Muhammad Rammal is very representative of the young generation of artists and intellectuals that emerged amongst Lebanese Shi’ites in the 80s and 90s: well versed in modern life yet aiming to regain their cultural identities. After intensive training and professional practice in pop music (notably as keyboard player with Georges Wassouf), Muhammad Rammal has switched back to strict religious practice (he has made the pilgrimage), and put his musical know-how to the service of Shi’ite militancy. This is how he has become the “crooner of the religious scholars” (mutrib al-culamâ’), a name given by theculamâ’ themselves, which he is proud to bear but which is nevertheless full of irony. Indeed, in Islam, it is quite paradoxical to bring together these two contradictory terms: secular music and religious practice. Although from this point of view, Twelve-Imam Shi’ism has a particularity: the “gate” to personal effort of interpretation (ijtihâd) remaining open, it has been possible for the contemporary Shi’ite clerics, even the most activist, to reconcile both extremes. In exchange for this recognition granted to an exceptional artist, Shi’ite clerics have gained a powerful mobilization instrument, which has found an important echo even on the al-Manâr television. Muhammad Rammal has managed to adapt religious texts to folk melodies and forms that are inescapable in Lebanese social life, especially at weddings. Besides the vocal soloists Muhammad and Rawda Rammal, the band features percussionists for the cheerful pieces, some of which are danced. Simultaneously, Muhammad Rammal does not depart from ritual prayers on the Prophet and his family.
What makes the aesthetic force of Muhammad Rammal is that he also takes on the heritage of the great qâri’, the great Shi’ite hymn singers (cheikhs Haydar al-Mawlâ and Ibrahim al-Ballût, Basim al-Karbalâ’î), in his chanted interpretation of huzn and cazâ’. These styles have great modal richness and an inclination towards the Sabâ and Huzâm modes, well-known for their ability to evoke sadness. But it is mainly thanks to the particular quality of his voice that sobbing has become a conventional musical form, fully integrated into an aesthetic. A voice with inflexions so rich it renders as no other the extraordinary emotional atmosphere of the Alids’ epic.
Translated by Dominique Bach
Available album : The Ashura Epic