Does it serve the music or does it serve the ego?
On February 29th 1960 an earthquake destroyed the Moroccan city of Agadir killing more than fifteen thousand people. All the buildings in the old city (kasbah) near where I took this photo were destroyed, and there was extensive damage to buildings in the port area seen in the middle distance. But the domed 17th century mausoleum of the Sufi marabout (holy man) Sidi Bouknadel seen in the foreground miraculously survived, with the mosque and minaret being added after the earthquake.
At the core of Sufism is the belief that when a person displaces the lesser, egotistically oriented self, the greater or Universal self is revealed, which in turn allows contact with the Divine, and there is much that Western art music can learn from this thinking. When critiquing the current debasing of classical music the epithet ‘dumbing-down’ is often used, a description that plays into the hands of the revisionists due to its connotations of elitism. In fact dumbing-down and the associated obsession with entertainment and the mass market are just two manifestations of the ego-fuelled personality cult that has now spread virally beyond classical musicians to arts executives, broadcasters and, yes, bloggers. The acid test for a performance or piece of writing is to ask does it serve the music or does it serve the ego, because only when classical music displaces the currently dominant lesser, egotistically oriented self can its celestial gifts (baraka in Sufism) be unleashed.
My soundtrack provides striking evidence of the power of ego displacement in the form of a Sufi samāʻ performed by Sheikh Mohamed Mehdi Temsamani and members of the Tijaniyya tariqa in Tangier, Morocco in 1996 and released on the Spanish Pneuma label. Esoteric - in the true sense of the word - rituals from North Africa may seem very distant from Western art music. But again there is much for classical music to learn. In his erudite sleeve notes for the beautifully presented CD – the whole project is as sticky as Moroccan mint tea – music director Omar Metiou writes of “the atmosphere and the interpersonal relationships established during a [Sufi] ceremony in which the kinetic, visual, smell and taste stimulations play as important a role as music itself” and it is these very stimulations that the revisionists are trying to exorcise from Western classical music.
Subjugating the ego is a far more effective weapon against orthodoxies than big new ideas, as these words – which are very relevant both to Eastertide and the current Supreme Court deliberations - from one of the great Sufi masters Muhammed Ibn 'Ali Ibn 'Arabi remind us:
My heart has become capable of every form:A very happy Easter to all my readers.
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim's Kaa'ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Header photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2013. No review samples were used in the preparation of this post. But acknowledgements to Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney's Hidden Wisdom and Jason Elliot's An Unexpected Light (both purchased) which were among my reading while following the Sufi way in Morocco.