Women musicians not unusual, say singers from Islamic nations

Last Updated: Sun, Feb 10, 2013 07:12 hrs

New Delhi: Even though an all-girl rock band in Kashmir faced a fatwa, women musicians have been performing on the stage without any hiccups in Muslim-majority countries like Iran, Tunisia and Azerbaijan.

"Women in our country dance and sing on stage. They are even allowed to sing Sufi and spiritual music -- traditionally a male bastion," Slim Baccouche, leader of Mechket Ensemble, a Sufi band from Tunisia, told IANS.

"Music is the gift of freedom for us in which men and women are equal," said Baccouche, here to perform at the International Sufi Festival whih concluded here Feb 8.

"Women bands are common in Tunisia," he said.

His band, though traditional, combines Arabic Sufi music with jazz, techno, western gospel and 'qawaali'.

"Sufi culture and spirituality as a whole are changing. We are open to exchange," he said.

Sahar Lotfi, who leads a Sufi band in Iran, said she was surprised that "a Kashmiri women's rock band was forced to give up (performing)".

Known for her powerful voice, Lofti finds nothing "unusual about women pursuing music as a vocation".

She said her husband encouraged her to keep her "love for music alive".

"My husband had a band. We met at a concert. After marriage, he persuaded me to set up a band," said Lotfi, here to perform at the Sufi music festival.

Another woman musician at the fest was Sakina Ismayilova, a Mugam devotional music exponent from Azerbaijan, who set up the first women Mugam musical trio and took in around the world.

"Mugam is an ancient and difficult tradition, especially for women," she said.

Among Indian Sufi singers at the fest was Indira Naik. She is seen as a symbol of cross-cultural synergy -- a Hindu woman singing Muslim poet Amir Khusrau's verses.

"The love for humanity in Sufism suits my temperament," Naik told IANS.

Zila Khan, another Indian Sufi singer, said she has been through many ups and downs.

In a recent interview, the daughter of sitar maestro Vilayat Khan said some male members of her family had objected to her singing.

She now campaigns for "dignity for women in music".

Three schoolgirls had last year formed Kashmir Valley's first all girl rock band Pragaash, which in December stood third in a 'Battle of Bands' competition.

But after they faced threats on social media and a fatwa by Kashmir's Grand Mufti Bashiruddin, the girls decided to wind up the band.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

More from Sify: