Utterly and Beautifully Consumed: My Personal Experience of EKTA

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Art has this inexplicable ability to inspire, to change, and to enliven the soul in a way that nothing else can. This feeling undeniably consumed every attendee last night at EKTA featuring Saieen Zahoor at Vogue Theatre in Vancouver BC. It was a show that had audience members singing along without being asked, out of their seats to feel the music with more than just their ears, and left begging at the end for a fourth encore. It was obvious that it was more than just a show: it was a surreal experience I feel so lucky to have been part of.

Saieen Zahoor is a Sufi mystic from Pakistan, famous for his passionate and high-energy style of singing. He carries with him the folk instrument Ektara (one string), which in its three-stringed version is known as the Tumbi. He sings Sufi poems of devotional love and wisdom, and is known especially for his wide vocal and emotional range —unmistakable in the dynamic performance he delivered last night.

As I sat there in admiration, I was overcome with emotion: joy at the incredible response from the South Asian community towards this cultural event, as well as a deep regret at my fragmented understanding of the Sufi poetry. As a second generation South Asian growing up in Western Canada, I have struggled to maintain a connection to my roots and language in a largely English speaking country. I felt as though I had lost this struggle as I focused hard to understand many of Saieen Zahoor’s lyrics, picking up bits and pieces but sometimes losing the meaning in translation. I understood enough to recognize the passion and love in the Sufi mystic’s voice and words, and can only imagine the awe felt by attendees who were better versed with the poems.

The most memorable part for me was towards the end of the performance, when Zahoor, who was just about to start another poem, was advised by his manager that it was late and time to end the show. The artist was evidently in dismay at having to stop — at which time he was reassured he could perform one last poem, which then turned into two, until eventually the mic had to be turned off for the evening to finally conclude. Still, the audience begged for an encore. Never before have I been to a concert where the artist became so engrossed in the performance that even he forgot the show was meant to end.

The event reminded me of some words I recently read online — “Find what you love, and let it consume you.” Saieen Zahoor is a testament to a calling so many of us spend our whole lives trying to find. He was utterly and beautifully consumed in all his poetry and it was an inspiring evening to be a part of.

I thank VIBC (Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration) for bringing such a talented and humble individual to Vancouver. His performance has increased my enthusiasm for the many more events that make up this 10-day Festival. I encourage everyone to attend Festival finale, Downtown Bhangra, on July 6 and 7, in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Saieen Zahoor will also be there on Friday, so if you missed the chance to see him at Vogue, I highly encourage everyone to attend at least one day of Downtown Bhangra, and be a part of this celebration of South Asian culture put on by VIBC.

Blog by Nilum Panesar
Photo courtesy VIBC

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