Long Beach, Calif. — Punjabi Sufi and folk music weaved together with improvisations and Hindi film songs, lifting the mood to pure elation when renowned Sufi singer Padmashree Hans Raj Hans took to the stage at Jordan High School Auditorium Mar. 14.
Bolstered by the ecstatic musical message of “love, oneness and peace,” an engaged audience of Indian Americans and other fans danced along the aisles and stage area of the venue, with hands waving while hooting for more by the end of the two-and-a-half hour event billed as “Soulful Sufi.”
While many Sufis concede that music and poetry play an integral role in the path to divine love, the Punjabi singer extended his description of the mystical branch of Islam via his stylized and solemn message at the onset of the show, emphasizing that Sufism was also a way of living which “encourages brotherhood, is against fanaticism and destroys hate.”
All the band members sat casually cross-legged on stage as Hans, who played the harmonium, was joined by Pakistani tabla player Ustad Sattar Tari Khan, Bobby Rozario on acoustic guitar and Bashir Khan on the Bul Bul Tarang, or the Indian banjo.
The unanimity of the artists and audience, a key feature of Sufiana kalams or poetic folk music, dictated the form, speed and duration of the pieces being performed in the evening.
Songs at times lasted over 15 minutes as refrains, or phrases or words which evoke effect in the audience were repeated until an enraptured stage was reached. From the kalam of Shah Hussain, a 16th century poet, Hans sang “Mere Sahiba, Main Teri Ho Mukk Aan,” and delivered the lines with engaging hand gestures while replicating the phrase with varied tones and emphasis.
Harjeet Sandhu of New York, accompanied by her family, nodded with pleasure while listening to Hans and expressed her adoration for the singer, explaining to India-West that for her the meaning of the Punjabi phrase was multiple — “Sahiba” could be synonymous to God or a lover, and regardless of the object of ardor, the meaning extracted was “I am yours completely — Teri Ho Mukk Aan.”
Belting out roughly 13 to 14 songs which alternated between low, long drones to high octave surges, charged with penetrating vibratos, the songs and even syllables often made way for exchanges and musical duels between the artist and his accompanists.
Other popular tunes included hit songs such as “Sili Sili Aundi e Hawa,” and “Dil Chori Sad Ho Gaya” from his 2000 album “Chorni.” Hans and his band also accepted special requests from the audience for a number of songs including the requested Bhangra tune, “Nachi Jo Saade Naal.” Hans, who had the honor of working with the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the 1999 movie “Kachche Dhaage” on the song, "Khali Dil Nahin Jaan Bhi Hai,” also presented it to the audience.
The evening ended with onlookers clapping and crowding to continue bopping Bhangra to the fast-paced popular song, “Duma Duma Mast Qalandar.”
Born into a peasant family near Jalandhar, in Punjab, and influenced by a street singer, the young talent began his career performing at youth festivals where he won musical competitions. Hans would eventually become a devotee of a Sufi singer named Ustad Puran Shahkoti Sahib through whom he learned the Sufiana style.
Hans has sang for numerous films, released over 20 albums and has been bestowed titles and awards such as the prestigious civilian award of India the Padmashree in the arts in 2008.
The performance is part of a 15-city tour across the United States, brought by Rhythm Asia, an event management company, in association with Anil Kumar and G.S. Bajwa in Los Angeles.