Hope: Musical unity and common human purpose
How can 'hope' be represented in music? Hope for what and for whom?
For Mohammad Qambar Nawshad ‘hope’ is fundamental to human life and it is as important to humanity as ‘wings are for a bird’. The imagery of keeping one aloft, or afloat is clear here. This desire to communicate how important this uplift is for survival is what drove Qambar to compose this piece.
Qambar says about the inspiration behind this piece:
Afghanistan and the people of this land, went and are still going through many imposed unusual problems and obstacles. In the past forty years, two talented generations of Afghanistan have just vanished between the leaders of greed. [...] It was the innocent people of an entire nation who paid the price for the evil deals that [others] made in the past, but they never lost hope and they continue to live. While I was reviewing my parents' stories of the past, I then decided to write about hope because I thought music can express my feelings better than words. So now here we have Hope. Never lose hope.
Hope is a piece which bridges two very different musical worlds and offers a vision of musical unity and common human purpose. Born and raised in Afghanistan, Qambar absorbed and studied multiple musical cultures—Afghan, Hindustani, European—from a young age through his time at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. The blending and juxtaposition of musical influences is explicit in this work and forms the foundation of the musical message.
Hope is scored for rubāb, dutār, tābla, sitār (or tanbur), flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, snare drum, and strings. After a short introduction in 4/4 time—giving us a sneak preview of what is to come later in the piece—it launches into a joyful original tune in 7/8 time (moghuli taal). (As was mentioned in my blog on Mohsen Saifi's Asta Boro, 7/8 time is an essential rhythmic structure in the music of Afghanistan, kind of like 4/4 and its variations is in European-heritage music). For the pitch material, Qambar uses a mode that is resonant of raag Bhairavi (again, a common mode in Afghan music) but with a raised third degree (thus: C Db E F G Ab Bb C), giving it a brightness that is also resonant with European 'major' tonality harmonies. Shared around the orchestra and decorated with wind flourishes, it is toe-tapping, energetic and delightful.
A cracking accelerando brings us into the second half of the piece decidedly in G major and in a buzzing 4/4 tempo. An short but uplifting melody in the first violins provides the main theme for this second half of the work. The style is most definitely in tribute to European composers of the 18th and 19th centuries, but just when you think you know where it is headed, Qambar treats us to a surprise reprisal/development of the original 7/8 material which quickly comes into dialogue with the European musical idioms for a fusion of musical styles. The main theme in G major returns with it's uplifting and joyous feel before the listener is swept to the finish with some impressive tābla fills and exciting wind flourishes.
For me, the message is clear: when we bridge our differences and celebrate the beauty of our combined knowledge, there is 'hope' for a better future for all of us. You can read more about Qambar and his own words on the composition here.
It is my personal hope that Qambar continues to compose music like this that is so beautifully infused with the unique features of Afghanistan's musical heritage while transcending the imaginary boundaries of orchestral composition.
If you want more information about how to programme this composition with your own ensemble or to be in touch with Mohammad Qambar Nawshad to discuss possible collaborations, please be in touch!