Global Understanding

Global Understanding Through Percussion and Song

Pollak Theatre hosted its first Caravanserai event October 27, featuring qawwali music performed by Qawal Najmuddin Saifuddin and Brothers and percussion compositions performed by the Tari Khan Ensemble.

The Caravanserai is described as “a place where cultures meet” and “celebrate global diversity, building bridges to a better tomorrow.” The event was sponsored by the University Center of Distinction for the Arts and supervised by Dean Stanton Green.

“We are one of five venues and the only university in the U.S. selected for Caravanserai,” Green said. “The program features Islamic art and culture. This programming is the fifth in the School’s annual Cultural Understanding programming where the aim is to bridge cultures through the arts.”

The night started with tour road manager Lindajoy Fenley welcoming guests to the event and commenting on the group’s “wonderful week” at the University where she and the musicians felt “welcomed” and “so at home.” Fenley described Caravanserai as “a beautiful word, and a really beautiful experience.”

Ustad Tari Khan, a renowned world-class percussionist, was the first to perform on his hand drums known as Tablas. Similar to bongos, Tari Khan used two different hand drums that varied in size, creating various sounds and pitches. The larger of the two drums was deeper in tone, and the pitch was able to be altered through applying pressure.

Tari Khan, referring to the audience as friends, would mouth the various rhythms and pitches before replicating them on the Tablas. His hands and fingers would move swiftly across the skin, creating a mixture of sounds from an earthquake rumble to the faint patters of the rain. Audience members could be seen drumming their fingers and tapping their legs, eventually being invited to participate in clapping to the beat as Tari Khan pounded intricate rhythms.

Tari Khan also hosted a drum circle last Wednesday night, which was open to the University and other parts of New Jersey including Princeton, attracting over 150 people. Vaune Peck, Director for the University’s Center of Distinction for Arts, planned and attended the event.

“The audience included participants from workshops, and the drum circle, students and faculty from the University, Brookdale Community College and Georgian Court University, and individuals from the general community which included Muslim and Pakistani residents,” Peck said. “It was an impressive and diverse audience.”

After the Tablas performance, Tari Khan’s student Abid Hussain came on stage to perform with his student Rasheed Abdul on Dhol drums. The Dhol drums are much bigger in size compared to the Tablas and were strapped over the necks of Hussain and Abdul who played with a drum stick at one end and a curved stick on the other.

While Tari Khan played a mixture of songs and spoke to the audience, Hussain and Abdul continuously drummed a mix of snare and heavy bass similar to tribal music.

Using various polyrhythmic techniques, their arms flailed side-by-side to create a pulsating room of big sounds. At times, Hussain drummed furiously as his student Abdul followed in a calmer rhythm, helping to emphasize the pace.

At one point, Hussain moved to center stage and started spinning with the drum still on his shoulders. Hussain’s drumming slowed down for a moment as he spun faster.  When his drum rose up, the crowd cheered him on.

Soon afterwards, Abdul put his drum strap around Hussain, and the teacher spun with two Dhol drums, one in front and one on his back. Hussain continued to pound the rhythm without stopping, inviting the crowd to join in.

Eric Swanson of Long Branch was invited to the event by Thomas Pearson, Provost to the University, and was left speechless after the performances.

“The drum spinning they were doing was absolutely intense.  They were absolutely wild, and Tari Khan just left you in trance,” Swanson said.

The final act for the Caravanserai event was the qawwali singing group, Qawal Najmuddin Saifuddin and Brothers.  It consisted of five brothers and a second cousin that are continuing a 750 year tradition of entertaining the world with their mystical singing. While the second cousin and a brother hand drummed, two brothers played harmoniums, and the five brothers would trade off in singing grand melodies.

The group started their performance with a song prayer to God that had a slow start, but once the drums began to pulse, the song took a wide turn to a grand rejoice. Coming from only a few passionate voices, the music they created sounded like a large choir. Their dynamic could be soothing and highly pulsing. Beautiful chants left the audience in a trance of spiritual connection as they extended their hands to the heavens.

Peck believed Caravanserai was “perfectly aligned” with the University’s desire of promoting global understanding. “The University has always taken a leadership role in promoting world peace, providing opportunities like Caravanserai that allow for open dialogue and the creation of new pathways towards greater understanding and tolerance.”

The University will be hosting two more Caravanserai events in the upcoming year, including a screening of the film Made in Pakistan with filmmaker Ayesha Kahn on campus to discuss the film on February 21, 2012.