Better than Hip-Hop

A little while ago, the Malaysian Music Awards were on TV. At the moment I tuned in, the winners for the Rap category were being introduced. Pop Shuvit, they call themselves. I cringed to see these jokers come on stage with their pants sagging, jewerly blinging and hair done up in cornrolls. They rap in Malay, which is sort of cool, but I couldn’t get past the horribly derivative image to even bother to listen. If I’m being unfair to the Malaysian rap scene, you can set me straight.

dikir-barat-2-jpg
Pic from Halimah @ Glogster [http://www.glogster.com/halimah/myglogster]
However! There is a true Malaysian rap form that is as sincere and engaging as the KL homies are phony and dull. And that is the music called Dikir Barat. Dikir Barat is performed by groups with one lead rapper and a raucous gang that calls out the chorus, keeps the beat, and rocks and sways to the music. The lyrics are extemporaneous when performed at weddings or similar events, though at a televised competition I saw, it was much more rehearsed. Like with rap, the lyrics are key, and the style and flow of the lead MC are important. The MC is called the tukang karut, an inelegant translation of which would be “master liar”. But as has been pointed out to me, karut can also mean to versify or rhyme extemporaneously, in which case tukang karut would be more like a storyteller or even rhymemaster. The Tukang Karut stands, and often struts and gesticulates as he raps. The crew sit crosslegged, and perform the most lively dancing I’ve ever seen from people sitting down. The movements are synchronized, but the crew will shout and yell across the rap as they feel the urge. The music is all percussion, from hand claps to drums to gongs. The beats are lively and loud during the chorus, but often fall away during the rap. The beats aren’t hyper-syncopated like hip-hop, but have definite funk to them. There are downloads and a few translations here, courtesy of Fire and Hemlocke, or you can search for dikir barat on YouTube.

Other informational sources for dikir barat:

www. Dikir Barat .com

Kelantan Royal Net

Dikir Barat Page

Dikir Barat in Singapore

Rabbani Does Dikir Barat

On the subject of dikir barat, the excellent nasheed group Rabbani has a song that is done with a dikir barat flavor, called Ingat 5 Sebelum 5, “Remember 5 Before 5”. You can find it on Kazaa if you are outside of Malaysia. I thought I’d try my hand at translating the lyrics this afternoon, since it is something I can do while rocking my 2-month old in her buaian. I didn’t try too hard to make the translation poetic, just reasonably close to the meaning. Corrections or critiques are most welcome.

Ingat 5 Sebelum 5

Duhai teman dan tuan-puan — O dear friends, sirs and ladies
Mari kita berpesan-pesanan — Come let us take advice together
Baik lelaki juga perempuan — Come boys and girls
Duduk di kampung atau di pekan — Whether in the village or the market
Zaman in zaman kemajuan — This time is a time of prosperity
Kebendaan menjadi ukuran — Material wealth has become the measure [for which]
Hidup saling bersaingan — Life has become a competition between us
Jika lalai tinggal sendirian — And the one who is uninterested is left behind aloneNabi junjungan pernah berpesan — The Holy Prophet once advised us
Agar hidup ada pegangan — So that this life may be grasped
Semak selalu jangan lupakan — Always pay heed, don’t forget
Agar tak susah di hari kemudian — So that there is no difficulty on the Day to come

Kena diingat lima perkara — We must be mindful of five things
Sebelum tiba lima perkara — Before five things occur
Aaa… aaa… — Aaa… aaa…
Semoga hidup aman bahagia — For life to filled with peace and joy

Waktu lapang buatlah amalan — In time of leisure, do good works
Sebelum sibuk pelbagai urusan — Before you become busy with your various affairs
Isilah dengan amal kebajikan — Fill it with good deeds
Menuntut ilmu dan baca Al-Quran — Seek knowledge and read the Quran

Waktu senang beringatlah — In time of ease, act prudently
Sebelum tiba waktunya susah — Before difficulties arise
Jika datang ancaman musibah — If great disaster arrives
Mampu bersedia selesai masalah — You will be capable to solve the problem

Bila sihat jagalah badan — In time of health, look after your body
Sebelum derita sakit tak keruan — Before heavy suffering and pain
Kawallah makan untuk kesihatan — Guard your food for health
Ringan ibadah nak dikerjakan — It will lighten the effort of worship

Jika kaya bermurah hati — If you are rich, be generous
Dapat pahala menolong orang — You will get the reward of helping others
Aaa… aaa… — Aaa… aaa…
Jikalau miskin apa pun tak ada — And if you are poor, and have nothing at all

Waktu kita hidup di dunia — Our time in this worldly life
Sediakan bekalan sebelum mati — Is to prepare our provisions before we die
Walaupun susah banyak halangan — Even though it may be fraught with much difficulty
Tabah dan sabar Allah kan sayang — Be steady and persevere, Allah will love you

Ingat-ingat kita semua — Take care, O we all
Jangan mudah sombong diri — Don’t fill your self with pride so easily
Insafilah pesanan ini — Realize that this advice
Untuk kita suluh diri — Is for us to illuminate our selves

Semoga lembut hati kita — In order that we may soften our hearts
Untuk taat dan berbakti — For obedience and devotion
Dari Allah kita datang — From Allah we have come
Kepada Allah kita kembali — And unto Allah we shall return

Malaysian Nasheed

Malaysian Nasheed - Raihan

[UPDATE: I have gone on to translate a fair number of Malaysian nasheeds and pop tunes.  You can browse them with the nasheed and nasyid tags, check out the language category, or do a site search for things like lyrics.]

I just can’t keep up with the number of new music groups singing nasheed here in Malaysia. There must be at least a dozen groups that have debuted since the last time I was here. Raihan, Rabbani and Hijjaz continue to penetrate western Islamic goods catalogues. For those of us non-malays the biggest obstacle to appreciating the music is the original material in Malay language. So I was happy to find Nasheed World, a website dedicated to translating Nasheed lyrics into English. There’s plenty there to explore, but from a quick look, I’d say the quality of translation is good. Here’s their translation from the very beautiful track

“Odei Anak” by Raihan on the Syukur album:

Dear child do you understand
How fearful it is for the pregnant mother?
Dear child do you know
How painful it was for your mother to give birth to you?
Dear child do you know
How difficult it was for your mother to bear you?
Dear child do you know
How painful it is to give birth to you?
However, your birth entertains the heart
Cared and pampered for everyday
Irregular sleeping hours at night
But it does not matter because you are loved
Days have passed
As you have grown
A mother is getting older
However, still sacrificing to make a living
So you would have a better futureNow you are an adult and your mother has passed away
Time has passed as if it is calling out to you
Have you given her your love?
Have all her good deeds been repaid?
Paradise lies at her feet…Only good children
Can give their love
Only good children
Can pray for your afterlife

That site led me to Nasyid Online, which has a good selection of songs available to listen. Sepohon Kayu is a good one. It lets you get a feel for the instrumentation and melodies that a lot of the nasheed share; lots of gamelon-type percussion and clear harmonies.

The Importance of Qasidah

There are so many beautiful habits and customs that have become commonplace in countries where Islam has existed for centuries, like reciting salawat after Adhan or joining the du’a of the Imam after salat, that have not yet permeated the muslim community here. Most palpably lacking is the invoking of praise on the Propet, peace be upon him, through the beautiful poetry of nasheed, qasidah, naat, milad and so on. There are so many songs, poems, melodies praising HabibAllah SAWS in the most exquisite and moving way that are part of the cultural inheritance of Islam, and it has been fairly inaccessible and even discouraged for us American muslims.

Which is all simply to say I am so grateful and happy to have received my copy of The Qasida Burda Sharif of Imam Sharafaddin Al-Busiri today. It is so, SO very good, I’m really at a loss for words. It is translated by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, calligraphed by Mohamed Zakariya, sung by the Fez Singers led by Bennis Abdelfettah, produced by Sandala, and available in the US at AlHambra Productions. It is a thing of beauty, a real work of art. The calligraphy is in the maghribi style, which practically dances on the page. It’s not what I’m used to reading so I’m still getting familiar with it. But with the book in hand and the CD in the spinner, it’s not too difficult to follow along. The style of recitation is powerful but not so decorated that you can’t make out what is being said. I can’t do it justice so I won’t go on about it.

There are a few extra tidbits in the book that are worth mentioning. One is Shaykh Hamza’s description of his stay in the maghrib, and the way the Qasidah pervades the atmosphere there. SubhanAllah! How many of us can even recite Tala’al Badru Alayna from start to finish? The other is the Isnad provided through several lines by Shaykh Ibrahim al-Ya’qubi to Imam al-Busiri himself. It is of course beyond me to comment on the strength or weakness of that chain, but so is it also beyond the unfortunate finger-waggers out there who may try to discourage others from the self-evident goodness of Qasidah! Allah SWT says: Say [O Muhammad]: God and His angels bless the Prophet. O ye who believe! Bless him and salute him with a worthy salutation.

Mawlid from Malaysia

Mawlid in Malaysia

I was browsing through my site stats and noticed that somebody had found my site by googling for “Nasheed and Mawlid from Malaysia”. Now that is a visitor I don’t want to disappoint! So I’ve collected what I could find on the subject:

Alhamdulillah, recitation of praise on the Prophet (saws) is regularly practiced in Malaysia, on the traditionally observed day of his birth, 12 Rabi ul-Awwal, as it is in all muslim countries except one; and at any other happy occassion, such as the shaving of the newborn child’s head. If we have cause for happiness, is it not fitting to praise God and His Messenger for it? There are many books of songs, poetry and supplication that are widely read throughout the muslim world wherever the bid’a-shouters haven’t penetrated too deeply. Among the more famous are Mawlid Diba’i, Mawlid Barzanji, Dala’il Khayrat and Qasidah Burdah. There are of course more. It hasn’t always been easy getting copies of these works in the US, but thankfully they are becoming more and more available.

A wonderful CD of Mawlid Diba’i was produced by the Mawlid Project in Malaysia. It is available for sale here. It originally was available with a book of translation and Arabic for a higher price, but I think now only CDs are left. The production quality is very good.

A recitation of Dala’il Khayrat on cassette is available here. I had the privilege to hear the Shaykh recite, and it was by far the most powerful recitation of Qur’an I have heard. The cassettes, unfortunately, are recited in a more dry and unemotional style. So for a non-Arabic speaker like myself, it was less captivating. An English translation of the Dala’il is available from Shaykha Aisha Bewley’s website. I have not yet found Dala’il Khayrat in print, though I’ve been told it exists.

The Qasidah Al-Burda of Imam Busiri is being released as a 3-CD box set with a book. Produced by Hamza Yusuf, with calligraphy by Muhammad Zakariyya. [!] I can’t wait to get a copy, but I haven’t seen it for sale in the US yet, only in UK. Soon InshaAllah. An appreciation of the Qasidah, as well as selective translations from other qasaaid, is available at Iqra Islamic Publications, a very nice website of the ba’alawi tariqa.

Br. Muhammad Sajad Noshahi’s Homepage, Dedicated to the importance of Dala’il ul Khayrat, Qasidah Burdah & Salawat ala Rasul, has a terrific listing of audio sources. Now that I’ve found his site, I don’t think I have any more to write. It looks like he’s got it all in there. Thank you Br. Sajad!