New Delhi, June 26 (Calcutta Tube) Twenty-four years after the Baha’i choir performed at the Lotus Temple in the capital, the Baha’i house of worship once again reverberated with the ‘Voices of Baha’, a rainbow choir from 25 countries.
The choir that performed in India in 1986 on the eve of the temple’s 25th birthday to render gospel and spiritual music composed by sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, conductor Tom Price and Bollywood musician Ashit Desai.
India has nearly two million followers of the Baha’i faith.
On Friday, the choir performed in a hour-long concert, ‘One Ocean – Celebrating Unity Through the Arts’ – an instrumental and vocal rendition – to an overflowing theatre at the Lotus Temple’s Information Centre.
On Saturday, the choir performed a 1986 encore – a cappella without instruments at the temple’s prayer hall.
Musical instruments are banned in the prayer hall, which is used for meditation and daily chants.
The ‘One Ocean’ series that has toured 35 nations will travel to several countries throughout 2010-2011. The music has been sourced from Baha’i writings that addresses humanity as ‘drops of one ocean and waves of sea’.
The concert, a tribute to international and Indian fusion music, rendered five compositions by Pandit Ravi Shankar in ragas — Yaman Kalyan, Charukeshi, Jyitshri, Bhairavi and Kedar apart from Persian, English and Afro-American gospel music, including a bluegrass version of ‘Amazing Grace’, composed post 1986 by members of the band to ‘celebrate the spirit of unity in diversity, freedom, compassion and the glory of god’.
Baha’i music is essentially choral in nature – heavy on harmony-based lyrics. The choir, which has produced several albums, draws from traditional and contemporary sounds from across the world.
‘The Hindi compositions are collaborations between Tom Price, Ravi Shankar and myself from the 1986 repertoire when the members of the congregation approached ‘Pandit ji’ to set founder Bahaullah’s writings in English to music for the inaugural concert,’ Mumbai-said composer and vocalist Ashit Desai, who a part of the choir with wife Hema and his son, told IANS.
‘Poet Suraj Bhanu Gupt was assigned to translate the Persian saint’s poetry to Hindi. Ravi Shankar composed 10 songs in Indian classical ragas. The ragas were simple so that foreign musicians could understand the melodies and perform them,’ Desai said.
Desai, who was performed at the 1986 concert, has been working with Ravi Shankar since early 80s and sang two tracks – ‘Raghupati Raghava…’ and a ‘Vaishnav Bhajan’ , set by the maestro for the movie ‘Gandhi’. Desai also conducted and performed music at the Asian Games in 1981. He is a Time Music artist.
American conductor Tom Price, a Baha’i by faith, recalls that the India-specific choir was set up in 1986 ‘when they required a large group of musicians to perform in Delhi’.
‘I auditioned some of musicians on the Internet (in the US),’ Price told IANS.
Remembering his association with Ravi Shankar, Price said: ‘We spent two busy weeks collaborating. The only hitch was Indian vocal music was accompanied. But we improvised on it. The music had to be spiritually uplifting,’ he said.
A noted jazz and gospel musician, he has led Baha’i Temple choirs in Australia and US, along with the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Czech National Symphony, the Budapest Symphony, the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Maly Moscow Symphony. Price heads the independent record label Claire Vision Productions in the US.
The history of Sufi-style Baha’i faith goes back to 19th century Persia. On May 23, 1844, Siyyid Ali Muhammed of Shiraz of Iran proclaimed that he was the ‘bab’ – the gate or the prophet – in the liberal Islamic Shia tradition.
The bab was imprisoned and killed in 1850. The faith teaches tolerance, spirituality, meditation and amity.
Baha’i sees Bab as the forerunner of the Baha’i faith. A rough estimates says the faith has 10 million followers worldwide.