Mechket in search of enlightenment in India

Music cuts across borders and finds a common theme everywhere. A visiting troupe of Tunisian Sufi musicians, who was recently in India, told that their members were struck by the essential spirituality of much of Indian music. And this is the country that sparked the Arab Spring, a phenomenon in which local music played a major role.

Slim Baccouche, the leader of the team, told Abhijit Ganguly, “The visit remains in me and for all members of the group as a memorable public reception. It made us communicate across geographical distances and differences of cultures and languages with the essence of spirituality. Musicians in the world share the same values and the same ethic, and that gives us even more faith in what we do. My meeting with Indira Naike allows me to consider a more realistic and fruitful exchange.”

The music almost always plays a pivotal role in protest movements, with songs and chants unifying dissidents in their rallying cries. Unlike movements of decades past, however, protest music made popular during the recent revolution in Tunisia, Egypt, and beyond spread virally with the help YouTube and Facebook. One country that strongly illustrates the will of the people to hear and create music is Tunisia. With increased freedom of expression, every art form in the country has seen a profusion of new creativity, from contemporary art and theatre to popular music and rap.

                                    picture courtesy - Sohham Pramanick

Mechket, which literally translates to sources of light, has taken up songs from the traditional Tunisian Sufi style, but merged them with other influences from the region.

Baccouche says of the band: “This is a group of musicians and scholars who have done research in different musical specialties either in vocal or instrumental and is particularly interested in the Tunisian Sufi heritage. What unites us is our common desire to convey a message of peace, reconciliation with the inner being through mystical experience. The effect of sound vibrations on the psyche provides us with a line of work and research.”

Talking about the compositions, he elaborates, “Our repertoire is varied. It ranges from sacred songs to semi-secular songs and are very popular because they come from the public, from the depths of Tunisian popular culture.
We seek to provide an interpretation of these traditional songs and present stories of personal challenges. The subjects are of course related to the invocation of Allah, praise of the Prophet, and chants music that leads the listener on a journey within.”

Sufi music is now enjoying a renewed interest. This is not a fad, but a return to cultural and religious roots. Young people are now rediscovering these songs through distribution channels such as specialized radios. “While this type of music was confined in a very specific context, we strive to establish that these Sufi songs no longer remain confined to the mosques and mausoleums and ceremonies but become subject of everyday listening” says Slim.

Currently, they are working on an ambitious group that is updating a genre inherited from Arab-Andalusia tradition: Malouf. But in this case specific texts will be replaced by          secular, religious texts that give these strong classical melodies a new dimension.

The band is also working on the very first written scores for Sufi brotherhoods dating back to the Kadériya and Chadhouliya of the early 19th century.

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