Al-Kindi Ensemble at Esplanade
It was barely a year ago, that while searching for nasheeds over the Internet, I chanced upon a video clip of the Al-Kindi Ensemble during one of their many performances. I remembered the melody of that particular nasheed taking me away; as I watched the dervishes on my screen whirl in their flowing robes, there was no doubt that I was, in my mind’s eye, accompanying them on their spiritual dance. That 6-minute clip has since become a favourite on my playlist – my escape when the drudgery of work caught up with me.
So one can only imagine how excited I was when I heard that the internationally-acclaimed group was coming to Singapore to perform in April 2011. I was told that they had visited our little island before, but this time round, I would have the opportunity to listen to them live – pure and unadulterated. I made my booking, and waited almost impatiently for the day of the concert to arrive.
My friend and I came early to the Esplanade that day, but found ourselves among an already gathering crowd. I was quietly surprised at the myriad faces and races that were present that night – but, indeed a world-renowned assembly would of course entice an equally diverse audience. On one hand, I felt such pride knowing the power of attraction that Sufi music has upon people; on the other hand, I was deeply humbled realising that the path to gnosis could present itself in many forms, and that the ultimate Guide who Opens hearts, Gives guidance to whomever He Wishes.
The members of the Ensemble that night comprised less than twenty individuals. The stage was minimal. The Ensemble had no need for a giant crew or complex set-ups – that would have dispersed the focus of the performance. Simplicity would serve the purpose of drawing in their audience far better.
The concert was a sensory treat for the eyes and ears, and for the more spiritual person, a salve for the heart. As the singers sang devotional songs comprising of dzikrullah and qaseedahs saluting the Prophet (pbuh), they were accompanied by the masterful beating of the drums and tambourines, the striking strumming of the Arab zither and lute, and the soulful serenades of the reed flute. The tempo varied from slow lulling chants, to highly-energetic choruses. But regardless of the pace, one thing was sure – the crowd was in rapture. There was nary a whisper during the performance, evidence of the attention that the Ensemble had.
It would not be wrong to say that the highlight of that night were the whirling dervishes. As the performance progressed, they took centre stage – alone, in pairs, or all three at once. All eyes were trained on them as they cast off their black overcoats to reveal the snow-white gowns underneath, bowed to the Shaykh, to each other and then to the audience in acknowledgment and respect. Slow deliberate steps began their spinning dance, and then almost instantaneously, the hems of their dress lifted off the ground, giving them the appearance that they were floating. Several audience members gasped in wonderment.
It was, to say the least, an ethereal moment. I was transfixed, and felt that time had no meaning then. The sema ceremony of the Mevlevi brotherhood has been said to have that effect on people. It represents the recognition of and complete surrender to the Divine Presence – and in the spiritual path of Sufism, having complete surrender is to discard all notions of dependence or reliance on anything created, and to perceive only the Creator.
I wonder how many people actually knew the significance behind the words that were being sung, or the symbolism behind the dress and dance of the dervishes. In a world where traditional Islam is being misrepresented and misperceived, I could see how spiritual songs and dance provided an avenue for people to come to know the heart of Islam – love. And that was exactly what was shared in that couple of hours – a common emotion that bound everyone together, an all-encompassing Love, that needs no words to explain.
Indeed as Rumi said,
“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field.
I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.”
The audience might not have understood the songs, they might only have come to accompany one another, they might have merely been art aficionados, or lovers of world music; whatever their reasons may be, I believed that everyone took something home that night, some people more than others.
I heard that a woman reverted to Islam after the concert. Alhamdulillah.
Mohamed Nizar bin Zainal