“I’ve packed some poems for lunch,
some rhymes for us to chew.
a simple, sippy soup of songs
to stir and sing and stew...”
“A Picnic of Poems” is Dawud Wharnsby's first offering of spiritually rooted folk songs for children in over eight years (the last being his 2003 CD “The Prophet’s Hands”). The thirty new and beautifully crafted compositions (now available apart from their illustrated anthology) are aimed at youngsters ages 3-7, but destined to find their way into the hearts of entire families.
The hefty collection of new work was written by Dawud over a two year period, begun shortly after he, his wife and their daughters moved to the semi-rural outskirts of Abbottabad, a small city located on the Karakorum Highway in Northern Pakistan.
Born in Canada, Wharnsby rose to international recognition in the mid 1990s for his groundbreaking album “A Whisper of Peace”, one of the first recordings of English language nasheed ever distributed professionally on an international scale. Between 1995 and 2003 he went on to produce over six recordings for children in his unique vocal-based folk style, with lyrics that often contained deeper messages intended more for eavesdropping parents than for their unsuspecting youngsters. As a result Dawud Wharnsby’s recordings and philosophy have literally fostered an entire generation of youth — many of whom are now professionals, community leaders, activists and parents themselves. Out of a desire to keep his messages and educational objectives clear, Wharnsby established a trust fund for proceeds of those old recordings, which to this day continues supporting educational and humanitarian projects.
Dawud’s new collection of songs “A Picnic of Poems” was written primarily from the perspective of his two young daughters. “My girls loves to sing.” says Wharnsby, “and I really wanted to write some new material for them to enjoy ~ with ideas and concepts directly rooted in perennial philosophy and reflecting qur’anic ideology, but presented in ways that they could identify with in their daily life.” The result is a warm, intimate, innocent and at times touching series of songs that comes across like a day in the life of the wide-eyed children most of us adults once were. There are songs about ants, bees, corn, spiders, storms, roses and crows, alongside songs about God, prophets, prayer, family and how to deal with loss, fear and change.
But parents needn’t worry they will go crazy listening to shallow refrains of baby-songs. Beyond all the expected Wharnsby-esque silly voices and lyrics about trees and bugs, there are also the subtle Wharnsby Trademarks of satire and sarcasm. This picnic basket of songs may have lilting language, but it also has some heavy metaphors for parent’s to chew. Dawud continues to use the seemingly innocent platform of children’s rhymes to get his opinions across on subjects that impassion him, including gender equity, environmental awareness and preservation, social cohesion, religious tolerance, the promotion of Simple Living, the dangers of nationalism, his outright disagreement with modern-day weaponry and even his personal dislike of urbanization.
Wharnsby says, “I believe that before we try to self-righteously bully children into traditions and the fearing of a deity they can’t even see, we must first help them foster a basic understand of an unseen God who is Most Merciful, leading them to humility and thankfulness and not spiritual pride or guilt that stunts them from growing to be well-balanced adults. Before bombarding kids with the dogma of how to pray ritualistically, we must first help them understand what prayer is, how it effects our lives and why it is so important. And before we can even address any of those theological issues with our children we must first inspire them to simply want to learn about themselves, their families, their neighbours, their world and how they fit into it. ”
The songs on “A Picnic of Poems” reveal a more polished and mature (but also more relaxed) voice than listeners may recall from the “Whisper of Peace” days. But like “Whisper” (recorded independently in 1995 for a budget of only $500 Canadian dollars) Wharnsby serves up these new chants directly from his home-studio. “I wanted these songs to really come from my heart ~ recorded with no fancy software, no auto-tune, no $50,000 budget ~ just me... my ideas and my voice poured onto a page and then, into a microphone.”
As a way of ensuring the songs do not end up as just another musical flavour of the month, destined to become a worn out CD under the seat of a car, Wharnsby and his publishers at Kube (in the United Kingdom) decided from the on-set that the new writings should be released in book form. “My words and ideas have always been the focus of my work ~ anyone who has really listened to my songs knows that about me. In these times of Twitter, Youtube and Text Messaging - where communication is fast and phonetic, I thought these new poems would have a more lasting effect on families if they were presented multidimensional: on a CD and on iTunes, but also on paper, with good old fashioned ink and colourful illustrations. Rather than have people just listen to me sing the songs, it is my hope that families will sit together with the book and reawaken the tradition of reading together, learning together...discussing the concepts and creating memories around the communal experience. For that reason I took cues from some of my favourite authors who also wrote for children ~ like Robert Louis Stevenson and Allama Iqbal ~ trying to ensure that my compositions were constructed with care and attention to literary craft that, God willing, may render them useful even after my voice and I are long gone.”
Due to public demand, the songs have now been made available independent of their illustrated counterpart, released with only vocals and percussion, to ensure families uncomfortable with music for cultural reasons, will not feel alienated from what the poems have to offer. A folk-music version of the songs (with guitar accompaniment) will be made available digitally later in 2013 for families who do enjoy slightly more “campfire style” arrangements.
But whether you choose to sing along with the “percussion only versions” or the “guitar and banjo versions”...or just prefer to buy the book and curl up with the kids to read the poems without any melodies at all, we’re sure you’ll find “A Picnic of Poems” will become a treasure in your home for generations to come.
“...like all good meals to much,
it would be very rude,
not to begin with bismillah
to bless our poetry food.”
from “A Picnic of Poems”