The melody for life, ritual and culture

Left to right: Bob Kendall introducing Naseem Shah with Rotary President Peter Scott.
Left to right: Bob Kendall introducing Naseem Shah with Rotary President Peter Scott.

Morpeth Rotary Club

Nadeem Shah, of the pharmacy at Kirkhill, says that wherever he has travelled in the world, it is music that makes him who he is.

He has worked on World Health Organisation (WHO) projects in a number of countries. It was difficult for him to keep up with Indian music when he first started working abroad in 1991 as he had only three or four days at each location. Now, with the availability of online music, you can take your entertainment with you.

After work, what he enjoys most in life is food and music. He is from an area of northern Pakistan and northern India where music is at the centre of communities and the family. It is an expression of the many traditions and cultures and is an integral part of all aspects of life and ritual.

The form in classical Indian music is the ‘raga’, meaning melody with emotion. In the past each melodic type was associated with a particular emotion. He illustrated this by playing examples. There are different feelings associated with geography, including rivers and mountains.

Ragas were created at different times by different people in different parts of society. India is a sea of cultures, languages, fabrics, colours and food that can change abruptly from street to street.

It has been invaded for thousands of years. The Mughals with a Muslim culture came from the west, then moved north to south. Western India has Arab and Persian influence. Chinese influence came from the north. People used music to reflect these influences.

Each region is different and this comes out in the music. The south has a lot of rain, there is fishing and the crops are mainly rice. Music is used in communal worship and spiritual activities. Certain ragas are used in prayers for the rain to stop. It is a way to communicate with the Gods. There are melodies to pray for a child, for prosperity and for health.

The sitar is the instrument. It has strings and is plucked. Each Raga is based on five notes linked to activities, such as bees in a garden. The music is uplifting and fresh. It represents activities and emotions, regardless of language, so can bring people together.

Some reflects separation from loved ones and makes a link between self and the world so people do not feel lonely. Some reflects people getting together on the journey through life, with dancing and lively enjoyment.

There is music that reflects the richer area of the Punjab, with its freshness, waters and rivers. Other music brings to mind the Midlands, known for corn and grass. It is an area around Delhi and Lahore favoured by the rulers.

Muslims used music to put over religious ideas. The Kavala area uses a type of raga to communicate a religious message and contemplation. Bhangra music is more modern and worldly. It does not have a background in scripture and religion, but is still linked to aspects of ragas.

Indian culture is still emotion and ritual, but modern music has other themes. Domestic life is reflected.

In India music expresses, celebrates and acknowledges food, history, life events and relationships. It is a language of emotions and a key to life.

Nadeem was thanked by Rotarian Bob Kendall for his insight and enthusiasm and for the interesting and exotic music that he played.