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, February 12, 2012

...Of Honourable Mentions And Instant Infatuations

Qawwali, like every other field, is dominated by giants. There's half a dozen or more names that are known to every Qawwali listener, and even to most lay-listeners. Mention the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Sabri Brothers, Aziz Mian Qawwal or Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed and you're bound to be met with nods of recognition if not appreciation. The caliber of their work along with their popular appeal ensures that these names will last long in the memories of listeners. But though the brightest stars in the Qawwali firmament, they're by no means the only ones. Some of the most amazing recordings I've ever heard are by musicians who most people (apart from hardcore Qawwali enthusiasts) haven't heard about, or worse, haven't heard. Here then, are six recordings by artists that deserve to be heard, appreciated and celebrated because they are, to put it succinctly, absolutely awesome. These recordings also share another important characteristic. The first time I heard each of them, it took me just the opening first minute or so of the recordings to instantly fall in love with them. I didn't need to hear the rest of the performance to know that it was absolutely awesome, I just assumed it. And in all cases, my assumption was correct. So, without further ado, here are six recordings by (not for long I hope) lesser known artists that captured me instantly.

1. Surkh Aankhon Main Kajal Ke Doray - Amir Rafiq Murkiaanwale Qawwal
This is an amazing, yet sadly incomplete recording. Ustad Rafiq Ali and his son Amir Ali lead the qawwals in a wonderful composition based on Raag Kedara. What isn't there to like in this performance. From the phenominally melodic and mellifluous voice of Ustad Rafiq Ali to the wonderful theka on the tabla, from the wonderful talaffuz that renders the words even sweeter (Surkhe-yaan khon main kajal ke doray, mukh pe-yaan chal sajaya hua hai) to the absolutely impeccable girah-bandi by the three main vocalists. Then there's two or three little flourishes that really stand out. Ustad Rafiq Ali uses his astounding voice to great effect in four superb taans, in four different raags. And then there's a sargam that's not exactly a sitar and not exactly a mandolin, again by Ustad Rafiq Ali. And in the middle of the performance, as the qawwals launch into a long takraar on 'Har Koi Dil Ka Nazraana Le Ke', all these disparate elements come together to weave a unique type of magic.

Time it took for me to get hooked : 30 seconds

2. Kujh Izra'eela Taras Kareen, Mere Yaar Ton Pehle Na Aveen - Mubarak Ali, Niaz Ali Qawwal
Mubarak Ali "Mattaa" Qawwal possessed one of the most gosh-darned awesome voices I've ever heard; loud, urgent, rounded, rich, emotive and possessing the ability to crawl under your skin and knock you senseless. His voice was best suited to Punjabi kalaams where his unique 'andaz', coupled with his grasp on the Punjabi and Seraiki Sufi canon proved irresistible. In this recording, he is imploring the angel of death - Azrael - to tarry a while, lest he arrive before the beloved. The doha that starts off the performance is brilliant, and the girahs inserted are almost tearjerkingly beautiful - or at least they were for me, when I heard the kalaam in the aftermath of a series of family bereavements. One of the verses, I won't say which, lead to an intensely spiritual moment that can only be described as an epiphany. There are short takraars, a shehnai in the background and a brilliant melody, and there's the amazing voice of the qawwals, all in all a wonderful performance.

Time it took for me to get hooked : 45 seconds

3. Ganj Shakar Ke Laal Nijamuddin - Zaki Taji Qawwal
I must confess that I don't know much about Zaki Taji Qawwal and his party apart from a few fragments of information. As is obvious from his name, he was a devotee of Hz Baba Tajuddin (RA) and was a frequent performer at mehfils in Karachi in the '60s and '70s (according to a friend). There's only one album of his circulating on the internet, an EMI release, and it's a slickly produced, instrumentally rich affair. One track stands out though, and was arresting enough at first listen to be played on repeat for days. With a crisp voice that reminds me at places of abu Muhammad Qawwal's, Zaki Taji sings the kalam with wonderful economy and marvelous "ghinaa'iat". As he almost lovingly utters the names of the Sufi saints, the shehnai and sitar offer sparse yet effective punctuation. I don't know if one can hear the phrase 'Pir Nijamuddin chatar khilaadi' without a hint of a smile, I know I can't.  A sudden shift in tempo mid-way through the kalam lends a nice sense of urgency to the second half of the kalam. A few friends of mine, who are pretty devout 'Bedam-waalas' often call Bedam Shah Warsi the 'Khusrau-e-Saani' or the second Khusrau. While I don't agree with them most days, this kalam and it's delightful performance come well-nigh close to making me agree with them.

Time it took for me to get hooked : 30 seconds

4. Main Nazar Se Pi Raha Hoon - Maulvi Ahmed Hassan Akhtar Bheranwale
I've been a fan of Maulvi Ahmed Hassan Akhtar Bheranwale ever since I started seriously listening to Qawwali. There is something about his uniquely rasp voice and his endearingly beautiful accent that I've loved since i first heard it. Added to that is the fact that his group was almost preternaturally gifted in what is essentially the foundation of a good Qawwali performance - the taali and dholak rhythm section. Each of his performances is propelled by a lively and hypnotic beat. In this recording, the 'Pukka' punjabi accent and a brilliant Urdu kalam come together to wonderful effect. Maulvi Ahmed uses superb girahs to expound on a simple yet expressive kalaam. The vacillating taans are simple and effective, the tempo is stately throughout and Maulvi Sb's voice cracks at the right places.

 Time it took for me to get hooked : 35 seconds

5. Avo Saiyyo Ral Deyo Ni Vadhaai - Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal
If I had my druthers, every Qawwali fan would listen to at least one Bakhshi Salamat performance per day, every day. I am totally in awe of this group and especially the vocal talents of the three main singers, the brothers Ustad Bakhshi Khan and Ustad Salamat Khan along with their student Sadiq Ali Saddo. One of the most gifted of Fateh Ali Khan's shagirds, Bakhshi Khan possessed one hell of a voice. The anguish, urgency and desperation he manages to elicit with his voice aren't found anywhere else. And his pauses, wah. This may sound silly but I think he ranks along with actors like Talat Hussain and the great Laurence Olivier in the use of the pause. Case in point is the absolute hammer-blow he strikes when he shouts' Ni eh oho ee Ranjha chaak je, Roop vattaa ke khairi ........... aya'. The two supporting singers offer up endless alaaps and taans, one-upping each other as the shehnai weaves a melodic line behind them. The girahs are 'thaith' punjabi gems and the tempo is unflagging, plus there's an almost imperceptible lilt at the end of each verse. The rather abrupt ending leaves the listener wanting more, and I certainly don't blame him.

Time it took for me to get hooked : 13 seconds

6. Yeh Payaam De Gyi Hai Mujhe Baad-e-Sub'ha Gaahi - Ustad Mashooq Ali Khan

I couldn't offer a more perfect example of instantly falling in love with a recording than this one. Only two or three seconds into it and I was absolutely hooked. What an amazing Sarangai prelude, and what inventive work on the tabla, wah. It is also obvious pretty immediately that this is a rather unusual recording in that Ustad Mashooq Ali Khan is so obviously not a Qawwal. The idea of having a classical singer perform one of Iqbal's landmark kalaams with a Qawwali party may sound dodgy in theory, but in practice it works brilliantly. The Ustad's adayegi is so appealing, his talaffuz is so good, that it doesn't matter that he's only performing girah-bandi on the main text, which the chorus is offering up in short takraars. After all, one of the peculiarities of Iqbaliyat when rendered in Qawwali is the almost endless opportunity for girah-bandi. In this case the girahs are exceedingly apt, and boy does the Ustad deliver them. I could listen to the one second clip of him saying 'Shikoh-e-Faqeer' (at the 3:27 mark) over and over again all day. This performance has a stately tempo, wonderful yet unobtrusive instrumentation, amazing girah-bandi, delightful mini-takraars and a magnificent lead vocalist. Hence it's not much of a surprise that it sits among one of my all-time favorite Qawwali recordings of all time.

Time for me to get hooked : 25 seconds



  1. Ahahahaha.
    That cracked voice of Maulvi Sahab just broke something inside me.

    Have you heard him singing Jay Paida Na Hunday Ali Kaabay Andar where he brilliantly goes through so many names of Hazrat Ali RA?


    1. His voice is just brilliant, very emotive. One of the reasons I don't listen often to his brother Maulvi Haider Hasssan is that he doesn't have that wonderful voice. And yes, I have heard that Qawwali. It's a wonderful composition and he sings it beautifully.

  2. Musab Bhai

    Ap say aik guzarish hay kay Sabri Brothers ki janib say gaya gaya Dayar e Ishq Main agar kahin say pura milay to upload kar dain. Ye unhon nay BBC kay liay gaya tha. Main dua go rahon ga

  3. In my view one more track can be added to the above list:

    Raaz o Niaz Ishq Kay Dil Hi Tumhain Sikhai Ga

    Amazing poetry and voice!

    Here is the link:


    1. This is an amazing track Saad. Agha Bashir had a brilliant voice, and his taans were out of this world.