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Monday, September 6, 2010

...Of The Qaul

The starting point to this series of posts on Qawwali was obvious to me as soon as I first thought about writing them. Any discussion on Qawwali naturally begins at the point from where Qawwali itself began; Amir Khusrau (R.A) and the Qaul.

The exact origins of Qawwali may be shrouded in the mists of time but one thing is certain, Qawwali as we know it today started with arguably the single most important cultural figure in the history of Muslims in the sub-continent; Amir Khusrau (R.A). The warrior-poet-trader-musician-mystic directly or indirectly influenced the written, spoken and musical expression of the North Indian sub-continent. Even a superficial discussion of Khusrau's divers contributions would take pages upon pages. I'll limit this post to just one of Khusrau (R.A)'s creations, one that serves as the cornerstone of the art of Qawwali. The Qaul is derived from a Hadees of the Prophet (S.A.W) that was coupled with a brief musical piece known as a Tarana. It was created and performed by Khusrau (R.A), who then taught it to his disciples. It is as follows.

Man kunto maula,

Fa Ali-un maula
Man kunto maula.
Dara dil-e dara dil-e dar-e daani.
Hum tum tanana nana, nana nana ray
Yalali yalali yala, yala ray
Man tunko maula......

With the first half comprising the actual 'Qaul' of the Prophet(S.A.W) and the second half comprising the tarana, it forms the foundation stone of Qawwali. There is slight variation among performers with respect to the first half of the Qaul, with some replacing "Fa Ali-un maula" with "Fa-haaza Ali-un Maula" .The linguistic significance of the phrases of the Tarana has long been debated, with some claiming they are meaningless words used only for their musicality while others claiming they are derived from ancient Persian and Hebrew words. What's beyond debate is the sheer musical power of the tarana when performed by the Qawwal.

I've always maintained that Qawwali is akin to Jazz in that it's a performer's rather than a composer's art. The basic melodic framework and standard mystical or poetic text exists for each piece but the Qawwal is free to improvise either musically or lyrically to enhance the effectiveness of the performance and help the listeners of the Sama'a in achieving the state of 'Haal' . A composition as universal as the Qaul offers an excellent example of the flexible nature of Qawwali, with each Qawwal able to mold the standard composition to his own individual style. There is hardly any Qawwal who doesn't contain the Qaul in his repertoire and each performer performs it in his own peculiar idiom.

In this post, I'd like to share some of the many recordings of the Qaul that I have had the pleasure of collecting. They are by some of the greatest Qawwals of the sub-continent; each infusing the Qaul with their own personal style which is transmitted generation to generation, with certain girahs and bandishes peculiar to that particular Qawwal or Gharana. These recordings provide fascinating insight into the styles,influences and overall performance idiom of the greatest Qawwals of our time.

The "Qawwal Bacchon Ka Gharana" lays rightful claim to being the oldest and most illustrious Qawwal lineage in the sub-continent. Directly descended from the 12 young disciples of Amir Khusrau (R.A) - the Qawwal Bacchay - , members of this Gharana have more or less resisted the more 'commercial' bent of most of their peers in favour of performing the more classical and raag based Qawwali. Even though the two great scions of the Gharaana - Munshi Raziuddin Qawwal and Ustad Bahauddin Khan Qawwal - have passed away, their descendants are vey ably carrying the tradition forward and along with the third great proponent of the Gharana in Pakistan -Manzoor Niazi Qawwal - and his sons, are the pre-eminent practitioners of the art of Qawwali in Pakistan.

In India, the Qawwal Bacchon ka Gharana is represented by the overall head of the Gharaana, Ustad Meraj Ahmed Nizami Qawwal who is attached to the shrine of Hazrat Nizam-ud-Din Aulia in Delhi and regularly performs despite being at an advanced age. In addition the sons and grandsons of the late Aziz Ahmed Khan Warsi also perform a repertoire  containing both traditional arrangements as well as more recent compositions. The recordings that follow represent the Qaul as performed by the members of the Qawwal Bacchon Ka Gharana.

The first recording, form 1969, is remarkable in that all three leading Qawwals of the Gharana - Munshi Raziuddin Qawwal, Bahauddin Qawwal and Manzoor Niazi Qawwal - are heard on it. The recording, slightly edited form the sorce to improve the overall dynamics, captures an astounding performance in which the the taans and behlaavas of all three Qawwals and the accompanying tabla give it a stately elegance. Munshi Raziuddin's vocal virtuosity is at it's peak and the modulated alaaps are a joy to listen to. The recitation of another of Khusrau (R.A)'s Qauls at the end of the piece brings it to a brilliant close.

The second Qawwali is taken from a set of audio-cassettes released in India in 1975 to mark the seventh centenary of Amir Khusrau's birth. A number of spoken word introductions by Prof. Zoe Ansari punctuate this version of the Qaul sung by Bahauddin,Qutbuddin Qawwal and Party. Bahauddin performs this and the other qawwalis on the cassettes in the classical idiom with no girahs whatsoever, with a beautiful sitar and tambura accompaniment. This is a mellifluous piece which slowly gathers tempo as Bahauddin uses his phenominal voice to weave a number of modulated alaaps and variations on the tarana. The takraar and behlaavas at 'Ta na na na' are especially brilliant.

The third recording is a brief snippet from the end of a mehfil by the late Aziz Ahmed Warsi Qawwal from Hyderabad,India. The rather frenzied pace gives the performance an energy and urgency that, mixed with Aziz Warsi's rich voice, is very appealing. The arrangement is slightly different but the style is again the same as the Qawwal Bacchon Ka Gharana. Even though the recording clocks in at only 45 odd seconds, the arrangement and Warsi's voice give it a special grace.

The first three versions of the Qaul represent the classical version with little if any use of girah or Paivandkaari. The next version is by Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, taken from an early Nineties concert in Paris. Nusrat's version is significant for two reasons; first and foremost it gives insight into how a classical piece is molded and modified to suit the sargam and behlaava influenced style that Nusrat epitomised. The second reason is that Nusrat's arrangement  -and not the one favored by the Qawwal Baccha's - forms the basis of most other modern Qawwals' performance of the Qaul. The majority of the current Qawwals perform it in Nusrat's style, using most of the same girahs. A number of improvisations on the taraana are followed by the use of some well chosen girahs from both Farsi and Urdu before the Qawwals settle into a takraar of the "Maula Ali Maula" refrain. Nusrat then embellishes it with a few modulated alaaps and sargams - the sargam at 11 minutes is especially beautiful - fitting perfectly with the mood and tonal structure of the Qaul.

The influence of Nusrat's arrangement of the Qaul is apparent in the next recording by Manzoor Hussain Santoo Khan Qawwal and Party. It is taken from the 'Flight Of The Soul-Qawwalis from Pakistan' album from the early Nineties and captures the last days of the original party. They were an exceptional group from Faisalabad who enjoyed their heyday in the late seventies and early eighties and this recording finds them past their peak with several important members having passed away. After leading it for around 25 years, Manzoor Hussain handed over the leadership of the party to his son soon after this recording and now sits with the party during performances only for 'tabarruk'. This recording is remarkable for many reasons; among them the fabulous clarinet accompaniment that was the hallmark of Manzoor Hussain Santoo Khan's performances for 30 years. At places sounding like an alto saxophone, the clarinet weaves in and out of the arrangement very melodically. Another highlight is the delightful verse placed at the culmination of the main Qaul -at around 11:30 minutes into the performance- that is unique to this recording. The Nusrat inspired behlaavas of Manzoor's son, although slightly off-beat at certain points, are reassuring as to the future of the party in his hands.

Aziz Mian Qawwal was probably the most unique voice in Qawwali over the past 40 years. Known as "Fauji Qawwal" in his early days on account of his blustery delivery and electric performance style. More akin to Waiz Qawwal of Lucknow than anyone else, Aziz Mian was an acquired taste. However his performance of the Qaul, taken from a 1979 EMI release, is enjoyable because of the beautiful orchestral accompaniment as well as the slow, elegant preamble that allows Aziz Mian to use a number of verses in place of a single doha. The Tarana is similar in style to Nusrat, but Aziz Mian's stamp is clear in his recording.

Finally I'd like to share two of my favorite interpretations of the Qaul. The first is from a concert at Alibhai Auditorium performed by the  Sabri Brothers from 1980. The fact that it is a soundboard recording released by EMI accounts for it's exceptional fidelity and clarity. Haji Ghulam Fareed Sabri and Haji Maqbool Sabri are in fine mettle and the 'hamnavaas' provide exceptional accompaniement, both during the choruses and the taraana as well as on the tablaa and dholak. The beautiful modulated alaap by Haji Maqbool at the start of the piece provides an excellent taste of the brilliance to come, with a number of alaaps punctuating the initial part of the Qaul before reaching the tarana. At the tarana, the dholak kicks in with a thumping beat before both the brothers recite a number of charming girahs including a charming spoken-word translation of one of them by Haji Ghulam Fareed. This girah is then used to virtuosic effect by Haji Maqbool who weaves a number of astounding alaaps around it before seguing seamlessly into the tarana. And what a tarana ! Alaaps and behlaavas tumble over each other as the tempo picks up and the two brothers are accompanied by the tabla to beautiful effect.

The tarana leads to a beautiful chorus of 'Maula Ali Maula' before Haji Maqbool and Haji Ghulam Farid's beautiful rendition of another series of girahs, once again returning to a breakneck rendition of the tarana building up to an astonishing crescendo.

Most of the recordings above -as well as performances of the Qaul by other Qawwals - are performed in Raag Shudh Kalyaan or Shyaam Kalyaan. The final recording I'd like to share is by one of the greatest Qawwals of the last century, the late Rasheed Ahmed Fareedi Qawwal. I aim to write a detailed post on him as part of this series but for the time being, his version of the Qaul is an excellent introduction to his work. It is in Raag Bhopali, as Fareedi sahab explains at the beginning, lending it a more regal and ponderous air. The chorus at the initial half of the Qaul oscillates as various parts of the verse are used for a series of beautiful takraars. The second half of the Qaul -namely the tarana- is again split into two parts with an almost hypnotic takraar on the 'ta na na na' portion. A number of alaaps follow before another takraar, this time based on the 'Ali Maula' phrase.
This takraar serves as the framework for a number of beautiful girahs, culminating in the famous verse of Hazrat Bedam Shah Warsi(R.A)

             'بیدم  یہی  تو  پانچ  ہیں  مقصود  کائنات
        خیر النسا، حسین و حسن،مصطفیٰ ،علی
This verse is next incorporated into a breathtaking, 'Haal' inducing takraar that is maintained at breakneck tempo by the hamnavaas. the takraar abruptly ends in a raag shift that is truly beautiful. The final 10-12 minutes of the recording find Fareedi sahab and his hamnavaas exploring a number of alaaps in Raag Desh and Jaijaiwanti, gradually leading to a slow end to the piece.

These were some of the recordings of the Qaul that I have in my collection. In sharing them, I've sought to illustrate the various performance styles of the pre-eminent Qawwals of the last century and the evolution and modifications this seminal piece of qawwali has undergone in the hands of various performers. The centrality of the Qaul in the sufi music repertoire can further be illustrated by its thousands of versions, performed by artists as diverse as Atif Aslam and the Brooklyn Qawwali Party. Serving as a direct link to the roots of Sufism and Sufi music in the sub-continent, the Qaul is a living, breathing monument that continues to thrive and evolve in the hands of countless musicians and serves as a constant tribute to the genius of it's creator, Amir Khusrau(R.A).

1 comment:

  1. Friends

    I am a fan of Munshi Raziuddin & Sons. Can anyone inform me
    download link for more and more of his collection. Please, as No
    cds or tape are available in India.

    My email is swamipremmanu@yahoo.com

    Thanks and love from India