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Trance, dance or just tap

The etiquette of listening to music varies from culture to culture

Trance, dance or just tap
The audience reacts to Waris Shah’s poetry.

The etiquette of listening to music varies from culture to culture. It was not so long ago that the etiquette of listening to western classical music was formal. The entire concert was heard in pin-drop silence with the clapping taking place at the end of the concert. If it lasted more than the usual duration it implied an encore. If the clapping did not synchronise it meant the performance was not appreciated. It was like modern-day booing.

The culture of listening to our music is totally different because listening in total silence can be construed as lack of appeal or the absence of communication between the practitioner and the audience. Even in the most formal and reserved of environment, the instant cry or sigh of appreciation is an indispensable concomitant of performance. It can also happen that the instant appeal is a chorus of loud appreciative cries or sighs like hai, subhanallah, khoob, wah, kiya baat hai etc. The most moving performance can be one which makes the audience weep uncontrollably — riqat tari ho jana.

Usually in the qawwali recital it was and is common that a person or a set of people go into a trance and then they dance or engage in some kind of bodily movements or gyrations. In its most extreme form, the common expression for this is haal either haal churh gia or haal aa giya or the person has achieved the height of altered consciousness.

In the West, qawwali is meant and appreciated for its beat and the audience overzealous to break into some bodily movement the moment it all starts turn it into a dance performance. The Sikhs living abroad, with glasses in hand, are seen to be most impatient in expressing their appreciation in impromptu dance-like movements.

So, it is quite incongruous or even amusing to see people’s reaction while listening to music which may have come from the West. If at a classical music concert of a piano or a violin, there are repressed sighs of appreciation. Even during a pause in music, the audience sensing the number has ended feels obliged to applaud and express their appreciation as if not to be left behind. This pause, at times, is a part of the entire performance and the silence is meant to be kept and soaked.

 The culture of listening to our music is totally different because listening in total silence can be construed as lack of appeal.

Similarly when a westerner listens to our music his stony silence is rather taken as rudeness or smugness. It is actually only lack of initiation.

One standard manner is to give wail appreciation in terms of money. Greatness or reverence can also be acknowledged in terms of money and it is called niaz. A shagird offers a token sum of money as nazrana to the ustad or any member of the ustad gharana. In more raucous circumstances, money may be showered on the performer, if it happens to be a dance and of a female at that. A Pakistani or an Indian has to restrain himself while listening or seeing a dance performance from slipping into this mujra mode.

In kheyal and thumri, besides the calls of delight and appreciation, the other feature of the initiated is to acknowledge the arrival of the sum with a slight but aggressive nod of the head. It should synchronise with the culmination of the rhythmic cycle. If the performance happens to be of the tabla or any other form that is more prone to rhythm than melody, the hand gesture as it swishes the air or a tame tapping by the hand on the knee or the other hand is also considered legitimate enough.

In ghazal gaiki performance probably as a continuation of the mushaira tradition, which is very close to the mujra culture, a step forward is to complete the misra with the vocalist so as to emphasise the meaning of the couplet. Probably, the taranum tradition of reciting the ghazal also encouraged this manner of appreciation where the misra is as if clenched and wrested from the mouth of the poet as an instant certification of being in tune with the tenor of poetry.

But all this has changed with the advent of popular music or pop music. The aim or the objective of this music is to strike a chord with the audience that either moves in a certain stylised manner or breaks into some kind of a movement. Call it, improvised dance — for want of a better word.

The pop concerts are not meant for tens or hundreds but thousands or hundreds of thousands and usually such huge congregations are held in open spaces, parks and sports stadiums. The environment is quite informal without the restrictions of a closed, controlled environment. With all formality blown away to the wind of popular sentiment, people eat, drink, walk, lie down, sit, dance, strip or roll over each other while listening to music.

The culture of listening to music has also been deeply influenced by the rise of the American culture. The quintessential American music, jazz, we all know is a product of the ghettos, where the black slaves forcefully transported from Africa in their hours of leisure at night sang and played African melodies in a language that was English and instruments that were cloned from the original.

It then graduated to the bars and nightclubs in cities, like New Orleans and Chicago, and the half way decent habits of listening to music gradually developed from the alcohol/drug steeped ethos of the ghettos. It was considered chic if you shook your head, front to back, with the rhythmic swing and occasionally tapped the floor with your foot. The same mannerism shifted to the concert halls, albeit in a more stylised format as jazz gained acceptance and was promoted as the musical expression of the super power.

It is different while listening to music that developed in the Latin areas of America — because the difference between dance and music is almost non-existent. Salsa and tango are as much about music as they are about dance and it too developed not so much in the concert halls but in the nightclubs and salons, where it was more associated with a raunchy expression, representing an inebriated libido.

Sarwat Ali

sarwatali
The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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