One of my favorite Nasheed albums is called Pelita Hidup, by the Malaysian group Hijjaz. It is filled with beautiful duas, zikr, and nasheeds, very much a meditative album. Many of the songs deal with the certainty of death and the life of the grave. I’ve translated them and passed them on to Nasheed World. I will reproduce them here as well.
Hijjaz – Pelita Hidup
Hidup ini bagai lampu dinding
Yang dinyalakan dimalam hari
Apabila minyak sudah kering
Ia kan pasti padam sendiri
This life is like the lantern
That burns through the night
When the oil has dried out
It must surely extinguish itself
Demikian juga hidup manusia
Selama hidup di dunia ini
Bila dah cukup umur usia
Putuslah hubungan disana sini
So also the life of Man
As long as he lives in this world
When enough of his lifetime has passed
Every relationship is severed
Setelah kita tinggalkan dunia
Alam yang lain pula menanti
Apakah kita dapat kurnia
Itu melihat amal danbakti
After we leave this world
Lo! Another world awaits us
What will get us good favor
That we show our good work and devotion
Di sana insan cemas dan bimbang
Tak dapat lagi buat alasan
Buruk dan baik akan ditimbang
Kedua-duanya dapat balasan
There Man is fearful and nervous
No more excuses can be made
The bad and the good will be weighed
Together they give the answer
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.
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.
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
[UPDATE: I have gone on to translate a fair number of Malaysian nasheeds and pop tunes. You can browse them with the nasheedand nasyidtags, 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
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.
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.