From Northern India, A Singular Sufi 'Seduction' As part of its White Light Festival, New York's Lincoln Center features a theatrical concert designed to draw audiences into the music of the Manganiyars -- a Muslim sect in Northwest India that sings to Hindu deities as well as to Allah.

From Northern India, A Singular Sufi 'Seduction'

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Music dating back to the ancient caravans of India can be heard at New York's Lincoln Center this week. It's a spectacle put on by Muslim musicians from the Indian Desert along the Pakistan border.

Jeff Lunden tells us about a show intended, more than most, to draw you into the music.

JEFF LUNDEN: "The Manganiyar Seduction" begins in almost complete darkness -light bulbs faintly illuminate 36 human-sized rectangular boxes on a large four-tier set.

(Soundbite of music)

LUNDEN: Then the sound of a khamacha, an Indian stringed instrument. And slowly lights come up on one of the boxes to reveal the musician, sitting cross-legged, dressed in white with an orange turban.

Mr. ROYSTEN ABEL (Director): So it's very introspective, and it's this one lone khamacha drone that actually starts seducing you into yourself.

LUNDEN: Roysten Abel is the director and creator of "The Manganiyar Seduction." And he wants to seduce the audience slowly with this Sufi music.

After a while, another box lights up. And another musician, also in white with a multicolored turban, begins to sing.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. ABEL: They're all Sufi couplets and it's all crying out to the universe or God. You know, so it's like a major asking for some kind of a blessing that we start the piece with.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: And, before you know it, that singer is joined by another singer, and another and another.

(Soundbite of singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: "The Manganiyar Seduction" is something of a hybrid - not exactly a concert, not exactly a traditional theater piece, but something designed to illuminate and make the audience feel the music of the Manganiyars. A formerly nomadic group, they live in Rajasthan, a desert region in India, and have kind of a hybrid faith themselves, says Roysten Abel.

Mr. ABEL: They have the Muslim saints and they worship Allah and then they also have their pagan Hindu goddesses, and they sing to both. Like there would not be any difference if they were to sing a Sufi Islam mystic song, or if they were to sing a Hindu mystic song. It would be with the equal amount of devotion.

(Soundbite of singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: Jane Moss is vice president of programming at Lincoln Center. And it was her idea to create the White Light Festival, drawing from Western and Eastern traditions to explore spirituality in music.

Ms. JANE MOSS (Vice President, Programming, Lincoln Center): We were not interested in producing, let's say, a generic world music festival or a sacred music festival. We were really interested in works of art that sort of come at these issues in interesting, different ways.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: Director Roysten Abel, who runs the Indian Shakespeare Company, says he was introduced to the music of the Manganiyars when he worked with a pair of musicians on a production which traveled to Spain.

Mr. ABEL: They slowly seduced me into their lives and then they took me onto a journey, and just took me to a point where they really blew me away.

LUNDEN: So he decided to create a show which reflected his own journey into this music. Abel estimates he's auditioned well over a thousand musicians to find the 36 who perform in the show. But getting the Manganiyars to play the same thing every night hasn't been easy.

Mr. ABEL: They're not used to structures. They're not used to a concept of rehearsals. They're not used to playing something that they've been asked to play. They're free-spirited musicians, you know, they just play what they feel like; but trying to get them into my world and me trying to get into their world, slowly, slowly adjusting to arrive at a performance together.

(Soundbite of singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: The performance, which takes about an hour and 20 minutes, features many different musical colors and instruments. One part features Indian drums called the dholak and the dohl.

(Soundbite of drumming)

LUNDEN: And in another part, a double flute.

(Soundbite of flute music)

Mr. ABEL: It's the alghoza, which is so special. It's pretty haunting and it's very typical of this community.

(Soundbite of flute music)

LUNDEN: And by the end of the piece, all 36 musicians are performing, while the lights on the boxes are rapidly forming different patterns. It's a kind of ecstatic conclusion to this seductive journey, says director Roysten Abel.

Mr. ABEL: By the end of it, you're at the top of this spiral, you know. You really don't know if it's a sound or a light show actually, because you're into another world.

LUNDEN: "The Manganiyar Seduction" plays in New York at Lincoln Center's Rose Theatre tonight. It plays at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. next March.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(Soundbite of singing)

MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

(Soundbite of singing)

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