Coke Studio: Exploring human struggles, the divine in musical rendition of Shikwa-Jawaab-e-Shikwa

Shikwa and Jawaab-e-Shikwa together represent an epic duel between a magnanimous pleader and a majestic giver. These poems, penned by Hazrat Allama Iqbal in 1909 and 1913 respectively, were aimed at motivating the Muslim community in its struggle against colonial rule. Today, the words remain unparalleled in upholding the undefeatable excellence of the human spirit.

Shikwa-Jawaab-e-Shikwa represent the tensions between human nature and human potential, wherein divine wisdom proclaims that spirit, resilience and self-determination surmounts all mortal predicaments. The Shikwa is a plea to the creator — a grievance for having deserted its creation in times of distress.

Shikwa charts the glorious past of the Muslim race, its contribution to the world and civilisation, and compares it to a present of neglect and despondency. But in its essence, the poem may well be a prayer for all humanity.

Shikwa opens as a plea for deliverance from the present, in light of the accomplishments of its past. The voice of God, responding to this complaint, (as Jawaab-e-Shikwa) laments the deterioration of the pleader from being doers to complainants. The voice draws parallels between a past of greatness and a present of emptiness, and proclaims that all mortal suffering may only be resolved by an active pursuit of the ideals of truth, faith and beauty. The voice urges them to be active in their cause of emancipation rather than perish in anger or lie in passive wait for divine deliverance.

Thereby, the voice of the divine acts as the voice of reason and discourages passivity, inaction and blind faith. The poem elevates the cause of identity, freedom and knowledge to the realm of the sacred. It presents the cause of human excellence as ordained by the Divine.

 Coke Studio: Exploring human struggles, the divine in musical rendition of Shikwa-Jawaab-e-Shikwa

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The timeless message of Allama Iqbal’s epic poem is revitalised in a contemporary and electrifying musical performance, which inaugurated the 11th season of Coke Studio Pakistan. In a collaboration of rock and Qawwali, the human anguish — the Shikwa — is foregrounded in a stupendous rock acoustic set of drums and guitar, which becomes the soundtrack for defiance. The all-pervasive and overwhelming sonority of the Qawwali becomes the conduit of the word of the Divine, the word of reason. Shikwa, the complaint put forth by Natasha Baig in her deep, direct and empowering voice, is enveloped in the tantalising guitar riffs of Omran Shafique. Shafique observes, “Shikwa is meant to be harsher and angrier (and younger), much like every new generation questioning the way things are. It is rebellion."

Fikr-e-farda na karun, mahw-e-ghum-e-dosh rahoon

Why shouldn’t I think of the future, instead of mourning the losses of the past?

Jurrat aamoz meri taab-e-sukhan hai mujhko

I have the courage to speak up

Shikwa Allah se khakam badahan hai mujhko

Unfortunately I have a grievance with my creator

Saaz-e-Khamoosh hain, faryaad se Ma'moor hain hum

Though we remain quiet, we have grievances to share

***

The Coke Studio rendition culls selected lines from the original poem to foreground the malady of human pride and predicament. Baig is assertive in her complaint to the divine order, of neglect, of disowning the choicest of its creations — the human race, which made the Divine manifest through its worship and brought faith unto the Unseen.

Khugar-e-paikar mahsoos thi insaan ki nazar

Man’s perception was limited to only what he could see

Maanta phir koi un-dekhe Khuda ko kyonkar?

Then how could anyone believe in an unseen God?

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The voice of the Unseen booms, and the forces of power, wisdom and certitude fill the studio. The rock tenor is systematically superseded by the Qawwali of Ustad Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, who represent the voice of the Divine, the voice of reason, the Jawaab-e Shikwa. The Qawwali is majestic and solemn in its interplay of the concepts of Jalal and Jamal, whereby Jalal represents the uncontested might and Jamal represents the infinite benevolence of the divine order. The Jalal of the creator reprimands its creation for its weakness, its cynicism and its doubt:

Sar ko patakh kar kyun rou raha hai?

Why are you beating your head and crying?

Hum nay toh denay ka wada kia hai

We have promised that we will give

The Jamal, on the other hand, assures the seeker of rewards, love, light:

Tu kya samjh kar wapis chala tha

What were you thinking when you turned to leave?

(Aur) mayoos janay ko kisne kaha tha

Who told you to leave empty handed?

Baaz Aa, Baaz Aa

Come towards me, Come towards me

Een Dargah e Maa, Dargah e Na Umeedeeni

This is my court, don’t be disillusioned

Sadd Baar Agar Tauba Shikasti Baaz Aa

Even if you’ve gone back from penance a hundred times — still come

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This offering from Coke Studio 11 is exemplary of the musical fusion that is the hallmark of this Pakistani musical phenomenon. Speaking about the music arrangement, Omran Shafique adds, “This song, we rearranged the whole set… It was actually the last song we recorded and shot. It’s an epic song and was heavy and taxing to play....usually after the last song is recorded, each season we have a big bhangra on set... (Laughs) Not after this one though....things were heavy on set!”

In this performance, the elements of fusion surpass the limits of musical collaboration and become a synthesis and cross-play of contesting ideologies and aesthetics. Shikwa-Jawaab-e-Shikwa represents not just a fusion of rock and Qawwali, but revitalises the classic struggle between ignorance and knowledge, the timeless and the transcendental, the hidden and the manifest in a musical format.

***

—Poetry and translation: Coke Studio Pakistan

The author would like to thank Omran Shafique for his valuable inputs.

Shahwar Kibria is a PhD scholar in Cinema Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her research interests include Islamic music, Sufism and global music and audiovisual cultures.

Updated Date: Jan 17, 2019 14:24:31 IST