When we think of Punjabi Culture we tend to think only of dances such as the joyous, vigorous Bhangra, and the Gidda; of the ubiquitous Bhangra pop that blares out of our films, TVs and radios. We tend to overlook the fact that Punjabi Music has a strong culture of Sufism; music that we refer to as the Qawwali.
Sufism is principally a mystical form of Islam, but it has always attracted people from different faiths – Sufi music, which is principally devotional, reflects this. These are compositions of poets such as Bulleh Shah,Baba Farid, Waris Shah, Shah Hussain, and Mian Muhammad Bakhsh have long been a significant part of the state’s musical ethos since Sufi music originated in the Punjab and Sindh regions; evolving into its present form over many hundreds of years.
Voices of Tradition
In the cacophony of modernised Bhangra, two young voices have emerged to cement the Sufi tradition of Punjabi folk music. They are the Nooran Sisters – Sultana is all of 18 and Jyoti is just 16. Their powerful, rustic, incredibly evocative voices recreate the magic of Sufism and Sufi music in a way that recall to mind other great exponents of the Qawwali such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, the Sabri Brothers and many others.
Sufism is one of the personifications of religious harmony and tolerance that has long existed in the Indian subcontinent. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians have offered obeisance at Dargahs and have worshipped side by side at Sufi shrines for centuries. The lyrics are always in praise of the almighty – the frequent use of name of God is only indicative that these are devotional musical compositions, rather than the domain of any one community or religious identity.
The Nooran Sisters
The Nooran Sisters belong to Jalandhar, Punjab and are very rooted in their linguistic and musical traditions. Their grandmother Bibi Nooran was a well known singer of her time, and the Nooran Sisters now follow in her footsteps. Their father Gulshan Mir noticed their precocious talent while they were still toddlers and started them off on their musical training.
They follow the Sham chaurasi Gharana and ‘marasi’ traditions of music. Sultana and Jyoti’s father Gulshan Mir is not only their teacher and guru; he also composes the music and arrangements for his daughters’ concerts and performances. Sometimes he sings along, but mostly he is content to simply accompany his tremendously talented daughters on the harmonium.
The talent of the girls was spotted early and gained recognition with the TV show, Nikki Awaaz Punjab di. Traditional renditions from girls this young is not only unusual it is positively rare, and was appreciated by the judges and audiences alike. So many children who appear on TV shows seem anxious to emulate film item songs along with the attendant latkas and jhatkas, that the Nooran Sisters and their performance would have been a sharp contrast.
Soon the exceptional talent of the Nooran Sisters gained international recognition and the girls have performed as far from home as Canada where expat Indians enjoy listening to the kind of music that is strongly evocative of their roots. Their concerts in India are frequently before NRI audiences because perhaps living away from the home country makes the heart grow fonder of its traditions.
Nooran Sisters on Coke Studio@MTV and MTV Sound Trippin
In July 2012, the Nooran Sisters featured on Coke Studio (India), also known as Coke Studio@MTV. Episode 2 of Season 2 featured Hitesh Sonik and the song Allah Hoo by Jyoti and Sultana Nooran. The track features the girls signing standing up rather than their customary seated pose and there is significantly more orchestration in this rendering but the earthy, powerful voices are as unmistakable and create as much of an impact.
The Nooran Sisters have also lent their voices to Tung Tung from MTV Sound Trippin a youth based program on MTV that forms a part of the channel’s attempt to focus on original music. The show features 10 different cities of India, such as Leh, Kolkata, Calcutta, Dharavi, Goa, and others, to create 10 songs from unusual sounds as well as local musicians and theatre artists.
By – Reena Daruwalla
Image Courtesy – The Nooran Sisters Facebook Page