It is still popular for people from Pakistan and Turkey to work together across cultures. Singer-songwriter Ali Zafar’s song “Main Nahi Hoon” highlights both this current moment and the large body of Islamic devotional music. Zafar’s most recent album, which came out on December 3, adds to this long-standing vision of transcendence separate from self. It features Turkish musicians and sounds like traditional Turkish music.
The song, which was written by author and lyricist Shoaib Ali, is about destroying the ego, which is a Sufi idea called Fana. It makes you think of Zafar realizing the link between humanity and God, which is similar to Dīwān al-Hallāj. As the song starts, an acoustic guitar is fingerpicked, keeping with the modern style that Zafar has used throughout his career.
But it’s the flute’s lead notes in Maqam Kurd that give us our first taste of the Turkish folk influence that will have the most impact on the next track’s style. After a strong ensemble harmonizes, the instrumental’s energy peaks right before the first verse and settles when the violin bows stop. The first lines begin with “Jo Mujh Main Bolta Hai, Main Nahi Hoon,” which means “I surrender to the divine.”
The mysterious lines are separated by a short string ensemble melody that ties everything together to show that all things are connected. Zafar learns about South Asian Sufi thought and brings back Punjabi poems about Ishq. This may have been an attempt to bring together a thinker like Waris and a preacher like Al-Hallaj.
The song seems to be preparing for an ending, but Zafar has another musical part that speeds things up twice as fast. The changes in pace are planned, but they still pay a nice tribute to Sufi devotional music. “Jo Mujh Main Bolta Hai, Main Nahi Hoon”—the first words of the song—are used in an emotional moment, bringing the listener back to the moment of realization.
In a short note that goes with the record, the singer muses, “We all kind of struggle with the question of ‘Who am I?'” “If we take away the “I,” Zafar says, “we can see that maybe we are just channels for something bigger to run through, showing itself in all its glorious creativity.”
He also talks about how this could look in different kinds of art and language. “Sometimes as music, sometimes as poetry, sometimes just silence, and sometimes nothing at all.” Something that is nothing gives rise to everything. I hope that some of that makes sense in this song.” You can now watch Main Nahi Hoon on all services.