by Amit Roy
TWO gifted home-grown British Asian musicians – Roopa Panesar on sitar and Abi Sampa singing qawwali – performed last Saturday (6) at Tara Theatre in Tooting, south London, in a remarkable concert held “in praise of Khusrow”.
The concert was part of Easter Ragas, a three-day festival of classical and contemporary Indian music, put together by Jatinder Verma’s Tara Arts and Jay Visvadeva, of the Sama Arts Network.
They explained that Amir Khusrow (1253- 1325), was a Sufi musician, poet and scholar regarded as the “father of qawwali”, a devotional music form of their faith. He is credited with fusing the Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Indian musical traditions to create qawwali.
According to Visvadeva, Roopa “is one of the finest sitar players to emerge on the Indian music scene in the UK”.
Having begun training at the age of seven, she later became a student of Pandit Arvind Parikh, a senior disciple of the great Ustad Vilayat Khan.
Abi, who first attracted attention when she appeared on the BBC’s The Voice, performed with members of her band. She has been inspired by, among others, the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the greatest qawwali singer of modern times. She even experimented with English lyrics she had written herself.
Abi is UK-born and bred, but she had come with her mother who said the family hailed from the north of Sri Lanka.
In the Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, there are words attributed to Khusrow inscribed on a terrace: Agar Firdaus bar ru-ye zamin ast,/ Hamin ast o hamin ast o hamin ast. This verse – “If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this” – is found on several Mughal monuments.
Perhaps Tooting was briefly a kind of musical paradise last week.