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 .

Sunday, September 26, 2010

...Of Fareedi Sahab

There's a word in Urdu that doesn't have an exact substitute in English, one of many I presume. The word is ہیجان - 'Haijaan' It can roughly be translated as a feeling of unease or restlessness. I've always looked upon music as something that soothes,calms or in certain cases, provides emotional release. I'd never thought that music could produce 'Haijaan'. That was until I heard Fareedi sahab.

My last year of Med School was when I really discovered Qawwali, and it was all thanks to this one friend of mine-who shall remain nameless by his request. Every six to seven days, I would trudge over to his hostels and park myself in his dorm room. The conversation would always start with, 'Musab bhai aap ne yeh suna hai?' to which  I'd obviously reply in the negative, resulting in the now legendary remark, 'Chorain Musab bhai, aap ne to kuch suna hi nahi'. It started with Munshi Raziuddin sahab, then Haji Mehboob Qawwal and then to the rest of the stellar recordings in his immense collection. Collectors are miserly folk by nature, and my friend is no exception. It'd take beggings and pleadings to allow me to copy some of the stuff into my iPod, but eventually I built up a fair collection of my own.

One day,while sitting in his room and listening to something by Haji Mehboob, he said, 'Musab bhai, aap ne Fareedi sahab ko suna hai?' There were the customary replies, a negative from me and a 'Chorain Musab bhai' from him .... and then he played me something. I listened in silence as the instrumental prelude -the sazeena- ended. Then came the first verse and I was stunned. I listened in complete silence and I could sense my friend observing the expressions on my face change as the music sunk in. The voice of the performer was so remarkable, the arrangement was so unusual and the accompaniment was so superb that I was immediately floored. I listened to the whole piece in silence and then requested him to play it again. Another listen and I couldn't get my mind off the composition. I asked him if he would give it to me and he declined; which was his usual practice. I went back to my dorm to sleep as it was pretty late at night.

All the way back to my dorm I couldn't get my mind off the Qawwali I'd just heard. It was not that it was beautiful; which it was beyond doubt; it was almost disturbingly beautiful. I couldn't understand why I was suddenly restless, my heart palpitating, butterflies in my stomach. I tried to sleep but couldn't. All night I stayed up,pacing the room and thinking about what I'd heard. I was extremely agitated and more than that, I was surprised at my condition because this sort of trepidation was usually reserved for the last five minutes before a viva voce examination when I knew it was my turn to meet the examiner. Finally around 6am in the morning I phoned my friend, woke him up and told him I was coming over to get the recording from him one way or the other. Something in my tone of voice must've given him an idea of my mental state and he acquiesced. I got the recording and played it continously for weeks and weeks. That was how I was introduced to probably the greatest Qawwal nobody has heard of - Agha Rasheed Ahmed Fareedi Qawwal.

At the time of my first listen , I had no idea who Fareedi sahab was.When I got much more immersed in the world of Qawwali, I found out some of the rather sketchy biographical details that are available. Fareedi sahab was a favorite pupil of the legendary Fateh Ali Khan (Nusrat's father); a fact that is forcefully borne out by the similarities between the two Qawwal's performance styles. He preferred the more traditional style of hius Ustad over the innovative approach taken by Nusrat, once saying 'Main Nusrat nu aakhya si ke apne baap di raah te aaja, parr uss meri gal nahi manni.' ( I had told Nusrat to follow the path of his father but he didn't listen to me' Fareedi sahab, like his great contemporay Haji Mehboob Qawwal, was exclusively a 'darbaari qawwal', that is he only performed at Sufi shrines and didn't release anything commercially. All his surviving recordings are bootlegs from his performances at various shrines-chiefly Baba Sahab Fariduddin Ganj Shakar's shrine at Pak Pattan and Kalyam Ayan near Gujjar Khan.

Fareedi sahab had a deep, gravelly and distinctive voice and he was accompanied by arguably one of the most talented group of 'hamnavaas' any Qawwal has possessed. His party contained the phenomenal 'baja' players and co-singers Majeed Fareedi and Mubarak Ali Lahori who were the perfect foil for Rasheed's voice. Majeed in particular had this startlingly distinctive voice and lent an unmistakably 'Potohari' flavor to the party's performances. Fareedi sahab was known as a very meticulous performer and was not averse to physically hitting or loudly swearing at his hamnavaas in the choicest punjabi in the middle of performances if he thought they weren't delivering. It's little wonder that his party was considered the most 'disciplined' party of their time.

His performance style was unique, very spirited and -at the tail end of a performance - almost electric. He always tried to achieve the maximum emotional impact, once remarking 'Je mera vass challay te main ainhaan saaryaan de kapray paar ke ghar wapas ghallaan' (If it were upto me, all the listeners would go home with their clothes in tatters). He would always sit to one side of his party. keeping his hands on the harmonium to dictate the notes as he sang. He had a distinctive way of performing, accentuating his singing with his hands, face and sometimes his whole body. In moments of musical excitement, he was known to stand up and sing with his arms outstretched, his face upturned. A couple of people who attended some of his performances tell me that they are unlikely to ever forget the sight of Fareedi sahab singing at the peak of his powers. His longer pieces slowly built up to a series of thundering takraars and alaaps while the shorter pieces were tours de force of blisteringly electric delivery.

Although Rasheed Fareedi was the darbaari qawwal at Pakpattan, he was also a follower of Pir Mehr Ali Shah (R.A) and 'ba'it' at the hands of Pir sahab's son, Hazrat Babuji (R.A). This meant that Fareedi sahab would occasionally visit the Golra Sharif shrine to pay his respects and to perform with his illustrious contemporary and personal friend Haji Mehboob Qawwal. These rare occasions would draw huge crowds and the two Qawwal parties with their leaders sitting at front would be a site to behold. Fareedi sahab's loud, powerful style meant that Haji Mehboob would more often than not have to play catch-up with Fareedi sahab's tempo and notes. Sadly, very few recordings of these mehfils survive, but they are a phenominal glimpse into how two giants of their field collaborated to produce something magical.

Rasheed Ahmed Fareedi passed away around 1987 from complications resulting from Throat Cancer; a disease  many of his fans blamed it on his years of vigorous high octave singing that had taken its toll on his throat. After his demise, most of the members of his Qawwali party joined Abdul Raheem Fareedi Qawwal to form another powerhouse troupe who enjoyed a fair amount of success in the late 80's and early '90s. After Fareedi sahab's death, the attendances at Qawwali mehfils gradually thinned out at Kalyam Awan.

Although audio recordings, especially good quality recordings of Fareedi sahab are rare, video records of his performances are rarer still. Barely half a dozen video recordings are present, most in the hands of collectors a thousand times more miserly than the friend I mentioned above. Below is one of the two videos that are available online. It shows Fareedi sahab and his party performing at his son's wedding at Lahore. This was recorded a few months before his demise. His spellbinding performance style is here for all to see, the takraars are amazing, his histrionics enliven the performance to the nth degree and the 'Pa Ni Sa..Re SA Sa' sargam', one of his trademarks, is employed to great effects. Also on display is the awesome strength of his 'hamnavaas', each one of them a singular artist in his own right.

At Fareedi sahab's 'Chaleesvaan' (the 40th day after his death), Haji Mehboob Qawwal sang a wonderful version of Pir Mehr Ali Shah's kalaam as a lament for his deceased friend. It was a fitting tribute from one great Qawwal of his age to another, and it will serve as a fitting end to this short series of posts on some of my favorite artists and performances from Qawwali. I will certainly revisit this subject which is obviously a favorite of mine, but now ,"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things".


  1. do you have the audio cassette of Abdul Rahim Mohammad Ali Faridi vol.1 which was relased by Oriental Star Agencies(Birmingham) in UK in 1984?

    I did have this cassette but someone borrowed it and did not give it back.

    My email address is: qamar_sajad@hotmail.co.uk

  2. i request you that,please revisit the subject of the greatest qawwal agha rasheed ahmad faridi.upload more qawwalies.

  3. Your descritpion about Agha Rasheed Ahmed Fridi is spot on. Any further information will be highly appreciated.

  4. Vah, beautiful words. I'm so happy that you have help to share the story of this exceptional ustad. The music & stories of the doab qawwal's of past generations have been the inspiration behind my international journey as a young qawwali artist. Bahut Shukriya - Jazak Allah !

  5. Hey, why are some of the qawwalis on your blogs disappearing?

  6. Truly, really miss the audios from this page.