Ravishing Sufi music and poetry

Ensemble Ibn Báya & Cofradía Shushtari, Omar Metioui & Eduardo Paniagua –
Ibn ‘Arabi – El intérprete de los deseos
Ensemble Ibn Báya & Cofradía Shushtari, Omar Metioui & Eduardo Paniagua.

Ibn ‘Arabi – El intérprete de los deseos [Taryumán al-Ashwáq] (Pneuma PN 360)

This is a most usual recording, fruit of the collaboration of a Spanish specialist in the musical traditions of Medieval Spain, a Moroccan Arab-Andalusian musician and a Moroccan Sufi brotherhood with roots stretching back to the medieval Islamic Kingdom of Granada. Though each contributor brings something different to the project, the common ground between them is the musical heritage of Islamic Spain. The result of this collaboration is a marvelous work that recreates the mystical poetry of the great Sufi master Ibn Arabi as a Sufi sama, a sacred concert of music and mystical poetry. Ibn Arabi was born in 1165 on the Iberian peninsula in the region that is today Murcia in southeastern Spain, then part of Islamic Spain. Leaving Al-Andalus as a young man, Ibn Arabi traveled extensively in the Mediterranean basin. He continues to be one of the most highly revered of Sufi thinkers and poets, and
in recent years he has become better known to the West through biographies and translations of his prose and poetry into numerous European languages.

Everything about this production is sumptuous. The CD cover and extensive, well-written and highly informative accompanying booklet are illustrated with illuminations from a medieval Arabic manuscript. A concise introduction to Sufism and Ibn Arabi and his poetic work, The Interpreter of Desires, leads into
a discussion of the recording and the text selection. Whether one is well versed in Ibn Arabi and Sufism or is an open-minded newcomer, the liner notes are well chosen and extremely useful in orienting the listener.

Unlike most recordings of a Sufi musical concert (sama) which are simply casual documents of a meeting of dervishes and the rites and ceremonies of their particular order, this work is carefully structured specifically for the individual listener separate in time and space from the ceremony. Special music,
recitations, prayers and poems help draw the listener into the sacred space of Ibn Arabi’s poems as interpreted in traditional manner by dervishes of the Shushtari Order, supported by professional Arab-Andalusian musicians. Modes, that in this musical system evoke different emotional states, are married to the texts to heighten their emotional impact. Sufi zikr–special rhythmic chants and breathing practices that create a heightened state of spiritual remembrance in the participants–are often deployed beneath the poetry, which may be sung in chorus by the brotherhood or by soloists unfurling highly ornamented and beautifully sung passages on top of the insistent zikr.

Each of the two main sections of the work slowly but surely builds to a musical and mystical climax.
All the power of over a millennium of Sufi sacred ritual and Andalusí classical music tradition is combined to produce a work of tremendous spiritual power and intense beauty. The selection of the poetry, the structure of the recording, the pacing of the ceremony, the quality of the musicians and soloists, and the extraordinary beauty of Ibn Arabi’s poetry combine to produce a work of the highest order. Listen to Ibn Arabi’s Interpreter of Desires with open heart and mind, and prepare to be ravished.

Author: Marie Jost

Marie Jost received her doctorate in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a flamenco and world music aficionado, a Hong Kong film enthusiast, and an ardent Leslie Cheung fan. Ms. Jost currently resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S.A.