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Shamsuddin Faridi Desai - Troubadour of Allah

Obituary by Thomas Meisenheimer
(September 2011)

Rudra veena player Shamsuddin Faridi Desai, the last great Sufi Beenkar, passed away in Delhi on August 16th at the age of 75 years. Baba Shamsuddin, as his students called him, was born in 1936 in Bhavnagar (Gujarat). He first learnt sitar from his father, rudra veena player Mohammed Khan Faridi, who came from the centuries-old tradition of Gauharbani Gharana. From 1957 onwards, Baba Shamsuddin regularly regularly sitar concerts for All India Radio, Ahmedabad. In 1959 he joined the National Orchestra of All India Radio in Delhi, where he worked until his retirement in 1997. As a rudra veena player, he was starting to get known from 1980 onwards for his radio concerts. Baba Shamsuddin played without the usual mizrabs (fingerpicks). Characteristic of the Gauharbani Gharana and his personal style were his very long meends (pulling of the string). Outside India his music was recognised by his CD releases with Makar Records in 2002 and with India Archive Music in 2005.

Shamsuddin Baba belonged to the Islamic Qadri Sufism. For him music was a form of prayer. "Allah is hidden in the music," he said. The outer form of classical Dhrupad music was left behind by Baba Shamsuddin after his retirement. His musical language was very unique and not easily accessible. With its impulsiveness and strong expression it could open the door to the mystical world of Sufism, if one was willing to embrace it. Baba Shamsuddin's aim was to bring himself and the listener into a state of annihilation (Arabic: fana) and trance (Arabic: wajd). He especially liked playing at the Sufi shrines in Delhi or at the commemoration of the renowned Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan.

The encounter with Baba Shamsuddin remains memorable to me - his music has deeply touched my heart and made me experience the mystical dimension of the ruda veena in an immediate way. He will live on in the hearts of those who love him. It is to be hoped that his son Zahid Khan Faridi will continue his tradition.