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Michal Shapiro Headshot

Sufi Pop Rocks the Asia Society (VIDEO)

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On the day before my own departure for Central Asia, Arif Lohar brought his electrified Sufi music to the Asia Society and pretty much tore the place apart. He and his band transformed the Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium from a listening venue to a dancehall, with people bobbing happily along, and even on occasion, getting on stage to surround the musicians with a circle of positive energy.

Although Lohar had been a steady light in Punjabi folk music for years, he really broke through barriers when in 2010 he performed "Alif Allah Chambey Di Booti" on the popular COKE STUDIO show, a mainstay of Pakistani television. His rendition of the Sufi devotional song was pure pop and the video went viral and as of my last checking has garnered almost eight and half million views on YouTube.

The performance April 27th of this one song lasted almost 40 minutes, so I had to do a fair amount of editing. But I mainly edited out only those parts of the song where the sound balance was problematic -- at no point did the excitement let up, and as you can see, Lohar woos the audience, and the audience responds in spades!

"Alif Allah Chambey Di Booti" is set to a classic Punjabi beat, (dhol hottie and all) and reminds the participants -- this is participatory music at its heart -- that true reality is the realm of God. It cements this concept through repeated call and response, leading to a tranced, ecstatic state. The "tongs with bells" that Lohar plays is called a Chimta, and he wields it with drama and flair. Personally, I think this live rendition -- warts and all -- blows the pop version out of the water.

The concert capped a five-city U.S. tour, organized by Arts Midwest's "Caravanserai: A Place Where Cultures Meet," and was part of the Asia Society's series "Creative Voices of Muslim Asia", supported by the Doris Duke Foundation.