Tuesday, September 26, 2006

sufi poetry and music evening in london

Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Center in London was the venue last Tuesday for readings of classical poetry in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Punjabi, followed by a recital of Afghan music.

The Human Rights Action Center, which opened last year, is the headquarters of Amnesty’s UK Section and also provides space for human rights activists. Its auditorium was packed out for Tuesday’s double bill, which was organized jointly by Amnesty and Poet in the City, a project of the Poetry Society.

The Center is located in the East London area of Shoreditch, not far from the City of London. The holding of the evening there reflects the value that Amnesty places on the arts. In its foyer last week was a retrospective exhibition by the Brighton-based artist Paula Cox. The exhibition was both a retrospective of Cox’s work for as an artist for Amnesty, and a showcase for her most recent project “Celebrating the Life of Palestinian Women”.

The theme of the event was Sufi poetry, and it was presented by the British scholar, linguist and Middle East traveler Bruce Wannell. The multinational audience listened with attentiveness and appreciation to the poetry read in the four Oriental languages by native speakers (Wannell himself read some of the Persian poems), and to the English translations.

The second half of the program was a music recital led by tabla player Yusuf Mahmoud, who since coming to London has established himself as a leading Afghan and world musician. His skills on the tabla are extraordinary, and the audience was enthralled by his high-velocity solos.

Mahmoud performed with Professor John Baily of Goldsmiths College on rubab and dotar, Veronica Doubleday on frame drum and vocals, and Timor Shaiedaie, a new arrival on the Afghan music scene in Britain. Shaiedaie played harmonium and sang in a beautifully melodious, tender voice. The recital ended with a standing ovation.

Amnesty International, Poet in the City and Bruce Wannell are to be congratulated for organizing an event that helped Londoners to see that some of the most war-torn areas on earth have produced some of the world’s most wonderful poetry and music.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, 26 September 2006