May 25, 2009 at 5:38 pm (Entertainment, Music)
Tags: Bat for Lashes, Bjork, Claire Voyant, Cocteau Twins, Fantasy, First Unitarian Church, Magic, Natasha Khan, Pakistani, Philadelphia, Reality, Spirituality, True Love, Unseen
Earlier this month, I went to see one of my favorite musicians, Natasha Khan (aka “Bat for Lashes”) perform live at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia. It was definitely one of the most unforgettable musical experiences I’ve ever had.
I wanted to attend the concert with some of my friends, but everyone I called that day were either busy or out of town, so I decided to go by myself. While I would have liked it if someone came along with me, I think going alone made the experience that much better. It gave me some personal time to privately connect with the music and escape with it. It’s hard to describe or even categorize the music of “Bat for Lashes” because of how unique they are, but if I were to draw comparisons, I would say they’re like a cross between the “Cocteau Twins,” “Bjork,” and “Claire Voyant.” It was amazing to see Natasha Khan’s energy on stage; you can tell how passioante she is about performing and singing. She has an incredibly beautiful voice and unlike most mainstream singers, she doesn’t manipulate or alter her voice. The way she sounds on the album recordings is exactly how she sounds live.
There are a lot of magical themes in Natasha’s music and it’s something I appreciate enormously. I think a fantasy element is essential to us, and yet it seems that humanity runs away from it. I’ve noticed, especially in the academic setting, that people tend to take on a more “logical” and “rational” approach to things, which is fine, but whenever a spiritual perspective is suggested, it seems there’s often a negative reaction to it, as if spirituality is something reserved only for places of worship. I get a strong spiritual vibe from Natasha’s music, but I think there’s a unique fantasy element that is intertwined with it.
When we “grow up,” we detach ourselves from fairy tales because we learn that they’re not “real” — “real” in the sense that we cannot see a unicorn or actually fly out of our windows. In the midst of this reasoning, I believe we miss out on the point of these stories, particularly the beauty and gift of the human imagination. I believe everyone has an inner life that serves a significant purpose in the way we look at the world, interact with others, and manifest our own creativity. Our ability to imagine things, to me, is not so much about seeing than it is about believing. Sure, there’s escape and fantasy, but there’s something else there that connects with us deeply, something that evokes the importance of transcendence. We’re surrounded by superficiality all the time and yet I believe a lot of us remain confused about what is “real” and what is “unreal.” True Love versus the material world — both things are perceived as unreal to us, but in different contexts. We think True Love cannot exist because it’s just too good to be true, but mostly because of the superficiality that surrounds us. It doesn’t make True Love false, it simply reveals that True Love is something to be discovered amidst the illusions of the world.
Natasha Khan sings about things that many of us don’t believe in anymore. She calls us to return to our childood, to revisit forgotten fairy tales, and to learn there is purpose in believing. I let my imagination take flight after the concert was over as I walked towards my car in the parking lot. I was reminded of the Angels that sit upon my shoulders and guard me. I imagined them and reflected on how much we ignore the unseen reality. I was reminded that we have friends in the unseen world; friends who never want us to see us frown or feel alone.
I also have to say that it meant a lot to see a fellow Pakistani on stage (Natasha Khan’s father is Pakistani) and seeing so many people who appreciate her music. I read in an interview that she received a lot of racial slurs when she was younger and it’s really repulsive when I see the same remarks being made about her on some of the YouTube comments. On the bright side, it’s nice to see people taking a stand for her and showing their support. I’m sure that, for the most part, she’s breaking a lot of stereotypes.
Here’s a live performance piece by “Bat for Lashes” that I’ve been hooked to! Definitely check out 2:57 and onward — everything from Natasha Khan’s energy, vocals, the incredible drumming, and the synth work works in beautiful harmony:
I remember the night we met
When You climbed over those walls I built
And held my hand to show me a new horizon
Revealing a world I could never imagine
When I wanted to turn my face in the other direction
Your gentle touch brought me closer
I watched my fortress melt by Your Passion
I didn’t resist and burned it down with You
Oh Love, you tore through my Soul!
You pulled a Thunderous Storm of Fire into me!
You unfastened Your Love to unleash fiery Romance
And conquered my Being to set me Free
You pinned me to the ground
Gazed into my eyes and swallowed my words
You filled me with the sweetest pleasure I ever knew
And my heart became music to praise Your Name with every pound
Oh Love, you maddened me!
Fire in my heart, Flames in my eyes
Desire on my lips, hot blood in my veins
A human torch for Beauty
Oh Love, but then You struck me down!
While I was singing and soaring with ecstasy
Your sword plunged into my breast!
So violently, so painfully, so suddenly
I crashed so hard through the thorns
I bled for hours and searched the forest to find You
I shouted Your Name, but only heard the haunting echoes
The Garden was vacant, the flowers wounded
I shivered, I trembled, I collapsed and mourned
Oh Love, You murdered me!
Brutality to my soul, a massacre to my dreams
Betrayed, broken, shattered, butchered
Memories scattered over a forgotten sea
In rainfall I wept one day
Feeling so alone without You
Little did I know, You were right there
Wrapping Your Warm Arms around me
“I have always been Here,” You said
Tears of sorrow became tears of joy
As everything began to shine
I turned and embraced You
Oh Love, I was blind the whole time
You bring Life, You bring Death
You Destroy, You Restore
Friend, this Secret You whisper in my ear
Has become my Road to Heaven’s Door
Dear Love, it is Here where I surrender
It is Here, where I dance
Like a Flower blooming in the Garden
I am a Rose for You
Turning and ascending
Painted with Passion
Calling out Your Name
Joy or torment, it doesn’t matter
I remain Loyal to You
February 19, 2008 at 10:04 pm (Mysticism)
Tags: Allah, Gender, Gender wars, God, Illusion, Khadija, Marriage, Men, Muhammad, Qur'an, Reality, relationships, Romance, Rumi, Separation, Soul Mates, True Love, Women
When Muhammad, peace be upon him, received his first revelation from the Archangel Gabriel, he was terrified and stormed out of Cave Hira. Wherever he looked, he would see Gabriel and his beautiful massive wingspan stretching to infinite horizons. As Muhammad raced through the streets of Mecca, frightening thoughts of being possessed filled his mind. What did this mystical experience mean? Where would he go? Who would he turn to? Who would comfort his fears? It was his beloved wife, Khadijah – may Allah be pleased with her – who brought ease to the new and last Prophet of God. She was more than a wife in the eyes of Muhammad, she was his Soul Mate, his Friend, and a Beautiful Sign from his Lord. Many Orthodox teachings fail to inform Muslims about how much of an important role Khadijah played in the Prophet’s life. If we Muslims are to believe that God is Perfect and that everything happens for a reason, then we must also emphasize on the significant placement of all things in the Universe. For example (as meaningless as it may sound), a tree that may be in your backyard exists for a specific reason and purpose, and the same applies to the moon or a distant planet that we may have no knowledge of. When we consider the presence of Khadijah in Muhammad’s life, we see a comforter, a healer, and a voice of Truth. She stood by her husband and never ceased to support him in his mission to teach the message of Islam. Many people say that God will always be there for people — this is indeed True since God is Omni-Present — but we must also acknowledge that our friends, family, and other people around us are there because God created them to be there for us. Without Khadija’s Love, it is very difficult to see Muhammad developing the courage and strength he needed to reveal God’s Message to Mecca.
And how unfortunate is it that Muslims today know about Muhammad and Khadija, and yet they still don’t believe True Love exists. We still separate ourselves from one another based upon nationality, ethnicity, race, age, and even gender. How often do we hear about gender wars and how men are superior to women, or how women don’t need men? I remember I was in the bookstore once, and my eye happened to catch a book titled “Are Men Necessary?” and apparently, there are many Muslim feminists who share the belief that men are not necessary. My immediate reaction was: “Is this kind of thinking really necessary?” If we say that men are not necessary – no matter in what sense we say it – then are we suggesting that men serve no purpose at all in a woman’s life? At the same time, we see men treating their women like sexual possessions in extreme Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, and the fathers would rather marry off their daughters than see them graduate college with a degree or pursue an independent career. I know I only highlighted a brief portion of Muhammad and Khadijah’s relationship, but take a moment to reflect upon it now and consider the gender war that is so prevalent in today’s world. Why do we separate from each other when there is so much beauty that awaits to be experienced? Why has it become such a regressive thing to believe that men and women need each other? Are we trying to be tougher and more independent, while sacrificing companionship and community? Or are we conforming to the norms and expectations that have been set by our societies?
“Oh humankind, revere your Guardian Lord, the One who created you from one being, created of like nature, its mate and then spread from the two many men and women. You shall regard God, by whom you swear, and regard the parents. God is watching over you.” (4:1)
Of course men and women have their physiological and psychological differences, but it should not divide them in the sense that one gender is superior to the other. Differences should be celebrated. Imagine how beautiful a marriage would flourish if men and women saw one another as Beings and Friends. Instead, we see many extremist interpretations of the Qur’an and teachings where getting married sounds like a business transaction or a contract. It should be understood that every marriage is bound to have problems, but it doesn’t mean that these problems are unsolvable. As the verse states above, God created us all from a single being. We all have an outer appearance, but consider for a moment: Who is the voice speaking when you talk? Who is controlling your body? Who is the one that lives inside? Who is the Soul? This “who” is essentially the Being that God created. That is who we are. We are not the “male/female” of separation, but the “male/female” of unity.
Jalaluddin Rumi, the great 13th Century Islamic mystic and poet once wrote: “Your task is not to seek for Love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” I believe that when we are able to destroy these barriers, which may be feelings of aversion, separation, guilt, self-doubt, lack of confidence, or even fear, we are bound to find the doorways that are open to us. Like Khadija’s Love for Muhammad, we may also realize the beautiful significance that exists in the presence of the ones we Love. We can choose to follow these dreams, or we can choose to live the illusion of separation, where beings are divided and distanced from beauty for superficial reasons. Fairy tales and romance novels exist because writers express how the world and/or Love should be. The more we say that True Love is just “make believe”, the further away we get from finding what our hearts desire.