This book has to be understood in line with Koen’s broader view on medical ethnomusicology. Following a model of research that would oppose science to religion or spirituality, the author proposes an original approach of maddah (مداح) performance in Tajikistani Badakhshan, in healing context, based on a “reflexive and phenomenological ethnography (p. 12),” linked with “cognitive ethnomusicology (p. 18).” The purpose of the book is stated page 14: it is “to convey through the Pamiri cultural lens how music, prayer and meditation are performed as preventive and curative practices; to discern underlying principles and processes that transcend cultural specificity; to show parallel processes in diverse cultural contexts; and to illustrate how these processes and principles can be relevant to researchers and practitioners across disciplines”. This announces also the framework of the book.
After a first chapter devoted to this theoretical background, B. D. Koen explains how all answers to questions on the effect of music and prayer in healing process are part of two broad categories: those depending on the cultural context, and those that are cultural transcendent (and potentially universal). So doing he links the universal “five factors of health and healing” (physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual) with the traditional Pamiri model of health, which requires balance between ‘aql (mind), tan (body) and ruh or jan (spirit or soul). The author asserts that music, prayer and meditation have the same associations as these five factors, and it becomes then possible to conceptualise relationships between devotional healing practices and their effect on health, link between the visible (science) and the invisible (spiritual), and so on.
The second chapter goes on with several paragraphs which quickly portray Badakhshan from the ecological environment to its “healthscape”, “soundscape”, and also provides descriptions of maddah performances, and its key understanding points (the notion of baraka, the “view of the self” within the concepts of batin vs. dhahir, page 50). In chapter 3, B. D. Koen deals with the “transformative cognitive process which underlies maddah (p. 61),” viz. he describes in detail maddah’s performance, the role and reactions of the participants, and he analyses the tools of healing: herbs, religious texts, tumar (طومار) or amulets, poetry and musical repertoires, musical instruments, the traditional architecture of houses. Especially interesting data are offered on the relationship between the khalifa and the maddah (pp. 70-71).
The fourth chapter (“Soundscape and Musical-Spiritual Entrainment”) provides other examples of B. D. Koen’s personal spiritual experiences: meeting with a dervish in Dushanbe’s Green Bazaar, listening to a dombra (two-stringed lute) player in the street, accordions in Khorog bazaar. . . . He discusses Pamiri “virtues” (“nobility, humility and service” (p. 110)) and ecological environment, and the didactical principles of maddah, all of them providing ability for cognitive flexibility (i.e., ability for change of consciousness’ state) required for healing. The falak repertoire is finally considered as linked to maddah’s performance in healing process.
Chapter five comes back on Persian poetry’s impact in healing performances, within an interesting consideration of the interaction of words and sounds, and on Sufi practices. It also describes other spiritual practices in Badakhshan: herbal and water’s power, especially of hot springs. The author then recounts his own prayer performances with several patients in Badakhshan. In chapter six, he deals with other experiments, in the USA, about the power of music and meditation in order to moderate stress, and transform “consciousness of the self” in daily-life. In chapter seven, he proposes a new concept to universalise musical-prayer healing: the HCP for “Human Certainty Principle” (which he links with the concepts of tawhid or of wahdat-i wujud), emphasizing then the importance of the patient’s certitude in his ability to participate in the healing process. The book ends with a conceptual development of “vibration” and concludes on the “Answer to prayer lies in action” precept (p. 203).
B. D. Koen’s book consists more of a demonstration of spiritual centrality in healing, and in personal sacred experiences, than in an analysis of maddahs’ healing performances. Though the author has been basing his theoretical developments on his research in Badakhshan, the ethnographical data given in this book sometimes appears more to be serving the author’s concepts, theories and personal beliefs, than the opposite. The reader will also find interesting developments on the use of poetry, on the spiritual concepts of the people of Badakhshan, and on the social role of maddahs, as well as more broadly on the necessity to link the spiritual sphere to scientific one in researches on healing.