Rahman Responds To Fatwa Issued For Muhammad Biopic


A big-budget Iranian biopic depicting the childhood of the Prophet Muhammad has already faced a fair amount of backlash. But now the film’s director and its composer — the hugely popular Indian musician A.R. Rahman — have had a fatwa, or religious edict, issued against them by the Raza Academy, a Mumbai-based Sunni Muslim organization.

The director of Muhammad: The Messenger of God is Iran’s Majid Majidi, who has released this as the first in a planned trilogy chronicling Muhammad’s life. According to the BBC, the Raza Academy has also asked the Indian government to ban the film, which cost a reported $40 million to make. It was released in Iran and was screened at the Montreal World Film Festival in August.

In its fatwa, the Raza Academy says that both Majidi and Rahman must recite the kalimas, or professions of Muslim belief, and repeat their marriage ceremonies — in essence, reestablish themselves as Muslims. The film project has also been denounced by Al-Azhar University in Cairo, according to the Guardian in the U.K.

Outside the Muslim world, a fatwa is often misinterpreted as a threat of violence, particularly after the infamous fatwa issued

With Stereotypes A Duo Raised On Hip-Hop And Classical Has It Both Ways


Kevin Sylvester says that when most people see a 6-foot-2-inch, 260-pound black man, they don’t expect him to also be a classically trained violinist. A recent exchange with a woman in an elevator, when he happened to have his instrument with him in its case, drove that point home.

“She’s like, ‘What do you play?’ ” he recalls. “I’m like, ‘I’m a violinist.’ And she was like, ‘Well, obviously you don’t play classical, so what kind of style do you play?’ ”

Sylvester says he explained that while he does have a degree in classical music, he plays all kinds of styles. “She didn’t mean it maliciously,” he says, “but I hope she gets to see us in concert and we can change her perception.”

Moments like this inspired Sylvester and his partner, violist Wilner Baptiste, to call their new album Stereotypes. It’s the latest release by their duo Black Violin, whose seeds were planted years ago when the two met as high school students in Florida.

Both men say that when they were kids, studying stringed instruments wasn’t exactly Plan A. Sylvester was nudged into music classes by his mother in fifth grade, and

Why Can’t Artist Bios Be Better?


Over in London, the Independent‘s arts editor, David Lister, recently published a scathing commentary about the paucity of valuable or even interesting information in artist biographies. He wrote it in a fury after paying £4 to obtain the program for a Proms concert he attended, featuring the excellent German violinist Julia Fischer. (Yes, one pays for the privilege of reading about programs and performers at various international halls.)

What did he find? “A mine of useless information,” he says — a list of where Fischer had played in recent seasons, where she going to be performing over the next several months and a list of her recordings.

Sound familiar? It should. A whole lot of biographies provided by artists and their teams read exactly that way. And in the aftermath of Lister’s commentary, quite a lot of lively conversation has erupted online about his complaints, both on Facebook and Twitter.

To me, it’s not just an issue of trite phrasing or poor grammar, though those problems exist. It’s a larger matter of conception and approach. Even soloists and groups who go to great lengths to project a bleeding edge artistic image fall, all too often,

Dolly In Nashville Authenticity That Makes Room For Rhinestones

When the renowned radio personality and Grand Ole Opry fixture Bill Cody walked onto the stage at the Ryman Auditorioum to welcome Dolly Parton there for the first time in twelve years, he called her “the most beloved artist of all time.” Then he quickly, almost imperceptibly, corrected himself, adding a qualifier: female artist.” Who knows what flashed in Cody’s mind in that moment — perhaps the face of Johnny Cash, the patron saint of believers in musical authenticity, or of hallowed originator Hank Williams, or affable current standard-bearer George Strait. Or maybe the thought wasn’t even that formed. His words simply reflected the status quo. Country, like rock, rap, symphonic music, literary writing and virtually every other art world whose reach goes beyond the domestic sphere, has always honored men as more central and more real, defenders of the paradigms that women may expand or even challenge, but never originate.

On this night, however, Dolly Parton and her fans didn’t let those presumptions bother them, not for one minute. The Mother Church of Country Music became the Church of Dolly. It was a wide-open space, one with room for dulcimers and drum machines, dirty jokes and gospel songs and a

Cumberland Caverns A Subterranean Concert Venue In Tennessee

In Tennessee, a four-lane highway turns into a winding strip of asphalt called Dark Hollow Road. That becomes a driveway, and once out of the car, there’s still a ways to go through the dense forest on a hillside. There, we find Cumberland Caverns, now host to a stage 333 feet underground.

Water and time carved out a rotunda nicknamed the Volcano Room that accommodates 600 people, albeit barely. Some perch on rock outcroppings by the stage. Neon lights accent the limestone walls. A giant chandelier hangs from the craggy ceiling.

Today’s headliner is the Annie Moses Band. Fiddle player Gretchen Wolaver says she assumed the venue would be more like an outdoor stage under a rock overhang.

“When you first walk in, you think, ‘Wow, this is really a cave,'” Wolaver says. “Which you would think you would have thought that anyway, but I didn’t.”

There are pros and cons to the subterranean setting. The sound, for one, is unexpected. This vaulted cavern doesn’t create the echo-y hall you’d expect. House sound engineer Andy Kern says the cave’s uneven surfaces scatter the sound waves and break them up just like in a specially designed studio.

“You know, you always think of the three-second reverb

Unwound’s Justin Trosper Explains Peel Sessions Track By Track

In 1998, Unwound was closing in on the height of its powers. Two years earlier, the Olympia band had released the career-defining Repetition, which dug into Unwound’s weirder grooves with a muscle-constricting tension that, when released, made it feel as if the world was opening up. Challenge For A Civilized Society explored that mode with more studio experimentation, as the band added synths, saxophone and samples. The result was pulsing, ecstatic.

It’s during this time that the band was booked to record a Peel Session in London. As guitarist and vocalist Justin Trosper writes in an email to NPR, “We were pretty damn excited to be asked to do a Peel Session, as that was definitely an indicator that we had ‘arrived.’ But really, being a record collector and music fan, it was an honor!”

As most bands know or discover when they arrive at the BBC, John Peel rarely attended the recording sessions bearing the influential DJ’s name. At the time, “We chose these songs as they were basically a whole section of the set we had been grinding out on the Challenge tours,” Trosper writes.

“‘Hexenszene’ and ‘Kantina’ were older numbers that had endured and evolved to higher forms. ‘Side Effects

In The Middle Of A Whirlwind Miranda Lambert Shares The Spotlight

There was a time when rock critics regularly described Miranda Lambert as some sort of vengeful, arson-happy, petite, blond Amazonion, thanks both to the potent imagery in some of her early singles and the critical tendency to view the characters which inhabit country songs in a narrow, literalistic light, as opposed to an imaginative one. It took several years, and a decidedly reflective radio hit or three, for her to supplant the cartoon version of her with the identity of a gutsy, complex woman and a songwriter of consequence. At this point, only one other female artist, Carrie Underwood, rivals her country superstar status.

There is one aspect of those early impressions that continues to ring true, though, and that’s Lambert’s readiness to summon a sense of purposeful moral outrage, to take up for people in vulnerable or powerless positions, be they survivors of domestic abuse or herself, particularly when she felt bullied by the media for being anything other than rail thin. Lambert has always found ways to champion female colleagues; Natalie Hemby has long been her go-to co-writer, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe, both still in the audience-building phases of their careers, are Lambert’s sometime-band mates in the Pistol

Music Journalist Chronicles The Wild Obsessive Hunt For Rare 78 RPM Records

With almost all the music you’d ever want to listen to available online digitally, the obsessive hunt for scratchy, fragile 78 RPM records may seem anachronistic. But author Amanda Petrusich says that those early records, which hold between two and three minutes of music per side, showcase the sound and spontaneity of a time before second takes were common in record studios.

“There was a red light that could come on in the studio often when a performer was sort of reaching the end of his or her three minutes. So on a lot of these records, you can hear someone sort of start to hurry up and panic when the light came on [indicating] that they had to finish up,” Petrusich tells Fresh Air producer Sam Briger. “Then the record just kind of went out into the world that way.”

In her new book, Do Not Sell At Any Price, Petrusich writes about the extreme measures music collectors take in pursuit of rare 78 RPM records. Some, she says, have been known to take jobs specifically because they allow access to strangers’ basements, where rare records may be collecting dust.

“You would hear stories of collectors getting jobs like census worker or