Maher Zain Save The Soul Showcase

 When I first blogged about Maher Zain earlier in the year he was mostly unknown to most Malaysians and I presume to most of my readers. Oh how was the months have changed that...

Other than the Raihan golden years, Islamic religious music (Nasyid) was only in the domain of only the religious and sufi orders (tarekats). My family being a religious family listens exclusively to nasyid only. Up to very recently, stringed and wind musical instruments were not allowed. Children though do not necessarily develop the same values as their parents, and this is a point I will bare in mind when I one day have my own kids. Although us kids do listen to conventional music, we do not do so in front on our parents out of respect. Agreeing to disagree and respect of others are values all to often forgotten these days and is more important nowadays when there is a wealth of information readily available, shaping one's views on things. It is inevitable that differences in opinion will happen and when that happens the ability to see where the other side is coming from and seeing the good in other is golden.

Anyways, I always sidetrack don't I? Good thing I wasn't a lecturer, my students would always be lost! Back to Maher Zain. Yeah, so since the Raihan/Hijjaz/Rabbani/Brother years the popularity of Nasyid has plateued with alot of new groups emerging in the market and to some extent diluting the creatiity of the songs produced as most of the popular subjects that Nasyeed groups tend to sing about have probably been sung by someone before. When I was young the only nasyeed songs available were those produced by the late Al-Arqam movement. Today I've lost track of the groups that are currently active!

So, how does Maher figure into all this? Well. Funny enough, the song that introduced me to Maher was Allahi Allah Kyia Karo which I have blogged about earlier this year. That song reminded me of the Qawalli songs very popular amongst the Pakistani Sufi orders. But that's just me. I think other Malaysians were attracted to Maher thhrough other songs namely my favourite song Thank You Allah, Insya Allah or the favourites amongst women: For the rest of my life and Barakallah which I now the defacto song at all weddings. A few people I know say that they love his songs but didn't know who sang the song.

When I got to know that he was coming to Malaysia I awaited eagerly for the announcement of the ticket prices. Not being a concert goer myself, I was kinda surprised that the tickets were selling for RM70, 150 and 200! That is alot of money to be asking for a Nasyeed concert! After considering the proposal carefully taking to account that the concert was organised by Raudatus Sakinah and he is an international singer, I decided to call up the organisers to book my tickets. He was performing on the 14th and 15th, the Thursday and Friday of last week. At first I wanted to get the Friday tickets but the guy on the phone said that Friday was fully booked and the the RM200 tickets on Thursday were also sold out! What?!! This was the first week, sorry the first few days the concert was open for booking! Not wanting to splurge too much on entertainment, I booked the RM70 ticket. Alhamdulillah those weren't sold out yet, A week later I received an SMS from the organisers to pick up the tickets from the Raudatus Sakinah office which happened to be just across the road from my house. Isn't it great to live where I live?! hehehe My sister told me that she's been to the Raudatu Sakinah office before and since it is one of the JIM groups I assumed that it would be at the JIM headquarters, which it was =)

 So, why was his concert sold out within 2 weeks? Well, at first look I would say because the venue was qute small. The MBSA auditorium is not really the Shah Alam Stadium. Secondly, his songs genuinely do touch the hearts of Malaysians. Thirdly, the 2 week tv and raido interviews together with the "meet the fans" sessions really had a big impact in shoring up excitment amongst the Malaysian public and i'm not saying the religious public. Maher Zain's popularity cuts through the various layers of Muslim Malaysian society from the not secular to the devoutly religious. Why is this so? Over the years we had a few english speaking nasyeed singers, the most recent being Sami Yusoff but he was never as popular here as Maher is. My parents didn't like Sami's songs whenever I play them in the long balik kampung drives. Well, to me I think it boils down to 2 things: 1) His music is in tune with current trends which makes fr easy listening and which alot of people can identify with. My parents and siblings were not attracted to Sami Yusoff's middle earstern melody with prominant violins and long vocals. I think most malaysians shared those views. Sami never picked up in Malaysia as much as he was popular in Turkish speaking countries 2) His lyrics are simple but contain powerful messages. This is reflected by the fact that the songs were inspired by his personal experiences. I find sincerity is something that is lacking in alot of modern Nasyeeds. You are never going to inspire people if you don't fully believe in what you are preaching.

Those are my opinions only so other may have their own views.   

 So, back to the concert. The ticket said that the concert starts at 8pm. Due to fear of potential traffic issues of getting to Shah Alam, I decided to go directly after work. Traffic was predictably smooth flowing but getting heavier the closer I got to Shah Alam. After parking and performing Asr prayers I went out to grab some dinner first. My friend Fedtri Yahya MC for the fundraising dinner 2 days before with Wardina so I texted him to see if he was MC for this event. It turned out that he was! So after dinner and Maghrib prayers I planned to meet him before the show just to catch up. I bumped into him at the Surau so I followed him up to the holding room where he was prepareing with Wardina. We chatted for a about half an hour before he had to be on the stage after which I also made my way to the concert hall. 

At 8pm, the hall was still not full yet. It was expected as when I was with Fedtri, I checked the concert program and it was only scheduled to start at 9pm! In hindsight I should've just done my Isya prayers while waiting but since I was already seated, I was reluctant to move.

They played video montages of Awakening Records' (Maher's record label) products and artists while waithing 

The stage was quite nice and the lighting quite attractive. Eventouh my seat was way up at the back of the 1st tier of the hall, I didn't feel too far from the "action" and with my 300mm lens I could get quite good shots from my seat.

The hosts came out to welcome us and also repeatedly reminded us to NOT record the concert. When Maher came on stage they also reminded us to NOT take any flash photography as it would disturb the singer. Being Malaysians, I still saw a few flashes coming out dispite the repeated warnings.

The hosts and the speaches by the organisers before the first act reminded us of the message behind the showcase: Save the soul which is the mainstay of Raudatus Sakinah's struggle - to help combat moral errosion that leads to the dumping of babies, hence the save the sould tag line. Raudatus Sakinah's campaign motto of "Anda Bijak Jauhi Zina" was also a very good reminder to youths and adults out there to abstain from Zina and instead turn to ways subscribed by the prophet which includes marriage. Maybe the trend of getting married late should be reversed and getting married earlier should not be so frowned upon. It is a good thing actually...My Father was 22 when he got married and my mother, 21. By their standards I'm a pendekar bujang lapuk! hehehe

Anyways, first up was the opening act by Inteam with two songs: Dia Muhammad and Allahu Rabbi. In my opinion they are one of the better local nasyeed groups and this performance proved that.

The next opening act was by Aishah. Boy has she changed from her "Aishah and the boys" years. Her voice however is still as mesmerising as ever but this time with songs that remind us. She also sang 2 songs, Jalan Pulang and Anak, both songs she wrote herself and one can really feel the sincerity of her songs both through the lyrics and her voice. Excellent performance Aishah. She also does her own beading on her dress! cool huh?!

The MCs then announce the entrance of Maher Zain, again reminding us not to record the singing and to not use the flash when taking photos.

Hehehe... i know this is not so nice but he came in just the way I pictured in my head. He walks exactly like in the video clip The Chosen one which I have blogged about before. His attrire was typical Maher fashion - Jeans, jacket and flat cap. A few people in the audience were sporting flat caps. Maybe I should get one of them flat caps in time for the next concert. No? hehhee

The opening song was indeed, the song that introduced me to him: Allahi Allah Kiya Karo. His voice was good but the minus one vocals from the other vocalist was more prominent during certain sections of this song.
The next song was Ya Nabi Salam Alayka which was voted best religious song in some Egyptian music festival. This song is one of the rare songs with a distict middle eastern tune to it.

 Next up was the first song in his album: Always be there. A song that very much speaks Maher Zain.

And oh, the back up singers were local! I spot the singer from Saujana, second from right as he's my brother Hadi's friend.

Drums was live and not bad...

 And there can be no Nasyeed without percussions! I wish I could play percussions. Maybe I should enrol for classes at the Islamic Arts Museum. They have classes there.

Maher was quite ok at rallying the crowd though I do think he has a bit learn in the area of showmanship. He seemed to be rushing from song to song. It felt that the concert was over in no time. He should've talked more to the audience, talk about the story behind each song. Joke about abit. get some of the audience on stage etc... But once you realise that english isn't his first language you tend to forgive his shortcomings in this department. Next song up was one of my favourites: The Chosen One, which video clip I absolutely adore. It is a song describing the Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H.

Next up was a song about humanity and realising that in order to live in peace we all have to learn to solve our issues amicably as we cannot afford to have one sided solutions in this day and age. Hold My Hand.

Open your eyes was next and that song got me singing to myself a little. This song is reflective of  Maher's journey rediscovering his faith.

After that song the mic stand came out....and to screams from the female audience the song For The Rest of My Life was next. A quick look to the left and right of me  revealed that all the women were singing along to this song with their hearts. If you want an example of a sng that touches the heart look no further.

This was followed by a familiar intro tune which I immediatley I dentified as the intro the the song Barakallah which has become the song of choice at weddings, my brother's included. This song too opened to screams from the audience.

The crowd was disapointed for a while when the lights were dimmed and Maher walked back stage. This gimmick would have worked if he has stayed back stage longer but he didn't which kinda ruined the "we want more" moment but the crowd was pleased when he ended the show with his last song, InsyaAllah.

At the end of the show I felt that though it was a very good show, but it finished all to quickly and that Maher was racing through his songs. Anyways, there is news of his impending second visit in February so we'll see if he's improved on his showmanship. He already has a mamouth following here and I forsee that to continue. I am happy that Islamic music has grown mainstream worldwide. Yes some traditionalist will cry foul at the use of music but to me as long as you message gets through and is better accepted by the masses then you are actually doing more good than being all strict and hollier than thou. In the end you will end up preaching to the converted.... Till the next edition of Maher Zain. I'm sure that he has saved a few souls during his 2 week Malaysian visit!