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 .

Friday, March 18, 2011

...Of My Favorite Qawwali So Far 2.0

Two and a half years ago I was introduced to, rather re-introduced to what has since become an obsession of mine; Qawwali. My overarching fascination with this art has led me to become an ardent (albeit amateur) student of Sufism and spirituality as well as provided me with hours upon hours of pure listening pleasure. One of the positive effects of this has been to allow me to write about the various artists , recordings and kalaams that have touched me deeply. On the flip-side, my desire to express in words as well share this passion of mine has turned this into something of a niche blog with the result that I've managed to reduce my already slim readership even further. However, that is of no concern as long as I am able to express and share even a fraction of the joy that Qawwali has brought me.

A year and a half ago, I undertook an exercise whereby I listened to all the versions I had of what was my favorite Kalaam at that time, Hazrat Bu Ali Qalandar (R.A)'s "Manam Mehve Khayaale Oo" and attempted to compare and contrast the performance styles of some of the greatest Qawwals of our time. Over time I've discovered many new artists and new recordings that have reiterated my belief that Qawwali is mainly a performer's art. The repertoire is vast and the opportunities for modification and innovation limitless, hence like Jazz, it's the performer's style that ultimately moulds a performance and contributes to it's aural and spiritual impact. I've also realized that the term "favorite Qawwali" is an oxymoron. However, there are some pieces that are definitely closer to the heart than others, and currently, the kalaam I've been constantly listening to over the past month or so is that immortal Na'at of Maulana Jami (R.A)'s, Nasima, Jaanibe Bat'ha Guzar Kun.

نسیما ! جانب بطحا گزر کن
زا حوالم محمد را خبر کن 

 بہ حال مبتلاے غم  نظر کن
علاج درد دل اے چارہ گر کن 

توئی سلطان عالم یا محمد
  زروئے لطف سوئے من نظر کن

بہ برایں جان مشتاقم بہ آنجا
   فدائے روضہ خیر البشر کن

 مشرف گرچہ شد جامی زلطفش
خدایا ! ایں کرم با ر دگر کن

O morning breeze! set out towards Bat'haa,
Inform Muhammad (S.A.W) of my plight

Cast your eye towards one who is afflicted with sorrow
O healer, find a cure for this aching heart

 Muhammad (S.A.W); you, who are the Emperor of both worlds
Cast your graceful, blessed glance towards me

It is the desire of this eager soul of mine
To sacrifice itself upon your final abode

Although you have showered your grace on Jami
In God's name, grant him this favor once again.

Maulana Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jami (R.A) was one of the foremost Persian mystics and poets. His works include the "Bahaaristan", the biographical treatise "Nafaahat-al-Uns", his masterpiece "Haft Aurang" and his version of the classical Persian romantic epic "Leili wa Majnun". He was an ardent lover of the Prophet (S.A.W) and expressed his love in some of the most beautiful Na'ats in the Persian language, among them Tanam Farsooda Jaanpara, Gul Az Rukhat Aamookhta , Ya Muhammad Ba Mane Be Saro Samaan Madaday, and of course, Nasima, Jaanibe Bat'haa Guzar Kun. An apocryphal Sufi tradition offers a stirring example of Jami's love for the Prophet (S.A.W) as follows,

"It so happened that once this ‘ishq' was at its peak and poor Jami became restless. He composed a wonderful naat in the praise of Allah’s Habib and in the agony of love made a vow to recite that very poem in front of the Prophet’s Mausoleum in Madina. So, gathering some of his many disciples with him, he set off on the long and arduous journey to fulfil his vow.

After many a month of travel, the caravan led by the Imam of Love, Abdul Rahman Jami, reached the outskirts of the City of the Prophet and Madina was only a few miles journey away. As they camped for the day, they saw a rider on a horse coming towards them at a galloping pace. The strange rider stopped in their midst and asked the group, “Which of you is Jami?” The disciples pointed out Jami and said, “That is our leader, Shaykh Imam Abdul Rahman Jami!” So the rider guided his horse towards Jami and, alighting, greeted Jami with the words, “Assalamu alaykum!”

  “Wa alaykum as-salam! Who are you? Where are you from and why are you here?” asked the venerable Sufi.   

“Jami, I have come here from Madina!”

At the mention of these words the lover of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), Jami, took off his turban and placed it the feet of the stranger saying, “May I be sacrificed for these feet!  They have come from the city of my Prophet!”


Jami continued, “Good sir! Tell me, why have you come?”

The man went silent for a while and then answered, “Jami what I am going to tell you, you must promise to hear it with a stout heart.”

 “I will”, said a slightly bemused Jami, “but tell me!”   

“Jami”, continued the rider, “I have been sent to you by the Prophet (Sall’Allahu Ta’ala Alayhi Wa’alihi Wa’sallam) himself"

“Tell me! What does my Master say?” interjected Jami. 

“Jami, the Prophet (Sall’Allahu Ta’ala Alayhi Wa’alihi Wa’sallam) has sent me to tell you that he has forbidden you to enter Madina and visit him!”    

At these words Jami was thunderstruck, his head swam and his legs gave way beneath him and with an agonised shriek the Shaykh fell to the ground in a swoon. The disciples were terrified that their Shaykh had passed away but after many hours Jami came back to a state of consciousness and he wept copiously.    The messenger was still there and Jami asked him, “Tell me O’ bringer of such tidings! Why does my Master prevent me from entering Madina? What sin have I committed? Why is my Medinan Lord angry with me?” 

The messenger replied,”the Master is not upset with you. Indeed, he is very happy with you!”.

"Then why does my liege-lord prevent me from visiting him?” 

“Jami! The Prophet(Sall’Allahu Ta’ala Alayhi Wa’alihi Wa’sallam) said to me that tell Jami that if he comes to Madina with such love in his heart I will have no course but to come out of my tomb and greet him in person – such would be the recompense for his love! – so tell him not to enter Madina. I will visit him myself! Tell Jami not to come and visit me – I will visit him!”


Naseema was one of the first kalaams I heard on that wonderful evening two and a half years ago when I was re-introduced to Qawwali. I clearly remember sitting in my friend's dorm room. He had just played me one of Munshi Raziuddin's recordings and I hadn't recovered yet when he said, "Lain Musab bhai, yeh sunain" and played for me Manzoor Ahmed Niazi and Party's version of "Naseema". I listened intently to the initial doha, and the moment the "Kun" of the first verse hit what we call the tabla's 'summ', I was transported!
Manzoor Ahmed Niazi Qawwal

It was later that I found out that Naseema was one of the Manzoor Niazi Party's most famous Qawwalis, however it was the first time I was listening to Manzoor Niazi sahab and I was immediately struck by the unique mellowness and soft timbre of his voice. The ravages of age were apparent but it was still carrying the performance along beautifully. Abdullah Manzoor Niazi's powerful and very melodious voice perfectly complemented his father's. (In my opinion, Abdullah Manzoor Naizi's party, along with the Farid Ayaz ensemble are currently the two best Qawwali ensembles in Pakistan). I listened to the performance again and again over the coming days and weeks in my dorm room and constantly hummed the beautiful arrangement.

The Manzoor Niazi party's performance remains one of my most favorite Qawwalis because of it's stirring arrangement, the wonderful little takraars that the Qawwals interject at the end of each verse and the Qawwals' beautiful adayegi, Manzoor Niazi Sb's being especially appealing.

As I listened to more and more recordings and delved deeper into the Qawwali idiom, I found that Naseema was part of the repertoire of most Qawwal parties, with most following the same arrangement as the Manzoor Ahmed Niazi party. I also discovered that the kalaam had the greatest impact when it was performed at a gentle, stately tempo, almost like the gentle early morning breeze that was being addressed in it. Again, various Qawwals performed it in their own styles, using a variety of Girahs and Takraars to bring out the various emotional aspects of the kalaam, from gentle pleading to desperation to resignation to hope.

Haji Mehboob Ali Qawwal
A performance that takes the gentle and stately route is by Haji Mehboob Ali Qawwal and Haji Mushtaq Ali Qawwal at Golra Shareef. (A rare photograph of Haji sahab is attached, many thanks to the personage who allowed me to post it) A steady tempo, no girahs or takraars, just the two brothers accompanied by tabla and Haji saheb himself on Sitar. Mehboob Qawwal was known to perform two versions of Naseema, one unadorned and the other with "Tazmeen", where each verse is accompanied by a versified translation in Urdu and Seraiki in the same metre as the original. It served the purpose of Wa'az that Haji saheb was justly famous for. I have a recording of that version in my archives and might post it when I have the requisite permission. The unadorned version however, is beautiful in it's simplicity and the meandering, mellifluous arrangement with the Qawwals singing it with the utmost 'Ihteraam', bringing out the innate musicality of the kalaam.

Rasheed Ahmed Fareedi Qawwal
I have previously expressed my admiration of Rasheed Ahmed Fareedi, one of the greatest Qawwals of his age who remains undiscovered by a large audience largely because like Haji Mehboob Qawwal, he was primarily a Darbari Qawwal who didn't release any recordings commercially. A 'shagird' of Fateh Ali Khan, he was known for his emotive and powerful vocal style and his highly talented and disciplined party. He used girahs to great effect and his performances were known for their gradual increase in tempo, long, sustained takraars and complicated behlaawas and sargams. His version of Nasima contains brilliant examples of all these.Despite my best efforts however, the quality of the recording doesn't do justice to the performance that starts out slow, with a rather measured tempo. The first highlight is the takraar at the 3:20 minute mark that temporarily energizes the piece before gently ebbing back to the original tempo, followed immediately by another takraar. A number of apt girahs including  "Har kas vaseela daarad" and "Man Keestam" punctuate this takraar of the first verse. As the tempo gathers pace, Fareedi sahab and his Hamnavaas unleash a torrent of Girahs and Behlawaas before again slowing down at the 18:20 mark.

Each of the subsequent verses is similarly embellished, with the next major takraar coming near the end of the piece at the phrase "Tu-ee Sultaan". The last third of the performance is especially moving for it's use of some very beautiful Girahs from Punjabi Sufi poets including Bulleh Shah, Hazrat Sultan Bahu and Shah Ali Haider all inserted into a rousing takraar of "Ya Muhammad". The performance carries on at the same breakneck pace, each verse being repeatedly emphasized, with the final takraar a brief one at "Een Karam", after which the Qawwali culminates. Although the quality of the recording greatly hampers the enjoyment of this piece, it is a stirring rendition, and one of my favorites.

Ustad Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwals And Party
A mention of the 'shagird' naturally leads to the ustaad, with the next recording being of those giants of Qawwali, Ustad Fateh Ali- Mubarak Ali Qawwal. The two brothers were pioneers, popularizers and innovators par excellence in the field of Qawwali. With Fateh Ali's higher register and emphatic delivery perfectly complemented by his brother's vocal dexterity, they were the pre-eminent Qawwal ensemble of the 40's, 50's and early '60s till Fateh Ali Khan's untimely death. Nusrat's style, as well as that of their many Shagirds, carries echoes of this power-house group's performance idiom.

In this very rare recording, the party is accompanied by Sarangi and flute and both brothers beautifully display their vocal dexterity. Mubarak Ali's taans punctuate the Qawwali at regular intervals while Fateh Ali emphasizes the text with choice Girahs. The beautiful girah at 'Dard-e-dil' is the first of these, quickly followed by beautiful improvisation by Mubarak Ali. The following verses are similarly embellished with alaaps, girahs and brief takraars with the sarangi and flute in the background proving a beautiful counterpoint to the vocalists. The tempo remains steady throughout each verse. Mubarak Ali performs one final feat of vocal virtuosity near the end and the performance ends without the tempo flagging for an instant.

Bakhshi, Salamat Qawwal And Party
The final performance in this piece is by another talented 'Shagird' of Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwals, the preternaturally gifted party of  Bakhshi,Salamat Qawwal Party. In my opinion, the Qawwals most similar in style to Fateh Ali Mubarak Ali were the Bakhshi Salamat party, with an especially similar emphatic style.If I were to choose a current favorite among the various versions of 'Naseema", this would be it. It starts of with a beautiful Clarinet sazeena that is both mellow and full-bodied. the baaja next takes over with the main melody line and the vocals commence with an alaap.

Bakhshi Khan starts with a unique doha ; a verse each in Farsi and Urdu. The almost pleading, aching, lament-like delivery of these two verses is very beautiful. The first verse of the kalaam proper is punctuated in a similar style, with Salamat Khan's phrasing ( Jaaa- NIBE) eliciting the kalaam's poignant theme of longing for the land of the beloved Prophet (S.A.W). The next verse is embellished with brief takraars and alaaps, with the second hemistitch repeated over and over before Bakhshi Khan inserts two girahs, pausing before and emphasising the last words of each in such a way that the desperation and intense longing of the poet is apparent ('Jab dard diya tum ne, phir tum hi dawaa.......KARNA!', ' Ba haale mubtelaae man nazar.....KUN').

The second highlight comes at the takraar of the second hemistitch of the third verse where the Qawwals modify the original text into "Be raahe lutf" and launch into a beautiful takraar punctuated by Bakhshi Khan's cries of 'Aye Ji!'. The final verse sees a takraar of 'Een karam' as the poet pleads his case with growing desperation, before finally, resignedly entrusting the morning breeze, - the Naseem - his message in the hope that it will reach the land of the Prophet (S.A.W) and his pleas will one day be heard.

There are many other versions of this immortal kalaam, both by Qawwals as well as Naatkhwaans, however I've restricted myself to my five most favorite versions. What's obvious in all these performances is how each Qawwal's individual style highlights the various aspects of Jami's kalam and how a single piece of Sufi poetry, despite being moulded and adapted by different Qawwals, still retains it's original message that Jami entrusted to the morning breeze centuries ago.

P.S Apologies for the rather shoddy translation, my Farsi's still at a rather primitive stage.


  1. Musab, these are brilliant. I know little about qawwali and its leading exponents other than the obvious ones in the public sphere but kudos to you for your passion for this music and the desire to share!

  2. Respected, Mr.Musab, I appreciate u r fascination, your passion your towards Qawwali.Being son of a qawwal Ustad Salamat Ali Khan(Bakhshi Salamat)I salute u and share with you something more about Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal.
    Following the demise of the great Ustad Bukshi Salamat Qawwal, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali khan and finaly BJS, Bakhshi Javed Salamat Qawwal the world turns to Doa'ba, land between two rivers, for another great Qawwal. That source of a riveting experience involving the undiscovered soul of man never lets us down. Punjab, land of rivers, as always, has a new moving and dolorous voice, a tradition that never falters: Qawwali lives. Ustad Salamat Ali Khan (Bakshi Salamat Ali Kahn Qawwal), the father of Javaid Salamat and his seven brothers, was born in Khairay, the Punjabi town of Jallundhar, in 1929. The eminent scion of all time great Roray Ali Khan Qawwal, he represents a notable lineage of Qawwali musicians and is regarded by many to have been the greatest human voice for generations. While still young Salamat become a spiritual disciple of Sufi Syed Muhammad Yusuf Shah Qadri-Chishti and devoted himself to Qawwali carrying the banner of Sufism following the death of his father. He was hailed as one of Pakistan’s most celebrated Qawwal/musicians. Salamat Ali khan's father was a famous vocalist, instrumentalist and Qawwal who was a son of Wazir Ali, a Paish Immam of the Khaira's Muslim mosque with Sufi bent of mind. Ustad Rorhay Ali Khan used to perform Qawwali with the Dilruba, a Persian string instrument, and was a Qawwal of his own style. Ustad Salamat Ali Khan received his early education in Khaira's primary school. After passing the intermediate class examination, he joined Qawwali music to follow his genetic roots. Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, known as Bakhshi Salamat, was the third child of Ustad Rorhay Ali Khan. Ustad Salamat Ali Khan's family, which included two older brothers, Bakhshi Khan and Mubarik Ali Khan, grew up in Jalandher's village.

    At the age of seven, he learned Muslim classical music and vocals from his elder brother Bakhshi Khan, who was also a Qawwali singer of repute and, after his initial studies, he picked up some important lessons in Qawwali from his cousin Ustad Karam Deen Khan Dupai Walay, Ustad Salamat Ali was mostly self taught in the style of his cousin Ustad karam Din Khan. This tenure lasted for almost 10 years when he practised for nearly three hours each morning before traveling to school in the next village and each evening after returning home. It was at this juncture that he improvised the "Gira and Boal Bant" to the existing vocal which became his trademark. When aged about 18, he moved to Multan, Pakistan where he became student of a courtier named Ustad Wali Muhammad Khan Kapoor Thala Walay. He continued his music training with the incomparable Ustad Fateh Ali Khan.

  3. assalam o alekum my name is habib ahmed khan my grand father name is haaji manzoor ahmed khan niazi qawwal my website is www.qawwalniazi.com

  4. Hi Musab great effort...my dad have lot of qawali's of Bakhshi Salamat from 1967 till he lives...i m converting it all...i will upload sooner
    Mathoor Mohsin Gilani

    1. Sir Please Upload Bakshi Salamat Qawallies And Javed Salamat shb On Youtube Or Dailymotion In Any Format ..My Name Is Abrar Ahmad ..I Am From Shahkot,Nankana Sahib..We are fan of Salamat Family ..I Personally Request You..My Email Account Is Abrarahmad3703@gmail.com

  5. This naat of Moulana Jami was perfomed by Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal in 1980 at 70GB Faisalabad

  6. Musab bhai, do you have a good version of "Ya Muhammad ba sar o samaan"?

    1. D'you mean "Ya Muhammad Ba Man-e Be Sar-o-Samaan Madaday ? Ji, I've got Nusrat's as well as Haji Mahboob Sb (RA)'s versions.

  7. Musab ! Do you have a youtube account, Upload your rare stuff there so more people could see, specially early work of Nusrat Fateh Ali khan & "Ya Muhammad Ba Man-e Be Sar-o-Samaan Madaday" by NFAK.Thank you very much

    1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b889gSz5R-M

      Musab's channel

  8. Here is one by Nusrat !

  9. Ji, musab sahib, I selute your work and passion for the projection of ''qawwali music, I have also writing a research book on ''qawwali, I am very keen to discuss with you to gain some historic knowledge from you

  10. Ji, musab sahib, I selute your work and passion for the projection of ''qawwali music, I have also writing a research book on ''qawwali, I am very keen to discuss with you to gain some historic knowledge from you