Trans-versing “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar”: how Abida Parveen’s recitation of the qawwali text structures an aural atmosphere of performance and listening

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2023-05-04

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Hammad, Mumtaz

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A close reading of the popular spiritual Sufi qawwali “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar” reveals how the spatial, aural and trans-textual dimensions of the qawwali span Urdu poetics, performance studies, affect theory, among other fields of critical translation and theory. Celebrating antinomianism in a trans-ethos, “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar” blurs boundaries between text and sound, written word and body. It explores how perception of and participation in spiritually constructed mehfils involves ongoing interplay with the text of the qawwali, its performers, and its receiving audience. In its exploration, this qawwali allows for ambiguity within a typically gendered performance genre through sound and intervenes in hegemonic spiritual concerns of Sunni succession. Circulated as a ‘living text’ in the subcontinent, “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar'' takes on a transtextual element, especially in its 1990’s performance by acclaimed musician Abida Parveen, transcending rigid boundaries between written and embodied aspects of its own text. In doing so, it complicates distinctions between performer and audience, man and woman, and the inner self with the outer world. Navigating these complex blurrings, this qawwali divulges the aural atmosphere that it emerges from, encouraging participation and reidentification with devotionalism in through its text, as well as its performance. Both the close reading analysis of “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar” and its performance by Abida Parveen reveal broader notions of antinomian spirituality that dialogically undoes normative distinctions and weaves together multiple aspects of performance and texts through the construction of its aural atmosphere.

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