"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before"
These words from Leonard Bernstein could hardly be more apt, at a time when our nation's heart yearns for peace and healing. So then, as I watched world-famous Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan perform at the Sheldonian with a group of talented young Oxford musicians - a hotchpotch of nationalities, cultures and religions that is so typical of the Britain I love - I felt that the world could be made right again. Maybe that's what music does to you.
Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, nephew of the legendary Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, is a Pakistani musician of Qawwali (Sufi devotional music), ghazal and other light Indian classical music. Tonight, hosted by the University of Oxford's Faculty of Music, he performed alongside The Fusion Project, who are "an ensemble of students from Oxford University brought together by their shared mission to retrieve and make accessible the beauty of Indian Classical Arts". They describe themselves as "a bunch of kids", yet they are far from it in terms of maturity and ambition. They had the guts to call a maestro to come and play with them in Oxford. And he did. I wonder if I could ask them to call the likes of Zakir Hussain over, to rock the dreaming spires of our beloved little musical city?
The night was filled with rousing harmonies ('Allah Hoo'), haunting melodies ('O Re Piya'), sensitive reworkings ('Allah Tero Naam') and original East-West fusion compositions. The concert, which was too short by far, ended with a foot-stomping, heart-thumping quasi-cosmic union of rhythm and melody in 'Dam Mast Qalander'. Praveen Prathapan on the flute and Janan Sathiendran on the tablas - sur and taal - were particularly memorable, although no single player could have achieved on his own what the group did as a whole.
I don't want to dwell on the technicalities. Could the performances have been more polished? Probably. Could the sound system have been clearer? Yes. Should the Fusion Project favour serious stuff over the more boy-bandy mashups? Definitely. But the true voice of the evening was found in the connection between Rahat Sahab and each talented member of the band; this voice was enchantment, which sang the soulful refrains of mystics and maestros: a legacy spiritual and sublime.