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Review: Sufis at the Cinema: 50 Years of Bollywood Qawwali and Sufi Song 1958–2007

Various Artists
Sufis at the Cinema: 50 Years of Bollywood Qawwali and Sufi Song 1958–2007
[Times Square Records (2011)]

This two-disk set presents a bevy of songs that follow the development of movie music drawn from Sufi religious traditions but adapted for those wild and giddy cinematic epics of India’s “Bollywood” industry, where both emotions and outfits are the ultimate in colorful (even “technicolorful”), and the dancing and songs are often the point of the whole film. Throughout, the singers and the songs both have time to work up their religious or romantic fervor, with only one song clocking in at less than about five-minutes and another reaching 11:25. While the songs have religious roots, these are big,
show-biz productions, with a good bit of glitz and vocal choruses.

All the songs are annotated in the liner notes, with information including the title of the film each song come from, some background on the artists or songs, and in some cases, lyrics. The liner notes also help Western listeners understand the historical or musical context, including the spiritual and religious aspects of Sufi music and the related, more secular Qawwali songs, whose lyrics, while spiritual, focus more on love and longing (divine or otherwise) and can often be very worldly. The second disk contains several selections sung by Pakistani qawwali master Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan, and the ubiquitous and beloved Asha Bhosle is found on both disks. The 25 songs are drawn from the deep wells of Saregama, India’s oldest record company.

—Jeff Lindholm (Montpelier, VT)

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