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Accompanied by harmonium and 30 sets of clapping palms, 32 male voices are singing.Anyone who is old enough to have had a taste for unconventional music in the late-20th century may recognize the accordion-like hand-percussive music accompanying these lyrics as qawwali.Associated with Sufi practice, this cross-confessional devotional music of north India and Pakistan has been around for ages but was catapulted into the pop music consciousness thanks to mountainous vocalist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and WOMAD – the world music gathering-and-branding project founded by U.K. pop artist and entrepreneur Peter Gabriel.This lyrical remark about art biennials, self-evident to anyone who's attended one, is the chorus of "Dictums 10:120," a live installation work Wael Shawky created and staged outside the exhibition halls of the 2013 edition of the Sharjah Biennial. For the minute cosmopolitan audience of contemporary art aficionados and tourists – few of whom are believed to actually speak Urdu – "Dictums 10:120" looked and sounded like a pleasant bit of easily consumed exotica nestled amid an event whose works ran the gamut from intellectually taxing to opaque.The work's playful punch, however, resides in its conflating a genre of devotional music with the rarefied language of a contemporary art biennial.
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