The Introverted Artiste and his God

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Music as an ‘Object’ of Attachment 

Musicians and artistes differ in their approaches and passion for music. However, most who I have observed appear to receive some sort of cathartic release through their art. With the exception of those who enter the music industry for popularity and glamour, artistes tend to be interesting in terms of their relationships with music. Their attachment to their art seems to be almost like an attachment with a person. In Psychology we often refer to ‘object relations’ theory, which essentially describes how individuals relate to others in relationships as linked with their initial early attachments with primary caregivers. But I wonder how this may be linked with artistes whose art itself may become an ‘object’ to which they attach their needs, their hopes, their aspirations and their dreams.

Spiritual Connection Through Music 

So when I met Mr. Mehboob Nadeem during his Indian Classical Summer School course at SOAS University, which I eagerly enrolled for a few years ago, I wasn’t surprised by his passion and dedication for music. However, what did surprise me then and in subsequent courses with him was his attachment to God. I experienced him to be incredibly spiritual, and when I first heard him sing a Sufi song (“Yah Gharib Nawaz”) I was taken aback by his spiritual connection with Islamic mysticism.

It is interesting how little we know of the internal world of such artistes who appear to be somewhat introverted. Those who have their needs met through their attachment to God and their art perhaps have little need for worldly interests. Perhaps there is something ultimately divine in Indian Raga. It is said that such music represents sounds of nature and in Hindu scriptures, Indian Raga is believed  to represent Ultimate Truth. Each note (Sa Re Ga etc) is considered to correspond to the different chakras, and thereby each note is thought to activate different energy channels which have a direct effect on the mind and body.

Divine Faith Vs Logical Reasoning 

I am not sure how much I believe or understand the above. There is no clinical evidence for it, but somehow listening to Mr. Nadeem singing  a Sufi song and now listening to this sitar recital makes me wonder. What is it that we don’t understand in the West about music and its spiritual source? What is it we don’t understand about the internal workings of such introverted artistes? Perhaps they themselves don’t know  and are simply gifted with talent and an innate connection which ‘logical’ people like myself will never truly comprehend.

I often search for suitable music to use in relaxation exercises and I find Indian Raga both soothing and energising. There is a lot more to learn about this, and perhaps genuinely gifted artistes like Mr. Nadeem can help us clinicians and students of music to try and understand in order to make Indian Raga more accessible for the mainstream public.

An Inspirational Artiste: Lucy Rahman

Background & Career History

Mrs Lucy Rahman, born into a musical family in Dhaka, Bangladesh, began her Indian Classical and Semi-Classical vocal training at the age of six. Mrs Rahman’s father, Lutfor Rahman, was himself a classical vocalist and composer who encouraged Mrs Rahman to follow in his footsteps. Mrs Rahman enrolled at the Nazrul Academy in Bangladesh where she studied for 6 years and gained a diploma.

Mrs Rahman moved to the UK in 1983, where she soon developed a reputation for being an accomplished artist and vocalist. She is respected by both her peers and the public, not only for her voice but for the emotional depth with which she performs. Since 1998, she has been one of the lead singers in the mainstream Jazz music group, Grand Union Orchestra and continues to perform as the solo vocalist, in Amina Khayyam’s adaptation of Yerma. Mrs. Rahman currently resides in the UK with her family, and continues to perform as well as teach her students.

A Therapeutic Approach to Music

Mrs Rahman is undoubtedly a talented vocalist. Her voice has been developed and refined over the years, and now more enjoyable than ever to listen to. However, Mrs Rahman has an interesting approach to her music. She not only enjoys singing and listening to good performances, she has an appreciation for the therapeutic benefits of singing and engaging in meditative-like practice of singing.

Indian Raga & Emotional Experiences

There is a great deal of evidence demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of singing. Mrs Rahman is particularly interested in Indian Raga and the subjective experiences which accompany singing specific ragas.

The first time I sat with her as she sang Rag Bhairav more than two years ago during one of our lessons, I found myself feeling both tearful and peaceful simultaneously. There was a sadness in her voice and a real sense of her being exported elsewhere emotionally as she sang with only myself as her audience. Her voice communicated the richness of the raga as well as reflected a sombre and almost grief-like state.

When she asked me to visualise an image when considering this raga, I could only imagine a graveyard with a ghostly young woman in white behind a tombstone. Although this rag is considered by many to be majestically peaceful, to me, the image of the sombre graveyard remains as well as the sense of loss, mourning and melancholy. Perhaps it is as much as the listener as it is the artist who creates the subjective emotional experience of any given rag at a given moment.

Mrs Rahman’s Performances

Unfortunately, there are few recordings of Mrs Rahman’s performances. Although she has and continues to perform for large audiences internationally, she experiences her music as almost sacred and wishes to preserve the richness particularly of Nazrul songs. She performs with all her heart, putting in full effort, energy and emotion in each song. Her desire for perfection is common amongst true artists, who no matter how well respected or appreciated, continue to attempt perfection in their art.

My regret is that I am unable to share any recordings which really capture Mrs Rahman’s emotional connection with her music.  However, the following available videos give us examples of her voice in a theatrical production as well as singing a conventional Nazrul song. I hope you enjoy these videos and are encouraged to listen to one of her live performances in the future.

Lucy Rahman as Vocalist in Amina Khayyam’s Yerma
Lucy Rahman on Channel S performing a Nazrul Geeti

Spirituality in Bangladeshi Baul Music

Introduction to Bangladeshi Song Writers 

Bangladesh has produced some of the finest poets, song-writers and artists who have contributed enormously to our sense of culture and heritage. The prominent ones who have received international recognition include Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, the latter being renowned for his political activism during British colonisation of India.

Spiritual Music from the District of Sylhet, Bangladesh

In addition to the above, Bangladesh is known to be home to some intriguing songwriters and spiritualists, mainly originating from the Sylhet district. Such songs with a spiritual undertone are referred to as Baul songs.

  • Lalon Shah (1772-1890), a spiritualist whose identity was very vague was considered the icon of religious tolerance. He wrote about the divisions created by organised religions (Tin Pagoleh holo mela) and critiqued the concept of caste and ideas at the time about male superiority over women.
  • Hason Raja (1854-1922), a landowner from the village of Rampasha, Bishwanath was known for his indulgant lifestyle and later religious conversion. Hason Raja wrote hundreds of songs about the soul (Mathiro pinjirar majeh bondi hoiyya), its connection with the body and about the futility of a materialistic life (Lokeh boleh boleh reh).
  • Radha Ramon Dutta (1833-1915), born in the rural village of Keshoppur, Jagannathpaur was amongst those who wrote extensively about one’s relationship with God (sham kalia shona bondu reh).
  • Finally, more recently, Shah Abdul Karim (1916-2009) also wrote very simple but philosophical songs about existential issues (Mathiro pinjirai sonar moyna reh) including the attachment between the body and soul.

Bangladeshi Baul Music in the UK

Given the simplicity of their lyrics, Baul songs  have gained popularity both in rural parts of Bangladesh and here in the UK amongst the British Bangladeshi community (including second generations). Baul programmes are frequently aired on the many community TV channels and sung at various cultural festivals.

The following clip is an example of a Bangladeshi- born British singer who has carried the essence of spirituality into his music. Alaur Rahman is a well respected vocalist who has contributed significantly to Bangladeshi music in UK. Born in the district of Jagannathpur, Sylhet, Mr. Rahman spent his early education in an Islamic school. Although he later found himself drawn to music, Mr. Rahman has continued his interest in islamic spirituality through his singing of songs which are often existential in nature.

The song he is singing in the clip below describes the remorse of a person is who is regretful of how they spent their life in pursuit of irrelevant goals and false attachments. The song describes the time wasted without adequate remembrance of God. Although the music here is creating a joyful mood, this song is in fact addressing issues such as emerging mortality, lack of time in later life and the inability for us to go back and rectify our mistakes. 

I hope you enjoy this song by a talented singer who has been very successful and popular in his music career in the UK.