Rais Anis Sabri- A Phenomenally Talented Artist
Syed Ali Mujtaba
Can life be compared to Mobile phone! Yes if 12 year old Sufi singer Rais Anis Sabri is to be believed. He says, life is like a SIM card of uncertain validity that needs frequent recharge, to connect to the Almighty through prayer - the outgoing calls and receive the divine grace -the incoming calls. He calls every earthquake or tsunamis as missed calls urging the people to always remember their Lord.
A phenomenally talented artist, Rais Anis Sabri is a sixth grade student from Jalalabad Uttar Praesh who is currently making waves in world of Sufi Qawwali music. Son and disciple of Rais Sabri, who in turn is a disciple of famous Qawwal Aslam Sabri, Anis is one of the youngest performing sufiana qawwals in the subcontinent. He began to learn the intricacies of this genre of performing art from his father at the tender age of four and at seven gave his first performance. He already has several CDs to his credit and one of his albums ‘Chisti Rang’ is a household name.
This child protégé’s performance was held at the Music Academy in Chennai on October 26, 2007. The event was organized by Amir Khusro Sangeet Academy, a non profit registered trust given to promoting Hindustani classical and related genres in the city.
“With his quick repartee, clear enunciation conveyed soulfully, Anis’s rendition is characterized by intensity, élan and exuberance of the mystical singing tradition established some seven centuries ago in the subcontinent said Ms Jyoti Nair Belliapa, founder trustee and Vice President of the Amir Khusro Sangeet Academy, while introducing this rising star to the Chennai audience.
Dressed in bright orange robes and a sequined cap rimmed with the same colour, the lad was oozing with confidence. He began his performance by invocation to Allah, hitting the high notes with “Allah Hoo” The next was power-packed performance ‘Mere Ghar Aaana Pyaare Nabhi.’ When he sang his popular number ‘Chishti rang,’ he was in his full form. His showmanship and confidence was at its best during this performance. He sent the audience to a soul searching mission when he sang ‘Maa Baap ka Dil na Dukha.’ The depth and the range of his voice charmed the audience who listen the artist with great admiration.
When I asked the Rais Anis Sabri, whom he admired the most; pat came the kids reply, Nusrat Fatheh Ali Khan. I asked him what he liked about the late legendry singer: “His sargam and the alaap- the mix of the two and the way he uses to weave all this during his performance. I too enjoy breaking into that kind of mould, but I am still learner,” Anis said.
Rais Anis Sabri's composition reflects a substitutive change that’s going on in the popular singing tradition. The child artiste deftly weaves together some complex spiritual concepts by resorting to disarmingly simple analogies.
As he was warming up, he made few cracks how the devout these days are fixated on the TV remote and watch serials. He even did the parody of film song; ‘Aashiq Banaya.’ He also talked about cricket stars like Dhoni and Sachin who occupy most of the space in today’s youths lives than the religious characters of one’s faith.
The emotionally charged interactive ambience had admirers walking up to the artiste, mid way through the performance, to shower him money (nazranas) as token of appreciation. Women, looking like Marwaris or Jains, burqua clad ladies, obviously Muslim, and looks alike of Bipasa, Karena all were all doing rounds up and down the stage. So were men, wearing all kids of dresses symbolizing different religio-cultural background. There was a continuous (literally every second minute) people were coming onto the stage. Many sent their kids, but a lot of elders stood on the stage carefully counting out the notes till it was exhausted.
Through it all, the performer, didn't skip a beat, he ‘salaamed’ graciously and kept the money aside, singing all the while, or bowed down, when many of them tossed notes, one by one, on his head. Within his two hours of performance, believe me, not less than 50,000 INR must have been sprinkled on stage.
Celebrities like Vyjayantimala Bali, film director Vijayndra T Rajendran and many others were among the audience in the jam-packed auditorium. People with Rs500/ tickets were seen standing on the aisles and some even squatted on the side path. People were clapping and shaking their heads as the wonder kid sent every one into transcended rapture.
The boy spotted Ms Vyjayantimala Bali, the heartthrob of the sixties, leaving the hall and requested her sit back and listens to his 'Bandh'. Ms Balli dutifully obliged him and while leaving gave a bend down salutation in a Mughle- Azam style.
As it was a free flowing music, every one had a license to go on stage. Mr Gokul Das, a top builder of the city was so overwhelmed by the performance that he took out his Rolex watch and presented to the talented performer. He sat all through the show sporting a white Muslim cap.
The most defining moment was when Tamil director Vijayndra T Rajendran, emptied his wallet on this boy. Someone gave the bearded celebrity the microphone and he addressed the audience with Salam- Wale- Kum. Speaking in Tamil he laced his speech with words like Masha Alhah and Subhan Allah to praise Rais Anis Sabrai. He got thunders applause when he said that whenever he takes food, he begin it with Bismillah. The director promised Anis a chance to sing in forth coming film.
The Sufi musical tradition of began at the hospice of the Sufi saint Hazarat Nizamudin Auliya of Delhi in the late 13th century India. His disciple Hazart Amir Khusro is credited to have characterized the Sufi singing tradition marked by high musical intensity élan and exuberance that’s known to us as Qawwali.
Qawwali normally start with an instrumental prelude where the main melody is played on the harmonium, accompanied by the tabla. Then comes, the alap, during which the singers intone different long notes, in the raag of the song to be played. The lead singer begins to sing some preamble verses after which the side singers repeat them with his own improvisation. This leads into the main song with members joining the singing of the verses that constitute the refrain, playing the musical instruments and clapping.
The verses of qawwali repertoire are suffused with mysticism and esoteric content. These have been passed down, largely through oral traditions. The poetry is implicitly spiritual in its meaning and the central themes are love, devotion and longing of individual for its Divine.
The song usually builds in tempo and passion, with each singer trying to outdo the other in terms of vocal acrobatics. The ‘Zikr’ and ‘Sama’ creates a hypnotic state both among the musicians and the audience. So electrifying is the music that the listeners and the artists at times find themselves transported to a state of ‘wajad,’ a trance-like state where they feel at one with God- generally considered to be the height of spiritual ecstasy in Sufism.
“Not every can experience such state of mind. The person who has a deep knowledge of the history and understanding of the language can only experience this flight of ecstasy, says Qawwal Ustad Muna Shaukat Ali, President Amir Khusro Sangeet Academy.
“The job of the Qawwal is to sing with deep devotion and use his body movements and musical expertise to create an atmosphere of transcended rupture -a state of mind where the person does not have control over the body and goes into a tizzy, intoxicated by the divine music,” he said.
“Those who go in that state of spiritual trance may not soon return to normalcy and may take some time to get back to their nerves. There are many instances in recorded history where people have passed away in such state of mind,” the veteran Qawwali said.
Earlier, Ms Jyoti Nair Belliapa announced the Amir Khusro Sangeet Academy life time achievement awards that was conferred on poet Abdul Rahman and Professor Sahfiuualh for their outstanding contribution to Urdu literature. Dr Hakim S A Syed Sathar got the honor for his public service.
Some of the previous recipients of the Amir Khusro Sangeet Academy's life time achievement award are; late Ustad Bismillah Khan Sahib, A R Rahman, MS Vishwanathan, N Ram, DK Pattamal, the late Dr Chrian, Mrs YGP, Vyjayantimala Bali, Shovana Narayan, R Santhnam, the late Hamsadhwani Ramachandran, the late SV Krishnan and Meera Savoor.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org