6 a capella voices

Na Puchh Jab
Fire I
Melismata (Fire II)
Mere Hamdam, mere Dost
Meend — Fire IV
Bol-Ki-Sangit — Fire V

Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984) is considered to be one of the most important poets in the Urdu language. His texts are deeply political, marked by the violent and tumultuous history of Pakistan in the course of the 20th century. Often, his political message is hidden in a language that continues the age-old sensuous love imagery of Persian and Urdu poetr—but listeners and readers in Pakistan and India have always understood the political aspects within the personal expression in these poems. Faiz is an intensely nationalist poet—and yet in his poems, he always deplores, describes and repeatedly warns about the dangers and the pains that political and cultural separatism has brought to Pakistan, the oppression and the bloodshed that followed political liberty. In composing these poems, I decided not to set them in a Western way—following the changing meaning and the rhythm of the words. Rather, my musical interpretation of the world that these poems evoke is one of wonder and intensity: music as a means of heightening our sensibility to beauty in order to make us more receptive to the violence and danger of the world around us. In Atish-e-Zaban, I ask six a cappella new music singers to re-imagine voice sounds of Hindustani music, from the bol-syllables used as oral notation by Indian percussionists to the differentiated meend-glissandi, and the taans [longer ornaments] and gamaks [shorter ornaments] of the North Indian khyal vocal tradition. Many structural models in this score were developed from, but do not replicate Indian structural music elements with the same names (taan, tihai, alankara, etc.). The notation is conceived for Western singers, but the voice quality and the musical treatment of the models proposed in the score should ideally be that of Indian singers. It is an Indian music for Western singers, or a Western score that ideally should be executed by an ensemble of Indian singers. The fact that such an ensemble not only does not exist, but is almost unthinkable within the aesthetic and practice of Hindustani music, testifies to the music’s utopian quality, a yearning for a world that goes beyond boundaries, an unsullied dawn just like the one that Faiz yearned for—a dawn that would not mean dusk to anyone.

Sandeep Bhagwatid> [iii-13]