In this issue of Accord, we explore Hamsafar: A Musical Journey through South Asia. Click on the video below to listen to the piece while reading this!
Composed by the young English composer, Lauren Braithwaite, Hamsafar is a veteran of both Chiragh concerts, performed at the 26th April and 5th October 2019 concerts. It was commissioned for SASO by Classical Movements’ Eric Daniel Helms New Music Program. The piece stitches together popular melodies from each of the seven South Asian nations, into one rich and beautiful masterpiece. A characteristic feature of this work is the interplay of melodies and countermelodies between the orchestra sections, especially the woodwinds and the strings.
Hamsafar begins with the sorrowful but tender melody of the Sri Lankan Sinhala song, “Aiyandiye” – which means “Go ahead”. Listen at 02:00 for the lyrical melodies of the cellos and oboe supported by the gentle pizzicatos of the string section. We then travel to north to Bangladesh, and are greeted by the splish-splash of raindrops from the percussion instruments. “Allah, megh de pani de” is a song beseeching God to send forth rain clouds and water. Look out for the rolls of thunder from the timpani at 02:53. This Bengali song has a deceptively cheerful melody, the major tonality seeming almost celebratory, but then again – who says we can’t have some good cheer while praying for rain?
From Bangladesh, we gently float into Nepal. “Euto manche ko” is a lyrical and sweet love song. The beautiful, sweeping opening is presented by the flutes and strings, all the while supported by gentle, long tones by the brass instruments. The main refrain of the song then begins with a more rhythmic character, and the melody is largely pentatonic. A brief contrasting melody appears at 05:20 but returns us effortlessly to the main refrain of the love song.
Now onward towards India, where Shankar Jaikishan’s catchy and evergreen instrumental refrain catches hold of us. “Mera Joota Hai Japani” is an upbeat and rhythmic song stating that even though my shoes may be Japanese and my trousers from England, my heart will always be Indian. Listen for the gorgeous interplay between the different instrument timbres from 07:28 to 07:49.
We travel on to Afghanistan, where we are greeted by the majestic and “marching-band” like opening of “Arsala Khan”. The next melody is, in contrast, quite gentle and played by the clarinets and flutes. It supported by a bouncy, rhythmic ostinato by the strings and tambourine (08:54), which bubbles through the texture of the music throughout this section. There is a great contrast between the jolly nature suggested by the music and those put forth by the lyrics. “Arsala Khan” is the story of a young woman crying out because she is forbidden from marrying the man she loves.
In Bhutan, we encounter the pentatonic, lilting strains of the traditional song “Ta Zee Ling”. It opens gently, almost meditative in character. The cellos play a pizzicato melody that leads us into the main section of the song. Listen for the sweeping tutti by the orchestra at 12:36, that delicately ends with the cellos in pizzicato before fading into quiet.
The final section of the piece is “Lal Meri Pat Rakhiyo”, from Pakistan. The lyrics were written by poet Amir Khusrau, in honour of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Listen at 14:41 as the different instruments and sections emphatically state “Damadar mast qalandar!” before coming together in a tutti that drives the music towards its climax.
As we navigate these difficult times when we are unable to meet together in-person to make music, Chiragh has decided to come together virtually to perform this music, and remind ourselves that we are hamsafars (fellow travellers) on this journey. Do look out for updates on the Virtual Hamsafar Project in the next newsletter!