All-woman Sufi music troupe from Iran stumped by Kashmir girl band controversy

FP

Sahar Lotfi says she has searched a lot to find out if Islam considers music as taboo for women but has not found anything. "Nothing has been written about it," says the lead singer of 'Ghazal', an all-woman Sufi music troupe from Iran. The group is in Delhi to perform at the ICCR Sufi Festival and is clearly shocked by the controversy that has caused the all-girl rock band from Kashmir to call it quits.

Lotfi had her own reasons to look up religious scriptures to find out whether women are indeed prohibited from playing music in public. She and five members of her group are also used to restrictions on performances back home. For instance, if a woman sings alone, it can only be for an exclusively female audience. However, if she plays an instrument alone, it can be before a mixed group.

"These are unwritten rules that society makes. Can't the Kashmiri girls even perform before an all-woman audience?" Lotfi asks, unable to suppress the surprise and concern in her voice. "I don't like being told what to do," says Lotfi, who is dressed in a black top, trousers and a sweater, and is just back from shopping at Fabindia.

In Iran, she says, the gender restrictions on the audience have not stopped girl bands from mushrooming. "They are growing every day," she says. Which in turn seems to have loosened a few shackles. "If there are two-three women performing together, the need for an all-female audience is often relaxed," says Roshanak Noone, who plays the santoor in the troupe.

Lotfi says she chose the name 'Ghazal' to underline the gender of the group more than anything else. In Persian, it means a woman with beautiful eyes. It is also a common name in Iran. "And Ghazal also has an instant Indian connect," she adds with a smile.

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