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, November 2, 2012

...Of The Voice Of The Rohi



If you stopped me on the street tomorrow and asked, "What's the proudest day of your life?" I wouldn't hesitate a second before answering, " 30th October, 2010. "

It's not the day I got admission into Med School, it's not the day I graduated, or the day I started my professional life, or the day I got to talk to Mushtaq Ahmed Yusfi Sb (although come to think of it, that's a very close second). It's the day almost exactly two years ago when I ended my five day exploration of South Punjab with a visit to the shrine of one of the greatest Sufi poets in the history of the subcontinent, Hazrat Khwaja Ghulam Fareed Sb (RA).

I think I've written about it before but I'll give a quick recap. During the disastrous floods of autumn 2010, I went to Dera Ghazi Khan in Southern Punjab for a month of flood relief duties. Towards the end of my spell, I was given five days leave. Since my one month tour of duty was almost ending, I decided to use these five days to explore South Punjab; traveling more than 2000 kilometers over the course of five days and visiting Multan, Bahawalpur, Cholistan, Derawar, Ucch Shareef and various other places east of the river Indus. On the final day, when I was to return to DG Khan, I crossed the Indus and travelled a further 120 miles to the southernmost tip of Punjab, a little town called Mithan Kot. I was there to pay my respects at Khwaja Sb's mazaar.

Before going on to describe what happened that day, I'd like to take a few moments to explain the reason of my visit. My fascination with places of spiritual and historical significance had started during that one month of flood relief duty, yet my visits to various shrines and mazaars weren't motivated by any spiritual reasons. Of course I had the proper respect for them, but I wasn't going there as a pilgrim, merely as a tourist. With Khwaja Sb's shrine however, the motivation was different. I was going there out of spiritual and emotional affinity.

The reason for my "spiritual and emotional affinity" was that since earliest childhood, I had been exposed to Khwaja Sb's poetry via some of the greatest voices of Pakistani history. The names of Pathanay Khan and Zahida Parveen - especially Zahida Parveen - were not just familiar to me, their voices were part of my childhood. My grandparents listened to them - my Daada had me play Zahida Parveen's Kafis to him in his last days - my parents listened to them and in turn, I listened to them. The voices were filled with the sights, sounds and scents of the deserts of the "Rohi". Their tones depicted longing and hope, optimism and regret, love and heartbreak all in the same breath. It was much later when I started to better understand Seraiki that I really began to appreciate what was being sung by these amazing artists.

I think no other subcontinental Sufi poet has better expressed the feelings of longing and separation better than Khwaja Sb. Drawing from Punjabi romantic epics as well as the folk idiom of Seraiki, Khwaja Sb created a distinct language based solely on the concept of Love. Love in Khwaja Sb's poetry, whether spiritual or temporal, is a source of fulfillment and completion, while at the same time leaving one unfulfilled and incomplete. It's hard for a layman like me to explain the nuances of his kalaam, suffice to say that Khwaja Sb is the only poet whose verses have made me burst into tears.

What happened on that October day two years ago was described by me in a previous post as follows;

The obvious step after paying my respects was to ask around for anyone who might sing one of Khwaja Sb's immortal kaafis for me. Somebody directed me to a group of Fakirs sitting in a corner of the shrine courtyard, one of whom was the current Khalifa of the shrine. I introduced myself and expressed my desire to listen to some of Khwaja Sb's kalam and the Khalifa Sb graciously consented to sing some for me, albeit making excuses for his voice. As I brought out my cellphone camera and he started singing, goosebumpy silence was quickly followed by a sudden gush of emotion as tears came to my eyes. I looked around and realised that I wasn't alone, very soon the entire circle of Fakirs was gently sobbing (some of which can be heard on the recording). This in itself would've been enough to make this an unforgettable experience, but somehow I plucked up the the courage to ask the gathered audience if  I could sing something too. they graciously consented and there, right next to Khwaja Sb's resting place, in the company of a group of Fakirs, I sang one of my favorite (and my parents' and grandparents' favorite) kaafi. When I ended, the teary-eyed assemblage very kindly appreciated me and we prayed together for a while before I took my leave. Nothing, and I mean nothing has come close to the sheer spiritual and psychological elation I felt that day.
 Qawwali performers have mined the rich veins of Punjabi Sufi poetry for centuries, drawing from the inexhaustible well of poetry by the likes of Baba Fareed Ganj Shakkar (RA), Baba Bulleh Shah (RA), Hz Waris Shah (RA) and others, and although they have used Khwaja Ghulam Fareed Sb's Kafis in Qawwali too, the use hasn't been very widespread. His Kafis are mostly used as girahs, or as Dohas at the start of the performance, but relatively few Qawwals have performed Khwaja Sb's kalams as a separate piece. This may be due to a reluctance to use the lesser understood Seraiki dialect or due to the unusual Rubai-like quatrains of Khwaja Sb's Kafis which pose some difficulties when it comes to arranging and performing them in Qawwali settings. Yet the few Qawwals who have performed Khwaja Sb's Kafis, and the fewer still who have performed them well, have managed to rival the likes of Zahida Parveen, Pathanay Khan, Hussain Bash Dhaadi, Jumman Khan, Abida Parveen and other folk singers in elucidating the spiritual power of his kalaam.


The following collection comprises of some of my favorite Qawwali recordings of Khwaja Sb's Kafis, accompanied by renditions of the same kalaams by the pre-eminent Folk and Classical singers of their day. Three of these recordings have a very special place in my heart for various reasons, and all of them are very dear to me, as indeed are all renditions of Khwaja Sb's kalam.

Pathanay Khan and Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal - Aa Mil Maroo, Mararroo

Ustad Salamat Ali Khan-Nazakat Ali Khan and Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal - Ishq Anookhri Peer

Zahida Parveen and Akhter Shareef Aroop Walay Qawwal - Itthaan Main Mutthri Nit Jaan Ba Lab

Abida Parveen and Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal - Yaar Sipahiya Aa Wass Mandray Kol

Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal and Miandad Khan Qawwal - Bandi Te Bardi, Taen Dilbar Di O Yaar



Thursday, November 1, 2012

...Of The Klaseeki Angg and the Punjabi Rungg

Over the last decade or so, Qawwali in Pakistan has undergone many changes. The death of most of the leading Qawwals of the last century left a vacuum that hasn't been filled by their successors. The overarching influence of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has led to a large number of Qawwals adopting - or trying unsuccessfully to adopt - his style while neglecting their own gharana-specific traditional andaaz. Another change that has ocurred has that Qawwals in Pakistan have become divided into two broad groups ; the Punjabi Qawwals and the "Karachi walay" Qawwals as they are known. The first group consists of the successors of the Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali clan, the Fareedi group of Qawwals, stalwarts like Mehr Ali Sher Ali Qawwals etc and their subsequent shagirds while the latter group comprises of the members of the Qawwal Bacchay gharana, the Khurja Noharbani gharana and others who migrated to Karachi around partition. Although there are many stylistic differences between these two groups - and many stylistic overlaps too for that matter - the main difference is the adherence of most of the Karachi-walay qawwals to a traditional classical-based andaaz, contrasted with the Punjabi qawwals' preference for a more bombastic, dhamaal based qawwali style.

This wasn't always the case however; as past generations of Punjabi Qawwals remained true to the classical roots of qawwali while still being faithful to the sights, sounds and moods of their native land. Qawwals like the Sabri Brothers bridged the divide between the traditional Punjabi and the classical styles of the migrant artists. The current generation of Punjabi performers, with one or two exceptions, has overlooked the importance of rooting their performance in the fertile soil of the Hindustani classical musical tradition. In contrast, their forbears ensured the inclusion of Raag based arrangements, and in many cases, specific khayal based items in their performances. As a result, they created a wonderful amalgam of Classical and traditional music.

The following are a group of recordings from some of the pre-eminent Punjabi qawwals of the last century as they perform Khayaal based on classical North-Indian Raags. It is no coincidence perhaps that they all come from a single scholastic lineage in that they are all shagirds of Ustads Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwals. The influence of their traditional Punjabi backgrounds is clearly evident here, as is their respect for, and adherence to the pure classical idiom. It is a real shame that such performances aren't being heard anymore from the current crop of Punjabi Qawwals.


1.Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal - Piya Ka Darshan Main Kaise Paoon Gi, Raag Bhairon

2.Ustad Ameer Ali Murkianvale Qawwal - Piya More Aaye Re Mandarva, Raag Khambavati

3.Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Party - Dhan Dhan Bhaag Hamaro, Raag Gawati

4.Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal - Ab Na Rahe Gi Peerr, Raag Hameer ( This is an excerpt from a one hour performance that is among my most favorite Qawwali performances by any qawwal)

5.Ustad Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwal - Classical Bandish -Live In Karachi 1961 (This is a Khayal performance taken from a mehfil recording, however I am not sure about the raag being performed).



...Of The Halqa-e-Sukhun

I think I've stated this fact - actually it's an opinion, but I consider all my opinions to be incontrovertible facts - many times before but I'll state it again for good measure ; I think Ustads Fateh Ali Khan and Mubarak Ali Khan were the greatest Qawwals of the last century. I say this despite my almost fanatical love for the other two qawwals who constitute my Qawwali holy Trinity - Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed Sb and Haji Mahboob Ali. I think I once referred to the sound of Tom Waits' voice being like the mating call of a mastodon or a grizzly bear drunk on moonshine; Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali also affect me on a similar, primal and elemental level. Their voices seem to come from some distant, long forgotten place that still echoes with the remnants of the first, universe-creating, big-bang causing celestial music that everyone from Maulana Rumi to Tolkein talks about. There's a wonderful moment in Ken Burn's landmark documentary "Jazz" in which critic Matt Glaser fantasizes about a Louis Armstrong concert in Copenhagen in 1933, saying that he hoped it was attended by the physicists Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Shroedinger. Heisenberg and Shroedinger had both recently received Nobe prizes for their work on Quantum Mechanics and the Wave Equation and were fathers of the theory of relativity. How wonderful it must've been, Glaser muses, if the two physicists actually attended the concert and saw firsthand the phenomenal Louis Armstrong give a practical demonstration of the fact that when something travels at the speed of light; time actually does slow down.

Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali can also be placed into a similar fantasy, only this time Shroedinger would be accompanied by chemists Rutherford and Bohr, and the event would take place after the discovery of electron orbits and orbitals around an atomic nucleus. They would -assuming they somehow made it to Lyallpur in India, but since it's my fantasy I can assume away - be able to listen to the two brothers voices, revolving around a common musical nucleus, giving off and absorbing energy from each other, soaring and dipping constantly but at all times never losing sight of the central musical and spiritual core of their performance. It was this ability that propelled them to the very forefront of the Qawwali musicians of the subcontinent.What is wonderful is that they were able to impart some of their brilliance to an absolutely stellar line-up of shagirds, a list of whose names reads like a who's who of post-partition qawwali ; Agha Rasheed Fareedi Qawwal, Agha Bashir Fareedi, Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan among many others. Obviously none of them could ever completely match the talent of their teachers, but they all displayed flashes of the Ustads' art in their performances.

If my claim that Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali were the greatest Qawwals of the last century is met with skepticism - which it should, I don't think anyone would disagree with my second claim, that they were the greatest interpreters of the greatest Sufi poet of the 20th century, Hz Allama Iqbal (RA). This is borne out by the fact that they performed during Allama's lifetime and received appreciation from Allama himself. The key to performing Iqbal's kalam well in Qawwali is the use of the girah. As most of Iqbal's kalam is unified by a single spiritual core, the experienced Qawwal can mine dozens of verses of girah from Iqbal's Urdu and Farsi kalam, and the more apt and timely the girahs, the more powerful the performance. I've heard no other qawwals put this girah-bandi to better use than Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali. They used verse upon wonderful verse, maintaining a takraar on a single phrase, drumming the audience into a frenzy. I have a recording of theirs, from a mehfil at Government College Lahore I'm told, that is a thing of elemental beauty. The quality is very shoddy, but there's no mistaking the electricity in the atmosphere as Mubarak Ali dives into one vacillating taan after the other and Fateh Ali offers girah upon girah while the accompanists maintain a steady takraar of the phrase "mujh se kaha Jibraeel ne". It is a six minute fragment of hair raising brilliance.

Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali's shagirds carried on their tradition of performing Iqbaliyat, starting in the '50s when the performance of Iqbal's kalam was actively promoted on the Radio by the Government. The more talented of the shagirds also carried forward their Ustads' technique of takraars and girah-bandi, As a result, some of Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali's brilliance managed to live on in the coming decades and their service towards the popularization of Iqbal's kalam became a Sadqa-e-Jariya.

The following collection showcases Iqbal's kalam as sung by Ustad Fateh Ali Khan-Mubarak Ali Khan and their shagirds. For the purposes of economy, I have restricted myself to only one recording of each kalam, and only one recording by each of the shagirds, while allowing the Ustads themselves to have three recordings. The details of each recording are as follows;

Ustad Fateh Ali Khan-Mubarak Ali Khan
Yeh Payam De Gyi hai Mujhe Baad-e-Subha Gaahi - studio recording
Har Shai Musafir, Har Cheez Raahi
Tu Rehnavarde Shauq Hai (Fragment) - Live Mehfil Recording, rather similar to the one I mentioned above.

Agha Bashir Fareedi Qawwal
 Hai Yehi Meri Namaz, Hai Yehi Mera Wuzu - Studio Recording


Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal
 Khol Aankh Zameen Dekh, Falak Dekh, Fazaa Dekh - Studio Recording


Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal
 Mataa'e Be Bahaa Hai Dard-o-Soz-e Arzoo Mandi - Studio Recording


Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan-Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Phir Chiraagh-e-Laala Se Roshan Huay Koh-o-Daman - Studio Recording, recorded soon after Fateh Ali Khan's death when Nusrat had taken over the lead of his father's group.


Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Soorat Na Parastam Mun, Butkhana Shikastam Mun - Mehfil Recording.



P.S I have deliberately left out the more well known recordings of Shikwa, Tipu Sultan Ki Wassiyat and other more commonly performed kalaams in order to highlight some of the lesser known but still brilliant interpretations of Iqbal's kalam.

P.P.S The title of this post comes from Iqbal's verse

میرے حلقہِ سخن میں ابھی زیرَ تربیت ہیں
وہ گدا کہ جانتے ہیں رہ و رسمِ کج کلاہی