July 31, 2019

The music blogging world has lost a giant -- RIP Tawfiq

A year or so I was at a concert performed by an American folk guitarist. After the show we happened to be talking about various types of music and I mentioned Indian Classical Music. He suddenly brightened up and mentioned a few Dhrupad musicians whose recordings had dramatically changed the way he approached performing on his chosen instrument, the guitar. He looked at me and solemnly, slowly told me, "There is a blog. It's my favorite blog in the world. You have to check it out. It's called 'Oriental Traditional Music.'"

I certainly wasn't expecting that! I smiled and told him I knew the blogger. 

It wasn't true of course, in the strictest sense of knowing someone like a close friend. But I definitely felt like I knew him. 

Axel, or "Tawfiq" as he styled himself on the internet, and I had exchanged several dozen emails over the years, sold and bought from each other various LPs and CDs, and in general maintained a healthy banter in the comments sections of our respective blogs. He had a strong presence selling music on Discogs as seller "Tawfiq49" -- any time i have ever mentioned that an LP was purchased from the old stock of a distributer, I was slyly giving credit to "Tawfiq" as the person who had sold me the LP. 

We often encountered difficulties when online web hosting sites started to disappear or become difficult to deal with, when the EU started making rules about online privacy which drove many people to abandon the blogs, and even sometimes with Google and their difficult-to-figure-out rule changes. On one of his posts he mentions his thanks to me for helping him sort out a difficulty with comments no longer being able to be approved. "That's just what blogging friends do for each other," was my thought at the time...

I was sad a few years back when he stopped distributing his email list of CDs for sale, even telling one person that there weren't any interesting Indian music CDs being produced any more. But I knew that indeed many manufacturers of CDs such as Saregama are no longer releasing physical CDs anymore. It's all digital downloads or artist-released CDs these days. 

There would be times when he was quiet and not post very much, but then again that's true of any blogger. At one point he mentioned that a year prior his wife had been sick and had died. Not a peep of a mention on his blog -- I think maybe he took it as a point of pride that he wasn't going to solicit any condolences, but then again I don't have any proof of that. Just a hunch. 

"Tawfiq" at all times maintained a quiet dignity in the face of both praise and blame, compliments and complaints. I myself have measured very low at times in the "weathering the internet storm" department. 

"Tawfiq" had spent a long time learning about all types of Asian and Central Asian Classical Music -- from Uzbekistan to Azjerbajan, from Pakistan to India, from Iran to Iraq. He wore his expertise lightly and was gentle when correcting me about a factual matter and and mostly silent when disagreeing with me about the relative qualities of various musicians.

A little while ago I noticed something odd. I had commented on several of his last few posts of his blog and did not receive a reply, nor were the comments published. I figured he might be busy. But then as the days went on I started fearing for the worst. I then methodically went through every single post of his blog to download the audio files, making sure that if I had accidentally missed a post then I would be sure to have that music in the event of the blog going off line.

I had a bad feeling. But there was no way to contact him other than through email and the comment section of his blog.

When I heard the news about his death, in a comment in the comments of section of the previous post on this blog, I can't say I was shocked. It had been over three months since I had had any contact with him, bit still felt immensely sad when the worst was confirmed.

The "Tawfiq" whom I interacted with was kind, decent, modest, and he cared very deeply about the power of music. His blog stands as a monument to one man's passion for music. Had the internet been developed 10 years sooner, we would have had 10 more years of his musical sharing. Those ten years would have been filled with a masterful curation of the gems from his music collection, and we would all have been the better for it. There would have been so many more treasures from to discover and enjoy. But instead of focusing on what could have been, I will instead feel tremendous gratitude to "Tawfiq" for doing such a masterful job of introducing me to so many artists and genres of music. 

I don't know anything about his extended family and what will become of his collection. I hope he planned ahead and it will be given to a library or an individual who cares about the music and preserving it. His blog will remain online as long as the rules for blogspot remain the same and no specific response is required in order that it continue to be displayed for visitors. 

The files, however, are a different story. They are hosted on Dropbox and Adrive - both of these require a payment for the account to stay active. At some point the links won't work anymore. I strongly encourage people reading this post to go there and do as I did -- methodically go through every post (I started at the end and kept going back into the past until the first post) and download what you can. I doubt very much that I will ever have the opportunity to post as much music as he did (unless I create some kind of mirror-site blog -- I have even less time for that).

The traditional Buddhist phrase to say when a death occurs is, in the Pali language, "Anicca Vata Sankhara," -- which basically means that all the things we think we are -- our body, our opinions, our thoughts, our perceptions -- all of it is impermanent. It's a bit reminiscent of something said at the Christian funerals of my extended family -- "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust..." which is based on Genesis 3:19 if you are in the mood to look it up. 

I hope that you, dear reader, will -- in some small or large way -- carry on this delicate work that needs to be done. We are preserving musical culture against a growing tide of hostility and (worst of all) indifference. There are people who believe that sharing otherwise commercially unavailable music online is "piracy" -- I call it "distributed backup."

Goodbye "Tawfiq" -- your memory is alive in me and countless others whose lives you have touched. Thank you.

To my readers: please use the comment section of this post to let us know any thoughts you may have on "Tawfiq" and his blog. I know there are real-life friends of his in Germany and I especially encourage such people to get in touch with me in the hopes that somehow his blog can be archived properly (with the permission of his family) with all the links working. 

30 comments:

  1. This is terrible news, my condolences to his family. RIP Tawfiq.

    While I didn't know him personally, I am very grateful for all the music I have obtained from him. People like him have a direct influence on preservation and promulgation of classical art forms. I sincerely hope his collection will be preserved and shared.

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  2. So sorry to hear this. It feels like I have lost a friend, a friend who enriched my life tremendously by sharing the music he did.

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  3. Hello...
    My condolences to the family.
    I did not have the privilege of knowing him personally, but his generosity was evident in his magnificent blog.
    People like him will remain in our memory forever.
    Now it is important to keep your legacy.
    Thanks Tawfiq.
    Van de Lero

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  4. Oh I wondered why his blog hadn't been updated. This is very sad news. Such an incredible amount of knowledge and passion lost to the conscious world, I suppose his knowledge is now part of the larger unconscious world. I followed his blog for years and downloaded so much of the music he posted. I'm terribly sad to hear this

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  5. Very sad to know about his sad demise. He will forever be living in the music hw uploaded.

    If you have his photo, kindly post it for all music lovers to pay their tribute.

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  6. Very sad news. My condolences to the family. Thanks for all your work and passion about music Tawfiq.

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  7. Indeed a sudden shock when some student conveyed me the news. He was gem of a person, very decent, low profile, always open to suggestions. He was untiring active to verify/improve the content of his post. We were in touch through email for long especially whenever he used to upload the album related to Sarangi. May Almighty place him in heaven ! Dear Tawfiq ! the real classical music lover has lost you ! Om!

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  8. RIP Tawfiq ! A loss to the online music community ! Condolences to his family & friends!

    Sincerely,
    PS.

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  9. I have communicated with Axel (his real name) for many years by email about Indian and Iranian music and indeed bought much from his physical CD shop. Last year I visited him personally in his home town near Dusseldorf and had a fantastic two days talking about all sorts of music.
    I too had noticed his silent blog and had tried to contact him by email and phone. My last contact with him was an email in which he told me he was ill, but it didn't sound like anything life threatening. Because of his silence in the last few months, I feared the worst and now have heard this confirmation. My condolences to his family and may he rest in peace
    Louis

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  10. An important question; is his archive of uploads safe and will it train available to all for all time?

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    1. No it won't. See Richards comments above

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  11. What a sad and shocking news, Tawfiq had a amazing collection and a great generostiy to share it with the world, he contributed to preserve thoses beautiful musics. RIP Tawfiq.

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  12. Rip Tawfiq.. Really a sad news .. Deep condolences to his family.. Despite the fact that I don't know much about music, I used to download all instrumentals for My leisure listening.. Thanks Tawfiq.. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

    Khuda bhi kabhi battameesi karta
    Bin kahe apnon ko cheen leta
    ab kahe to kahe hum kinse
    janam jisne diya, vo maut bhi bhakshe

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  13. Early in his blog he posted a number of things by someone using the nom de plum Ambrose Bierce, anyone know how to contact him?

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  14. very sad news, Tawfiq has blessed me with hours and hours of treasured music. Music traditions are bigger than any one person but yet are carried on by the devotion of individuals. He helped carry the ancient traditions of music one tiny step further into the present and future as we all should strive to do for the generations yet to come.

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  15. Thanks for sharing the sad news. He has been a big influence, 4ever grateful. He will surely be missed.

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  16. Hi Richard,
    I was pointed here by community members at our Facebook Page - The Indian Audiophile Forum. I am helping organize an archival effort for Tawfiq's blog, it would be great if we could connect and discuss this further.
    - Dhruv

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  17. Hi Richard - its great that you are trying to put together an initiative to archive Tawfiq Saab's collections but a quick word of caution before partnering with people from Facebook/Google. A lot of people on these platforms have been posting his music on their channels/pages without ever seeking his permission or even doing the bare minimum of providing credits. I'd request you to not enable these people further their agenda by collaborating with them. I'd also request those who are genuinely interested in archiving his collection to actually take the pains of contacting Tawfiq's family and seek their permission first.

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  18. I don’t think you have to worry about that. At the moment I barely have enough time to fulfill my obligations at my job let alone work on a project to archive Axel’s uploads. I have downloaded them all and I strongly encourage everyone else to do the same. If his blog goes offline then I might (emphasis — might) upload the files he shared that fit the subject of this blog, giving proper credits of course.

    Ideally I would pay adrive and Dropbox their annual fees to keep the downloading continuing past the expiration date for his accounts. But I have no way of doing that so the status of his blog at this point is “endangered.”

    It’s the risk of annoying people, I have to stress the importance of 1) downloading all material that interests you from any music blog you follow and 2) backing up your files more than once — a 4TB portable hard drive costs less than 100 USD, is smaller than a paperback book and can be stored in a bank safe deposit box. It can be updated twice a year without it being overly burdensome. And I passionately request people to start their own blog or YouTube channnel to help keep the music alive

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  19. A terrible shock: I just stumbled on this. How very sad, for the world of music as well as for his family. My thoughts go out to them.

    It was through the Oriental LP blog that I doscovered so much Central Asian music which has become absolutely a core favourite, a music I listen to repeatedly and keep coming back to. I never got the same thrill from the Indian music Tawfiq really loved, which makes me feel a little guilty, but his interests were wide and his enthusiasm contagious. He leaves a big hole. RIP.

    David

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  20. Thanks for your comments, David.
    In terms of enjoying Indian Classical Music, I would suggest (if you haven’t already) seeing 4-5 live concerts. These can range from 90-180 minutes and the communal experience of the audience experiencing the same intense emotions is very powerful. It is the basis of my appreciation of recorded ICM — I never really “got it” until I was there in real time in the presence of the performers, watching how they communicate with signs and expressions.
    Thanks as always for you comments

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  21. Hi Richard - Did you by chance procure any of the P&M Records issued CDs of Ranadhir Roy (Esraj) from Tawfiq Saab? They released 4 albums by him
    Thanks

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  22. Richard

    Indeed a very sad news.I enjoyed his posting for so many year and am highly obliged for it.

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  23. I was surprised not to see any more posts on Tawfiq's blog for many weeks and I just go down on the internet after a long hike in the mountains. When I discovered his blog 2-3 years ago, I couldn't believe my eyes and ears with all these musical treasures and the accompanying documentation. His generosity was really immense, I am very sad and would like to express my condolences to all his family and friends.

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  24. Very sad. I never communicated with him but always considered him as a friend in terms of music. Through his blog only I got to listen so many gems, otherwise I never had any idea that they exist at all.
    May his soul rest in eternal peace.

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  25. wow. So sad. I just came across this blog about a year ago. Literally such a blessing. Somehow it is always people outside India who do such amazing jobs of preservation, like Mr. Nicholas Magriel. RIP Mr. Tawfiq. Thank you for sharing the beauty of music.

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  26. I was checking his blog just today and wondered why it had not been updated, and then opened your blog and read this post. I learned so much about Hindustani and Iranian classical music through his blog; I am so grateful and indebted to Tawfiq sahib for sharing his music, may his spirit be in peace and find easy rest.

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  27. '...Ideally I would pay adrive and Dropbox their annual fees to keep the downloading continuing past the expiration date for his accounts...." - hello!- while individually downloading and creating multiple back-ups of this treasure trove might be good, even necessary- it would not be in keeping with the spirit and generosity with which this amazing person has selflessly shared his music to the world. we must somehow keep the online storage accounts active and available to the world.

    I request the Tawfiq's family, friends or anyone else who can contact his family- to do so- and get their permission to keep the storage accounts alive. We can easily crowd-fund the costs of doing so. I am willing to help and collaborate. Thanks Richard for all your work and for letting us use your page to try co-ordinate this.

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  28. My condolences to Tawfiq's family and friends. I just finished archiving almost everything of on Tawfiq's blog to DVD-r. Took a lot of work.. :)

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  29. Oooh no :-(. This is terrible news. I'm so stunned and sad.
    Now I understand why he never answered my comments nor updated his blog since March. I was more or less away to other occupations for several months.
    Since few years, I'm maintaining a local archive of several wonderful blogs using some custom pseudo-automated scripts: Tawfiq's one, this one and few other ones too. By chance, I think I succeeded in archiving everything that was downloadable from his blog since the beginning - what I don't have locally is simply not available and will never be.
    I'm glad I could understand what happened and see that he was really appreciated by a community of followers for his knownledge and his shares.
    Thanks, Richard, for letting us know.

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