SXSW Music: Wahid Allan Faqir
Pakistani’s Sufi devotionals heal the world one note at a time
By Greg Beets,
2:05PM, Sat. Mar. 19, 2016
You couldn’t help but notice Wahid Allan Faqir as he walked through the crowd prior to Friday’s showcase at the Russian House. Dressed in colorful scarves and a peacock-tailed turban, he emanated spiritual joy before sounding a note. He playfully engaged the audience as his quartet tuned up, making funny faces and gestures for the shutterbugs.
Hailing from Pakistan’s Sindh province, Faqir draws both his name and musical inspiration from Allan Faqir, a legendary Sufi folk singer who passed away in 2000. He speaks out against honor killings and recently defied threats of violence to perform in India. In keeping with the color of his garb, his energetic Sufi devotionals fomented deep-seated communion with the most redeeming elements of our shared humanness.
The instrumental focal point in Faqir’s combo is the harmonium, a European product that spread rapidly upon its 19th century import during colonial rule. Woven together with intricate percussive patterns on the dholak and finger cymbals crashing together at speeds almost high enough to send out sparks, the resulting hybrid remains transcendent. On top of it all, the soaring and swooping vocal chants sound warm and inviting even if you don’t know the language or religion.
Smiling, whirling, and holding forth with his beautifully detailed one-string kingh, Faqir cultivated a sea of smiles. By set’s end, members of Azerbaijan’s equally magnificent Qarabagh Ensemble were dancing in unison at the foot of the stage. Maybe music alone can’t heal the world, but nights like these make it seem like a good place to start.