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 .

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

.....Of My Favorite Qawwali (So Far)


My "proper" introduction to Qawwali almost a year ago has, to put it mildly, changed my life. Going from the Sabri Brothers to Nusrat to the Qawwal Bacchon Ka Gharaana and Haji Mehboob Qawwal of Golra Sharif among many others; I've been exposed to some of the greatest music ever to come out of Pakistan. I can never, and I mean NEVER adequately express my gratitude to the friends of mine who introduced me "properly" to Qawwali.

Some artists, recordings, kalaams and compositions have naturally moved me more than others, and unless something truly earth-shaking comes my way, I've picked out my favorites and will probably stick with them for a long while.

In many ways, I've found Qawwali to be akin to jazz, mainly that it's a players', rather than a composer's art. The "songbook" is immense,with sources ranging from Arabic,Persian,Urdu,Brij bhaasha,Hindi, Punjabi and almost all sub-continental languages. The main difference between the performers is their unique melodic improvisation and the use of "girah" or "bandish" to expound the main theme of the piece they're singing. A person as lazy as me will never be able to explain all the sometimes minute variations that make each Qawwal unique, but I think if I let them speak for themselves, as it were, it'll be best.

 Right now, "Manam Mehve Jamaale Oo", a kalaam,of Hazrat Bu Ali Shah Qalandar, is probably my favorite kalaam in the Qawwali repertoire, and a lot of Qawwals have performed it in their own unique way. Below are three of my favorite versions by three of my favorite Qawwals. It'll be pretty clear how each Qawwal gives his own special "signature to the kalaam.

  First off is the version by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party, taken from the "Last Studio Recordings" release. It's ironic that while most of Nusrat's traditional Qawwali work (as opposed to his "commercial" releases) from the last decade of his life did not get the recording treatment it deserved, his very last recordings are a joy to listen to. The fidelity is brilliant, and Nusrat and his Hamnavaas are in a (sadly rare in his last days) brilliant groove. Nusrat changes the first verse from "Manam Mehve Jamale Oo" to "Manam Mehve Khayaale Oo", but otherwise it's a pretty faithful rendition. The behlaawas,sargams and taans, for which Nusrat was justly famous, are all here, making it a brilliant rendition.

Next is a version by Haji Mehboob Qawwal, the darbaari Qawwal of Golra Shareef. Haji sahab is probably in my top two favorite Qawwals. Nusrat once said about him," Girah main Haji sahab ke muqaable ka Qawwal is duniya main nahi hai."  Haji sahab did not record commercially, the precious little of his work that keeps trickling down to his admirers is from bootleg recordings made by the zaaireen at the Golra Shareef shrine who attended the daily morning Qawwali mehfils that are still regularly held there. His work can best be described as a "wa'az", a spiritual instruction imparted through the medium of Qawwali, and as you can hear, the girahs he inserts in the main kalaam act to expound and explain the subject at hand. In Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic and Persian; the variety of couplets that he recites throughout the qawwali serve to enlighten the listeners even if they can't understand the language of the main text.

  The recording on the playlist comes off as a revelation if you compare it with the original master recordings on cassette, the result of a painstaking and extremely ambitious conservation project started by some friends of mine who are admirers of Haji sahab's work. The task of cleaning up, digitizing, enhancing, cataloging and transcribing all of Haji Sahab's recorded work is an arduous task, but they've taken it up gladly and the results are astounding to say the least. To me, just the joy of being able to Haji Sahab playing the sitar in accompaniement to his Qawwalis is more than enough compensation for the hours and hours of work put in.
The final version of the kalaam is probably my favorite. Performed by Ustad Bahauddin Qawwal and Party in 1998, this concert recording perfectly embodies the elements that define the "Qawwal Bacchon Ka Gharaana"; the oldest and greatest pedigree of Qawwals. A beautiful arrangement, different from the previous two, adds a serenity and majesty to the kalaam that is absent from other versions. There are no girahs to speak of, no extra taans or behlaawas, and the sheer economy of the piece, along with Ustad Bahauddin's unique voice and his sons' vocal virtuosity brings out new meanings from the verses. The quality of the recording isn't exceptional, with the voices getting slightly screechy in the higher register, but still, it is brilliant.

13 comments:

  1. Musab, this was a great post and thanks for sharing these great recordings. You should ask your friends to try to make these available commercially.

    I don't want to sound like some old fuddy duddy but visiting your blog truly gladdens my heart because of your passion for the music and culture of the sub-continent and that too at a young age. Keep listening and keep writing. Hopefully more and more young people will discover the beauty of our culture and disseminate it with the vigor that you are doing it.

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  2. Dear Musab,
    I am a great fan of Haji Mehboob Qawwal also.
    Would love to listen more clear sound of his qawwalies than the posted in the Golra Sharif website:
    www.golrasharif.com.pk
    Please let me know how can I contact your valuable friends that did the "cleaning" of that tapes?
    Thanks a lot and cheers :-)
    Pedro

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  3. @Zakariya Sahab. Thanks a lot sir.
    @Pedro. Thanks a ton for the link. The audio on your site is brilliant. Since I'm now directly involved in cleaning and organizing Haji Sahab's recordings, you can get in touch with me directly. You can mail me, or if you want, I can give you my phone number. Cheers !!

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  4. Dear Musab, thanks for the efforts, I just added you at my MSN. Hope to see you there and talk about Haji Mehboob Qawwal and others. Cheers :-)

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  5. great post. i have been trying to find recordings of haji saab for many years. please let us know how the clean up process is going and how we can listen!

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  6. @Rakhwala, The clean up goes on slow and steady, and I'll occasionally be putting up some of the recordings.

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  7. could someone PLEASE provide me with the verse-to-verse translation of these more-than-gem lyrics.

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  8. @shahzad, Although my Farsi is more than a little rusty, I can give it a try. If wiser heads than mine see this, please correct me.

    Manam Mehve Khayale oo
    Nami Danam Kuja Raftam

    (I am lost in the thoughts of my beloved
    I know not where I am going.)

    Shudam Gharkey wisal e oo
    Nami Danam Kuja Raftam

    (I find myself drowned in the moment of meeting my beloved
    I know not where I am going.)

    Ghulaam-e-roo-e-oo boodam
    Aseer-e-moo-eoo boodam

    (I am the slave of that beautious face
    I am the prisoner of those long tresses.)

    Ghubaar-e-koo-e-oo boodam
    Na mi danam kuja raftam.

    (I am like the dust swirling around my beloved's street
    I know not where I am going.)

    Ba aan ma aashna gashtam
    Ze jaan-o-dil fidaa gashtam

    (I am known by my relationship to my beloved where ever I roam
    I have sacrificed my heart and soul for my love)

    Fanaa gashtam fanaa gashtam
    Na mi danam kuja raftam.

    (I have been destroyed, lo I have been destroyed
    I know not where I am going.)

    Qalandar Bu Ali hastam
    Banaam-e-dost sarmastam

    (I am Bu Ali Qalandar
    My beloved's name has intoxicated me.)

    Dil andar ishq-e-oo bastam
    Na mi danam kuja raftam.

    (Inside my heart resides my love
    I know not where I am going.)

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  9. Musab,
    Was just trying to google this very qawali and its translation and appear to have hit a treasure trove. Great work man. AND the above translation is quite brilliant too/
    Thanks

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    1. Same happened with me... many likes.....

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  10. "kuja ruftam" is more close to "where to go" or "where should (I) go" rather than where I am going. For the non Persian I should add that BU Ali is not asking for directions. This is an expression of helplessness and akin to asking "what should I do?"

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    1. its 1st 2 lines indicates that here the translation is perfect.
      Manam Mehve Khayale oo
      Nami Danam Kuja Raftam
      (I am lost in the thoughts of my beloved
      I know not where I am going.)

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