Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Enlightened musician who chose the road not taken


Eleven years ago while browsing in the wonderful bookshop Librairie La Friche in Paris' 11th arrondissement I chanced upon a CD by a musician I had never heard of. It was Titi Robin's collaboration with Pakistani qawwali singer Faiz Ali Faizi Jaadu (Magic), which celebrates the universal message of Sufism. Since then that discovery has taken me down an overgrown path to further explore mystical Islam and to hear Titi and Faiz Ali Faizi perform in concerts, which led to an online friendship with Titi, an enlightened being who has chosen the musical road not taken

Born in the Loire region of France in 1957, Titi Robin cites the Iraqi oud player Munir Bachir and flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla as early influences. But he chose to follow his own road, rather than following that prescribed by corporate world music. He explains 'I have never felt comfortable with the economic, social and cultural order that reigns over the field of ‘world music’... which collects music, repertories and musicians from the the East and the South, and returning to fructify this godsend in the privileged world of the well-off West, where the art market is structured in a sufficiently rational manner to allow musicians to develop their careers and live off their art'.

This road has led him to the margins of art music, a journey he describes as exploring various streams following his destiny East, through endless travels with Roma and Sinti people, carrying little luggage but immense dreams. The rich fruits of this journey have been collaborations with musicians from the Roma of the Midi, from Morocco and the Indian sub-continent, and working with Hugo Drax from the James Bond film. But the journey has also meant record company contracts have come, and then gone as he has failed - no tacitly refused - to deliver the killer (con)fusion album for the world music audience. Perhaps the ultimate expression of Titi's individualism is his 2018 own-label release Rebel Diwana, on which he followed Bob Dylan down the road less travelled from acoustic to electric sound.

Recently Titi Robin has been in India reprising his Jaadu project with Faiz Ali Faizi and accompanying the Kathak dancer Mahua Shankar who is seen above with him*. Recent posts here have told the story of how white versus black racism destroyed the career of Guyanese conductor Rudolph Dunbar, and elsewhere the scourge of anti-semitic racism receives much attention. But racism comes in many different guises, and from India in a French Facebook post the enlightened Titi draws much-needed attention to the deeply disturbing rise of the Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) party in these words (my translation):
The synthesis of Hindu and Muslim mysticism created poetic, musical and philosophical wonders. From this marriage, which is both historic and very contemporary, flowed a beautiful and profoundly unifying vision of the world. But the toxic craving for power, in India as elsewhere, is again incubating poisonous fundamentalism and division. As the Persian mystic poet Jâmi explained: 'Love is my religion, I don't need prayer'.
Hollywood script writer William Goldman explained that the difference between art and entertainment is that entertainment tells us lies and comforting truisms which we know already, while art tells us uncomfortable truths we often don't want to hear. Pointing out that Muslims are among the victims of racist extremism is an uncomfortable truths many people don't want to hear. But Titi Robin does not deal in comforting truisms that fit neatly into contemporary political correctness, and his music sits well outside today's cultural comfort zones. Which means he is not only an enlightened musician but also a creator of art music par excellence.

* Photo credit is Innee Ji. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

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