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 .

Thursday, November 1, 2012

...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


  1. Lovely write up--lovely post. I envy your writing style!

    1. Thanks a lot Asif Sb, it means a lot coming from you.

    2. Musab u made ths dy awesum mny folds wd ths presentation...

  2. It has truly been a joy to find your blog today. I came here searching for a naat by Mawlana Jami and found a real treasure trove. God Bless!

    1. Thanks a ton janab, your blog is one of my favorite places on the internet.