FACE, Foundation for Arts Culture and Education, is an organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of arts and through cultural interactions. FACE plays an important role in ensuring education at all levels to empower men and women to create ...
Sufi teaching isn’t something merely to sing or recite; it’s meant to be lived, and that’s what traditional performer Wahid Allan Faqir does. Strumming the one-stringed kingh, singing devotional songs based in centuries-old poetry, Wahid has taken up the torch of one of Pakistan’s best-loved Sindhi folk singers. Wahid loved Allan Faqir so much, he took his name as an homage.
Rarely heard outside of Pakistan, Wahid Allan’s traditional Sufi performance, the kind practiced by wandering teachers and mystics for generations, will come to the US as part of this year’s SXSW Pakistan Showcase, presented by Islamabad’s FACE. In a night of traditional and contemporary Pakistani music, four artists from around the country will perform at the Driskill Hotel’s Victorian Room on Wednesday, March 16, 2016 at 8 PM.
Wahid hails a small village on the border of Pakistan’s provinces of Punjab and Sindh, culturally distinct regions that influence his music. As a young man, he went to a celebration at the shrine of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, a revered 18th-century poet and mystic. There his life changed as he watched Allan Faqir perform. Allan Faqir, one of the leading proponents of waee (a lively form of Sufi poetry and music performance popular in Sindh), broke into the Pakistani music mainstream with a big pop hit in the 1980s.
Devoted to Allan Faqir’s work, Wahid quietly began singing and dancing on his own. Wahid served in the military and would often lighten up his fellow soldiers’ evenings by performing Allan Faqir numbers, mirroring the renowned singer’s signature moves and attitude, his peacock-tail turban and engaging antics. After his idol’s passing, he was determined to carry on his legacy.
That legacy includes sound and movement: songs based on Bhittai and other Sufi mystics’ striking poetry coupled with spinning dance meant to induce and inspire ecstasy. Allan Faqir is a born performer, who can mix graceful gesture with goofy comedy, gravelly chants with puckish expressions. Behind him, dholak drums ripple and the harmonium mirrors his melodies. It’s a seamless blend of enlightenment and entertainment.
“Allan Faqir did not sing waee in its more traditional choral recitation format, a practice still common at the shrine of Shah Abdul Latif,” explains music expert and artist advocate Umair Jaffar, who was instrumental in bringing Wahid to a wider audience. “He brought the Waee to the stage, thus playing a major role in popularizing this form by making it more approachable and easy to understand. Wahid Baksh is continuing this approach and just as wonderful a performer.”
Like his predecessors, Wahid keeps alive the Sufi tendency to speak truth to power and to call for justice and kindness for the vulnerable. The faqir has been known to criticize powerful landholding families, one of the major political forces in the region. He’s spoken out against practices like karo-kari, honour killings that remain regrettably common.
This rebellious streak, the insistence that all are one, is an integral part of Wahid’s beliefs and practice. “We are all Sufi,” he likes to remind audiences. “We are all roving saints.”
This showcase is a project of FACE Foundation for Arts Culture and Education, an Islamabad-based organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of arts and through cultural interactions. Support comes from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy, Islamabad.