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A review by James Buxton w for EXTRA! EXTRA!





The Ecstatic Journey:

Music From Around The Sufi World


Sain Zahoor
Photo by PAMLiv


Ensemble Syubbanul Akhyar


The Fakirs of Gorbhanga


Sain Zahoor


Marouane Hajji et L'Ensemble Akhawane




28 September, 2011


It's not often you get the opportunity to be transported round the world through the power of music, yet tonight. The Ecstatic Journey did exactly that. The Transcender series of concerts aims to bring the idea of dance back into music, in tonight's case, dance as a form of spiritual expression. Sufism is a branch of Islam which is traditionally associated with music and poetry. It has been redefined throughout the world, wherever people believe in Islam, and tonight's show gives us a hypnotic insight into a form of music the power of which has been known to send it's listeners into trances and even reach ecstasy. The Ecstatic Journey features an incredible spectrum of unique and deeply spiritual musicians, from Jakarta in Indonesia, to a village in West Bengal on the border of Bangladesh, to Punjab in Pakistan and finally Fes in Morocco. We are taken on a journey of the soul.

Syubbanul Akhyar open the ceremony. Hailing from Indonesia, which has the largest population of Muslims in the world, they play a style of music known as “Hajir Marawis”, named after the Arabic drums that accompany it. Syubbanul Akhyar translates as youthful praise and the name couldn't be more accurate. The Indonesian eight piece create a deeply emotive sound. Sat on cushions in purple robes, they play with effortless ease and joy. Despite their smiles and relaxed vibe, the singer's voice conveys a deep sadness and spiritual quality. The hajir, a big barrel drum and marawis, a smaller hand drum, pound like horse's hooves, as the violin and tambourine intensify the singer's tender voice. They create a full bodied, rich sound, strongly reminiscent of Arabic music, bringing to mind endless sand dunes, where riders are approaching. 

They are followed by the magnificent, Fakirs of Gorbhanga, a five piece from the village of Gorbhanga in West Bengal. Twirling barefoot in floor length robes, a thin old man with a flowing grey beard chants and sings as he strums a dotara lute. Behind him a younger man sits, swinging his dreadlocks in a frenzy of passion, shaking jhuris' (small cymbals) as the tabla taps out a fast rhythm and the harmonium sustains their incredible sound. They play with shambolic joy and extraordinary energy; giving you their music as though it could be physically handed over. Even the way they clap their hands is empowering, for they play an ancient music infused with a freedom not found in the West. The Fakirs of Gorbhanga transport you to the banks of the Ganges, where a Shiva priest smears your forehead with a red dye and gives you his blessing - a uniquely spiritual experience.

Sain Zahoor, a Sufi troubadour from Pakistan, performs next with his band. Sain Zahoor is a giant of Kawali music, known for his “magic voice” and with good reason. Zahoor's dusky voice is profoundly moving. Chanting as he twirls, his gold sequinned kurta sparkles under the blue lights. His fingers nimbly pluck his Ektara, a lute like instrument which rests on his shoulder, draped with bright pom-poms and tassles.  Around his ankles are ghungroos, bells he rattles with every stamp. Zahoor cuts an impressive figure, what's more his music is even more incredible. His soothing voice is punctuated by the rapid retort of two tablas, while the harmonium sustains the narcotic haze, the trill of a flute flitters over the melody like a tiny bird soaring across the sky of Zahoor's voice.

Marouane Hajji et L'Ensemble Akhawane conclude our spiritual journey. Hailing from Fes in Morocco, the eight piece ensemble are the image of purity, all dressed in white, they resemble a monastic order and their music reflects their asceticism. Marouane Hajji's voice is ethereal, it soars out of his mouth like a ray of light, bringing to mind the call to prayers; listening to him is like watching doves fly over minarets at dawn. The sparseness and stately quality of the music, contributes to the sheer scale of Hajji's voice. As the performance develops, three of the men in white robes, standing side by side, holding hands, begin to dance, swaying at first, they begin to nod their heads and as the music intensifies they start to bounce up and down till they are in a trance like state, as if they have been placed under a spell by the power of Hajji's voice.

A spell is the right term for the evening's performances, for rarely is it possible to feel in the presence of the divine, but this is what their music does. These Sufi troubadours lull our senses and release us into an ocean of tranquillity. They harbour the mosque within their souls and we leave them as devoted followers.




Barbican Hall
Barbican Centre
Silk Street
London EC2Y 8DS



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