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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

...Of The Raqs-e-Bismil, Punjabi Style

It's time for one of those posts again, the ones in which I take one of my favorite pieces from the classical Qawwali canon and share some of my favorite recordings of that kalam. Like I've probably written before, Qawwali is primarily a performer's art, and the standard songbook is open to endless interpretation. The vast Qawwali canon offers each performer ample opportunities to interpret each classical kalam in his own peculiar style, embellishing it with taans and girahs, incorporating other kalaams with similar themes or altering the traditional arrangement to bring out new meanings in the text. This enables each Qawwal to 'own' each kalam and imbue it with some of his own personality, thus making each performance of the same kalam distinct and unique.

Of all the kalaams in the Qawwali - or rather Sub-continental sufi - canon, no kalam is as easily recognizable as Hz Baba Bulleh Shah (RA)'s immortal Kafi, Tere Ishq Nachaya Kar Thaiyya Thaiyya. It has been performed innumerable times by qawwals, folk musicians, pop singers, playback singers and what not. This paean to love's intoxicating power is probably the most widely performed kalam in the Sufi canon, and as is the wont of Qawwals, each Qawwal of note- or each group of Qawwals - has performed it in their own distinct 'andaz', making the piece their own. Unlike the kalams I've shared in posts of a similar nature, this kalam is unique in that it is part of the Punjabi Sufi canon, therefore it has most expertly been performed by Qawwals that are either from the Punjab or have incorporated the Punjabi sensibility into their performance style. The Punjabi sensibility being an emphasis on takraar, a vigorous 'Taali' and Tabla/Dholak accompaniment and heavy borrowing from the Punjabi sufi canon for girahs etc.

The exact words of the original kalam as written by Hz Baba Bulleh Shah (RA) are slightly modified by each performer, all the while keeping the meanings and the spirit of the original kalam intact. The kalam as written by Hz Bulleh Shah (RA) along with my attempt at a translation is as follows.

Your Love Has Made Me Dance

Your love has made me dance.

Your love has made a place in my heart;
See how I have drained the cup of hemlock
Do not tarry now o Physician !, or I am lost!

Your love has made me dance.

The sun has set, dusk settles on the sky;
My life!, My life for another glimpse of your countenance.
I erred when you called me and I did not follow you.

Your love has made me dance.

Mother, do not deter me from my obsession;
No one can bring back to shore, a boat that has been swept away by the current.
My mind had deserted me when I decided not to go with my beloved.

Your love has made me dance.

A peacock sings in the garden of my love;
I see my Ka'aba, my Qibla in the countenance of my beloved.
The one who wounded my heart and left me, never to look back.

Your love has made me dance.

My Lord finally brought me to Shah Inayat's door;
Who robed me in garments of green and red.
As soon as I began my dance, Lo ! I found my beloved.

Your love has made me dance.

Although the arrangement and composition used by most Qawwals is more or less the same, there are two slightly different arrangements with a slight alteration in the text. One arrangement, which is followed by some Qawwals and the majority of non-Qawwal performers of this kalam, uses the standard 'Tere Ishq Nachaya' - Your love has made me dance , while the other group of Qawwals, mostly those who learned from or were influenced by Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Khan Qawwals, use the slightly altered passive-voice opening 'Tere Main Ishq Ne Nachaiyaan' - I have been made to dance by your love. I'm slightly partial to the second arrangement, for its hint of submission to the beloved and because the arrangement imparts a more stately and subdued air to the piece, especially at the beginning. One final word before we begin, this post does not claim to share the best renditions of this kalam, nor the most representative ones; some of these are screechy, others may be too long or too short, the only criteria for inclusion in this post is that of all the versions of this kalam, I love these the best.

The first recording is by Farid Ayaz, Abu Muhammad Qawwal And Brothers. Although their illustrious father, Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed Sb didn't include many Punjabi kalams in his repertoire, concentrating instead on canonical Farsi and Urdu pieces, Farid Ayaz, Abu Muhammad And Bros have incorporated a wide number of influences; Punjabi, Seraiki and Sindhi into their performance style. Their performance of this kalam is spirited, with excellent 'Taali' and backing vocals. One of the standouts of their performance is the brilliant girah that I've heard inserted by this group only;

Yaar de agg'ay sajda karday Mullah dar'day vekhay
Apna yaar manaavan la'iee asaan Sayyad nachday vekhay

We've seen clerics shy from prostrating themselves in front of the Beloved;
We've seen Sayyids dancing before their beloved, hoping for forgiveness.

This verse alludes to the relationship between Hz Baba Bulleh Shah (RA) who was a Sayyid - a descendant of the Prophet (SAW) and his Pir, Hz Shah Inayat Qadri (RA) who was an Ara'ien - a lesser caste that engaged in agriculture and menial occupations. When Hz Bulleh Shah accepted Shah Inayat as his Pir, his Sayyid relations were outraged at the fact that one of the Prophet's descendants was acquiescing to a member of a lowly cast. But Hz Bulleh Shah (RA) paid no heed to the protestations of his peers and devoted himself to the love of his spiritual guide.

Further Punjabi and Urdu girahs, including another one of Hz Baba Bulleh Shah's kafis, further embellish the kalam. The non-native Punjabi accent and the obvious delight the Qawwals take in their presentation add a certain charm to this performance.

The second performance is one of my very favorite performances, not only of this kalam, but of Qawwali as well. It is a -horror of horrors- Filmi Qawwali. Qawwalis in films are generally frowned upon by serious Qawwali afficionadoes because they're either prefab,lipsynched and soulless affairs or those Sawal-Jawab, Male v/s Female qawwali muqablas that are the hallmark of the Bhendi Bazar Bombay school of Qawwali. Yet there are a few exceptions that prove that when done tastefully, Qawwali can have an enormous impact in film. The following performance is one such exception; sung by one of my personal heroes, the singer/actor/filmmaker/poet/politician/scholar Inayat Hussain Bhatti Sb, accompanied by two of the most distinctive voices in Pakistani music, the legendary folksinger Saieen Akhtar and the unbelievably melodious playback singer Munir Hussain . The fact that a single recording combines three of the greatest voices in Pakistan's history would be enough for it to become one of my very favorites, but this recording goes one step further.

From the 1964 Punjabi hit Waris Shah, produced by and starring Inayat Hussain Bhatti Sb as the eponymous Sufi poet, this recording is a bona-fide qawwali. There are two sarangis, there are two main vocalists, there are girahs and takraars, and there is a world of feeling. What I love is that Saieen Akhtar is lipsynching his own voice, so we get to see the intricate hand-movements that he used to do while performing. The arrangement is up-tempo and the sarangis provide wonderful accompaniment. The hallmarks of this performance are the voices of the singers, with their taans and alaaps displaying the range and dexterity they possessed. Bhatti Sb starts the doha with the first verse, Saieen Akhtar supplies the second, and we're off ! My favorite moment in this performance is at the 4:41 mark when Munir Hussain delivers the first verse of a beautiful girah in his wonderfully sweet voice, the second verse of which is supplied by Bhatti Sb. That one verse is the sole contribution of Munir Hussain in this performance, but what a contribution.

Maa Peo kolo'n luk luk rovaan kar kar lakh bahanay
Bulleh Shah je milay pyara, main lakh karaan shukraanay

I cry in secret, hiding my tears from my mother and my father, making thousands of excuses.
O Bulleh Shah, if only my beloved would return, I would spend a thousand years in thankfulness!

This short performance ends with one final girah and a couple of vacillating taans from Bhatti Sb, before winding down to it's conclusion.

The above two recordings were examples of the more commonly used arrangement of this kalam. The remaining recordings share the second arrangement.

Among the many shagirds of Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Khan, the foremost was of course Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He spent precious few years in the tutelage of his father, with the bulk of his training taking place under his uncle Mubarak Ali Khan; thus his style encompassed the vociferous, spirited delivery of Fateh Ali Khan and the vocal dexterity of Mubarak Ali Khan. Even though he brought many innovations to Qawwali, abandoning older arrangements for new ones, combining girahs and sargams in a unique way, in many instances he preferred the more traditional, classical arrangements of kalams, to spectacular effect. The following recording features Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and, in my opinion, the best version of his frequently evolving party. Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan is on first harmonium, Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan is on 2nd vocals, Atta Fareed on 2nd harmonium and Maqsood Hussain on 3rd vocals. A famous quatrain of Hz Baba Bulleh Shah (RA) leads directly to the kalam, and we can see how the slight alteration in the words and arrangement lends a different air to the kalam. All the vocalists share taans and alaaps as the Qawwals incorporate another canonical Qawwali text - Nami Danam Ke Aakhir Choon Dam'e Deedar Mi Raqsam by Hz Usman Harooni (RA) - into the performance. The unique feature here is that Nusrat also includes the beautifully translated Punjabi version of the kalam as well. As the tempo slowly builds and the Qawwals find their groove, launching into mini-takraars, another pretty characteristic feature of Nusrat's performances in England presents itself; drunk uncles dancing and swaying in front of the stage. I've always been very fond of Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan and have felt that more often than not he gets shortchanged in Nusrat's performances, but here he's participating in full force, engaging in vocal sawal-jawabs with his cousin and using his raspy voice and vociferous hand-movements to great effect. Clocking at over 40 minutes, this performance is a perfect example of how Nusrat managed to stay faithful to the classical idiom yet become such an explosively gifted public performer, how he kept an eye on the requirements of the kalam as well as a finger on the pulse of the audience, and in doing so went down as one of the greatest Qawwals in history.

Note : From here onwards, the recordings get screechier and hissier, you have been warned. If like me, you believe that 'Khazanay tujhe mumkin hai kharaabon main milain', proceed.

The next performance is by another illustrious shagird of Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Khan, and one of my personal favorite Qawwali groups,Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal And Party. Bakhshi Khan possessed a voice that was uncannily similar to his ustad Fateh Ali Khan, and in his brother Salamat Ali Khan and fellow vocalist Sadiq Ali "Saddo" Khan, his party had three of the most distinctive voices in Qawwali. I simply love this group. Their recording of this kalam begins with a wonderful flute sazeena, followed by a drop-dead gorgeous quatrain of Hz Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA)

Aih dukh yaar Ranjhaitray walay, assan haar wangoon gul paaye
Hik hik dard mahi de utte, sau sukh mol gawa'ey
Jinhaan dardaan vich mera mahi raazi, shala oh dard raihn sawaaye
Ghulam Farida ! Oh dard salamat jinhaan dardaan yaar milaye

All the sorrows that my Ranjha gave me, i've worn around my neck like a necklace
For each one of these sorrows, I've sacrificed thousands of moments of happiness.
If my beloved is gladdened by my sorrows, let them remain with me till eternity;
Ghulam Farid, May God bless these sorrows, for they have brought me close to my Love.

The main kalam is then embellished with taans and zamzamas by Salamat Ali and Saddo Khan, while the flute weaves in and out of the melody. Selections from kafis of Khwaja Ghulam Fareed and Baba Bulleh Shah are used as a girahs. The tempo and the handclaps remain unflagging as the qawwals power through the kalam, creating mini-takraars out of every other verse before finally winding down and ending the kalam at the 13 and a half minute mark.

Another preternaturally gifted shagird of Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwal was the late Agha Rasheed Ahmed Fareedi Qawwal. A contemporary of Nusrat, he preferred continuing in the tradition of Khanqahi qawwali over attempting excessive innovations and remained till his death in the late nineteen-eighties, one of the foremost khanqahi qawwals of Pakistan. His primary performance venue was Hz Baba Farid (RA)'s shrine at Pakpattan, where this following performance was recorded. Starting with the voice of Agha Majeed Fareedi and Rasheed Fareedi Sb delivering one of Baba Bulleh Shah (RA)'s most famous kafis, the qawwals linger on the phrase 'mera peer manay', invoking their patron saint, Hz Baba Farid RA with a series of very choice girahs. The main kalam is presented with an arrangement combining the two previously mentioned ones as the tempo builds very slowly and gradually. The qawwals take their time on each verse, creating takraars and then lingering on them till the listeners have had their fill. They also incorporate Hz Usman Harooni (RA)'s kalam and its Punjabi translation; offering protracted takraars on various verses and further girahs on those takraars, as the tempo increases, especially a seven to eight minute takraar on the phrase 'Biya janaan'. These are followed by a series of trademark sargams by Fareedi Sb and his accompanist Mubarak Ali 'Makha' Lahori, which gradually morph into another takraar. These long takrars are a hallmark of Fareedi Sb's performance style, he used these takraars to imperceptibly enhance the state of emotional agitation felt by his listeners to a point where, in his own words" Mera vass challay te aithay saareyaan de kapray paar ke utthaan" - If it were up to me, the audience would leave with their clothes in tatters. Incorporating a kalam made famous by Nusrat - 'Akkhiyaan Udeekdian' and following it with another wonderful sargam,which morphs into another supplication to the saint, the kalam ends just when the tempo can go no higher, bringing a whirlwind performance to a close.

I must mention here that Fareedi Sb's performance style, with its 8 and 10 minute long takraars, might not be to everyone's taste. Also, the pitch in this video is slightly off, making the recording slightly screechy. But I absolutely love it.

The final recording is one that I recently discovered, and I haven't been able to get over it. In fact, this recording prompted me to get busy with this long overdue post. One of the best kept secrets of Qawwali was the Mubarak Ali Niaz Ali Qawwal party. Mubarak Ali had a bullhorn of a voice that had the power to envelop the listener in a sonic stratosphere, he was accompanied by the piercing voice of Niaz Ali who played first harmonium, along with Tufail Khan and Gulloo Khan. Their studio recordings are few and far between but the few that remain are hair-raisingly good. I'm not aware if Mubarak Ali-Niaz Ali were shagirds of Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwals, but they follow the arrangement favored by the other shagirds. I could've posted their excellent studio recording of this kalam, in fact I was going to, until I found this one. For one thing, live video recordings of thegroup are very rare, and for another, this is one absolutely kickass performance, which encompasses all the things i love about traditional Punjabi Qawwali. Observe for example the setting; the qawwals are seated on a platform constructed from bricks with a rug thrown over it, the stage isn't large enough to allow all the main performers to sit up front. The venue is open-air, under a shamiaana, with the audience surrounding the qawwals. The performance begins with a beautiful pair of dohas by Hz Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA), and the qawwals are off. I'm not going to waste much time on descriptions other than the fact that Mubarak Ali is one of the most animated, one of the most outstanding live performers I've ever seen, that the girahs inserted by the Qawwals, from kalams of baba Bulleh Shah (RA), Hz Baba Farid (RA), Hz Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA) and other canonical Punjabi poets, are some of the best I've ever heard (and are in the thaith-est Punjabi, which might make them hard to understand for listeners who don't have more than a passing knowledge of Punjabi). But for those who can understand and appreciate, or who make an effort to understand and appreciate, this recording is an absolute treasure.

N.B :  In choosing a classical Punjabi kalam and focusing on performers who followed the Punjabi ang of Qawwali, I've allowed for the fact that many people might not find these recordings as wonderfully interesting as I do, but like I said at the start, of the dozens of recordings of this kalam, these are the ones I love.


  1. Awesome post once again. Thanks for these! I remember youtubing the Filmi Tere Ishq Nachayan a few years ago and being blown away by how awesome it is. Eagerly await your next post!

  2. Loved your post thoroughly...
    May I just suggest one more rendition of the kalam by the Sabri Brothers. It seems outworldly where Haji Ghulam Farid Sahab goes on repeating ishq nachaya in his distinct lower tone:


    M SAAD

  3. Another much awaited post. Mubarak Ali Niyaz Ali's live video is out of this world. I don't understand punjabi but the music and ambience they produce carries me through. For long I have longed for such a blog on qawwali and I am so glad you share your interest and passion of true qawwali renditions. I have heard of one Haji Hidayat Ullah recordings of great qawwalis during the 1970s. I hope all of his recordings are unearthed and presented on youtube for the pleasure of die-hard fans.

  4. Found more videos recently of Mubarak Ali Niaz Ali that you would like, http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=BMHuh27dStk&feature=endscreen

    Youtube user Sayyan who posted many videos a few years ago but disappeared has come back with more and more gems!

  5. The energy and vitality of the Punjabi Ang carries one along. Whether be it Rasheed Ahmed Faridi sb or Mubarak Ali Makha, the mood created is so lively and strong that it is hard to not sway with the qawwali. Shukriya for this post!