I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Of Eagles With Eagles...

کند ہم جنس با ہم جنس پرواز
کبوتر با کبوتر، باز بہ باز

Birds of a feather fly together
Doves fly with doves, Eagles with eagles

A word of warning. This is another of those "Pucca" Qawwali posts that feature scratchy recordings, obscure biographical details and other items that may not be interesting to the lay-reader but which - for me at least - are THE reason I fell in love with Qawwali. Let's begin...

Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal was born in Pakpattan in 1914 and died at Golra in 1992. Although young Mahboob was trained in manufacturing silver flake (chandi kay warq), his father was intent on making him a Qawwal and sent him to the legendary Ustad Muhammad Ali Fareedi (Mahboob 's brother-in-law) to be trained. Haji Sb spent seven years under the tutelage of Muhammad Ali Fareedi but was unable to imbibe much in the way of Qawwali, and was sent back to his father as a "gone case". On one of his visits to Pakpattan, Hz Ghulam Mohyeddin Gilani (Hz Babuji R.A) - the son of Pir Meher Ali Shah of Golra(R.A) was approached by Mahboob's father who requested that Hz Babuji take the youngster under his wing and train him to be a Qawwal. Hz Babuji agreed and took the young Mahboob with him to Golra. Initially, Mahboob was sent to the famed Sufi Ali Bukhsh "Waiz" Qawwal to learn his unique style of Qawwali with Sitar accompaniment, but Waiz Qawwal also found himself unable to teach the student to his satisfaction, and Mahboob returned to Golra. 

At Golra, Hz Babuji decided to train Mahboob himself and took him to Pir Meher Ali Shah (R.A) to obtain his blessing. After Pir Meher Ali Shah (R.A)'s blessing, Mahboob started practicing Samaa under Hz Babuji's direct training as the Darbari Qawwal of the Golra Sharif shrine. Throughout Hz Babuji's lifetime, he taught Mahboob the intricacies of music, thousands upon thousands of Sufi texts and their explanations, as well as the core Sufi concepts that - as the Darbari Qawwal - Mahboob's task was to transmit to his audience. The result was that Haji Mahboob was acclaimed - by his audiences, Sufis and other Qawwals - as THE Darbari Qawwal. He was recognized as the spokesperson of the shrine, who effectively educated his audience under the direct supervision of the custodians of the shrine. Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal performed almost daily at the Golra Sharif Shrine for more than half a century and his Mehfil recordings are a treasure for anyone who prefers Qawwali the way it was intended - as a form of spiritual instruction.

Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal was born in 1922 in Batala, (Gurdaspur) and died in 1985. He belonged to a traditional Qawwal family; he was the nephew of the great Muhammad Ali Fareedi, his elder brother Agha Bashir Ahmad was a famous Qawwal in his own right, while his younger brother Agha Majeed Ahmad Fareedi was one of the greatest accompanists in qawwali history. Agha Rasheed's journey to becoming a qawwal wasn't easy. He began his musical career as the tabla-nawaz with his elder brother Agha Bashir's party but became determined to become a Qawwal after being scolded (and reportedly slapped) by his elder brother due to a mistake in one of their performances. 

He then went to the great Qawwal of the first half of the 20th Century, Fateh Ali Khan, and asked to be taken under his wing. The story of his first day under as Fateh Ali Khan's shagird is also very interesting. Fateh Ali Khan had told the young student to stand next to a wall and loudly practice the musical scales. While Rasheed was practicing in his (even then) loud and raspy voice, an acquaintance of Fateh Ali Khan's passed by and commented in earshot of Rasheed, "Who is this donkey you've got braying next to the wall?". Luckily for Qawwali, Rasheed didn't take affronts like this to heart and studiously learnt Qawwali under Fateh Ali, ultimately becoming - in the opinion of wiser heads than mine - his pre-eminent pupil and the most perfect exemplar of his Ustads' style of Qawwali.

The stories of Haji Mahboob Ali and Rasheed Ahmad intersect at several key points. For one, they were cousins. Secondly, Rasheed was a disciple of Hz Babuji (RA) - he had obtained 'ba'et' on Hz Babuji's hand. Third, even though Rasheed wasn't permanently attached to any specific Sufi shrine, he practiced the "Darbaari" style of Qawwali throughout his life, eschewing - either willingly or through a lack of opportunity - the more commercial style of his peers. Further, both Haji Mahboob and Agha Rasheed Ahmad considered it their sacred duty to bring about a spiritual change in their listeners. Haji Mahboob had once said, "If there is one "Sahib-e-Haal" in my audience, my job is done; otherwise dust upon my face and upon the audience!". Agha Rasheed had once expressed similar sentiments, saying "If it were up to me, my audience would leave the mehfil with their clothes in tatters." Another important similarity was that both Qawwals were accompanied by their phenomenally talented brothers; Haji Mushtaq Ali with Haji Mahboob and Agha Majeed Ahmad Fareedi with Agha Rasheed. Both these accompanists were superbly talented in their own right but kept their talents subservient to their elder brothers for almost their entire careers. It is a fitting (and touching) tribute to their association that after the deaths of both Haji Mahboob and Rasheed, both their younger brothers joined hands and took over the duties of Darbaari Qawwals at Golra, each performing regularly till they passed away.

The two great Qawwals, as a result of their spiritual allegiance to Hz Babuji (RA), were great friends and admirers of each other. Agha Rasheed would visit Golra regularly during the days of the Urs, and out of deference to Haji Mahboob's seniority in both age and as the Darbari Qawwal of the shrine, would sit in with Haji Sb's party as an accompanist. On the conclusion of the Urs, Haji Mahboob would return the favor by giving the entire sum of money collected as "Nazr" during the 'Chaadar' ceremony over to Rasheed. Very few recordings exist of the two great qawwals singing together, but the few that remain are phenomenally powerful. Even when they were not singing together, their repertoires often contained kalaams that were distinct from their contemporary Qawwals. Most of these unique kalaams were either written by succeeding generations of the Pirs of Golra Sharif or by devotees of the Golra shrine like Isa Amritsari. By listening to both these Qawwals renditions of a common repertoire, one gets a better idea of their contrasting styles. While Haji Mahboob preferred an emphasis of text over music (mainly because he confessed to being relatively untrained in the intricacies of classical music), Agha Rasheed fully utilized the superb musical tutelage of Fateh Ali with taankari, sargams and stupendous takraars. Haji Sb's style was more meditative, mellower and more explanatory. Rasheed's was dramatic, brashly powerful and exclamatory. Both Qawwals succeeded where most others have failed, in their ability to transfer the spiritual meanings of the kalaam to their audience effectively.

Haji Mahboob Ali (with Sitar) and Haji Mushtaq Ali (on harmonium), with Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi (extreme left) and Agha Majeed Ahmad Fareedi (6th from left)  in the 2nd row.

Baaz Ba Baaz - Haji Mahboob Ali and Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal

1. Aa Punla Mor Muharaan Ve
2. Khuda Ki Qasam Hai Khuda Jalwagar Hai
3. Arzooe Wasle Janaan
4. Apni Ghurbat Se Teri Shan Se

These first four kalaams are by Pir Sahibaan of Golra [the first by Pir Naseeruddin Naseer (RA), the next three by his father, Pir Ghulam Moinuddin (RA) who used "Mushtaq" as his takhallus] serve to highlight both Qawwals' approaches to Qawwali. Haji Mahboob presents these three pieces without much girahbandi or embellishment, as was his wont when performing the kalaams of Pir Ghulam Moinuddin (RA); adopting a beautiful, hauntingly melodic arrangement (especially in the latter three kalaams which are amongst my most favorite performances of his). What emerges is a series of performances steeped in longing, love and melancholy. Agha Rasheed on the other hand, uses long takraars to build up the kalaams to a series of crescendos. In between, there is lovely Punjabi girahbandi and superb taankari that highlights the Qawwals' musical credentials. The highlight is his rendition of the second kalaam, a masterpiece in the construction of a Qawwali performance. The performance builds in tempo and "zor" with each passing second, like a locomotive slowly gathering speed before whisking away the listeners to destinations unknown.

4. Diya Hota Kisi Ko Dil

This is a rather famous piece by Bedam Shah Warsi and both qawwals have sung it in its traditional tarz; un-embellished, with minimal girahbandi or taankaari.

5. La Ilah Di Ramz Niari

This is a beautiful Kafi of Hz Baba Buleh Shah (RA) which is rarely sung by Qawwals. It's message is of the One-ness of God and the fact that the belief in this One-ness - Tauheed - is the central tenet of Islam and Sufism. also explored is the Sufi concept of  'Wahdat-ul-Wujood' as expounded by Hz Ibn-al-Arabi (RA) and his successors. Here it is Haji Mahboob who expands the performance, performing a profound exposition of the test, using girahs from sources as varied as Guru Nanak and Rumi, Iqbal and Kabir. His 50 minute performance is the perfect example of Qawwali as 'Sama', Qawwali as 'Wa'z' and Qawwali as the means to spiritual education, with the takraars in the latter half taking the listener to strange places indeed. In contrast, Agha Rasheed Ahmad's recording is taken from a Radio Pakistan performance featuring musical accompaniment by Shehnai and Sitar, It's lovely to hear the younger voices of the Fareedi brothers, and Agha Majeed really shines in this performance.

6, Prem Nagar Ki Raah Kathin Hai

A lovely Poorbi kalam - almost a bhajan - by the poet Mehmood Shah again displays striking differences in the performance styles of the two Qawwals. Haji Mahboob Sb is in an absolutely sublime mood; mellow, meditative and contemplative. His style is languid, almost loving as he steers the kalaam into beautiful territory, making it an allegory for the events at Karbala. In between, he exclaims to the audience, "These are dangerous things that I am about to relate, not for everyone's ears!". It's a beautiful performance, one that sounds absolutely intimate and deeply personal. Agha Rasheed's performance is similar in many ways. He uses most of the same girahs that Haji Mahboob uses, even using the same introductory verses. His performance, though still possessing a certain languor, is more regal, more magisterial, more declamatory. The arrangement is really beautiful, as is the taankari and girahbandi.

7. Salaam Aye Fatima Ke Laal

This powerful Manqabat to Hz Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (RA) was written by Isa Amritsari. Isa was a mureed of Hz Pir Meher Ali Shah (RA) who wrote some beautiful poetry in Farsi, Urdu and Punjabi. He perished during the partition riots on a train bound for Pakistan in 1947 at a relatively young age. This manqabat is regularly performed at the Golra Sharif shrine on the eleventh of every Islamic month (Gyarhveen). This kalaam was also significant in that after Hz Pir Meher Ali Shah (Ra) had bestowed his blessings on young Mahboob Ali, this was the kalaam that Mahboob had recited in front of Pir Meher Ali Shah. This kalaam is usually sung at the conclusion of Qawwali mehfils at Golra so it is fitting that I end this post with this wonderful manqabat. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

...Of The Wellspring

The word Qawwali stems from the word "Qaul" or "saying". Put simply, Qawwali - the subcontinental variant of the traditional Sufi practice of Samaa - consists of the sayings and utterances of the Saints, set to music. The Qawwali repertoire has expanded over time to include Ghazal, Kafi, Classical bandishes and folk epics in almost all the languages of the Indo-Persian region. However, a very specific subset of the repertoire consists of compositions known as Qauls. Some scholars, and most Qawwals, consider these Qauls to be remnants of the very earliest style of Sub-continental Qawwali, originated by Hz Amir Khusrau (RA). The evidence for this claim is mainly the oral traditions of the Qawwal gharanaas, and like many attributions to Hz Amir Khusrau, the attribution of the Qauls may well be apocryphal at best.

Ages ago, I wrote a post comprising some of my favorite recordings of the most famous Qaul in Sufi music, "Mun Kunto Maula". Since that post, I have not only heard (and collected) many more wonderful versions of the famous Qaul, I have also managed to acquire a small number of other, lesser known Qauls. In this post, I'll share a few Qauls that are somewhat obscure, but deserve to be heard and appreciated. They all share very interesting combinations of languages, 'Raags' and 'taals'. Even though it's impossible to accurately trace their lineage and history, the Qauls sound absolutely distinct from the rest of the Qawwali corpus and occupy a distinct niche within the repertoire.

1. Mun Kunto Maula - Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi

The first item on the list is a very non-traditional recording of the traditionally famous Qaul. I featured this recording as the very last item in my 2006 post. Because of it's distinctness, it deserves to be shared again. Traditionally, the most famous Qaul is sung in raag Shudh Kalyan or raag Shaam Kalyan. Fareedi Sb however, begs to differ. As he garrulously declares at the start, his version of the Qaul is in raag Bhopali and in Teentaal ( a rythmic cycle of 16 beats). Ustad Naseeb Khan then lays down a steady rhythm as Agha Rasheed and his brother Majeed Fareedi commence their interpretation. Like many of his electrifying performances, Fareedi Sb accelerates the Qaul like a train slowly gathering speed, creating wonderfully powerful takraars along the way. The takraars build to a wonderful crescendo on a verse of Bedam Shah Warsi's, before Fareedi Sb suddenly changes gears and takes the performance in an entirely different direction altogether. Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi was a wholly unique performer, with a style distinctly his own. It's no wonder then, that his version of arguably the most commonly performed piece of Sufi music is wholly unique and absolutely distinct.

2. Allah Taala Qaula-namaa - Muhammad Hayat Nizami

The late Muhammad Hayat Nizami was one of the resident Qawwals of the shrine of Hz Nizamuddin Aulia (RA) in Delhi. He was the father of Hamsar Hayat Nizami, currently one of the leading Qawwals of India. I was first introduced to him via Yousuf Saeed's wonderful documentary "Khusro Bani", which featured a number of performances by Muhammad Hayat Nizami and his party. I wasn't able to find many recordings by him, but a wonderful film on YouTube shows the Ustad and his family in a wonderful light. His "pukka" vocal style impressed me greatly, and I cherish the few recordings of his that i possess. Here he presents a Qaul accompanied by a dholak beat that sounds almost like a Pakhawaj, as well as a Sarangi. His style is frenetic and lively, interspersed with frequent exclamations of "Shava Re !". It's a short but powerful performance, allowing the Ustad to use his raspy voice to great effect in a series of brief sargams and taans, as well as a lovely taraana at the end.

3. Qaul-e-Rusool Sunaayo - Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed Khan

Zaheer Kidvai Sb had once mentioned that the Lok Virsa folks in Islamabad had recorded a number of performances by Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed in the 1990's. This had sparked intense curiosity in me, which was quenched when the videos of not one but two separate recording sessions popped up on YouTube. Each performance was worth its (figurative) weight in gold, but the most interesting recording was of this beautiful Qaul. Raziuddin Sb is ably accompanied by young Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad in this recording. The tempo is stately, with a lovely rhythm and Raziuddin Sb's voice in fine form. He uses wonderful Farsi and Urdu na'atiya verses as girahs, embellishing an already wonderful piece. There is another very lovely rendition of this Qaul available on YouTube for the more curious readers to find and enjoy. Hint : It's by another stalwart of the Qawwal Bacchhon ka Gharana.

4. Laata Maafi/Aayo Re Yeh Kaun Pargato - Meraj Ahmed Nizami Qawwal

Speaking of stalwarts of the Qawwal Bacchon ka Gharana, the late Meraj Ahmed Nizami was rightfully considered the head of the clan. A strict traditionalist who steadfastly persisted with the style of performance that was handed down to him, he was a veritable treasure of musical knowledge. This fact was recognized by a number of ethno-musicologists including Prof. Regula Qureshi, whose seminal book on Qawwali is based mainly on a series of performances by Meraj Sb. He was also recorded by the Smithsonian institute in the late Eighties for a wonderful 2-CD set. This set of Qauls come from the same album. Meraj Sb prefaces the performance by claiming that his Gharana - the Qawwal Bacchon ka Gharana - claims sole ownership over these two Qauls. I find no reason to dispute this claim, as all other recordings of this Qaul in my possession are by musicians from the same Gharana, including an absolutely astounding rendition on the Sarangi by Ustad Bundoo Khan. Meraj Sb ends his lovely performance of the Qaul with a series of verses from a lovely ghazal that he was very fond of, bringing this brief performance to a fitting end.

5. Qaul - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan and Party

In 1975, countries across the traditionally Persianate parts of Asia celebrated the 7th centenary of Hz Amir Khusrau's (RA) birth. A number of cultural activities took place, spanning literature and the performing arts. Under the supervision of the legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who was heading the the Pakistan National Council for the Arts, the Pakistani cultural community actively participated in these celebrations. Apart from special programming on Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Television, a number of wonderful commemorative albums were released by EMI Pakistan, featuring artists from across the entire Pakistani musical spectrum. These albums included Qawwali, vocal and instrumental Classical music, Ghazal as well as Light-Classical performances by the leading artists of Pakistan. In addition, a series of now legendary concerts were held at (among other places) the Liaquat Hall, Rawalpindi.

One of these concerts was devoted solely to Qawwali and featured the leading Qawwals of Pakistan performing pieces attributed to Hz Amir Khusrau (RA). A couple of years ago, as part of the Dream Journey project, I was able to participate in an interview with Ustad Naseeruddin Saami, who had performed in the famed concert, accompanying his uncles Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed and Manzoor Ahmed Niazi. He spoke of the concert in hushed tones, claiming that the pieces performed that day have rarely been heard since. I'll end this post with a performance from that very concert. I'll forego any florid descriptions of this performance, as Mujahid Mubarik Ali Khan and Nusrat do an excellent job of introducing it themselves.

Til the next post, cheers !!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

...Of The Kedara

As I have frequently confessed on this blog and elsewhere, my knowledge of music is superficial at best. If occasionally I seem to be making some sense in the description of the pieces I post, it's mainly because I'm using sketchy information gleaned from innumerable sources to cover my embarrassing degree of ignorance. The theoretical, technical aspects of music completely elude me. I wouldn't be able to tell a 'Sa' from a 'Ni' if my life depended on it. In fact, this introductory paragraph also serves as a cry for help. If any of my readers (the few who haven't disappeared due to the blog's long hibernation) could guide me towards a resource I could use to learn note and interval recognition, I'd be really grateful. The complex system of Raags and Thaats and Vaadi-Samvaadis will have to wait until I've actually tuned my ear to recognize notes. I'll be waiting for the suggestions.

That being said, through sheer good luck and the efforts of a few very benevolent friends, I can now say that on good days, on my fourth or fifth try, I can recognize a few raags. Partly because they're the only ones I can confidently recognize and partly because they are absolutely beautiful, these few raags have become my favorites. I actively search out compositions in them and enjoy them immensely, trying to keep up with and anticipate the shifting sequences of notes. Like I said earlier, I can't really tell which notes are being played, which notes are vaadi-samvaadi or what's the difference between a bad'hat and a pakarr, but I love what I hear, and that has endeared these raags to me. It's a small list that includes Hameer, Tilak Kamod, Maru Behag, Chhayanat, Alhaiyya Bilawal and the subject of this post; Raag Kedara.

The Ragini Kedara (from a 17th century Raagmala manuscript)

The Kedara just wins out over the Tilak Kamod as my favorite raag. Oftentimes it feels that the beautiful "Sa Re Ga Sa Re" phrase of the Tilak Kamod sounds lovelier than the Kedara's descending 'meendh', but the Kedara eventually emerges the winner because of its evocation of a very special mood. It's a meditative, night-time mood, with mystical undertones and a strange, enchanting dignity. Much later, when I discovered the Raag-mala paintings of this Raag, I found that they depicted mystics, either listening to stringed instruments or conversing with their (generally royal) disciples while the crescent moon shines overhead. I think this goes to show that despite an ignorance of the fine technicalities of the Raag, one is still able to tap into the soul of the music if one listens often enough. I have a number of favorite renditions of this raag, from mainstream pop-rock to ghazal to vocal and instrumental classical music, but for this post, I'll focus on Qawwali.

Here then, is a selection of Qawwali pieces based on Raag Kedara

1. Ae Dil Bageer Daaman - Ae Sukh Daiyya - Taranas -- Farid Ayaz, Abu Muhammad Qawwal & Brothers

The first recording in this post is rather special to me. It's from the very first Qawwali mehfil I ever attended. In the winter of 2010, I was in Rawalpindi for my Med School convocation when I got a message from Arif Ali Khan Sb, who was visiting Islamabad at that time. He invited me to a Qawwali mehfil at the residence of one of his friends, and I readily accepted. It was a chance to finally meet Arif Sb, with whom I had interacted with online for several years. It was also a chance to get to see Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad live, quite an initiation into the world of Qawwali. It turned out to be a really memorable evening, with the Qawwals singing some beautiful pieces and the experience of live Qawwali supercharging my burgeoning interest into a full-blown obsession. The Qawwals started the mehfil with this lovely manqabat of Hz Shah Niaz's. Around the 11 minute mark, they beautifully segued into one of my favorite bandishes, Ae Sukh Daiyya, (The wah-wahs you hear are unfortunately mine). Finally came two lovely taraanas in raag Des I think, which again was one of my favorites from their father's recordings. The audio is from my trusty digital camera's microphone and is surprisingly listenable.

2. Chamanay Ke Ta Qayamat -- Fateh Ali Mubarak Ali Qawwal

This is one of those recordings that I fell in love with as soon as I heard the opening instrumental strains. There's clarinet in there, and a sarangi, and God knows what else; all brewing a heady, intoxicating prelude to the kalaam itself. The fact that the kalaam is one of the most beautifully mellifluous ghazals of Maulana Rumi (RA)'s Divan-e-Shams, being sung by THE greatest Qawwals of the 20th century in a superbly clear recording multiplied the pleasure a hundredfold. The two Ustads' voices have rarely complimented each other as beautifully as on this recording. The mini-takrars, the mini bol-taans and the lovely bol-baant make this piece and absolute and utter masterpiece. Despite the urgency of the takraars, there is no hurried-ness whatsoever, as the Ustads linger on every syllable and every note, taking two or three attempts in an attempt to get the pronunciation *just* right. I love this recording and have loved it from the moment I first heard it. Again, it was much later that I realized that the composition was in raag Kedara.

3. Dekhta Hoon Jab Unhain -- Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal

From a pristine studio recording of the "Ustaadon ke Ustaads" , we move to a rather shabbily recorded Mehfil performance of one of their greatest shagirds. Bakhshi Khan, Mubarak Ali Khan, Sadiq Ali Khan Saddo and Co. ably accompany Salamat Ali Khan in this lovely Urdu ghazal. The themes of the ghazal are the Sufi concepts of "Fanaa" and "Wahdat-ul-Wujood", encapsulated in the lovely final verse

یہ کمالِ بے خودی ہے یا مقامِ آگہی

آج تو اپنے ہی قدموں پر جھکا جاتا ہوں میں

It's a long piece with some lovely pieces of taankaari, without any extravagant or flashy embellishments, just the way I like it. I consider the recordings of Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal to be 'qawwali primers', perfect for introducing lay-listeners and neophytes to the wonderful world of Qawwali. This recording is presented as Exhibit A.

4. Iss Ishq Ke Haathon Se -- Aziz Ahmed Warsi Qawwal

The next selection is from the king of Deccan-style Qawwali. Aziz Ahmed Khan Warsi's style is distinct not only from other Qawwals, but also from his cousins and nephews in the Qawwal Bacchon ka Gharana. His staccato harmonium-playing, loose-limbed layakaari and sharp, textured voice made him stand out from his contemporaries. His choie of kalaams was always impeccable, focusing on ghazals from Urdu's pre-eminent poets. Here, he sings a beautiful Jigar Muradabadi ghazal. Jigar has remained a favorite of both the Qawwals as well as the various Shaykhs of the Sufi shrines across the subcontinent. This performance makes the reason plain. There are themes of love, longing and yearning, with false hopes of benevolence and attention from the 'Beloved' couched in simple, evocative phrases that can appeal to the lay-listener and connoisseur alike.

5. Khabaram Raseed Imshab -- Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Qawwal & Party

I'll put this out there as a Universal Truth; "Live at the Kufa Gallery' is the greatest Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album. It is the perfect album to gainsay his detractors who claim that he eschewed the Classical elements of Qawwali for showmanship and callisthenics. It is also one of the final recordings of his 'Original' party, consisting of Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan. Here, Nusrat takes a long alaap and starts with a lovely little verse. Dildar Hussain's tabla then provides a steady beat for Nusrat to weave his magic upon. In this recording, Nusrat uses the Kedara based tarz of this ghazal originally used by his father and uncle in a recording made in the early '60s. This ghazal becomes a tired chestnut in the hands of lesser performers. But with Nusrat actively applying his classical chops here, the ghazal rightfully takes its place as one of the absolute masterpieces of the Sufi canon. The shifts in tempo at each verse, the lovely bol-taans, taankaari and the sparse yet superb girah-bandi elevate this performance into the stratosphere, from where even Rahat's raw and (dare I say it) helium-infused voice can't manage to bring it down.

6. Main Vi Jaana Jhok Ranjhan Di -- Asif Hussain Santoo Khan Qawwal

In the past I have made no secret of the fact that I do not like Asif Hussain Santoo Khan as a Qawwal. Most of his performances devolve into scream-fests and screechy attempts at impersonating Nusrat. He's a very successful Qawwal and more power to him, but I just can't get myself to forgive the fact that he eschewed the legacy of his legendary grandfather Ustad Santoo Khan and father Ustad Manzoor Hussain in an attempt to become the next Nusrat. Anyway, let's move on. In searching for a Punjabi kalaam set to raag Kedara, I stumbled upon this rendition of Shah Hussain's immortal Kafi. It's taken from an episode of Firdous-e-Gosh, PTV's interesting and commendable attempt at reviving Classical music based programming. Each episode would focus on a single raag, comprising performances of Lakshan-geets, classical and semi-classical pieces in that raag. In the episode on raag Kedara, I discovered this rather nice Qawwali by our friend Asif Hussain Santoo Khan, playing against type. The kalaam is a famous Kafi by Shah Hussain, made popular by such stalwarts as Pathanay Khan, Suraiyya Multanekar and Hamid Ali Bela. In this recording, there is no shouting or shor-sharaaba and the Qawwals go through the entire text in a rather respectful style. There is sparse taankaari and a few very nice girahs. All in all, a decent performance of a lovely canonical piece of Sufi poetry. Goes to show that there's potential in most Qawwals if only they cease their attempts at aping Nusrat.

7. Wafaa Ki Main Ne Buniyaad -- Manzoor Ahmed Niazi Aur Hamnavaa (Barri Party)

 I have to thank Zaheer Alam Kidvai Sb for letting me share this recording. I've mentioned this a number of times in the past as well but the fact bears repeating that the recordings he has been releasing under his Ragni Recordings label are worth their weight in gold. The jewels of the collection are the 7 CDs of recordings by the legendary "Barri Party" of Manzoor Ahmed Niazi, Bahauddin Khan, Iftekhar Ahmed Nizami and Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed Qawwals. This beautiful and leisurely recording (30 minutes) finds the entire Barri Party at the peak of their form as they take Seemab Akbarabadi's lovely ghazal into the stratosphere. Despite the slightly scratchy audio quality, the Ustads' lovely layakaari and taankaari shine through. As a friend of mine was wont to say when talking about the Barri Party, "Jahan se ek Ustad chhorta hai, wahaan se doosra urraa ke le jata hai!"(When one Ustad is done with a note, the other swoops in and takes flight). Munshi Raziuddin enunciates each and every syllable of the main kalam, Bahauddin Khan Sb provides lovely sargams and and incomparable vacillating taans, Manzoor Ahmed Niazi Sb's starlingly beautiful voice offers astounding taans in the higher registers while Iftekhar Nizami Sb gravelly bass notes provide the bedrock for the performance. Occasionally there are glimpses of a precocious young Farid Ayaz shining through. Farid Ayaz, Abu Muhammad and Co were so entranced by this recording that they decided to include this ghazal in their performance repertoire in an emulation of their illustrious elders. My Dream Journey comrades were in Karachi last December to capture the first ever performance of this kalaam, ensuring that the Barri Party's lovely legacy continues to influence the next generations of the Qawwal Bacchon ka Gharaana. The performance ends in a beautiful Tarana which is the perfect bookend to these seven audio recordings of the Kedara.

8. Al Ishqu Deeni Ma Dum'tu Haiyya -- Taj Muhammad, Shad Muhammad Niazi Qawwal

In a brilliant recording of Amanat Ali-Fateh Ali Khan singing Raag Saakh posted on the Qaul blog, Fateh Ali Khan says, "Aap ke saamne ab hum apna ghar ka maal pesh kar rahe hain." (We are now laying out our personal belongings before you.) Emulating the laudable example of the late Ustads, the final two recordings in this post are "ghar ka maal" from our Dream Journey series of recordings. The first is a very unusual Arabic kalaam performed by Taj Muhammad, Shad Muhammad Nasir Niazi Qawwals. Taj Muhammad and Shad Muhammad are the younger brothers of the late Ghaus Muhammad Nasir Niazi Qawwal and are the sons of the legendary Moin Niazi Qawwal. They live in Karachi, in the Qawwal Gali or Qawwal Street, named afteer their late father. They hail from the Atrauli gharana and have a melodious and very understated style, similar to their illustrious brother. Their performances rarely descend into shouting matches and they have a unique repertoire featuring some very interesting pieces, such as this kalaam. The Arabic was a tad too knotty for me to translate alone, so we had some outside help, but it was worth making the extra effort, as the Ruba'i is really lovely. The Qawwals end this short and sweet performance with a lovely taraana in Raag Zeelaf.

9. Surkh Aankhon Main Kajal -- Ameer Ali Khan Qawwal

One of the Dream Journey collective's favorite Qawwali performances is "Surkh Aankhon Main Kaajal Ke Doray" by Ameer Ali-Rafeeq Ali Murkianwale Qawwal. It's a 30 minute sustained explosion of joy. When we planned to visit Ustad Ameer Ali Khan at Dipalpur for the December 2014 Dream Journey sessions, this kalaam was at the top of everyone's list of requests. Ameer Ali Khan himself was eager to present it before us and this eagerness and joy shines through in this performance. The atmosphere of the Qawwals' home, with their friends and family sitting in attendance; the infectiously joyous style of performance and the thrill of hearing our favorite kalaam live turned this performance into a truly magical experience for us all. No detailed descriptions here, the performance speaks for itself.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

...On the 'March' of Time

1. Earlier this month, I turned thirty. The big Three-O. A couple of weeks prior to that, this blog turned ten. I figured I'd maximize efficiency and kill two birds with one stone so here goes.

2. I started the blog at the fag end of my teens, so for better or worse, it has served as a sort of chronicle for the third decade of my life.

3. As decades go, this one has been a mixed bag. There have been a number of truly dark days, the sudden, shattering horror of which I shall not forget till my dying breath.

4. But there have also been moments of such absolute, sunlit perfection that the passage of years has not dimmed their glow one bit. Most of these days have gone undocumented because of my perverse habit of keeping my sorrows public and the joys private.

5. I started this decade in Med School in Rawalpindi. The med-school years - the first one-third of the decade - fulfilled their basic function of turning me into a doctor and then some. The lifelong (hopefully) friendships and camaraderie far overshadowed the occasional bouts bureaucratic and administrative ugliness. In addition, the Med-school years provided me with one of the BIG MOMENTS of my life - my introduction to Qawwali.

6. I did my medical internship (House-job) in Lahore. I can safely say that very few people would have been able to squeezed as much activity into one year as I did. Despite living there for only one year, Lahore remains my favorite city in Pakistan.

7. Post-Lahore were my by now world famous "Three years in the Jungle" where I cavorted with snakes, dodged lightning strikes, lived in a hole in the ground like a Hobbit and suffered through a telecommunications detox so severe that the sight of a phone was almost alien to me by the time I had left. I can only summarize the three years by saying that they were not un-enjoyable times.

8. After three years of a congealed existence, the next two years were spent being shaken, rattled and rolled all over the country; from the deserts of Southern Punjab to the frozen far north to the unwelcoming western borders.

9. As if to complete the circle, the end of the second decade of my life sees me back where I started it, Rawalpindi. In another strange coincidence, I am once again engaged in an education of the medical persuasion; a specialty residency this time, and I'm once again surrounded by (almost) the entire bunch of friends and associates from my Med-school days.

10. In an effort to revisit (and repair) the memories of the last ten years of the blog, I've tried to resurrect all the dead links and remove all the horrible coding errors. Everything works (for now) and everything's pretty much the way I wanted it to be. In a happy coincidence, that also applies to me as I enter my thirties.

Cheers !!

Monday, February 27, 2017

...Of Announcements, Astute Observations and the Aftaab-e-Sitar

I attribute the long hibernation of this blog to a number of factors. My legendary laziness is obviously at the top of the list, but it is compounded by a number of other contributing factors. There is the steady series of transcriptions and translations for the Dream Journey project , a project that has evolved into a continuously enriching part of my life. Then there's the fact that i'm a year and a half into a rather grueling four year post-graduate residency program in a medical specialty, and try as I might to procrastinate, I have to actually apply myself every so often in order to do justice to my chosen profession. A rather recent reason is the fact that I got married at the end of last year, something that - counter to Douglas Adams' views about the creation of the universe - has widely been regarded as a 'Good Move.'

I've frequently thought of resuming my sporadic blog posts but until now, havent really gotten around to it. This time however, I have come up with what Baldrick from Blackadder would call a cunning plan. Finding myself with a few days to spare before hunkering down to study for an important exam, I  have actually written down a series of posts and put them on ice to be published at pre-scheduled intervals over the coming weeks. It's a small step towards this blog returning to some semblance of life, but at least its a start. This post serves as the announcement for a resumption of festivities - or hostilities, depending on your point of view. 

As a welcome gift at the blog's Grand Re-Re-Re-Re-Opening, I'd like to offer an exquisite hour and a half of music. But first, a few words of introduction. Number one. The fact that I know next to nothing about Classical music didn't detract me one bit from my enjoyment of this piece, something that encourages me into thinking that same shall be the case with the readers, Two, one of the reasons I consider my recent betrothal a 'Good Move' is that the missus has proven herself to be surprisingly tolerant and appreciative of my eclectic (the understatement of the century) tastes in entertainment. Not only that, she is also an extremely astute viewing/listening companion. This was borne on me when I was first listening to the piece I'm sharing below. She listened to it for a while and remarked, "This gentleman is playing beautifully and knows it." That one sentences eclipses any further paragraphs I may have written in praise of this piece. So I'll eschew further descriptions altogether and share this beautiful, magical performance by a beautiful, magical musician.

Ustad Vilayat Khan - Raag Hameer - Live at the Royal Festival Hall, 1993