism to have an inherent flexibility. Indeed, it does.

Sufism is often frowned upon by the Sunni and Shi’a sects of Islam, mostly due to the fact that they attempt to experience the divine, believing the universal energy to be attainable by everyone. Mohammed tapped into this, pointing the way for others to follow; he did not hoard that knowledge and claim that no one else could have it. We have an obvious parallel in a Christian society with followers of Jesus; recall that the Gnostics were derided for claiming God was available to all as well. Through their rituals of music and dance, the Sufis tap into the transcendent possibilities of existence.

It’s the polarization of not only Islam, but faiths in general that Broughton and Dalyrmple address, doing so beautifully in this informational and sonically rich undertaking. The music is what drives this film, which is fitting, because the Sufis believe that music is what drives us. The term “Sufi” has been well-circulated since Coleman Barks’ translations of Rumi’s richly textured verses made him the largest-selling poet in America in the 1990s—no small feat for a man who was born in Afghanistan and spent most of his life in Turkey in the 13th century.

While the faithful claim that Islam is a religion, Sufis would say that Sufism is religion; it is the elemental thread upon which the wool (which is the meaning of the word “Sufi”) is woven. Music is a devotional force in praise of Allah, and from the opening minute of this film we are embraced by Pakistan’s Sain Zahoor, spinning cyclically while fiddling his ektara and singing praiseful lyrics. His voice is heartbreaking; the ghungroos, or ankle bracelets with bells, keep rhythm while he pounces.

Read the full review on PopMatters.

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