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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    The Wang Center Presents Sufi Rock

    On the evening of Sept. 26, 2007, at around 7:35 PM, Dr. Sunita Mukhi, Director of Asian & Asian-American Programs at the Charles B. Wang Center, welcomed an audience of both students and faculty to what she described as ‘a rocking time’. Dr. Salman Ahmad, a celebrated musician and founder of the pioneering Sufi Rock band Junoon, graced the stage of the Wang Theater to perform.

    Ahmad is a doctor by training and a musician by profession, as well as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for HIV/AIDS. A momentous occasion, he was invited as the first artist in this fifth year of performances at the Wang Center, and kicked us off to a good start.

    Although the audience expected an opening in words, it was instead greeted with an opening in music. Students in the class AAS 250 were previously given the opportunity to come simply for extra credit, but the experience, for some at least, was more than expected.

    Accompanied by virtuoso tabla player Pandit Samir Chatterjee, Dr. Ahmad moved the crowd with a whirling dervish of expert guitar and pulsing rhythm, his first words being only ‘Sayonee means Soulmate.’ Those in attendance clapped, swayed, and smiled, and the musicians smiled with them. They smiled as if, perhaps, they were as moved as those watching them perform. They were seemingly entranced and one with the audience in making, as Dr. Ahmad defined it, ‘music of celebration and devotion.’

    As the show continued, Dr. Ahmad told stories through the music, reciting the poetry, qawwalis – Sufi devotionals – and lessons of his faith, and shedding light on what Sufi Islam means to him: oneness. This belief pervaded the entire show, even though much of the audience could not understand the Urdu language in which they were singing.

    As if to bridge this gap, Ahmad and Chatterjee played a rendition of John Lennon’s iconic ‘Imagine,’ calling it a different kind of Sufi song. As Ahmad recited ‘I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will live as one,’ he demonstrated the belief that music is a language unto itself. That the messages it conveys emotionally can cross language barriers and borders.

    After a brief intermission, Dr. Mukhi chose to eschew the planned presentation of Islamabad Rock City in order to have both Dr. Ahmad and Mr. Chatterjee come back to the stage for a brief question and answer session with the audience members.

    It was at this time that Dr. Ahmad expounded on his beliefs, growing up in Lahore, Pakistan, becoming a doctor, and finding music as his calling. Mr. Chatterjee gave anecdotes about life itself and his place in it as a musician. Ahmad then discussed his work as an HIV/AIDS activist, stressing the importance of communicating knowledge through his music to the ‘non-local universe’ that are his listeners. By the end of the show, both artists were rock stars.

    A great show, Sufi Rock demonstrated how rock music, as a medium, has found its way into the East, and is filled with its own unique subtleties, nuances, and colors. The message is clear: music can bring people together. Salman Ahmad’s newest album ‘INFINITI’ is now available to the curious and conscious listener.

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