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Beauty in the Cemetery: Meshary Alaradah's Artistic Mission & Ambition In Focus

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“It is a very beautiful video clip; it talks about death,” someone told me. Although the previous statement seems to be contradictory, it eventually lead me to reconsider what I have been taught for years; we know that science quests for truth, while art seeks beauty. How can a video clip (a work of art) be beautiful - as it should be - and talks about a gloomy theme such as death?

Beauty in the CemeteryWatching the meticulously well-done video clip, or more precisely nasheed clip, “Farshi Atturaab” (Dust Is My Bed) was an eyeopening experience to me: the clip is a very sad one, yet it is a nice one, a beautiful one to be precise. The clip's beauty comes from the fact that it presents death with reverence rather than with fright. It does not show you rotten degraded bodies as you might expect when watching work that talks about death, but rather talks about what the soul that leaves this world thinks of and says.

Juxtaposing two different and seemingly contradictory notions (death and beauty) was a professionally crafted task in this clip, telling us that beauty and innovation in art are not always about depicting the joyous "happy peppy" aspects of life. Many times it is about realistically depicting different feelings that are worth recording even if these feelings are not as delightful as one might expect. The dark sides of life should be portrayed in order for us to appreciate the bright ones, or as Aristotle said: virtue is the means between two vices.

Speaking of philosophy, the clip's munshid (singer) and composer Meshary Alaradah [Mishaari Al‘araadah] is a student of philosophy and Islaamic studies at Kuwait University. Al‘araadah, who enjoys composing for others, is seriously considering producing an entirely English nasheed album for he thinks that: “Inshaad is universal in its message and audience.”

• Would you kindly explain to our readers the difference between Inshaad and singing?

From a semantic point of view, there is very little difference. Traditionally, however, nasheed is associated with those songs that tackle religious themes. The carefully selected poems and the meanings that nasheed emphasises, in addition to its simple and unaffected style, set nasheed apart from other types of singing. It is at odds with dissolute attitude and with lewd singing, and it is very different from deviant chants of some Sufis. Inshaad is a type of singing that fulfils a divine vocation and appeals to the beauty-loving human nature. It does not have to be religious only; it includes all noble pursuits of humanity.

• Why did Meshary Alaradah opt for inshaad in lieu of singing? In other words, what mission do you find yourself carrying?

Prior to me getting involved in inshaad, which is a combination of message propagation and artistic performance, I appreciated and enjoyed beauty and art. I also came to notice that I was somewhat talented, so I wanted to, correctly, make use of this talent in the service of the da‘wah (propagating the message of the Prophet Mu’hammad peace be upon him); a message that I, and many others, live to propagate. This message was entrusted to us (young preachers of faith) and we need to convey it to those who are in need of receiving it via a suitable vehicle. And since inshaad is positively received and is capable of conveying the message, then developing it artistically is required.

• You started performing at the tender age of twelve. How and who helped you hone your talent?

I really did not start inshaad at that tender age; it was only a hobby then. Things started to change in 1997 when, at a recording studio in Kuwait, I recorded few rehearsals. They, mind you, were more of a flop than a success, but the experience was invaluable. Learning from those experiences, and from the experience of other munshids (inshaad artists) paved the road for my first official recording that was released in 1999; that was the first step in my journey. My first tentative steps in inshaad benefited greatly from the sound engineer ‘Imaraan Albunny and the Kuwaiti munshid Mu’hammad Al’husayyaan.

• How did you become a composer, and where did you learn the musical modes (ma’qaams)?

My knowledge of music is rather limited, and it is self-learnt for the most part. I learnt modes and harmonies on my own, and despite attending a multitude of courses; hardly anything was added to what I already knew. Therefore, I combined my earlier experiences with that of others, in addition to actual practice, until I developed the necessary talent to compose for my Nasheed.

•How do you engage your creative process? In light of the fact that you compose your own melodies, do you first develop the melody and then choose the poem, or do you start the other way around?

In general, I first select the poem, study it carefully until I have a full grasp of the message it conveys, and then I decide on the melody. Alternately, in a desire to improvise and innovate, I decide on a melody and develop it and then search for words that match it. A munshid is like a painter, in a sense, where he paints from an already developed idea, but occasionally he starts painting in hope that this will inspire the idea.

•In addition to composing your own melodies, you have composed for other munshids as well, as in the three-parts of the nasheed album “Ya Rajaa-i.” (O My Hope) Would you tell us about this experience and about your composition for the munshid Ousaamah A’s’saafy. And what elements do you take into considerations when you compose for others?

I enjoy composing for others, especially when I am intimately knowledgeable of their vocal and artistic abilities. This gives me the chance to dive into their vocal spaces and to retrieve from within suitable tunes for the poems. Other times, I find that my vocal range is limited so I find another munshid, who could perform what I could not, which gives me the freedom to compose. In particular, this was the case in “Ya Rajaa-i” when I selected the most suitable tune for the children’s little voices. Similarly, I set two poems of the munshid Ousaamah A’s’saafy to melody in the albums “Khaleejy I” and “Khaleejy II”, which was a valuable experience. I am cooperating currently with other composers who will be releasing their work in the near future.

• Do you have any plans to perform in English in the foreseeable future? If the answer is in the affirmative, then what message will you incorporate in your Nasheed?

As a matter of fact, I am seriously considering producing an entirely English Nasheed album. In my opinion, mixing Arabic and English Nasheed in one album released for audience of either language fulfils the objective of conveying the message of nasheed to the audience only partially, since every audience would not fully understand or grasp the meaning of Nasheed in the other language. When Allaah permits, we will release albums in English that address various religious topics, including issues of the fundamental tenets of faith (monotheism, Paradise, Hell, death, the Day of judgement, etc.), moral issues (’hijaab, benefaction, good mannerism, etc.), and issues of global nature (peace, love, fraternity, etc.).

• “Farshi Atturaab” (Dust Is My Bed) video clip was very successful, in addition to it being one of the very early professional nasheed-clips. Tell us the story of making a video clip out of this poem and how did the audience perceive it? And how did you relate the concept of death, which is so frightening, in a way that inspired humility and reverence rather than fear?

That video clip, as you saw it, was not intended that way; it evolved as such somewhat unintentionally. What happened was that the potet [A’hmad Alkandiry] showed me the poem and I liked it, so I decided to include it in the third album of “Ya Rajaa-i”. It so happened that when I was humming the tune for it, one of my closest relatives passed away. That nasheed became the outlet of my unpretentious sad melodies. When we were finished with it, the cast and others who listened to it liked it. The poem itself had so many vivid images that were easily transferable to a video clip. And by the grace of Allaah, we were blessed during the entire process of producing this clip, starting from writing the poem and ending with airing the clip on satellite T.V. channels. What made this nasheed very special was its theme, which was rather general in the sense that it talked about an issue of global nature, which is not particular to Muslims, or even believers for that matter.

• Do you see the Nasheed clip being directed more towards the pious and religiously committed individuals or to those who are not as committed? Which group is your priority?

This distinction is outdated. When nasheed had one style and one message only, it was by default targeting only one group. Nowadays, inshaad is universal in its message and audience, as the “Farshi Atturaab” clip was. It helped significantly that we addressed an issue of general interest in the poem that is sung.

• Composing and playing music to accompany nasheed is a very controversial issue as scholars have different opinions on the issue. What is your take on this issue?

The religion of Islaam is a middle-of-the-road religion; a tenet based on the ’Qura~nic approach, which rejects extremism in either way concerning the use of music. From a jurisprudence point of view, scholars had varying opinions on the subject of music. Aside from the differences in jurisprudential views, some regard music as a noble art but others regard it as a lascivious means that encourages lewdness. The later opinion causes many munshids to avoid using music in their performances. In my personal opinion, I feel no qualms about music with inshaad, as long as we stay away from the ways of lewd musical performances. The inshaad milieu, in my humble opinion, is still inexperienced in music composition and its use with nasheed. This is a transitory period of inshaad, and I sincerely hope that we would not dwell for long on the means, i.e., music, and forget the goal itself. As long as our nasheed is being received positively, it should be welcomed and encouraged. This encouragement will enable us to develop this art properly to serve the message that we work for.

• It is common to see several Munshids pulling together to produce a nasheed album, which is rather uncommon for song albums. How do you explain this, and is it only transitional or does it have more profound meanings behind it?

Mixed performers album was an idea that started when inshaad started to gather momentum in the eighties and nineties of the past century. The main reason for joint performance, perhaps, was the desire to give young and aspiring munshids, who were incapable of putting together an album on their own, an opportunity to perform and be heard. This practice persisted up till now and it served a great cause in cleansing the inshaad circles from insincere fame seekers. Therefore, collective efforts helped young munshids when, say, some of their nasheed was good but some was not up to par. The fact that he performed with others who were already established munshids helped in honing the skills, of those whose skill was genuine, and propelled them to producing their own albums thereafter when they became known and accepted by nasheed audience.

• More and more munshids and inshaad groups are writing and performing nasheed in English. How do you read into this new wave, what are the positives, and what would be some of the pitfalls that must be avoided?

By Allaah’s grace, the West has witnessed the emergence of many munshids who presented a relatively unknown façade of Islaamic art to the art-loving audience in the West. Inshaad in English was enthusiastically received in the West and it broadened the base of followers of this type of performance. It is important to remember here that one should indulge in the artistic part of nasheed only to a certain limit, which is the limit of putting the importance of the message ahead of the means of conveying it. One potential pitfall of performing in English for a Western audience is that the performer may become driven by what is “cool” and “swell” in that specific environment, when he should guard the Islaamic roots and identity of his nasheed; the same identity that gave nasheed in English the acceptance it received.

• What are the major obstacles you see for Inshaad: obstacles facing munshids and obstacles limiting the widespread acceptance of the art of inshaad?

The most significant obstacles are the jurisprudential disagreements and the intolerance, which hinders a lot of munshids. How receptive the media is to nasheed and to the message it coveys is another obstacle, because some media outlets are purely commercial and have not interest in the substance and values of the nasheed itself, except where it is profitable and popular. We are hopeful that, with Allaah’s help, the Islaamic satellite T.V. channels would support nasheed and cause it to spread, through them, to other channels. Obstacles, notwithstanding the ones mentioned above, are many, but time and persistence will help us overcome them, for noble goals deserve the sacrifice.

• In light of the vast improvement in the quality and professionalism that inshaad witnessed during the sixth Kuwaiti Inshaad festival (March, 2005), and hosting a non-Arab inshaad band, how do you assess the frequency, quality and diversity of inshaad festivals throughout the Muslim world, and what do you hope for?

The sixth Kuwaiti Inshaad festival indeed took nasheed a major step forward in the Arab world. Nowhere before such a festival was held with similar resources and professionalism. The festival lasted five days, of which three were held in a theatre and the remaining days were held in two shopping malls. Financial support and official endorsement combined to interest the media in this festival and to ensure its quality and professionalism. Public attendance of this last festival broke every record of attendance in past inshaad festivals.
The actual performance of Nasheed was also new to this festival where nasheed was previously recorded and then played back, except for the munshid himself and the chorus. Diversity of nasheed was another major element in the success of this festival. We thank Allaah that this festival was really like ten steps forward in the right direction, and we hope to do the encores throughout the Arab world in the near future, which will help enriching the artistic quality of our Inshaad festivals.

• “Ya Rajaa-i IV” album is forthcoming. What should we expect? And did you fix the release date?

We sincerely hope that this album will match our expectations. We will only do our best, and we will make sure to take into account the criteria necessary for success. As for its planned release, we have not fixed a date yet, but it will take some time.

•Who does Meshary Alaradah listen to?

The cliché here would be: any beautiful voice that creates harmony between verse and tune. If you are asking about specific names, however, then I enjoy listening to the munshids Mu’hammad Al’husayyaan and ‘Abd Arra’hmaan Al’hawwaal and to the [’Qura~n] Reciter Mishaari Al‘afaassy, in addition to most munshids whose beautiful creations I do value.

• Do you remember any thing curious or funny that you encountered during your preparation or recording of your nasheeds? What brought tears to your eyes?

A strange and curious thing happened while shooting “Farshi Atturaab”. Shooting was scheduled to take place at three a.m. in A’s’sulaybeekhaat cemetery in Kuwait, where the time and location were both scary. I was hearing strange voices (possibly caused by wind) while I was waiting for my turn to record at eleven a.m., but very strong wind prevented us from shooting. Finally, after eight hours of wait and fear, we had to cancel the activities. We eventually recorded the necessary scenes but inside a studio; we avoided the graveyard. That same curios situation made me cry when I was thinking about the words of that nasheed and contemplating the graves and their inhabitants lying there under rocks and dust. I was telling myself: today I can make others hear me chanting “Farshi Atturaab” and relate to them the suffering with which the poem is imbued, but tomorrow nobody will hear me and nobody will answer me back.

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 Dust is My Bed

Performed & composed by: Mishaari Al‘araadah
Lyrcis by: A’hmad Alkandiry
Directed by: ‘Abd Allaah Al’hamad
Produced by: Gulf Media
Translated into English by: I-MAG

Dust is my bed, embracing me, and is my cover.
The sands are around me, engulfing me from all directions.
And the tomb recounts [the story of] the darkness of my calamity.
And the light has destined that my pleasure is in meeting [Allaah].

Where is the kindness of kin? They relinquished fidelity.
Where are the scores of friends? They dispensed with my brotherhood.
Where is the bliss of money? I left it behind.
And where is the glory of fame and compliments?
That’s my end; dust is my bed.

The beloved bade farewell to his love, and cried my elegy.
The tears flow dried out, after crying.
The vast universe shrank, narrowing my space.
The tomb to my corpse became both my land and my sky.
That’s my end; dust is my bed.

Fear overwhelms my estrangement and sadness is my ailment.
Hoping for steadfastness, which is – I swear – my remedy.
Sincerely supplicating to the Lord; You are my hope.
Hoping - O Allaah - for a paradise, in which my bliss shall be attained.


Exclusive for I-MAG Readers!

In cooperation with Gulf Media and Inshad.com, we present to our readers an English subtitled version of "Dust is My Bed"

To watch the video clip: www.inshad.com/dust

I-MAG Team -
Furthur information is available at the Editorial Team page

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