Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Look At Chechenya and Its Music

Since Israel has a high percentage of Jews from Muslim countries, it has influenced national tastes in food and music. Among many Israelis, Bollywood movies as well as Arab and Turkish music have their devoted following among Jews.

I am always looking east in search of music that is line with this section of my musical tastes. The presence of Chechenya in the news has aroused my interests in their music. Chechenya has been a part of the Russian empire and the Soviet Union for centuries. Russia is not an ethnic monolith. It contains within its borders many non slavic nationalities, most notably Tatars and Cossacks.

Chechenya has been fighting a bitter war of secession from the Russian Republic. The Chechens want independence and the predominance of their language. The Russians are afraid of a domino effect in which other nationalities are encouraged by a Chechen secession to start a separatist revolt of their own. Islamic outsiders such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are interested in fomenting separatism rather than the sort of modus vivendi that makes ethnically diverse empires function on a day to day basis.

I had thought that Chechen is a Turkic language because of the Turkish sound of some of the vowels. This is, however not the case. Chechen belongs with Ingush to a separate language family. The form of Islam that has traditionally prevailed their is not the burqa clad misogynistic variety but a harmonious blend with local forms. The importation of arms and "freedom fighters" from outside has shifted this somewhat,

There is a Lubavitch chassidic song that is derived from the sad song of an imprisoned Chechen King Shamil, who led a war of secession against the Russian Empire from the 1830's intil 1859, when he found himsef and his followers outgunned. Shamil accepted a peace treaty which turned out to be false. He was promptly imprisoned and was heard singing a song which Lubavitchers adopted, along with the historical explanation. In Jewish hands, the song was transformed and explained as follows.

"Staring out of the window of his small narrow cell, Shamil reflected on his days of liberty in the past, In his current exile and helplessness, he bewailed his plight and yearned for his previous position of freedom and fortune.

He consoled himself, however, with the knowledge that he would eventually be released from his imprisonment and return to his previous position with even more power and glory. It is the above thought that he expressed in this melancholy, yearning melody.

The vision chassidic: The soul descends to this world from the heavens above, clothed in the earthly body of a human being. The soul's physical vestments here are really its prison cell, for it constantly longs for spiritual, heavenly fulfillments. The soul strives to free itself from the "exile" of the human body and its earthly pleasures by directing its physical being into the illuminated and living soul.

It is hard for me after 30 years of friendship with Lubavitcher Chassidim to look at Chechenya without thinking of the song that one of their honoured leaders gave us 150 years ago. I wish peace to Chechenya and to Russia. I hope and pray that they can work out their differences.

I am including in this posting a song by Chechen singer Ali Dimaev and also Shamil's Nigun(song) done as a Jewish spiritual melody.

Shamil's Nigun
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