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 .

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

...From Nothingness to 'Being' - Hz Bedam Shah Warsi (RA)

Around two years ago I started a "Rather Ambitious Project". I had recently arrived in the jungle and had eons of time at my hands. After acquainting myself with the local flora and fauna -comprising mainly of snakes and giant insects - I had to find something useful to do. After spending a month or so transcribing some of Haji Mahboob Sb's recordings and digitizing some of my cassettes, I was looking for something else to occupy my time. I had brought along a Farsi primer to learn the rudiments of that language, mainly to help me understand the kalam I was transcribing, but that required just an hour or two of my time per day. My FCPS Part 1 exam was a year and a half away, so my course books were still technically out-of-bounds for me. All I did was lie in my room in the middle of the jungle and enjoy the lack of electricity, running water and human contact with my aforementioned friends - the snakes and giant insects.

Finally I decided I'd try my hand at organizing my music library. I had a fairly large number of recordings of various kinds in my harddrive and I used iTunes as my primary music player. iTunes has a very pedantic attitude towards organizing your library, and if it's not done just right, it can take you hour to search through it. So I decided to knuckle down and try to sort out the jumbled mess of music in my harddrive. I had seen my friends over at "Qawwali Central" use a simple yet effective way of organizing their Qawwali recordings. Under the 'Genre' tab, they used to place the name of the poet. So all of Maulana Jami's kalams were under the genre of "Jami" and so forth. This was useful when you needed to identify the poet of a kalam, as well as for when you were in the mood to listen to, say nothing but Khusrau (RA) for example. The artists, albums and tracks would remain true to those listed on the recordings, while the genres would divide them neatly among the various poets. This seemed like a great idea, so that's how I started organizing my music too.

Once I had done so -and it took me quite a few days due to the lack of electricity mentioned above, I began to pay more attention to some aspects of the recordings that I hadn't noticed before. For example, how each artist; based on his background, training and influences etc, interpreted the same kalaam in a way entirely different from another artist. Some performers brought out the spiritual meanings of the kalams, while others embellished them in musical adornment, while still others flew off at new tangents altogether. Very soon, I had my definitive versions of each kalam, and those I listened to repeatedly.

A while before leaving for the jungle, I had put up a couple of posts highlighting the different versions of the same kalaam by different artists , highlighting what I've mentioned above. While organizing my music, I thought of another approach. I would share my favorite versions of kalams by one poet only, showing how their various kalams were performed by different artists. And to avoid giving preference to one artist over the other, or one kalam over another, I would include only one version of the kalam and only one recording by an artist per post. Otherwise the recordings would number into the dozens and my poor file-hosting server would crash.

So, with that in mind, I set out to select recordings, which was easier said than done. To include Munshi Raziuddin's version of the Qaul or Bahauddin Khan Sb's, to include the more popularly known version of a kalam or to include an unheard track by an obscure performer and so forth. Still, after a couple of weeks of picking and cutting, I had a sizeable stash of 45 odd recordings that I was ready to share. the next step was writing about the recordings and preparing the posts themselves. In those days, I had the habit of writing down most of the post before hand, on paper or as MS word documents, so I could just paste the text and upload the recordings, saving me time on my once-a-month weekends. I have a habit - which I'll have to get rid of someday - of writing in a very florid and overlong style, a result of worshiping Wodehouse I suppose, and it took me quite a while to get all the write-ups done. But a couple of days before I was about to come home on a weekend, the write-ups were finished too. Now all I had to do was come home and post the stuff.

That's when the jungle decided to play a trick on me. Lightning struck - quite literally- and fried my laptop. Thank heavens my harddrive wasn't attached to it at that time, for I hadn't backed up my data then. But my laptop, with all the write-ups and recordings, and tons of other important data, was kaput. Thankfully it was still in warranty and the vendors were able to replace it, but I had lost my enthusiasm along with my data and decided to put the project on an indefinite hiatus.

Several times during the last two years, I thought of restarting work on the project, but laziness and a recollection of the enormity of the task always dissuaded me. In these two years, I managed to brush up my Farsi slightly, pass my FCPS Part 1 exam, get engaged and alleviate my electricity/running water/communications problem - still no luck with the snakes and giant insects, and managed to reclaim some of the absolute idleness that I enjoyed at my arrival in the jungle. So, a month or so ago, I started earnestly working towards revvitalizing this long dead project. Collected the recordings again and made backups. Thankfully this time there have been no mess-ups -so far, touchwood - and I think I'm finally ready to get back to what I started more than two years ago.

This time, I have more recordings to choose from, and I find that I have inadvertently posted two installments of the project already, so this makes it the third post.

1. Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA)

2. Allama Muhammad Iqbal (RA)

And now, the third post on Hz Bedam Shah Warsi (RA).

Hz Bedam Shah Warsi (RA) was born in 1882 in Atawa, a town in present day UP, India. He was named Ghulam Hasnain by his parents, but this name was forgotten once he took on the mantle of mysticism. His spiritual murshid was Hz Syed Waris Ali Shah (RA), and Bedam Sb, under the influence of his murshid, became an adept sufi. Spending most of his life in the garb of a 'Faqeer', Bedam Sb passed away in November 1936. He is buried near the shrine of his murshid. Not many biographical details are available on Bedam Sb, but what is known is that he was a contemporary of most of the great Sufis of the turn of the century, including Pir Mehr Ali Shah (RA), Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA) Hz Hasan Nizami (RA) - who said about Bedam Sb's 'Diwan', Hast Irfan dar zabaan-e-Poorbi, and poets like Hz Allama Iqbal (RA).

Bedam Sb's kalam is a wonderful mix of modern Urdu idiom and the Farsi/Purbi traditions that shaped the Sufi poetry that preceded him. His Purbi kalams led him to be given the title of 'Khusrau-e-Saani' - the Second Khusrau. His Naatiya kalaams are in a league of their own, wonderfully expressing the love for the Prophet (SAW) while at the same time retaining the fragrances of his native land, emanating - as he himself says - a "Bheeni bheeni khushboo". His non- Naatiya kalaams contain treasures of meaning, and all the main Sufi concepts are wonderfully visible- Wahdat-ul-Wujood, the concepts of 'Fanaa' and 'Baqaa', of love towards the Murshid and all creations of Allah.

Bedam Sb's kalaam has been sung by Naat-khwaans and Qawwals since his lifetime. His ghazals were readily picked up by contemporary Qawwals, and Tazmeens were sung on them. Even today, almost eighty years after his demise, Bedam Sb's kalam retains the same freshness, the same depth of ideas and emotions and the same "bheeni bheeni khushboo" that it did when it was created. What follows is a group of Qawwali recordings of Bedam Sb's kalam, spanning almost seventy years from the '30s to the present day. The performance styles are different, but Bedam Sb's distinct style shines through nonetheless.

1. Begaangiye Dil Ke Afsaane - Kallan Qawwal Meerthi

I have very few recordings of Kallan Qawwal Meerthi - I have slightly more of his namesake Kallan Qawwal Sikandarabadi, but still they're few in number, but those few recordings have turned me into a fan. He used Sitar, Bulbultarang and in one case, a wonderful slide guitar lick that would've made any Bluesman proud, in his recordings, and managed to squeeze a large number of girahs, verses and takraars into the three-odd minutes that could fit onto a 78 RPM record. Here however, he sings the kalam with a simple harmonium and swirling clarinet accompaniment, supported by his hamnavaas. This recording is from the late thirties, so might be considered contemporary with Bedam Sb's life.

2. Adam Se Layi Hai Hasti Main - Jafar Hussayn Khan Badayuni Qawwal

Jafar Hussayn Khan Sb is one of my favorite performers. Distinct from all other Qawwals I've heard, he always conveys a wonderful sense of 'thehraao' or calmness, along with a wonderful mellowness that seems to have been a part of his personality as well. He sings each word with such wonderful affection and ihteraam that the kalaam comes alive. His classical prowess shines through in his lay-kaari, his alaaps and his bol-baant. In this recording he is accompanied by his nephew and Shagird, Wajahat Hussayn Khan Badayuni and they sing together brilliantly. In a sawaal-jawaab style reminiscent of Nusrat when he took a very young Rahat under his wing, the two vocalists share alaaps and compliment each other wonderfully. Jafar Hussayn Sb spends ample time on each verse, constructing brief takraars and embellishments before moving onto the next verse. It is a performance that exudes love for the Prophet (SAW), wonderfully suited to the kalam.

3. Ganj Shakar Ke Laal Nijamuddin - Zaki Taji Qawwal 

It was kalaams like these that earned Bedam Sb the title of 'Khusrave Saani'. Steeped in pure Poorbi, reminiscent of Khusrau's paeans to Hz Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya (RA), this kalam is sung very regularly at dargaahs to this day.  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. 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.

4. Kaash Mujh Par Hi Mujhe Yaar Ka Dhoka Hojaye - Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal

Agha Rasheed Fareedi is one of my most favorite Qawwals, one of the absolutely most favorite ones. This was the first recording that I heard of his, and it sent me into such a wonderful state of mental and spiritual 'hejaan' that I still can't hear it without getting goosebumpy all over.  The arrangement is unusual, and I don't know what Raag it is based on, but whichever one it is, it is arresting, urgent and induces a wonderful sense of loss and nostalgia, or maybe that's just how I hear it. Starting slow, it picks up pace wonderfully, ending at the breakneck pace that most of Fareedi Sb's performances ended in. I've always thought of Fareedi Sb's performances as Express trains. They start slow, as you grab on to a railing and climb aboard. The scenery passing by is interesting, but the thrill of the ride prevents you from disembarking. Imperceptibly, it starts picking up speed. You sense that hanging on to the railing would be dangerous, but you begin to get mesmerized by the chugging of the engine, the trail of smoke and the gentle swaying of the train. Naseeb Khan's tabla accelerates your heartbeat, Majeed Fareedi's unbelievable alaaps cause you to lose your footing and hang on for dear life, but Rasheed's voice urges you to hang on. When you regain your senses, the train's pulling up to the station, and you're thanking your lucky stars that you decided to stay on.

5. Iss Taraf Bhi Karam Ae Rashk-e-Maseeha Karna - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

In the eighties, when Fareedi Sb was alive, him and Nusrat were both claimants to the title of the ablest shagird of Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwals. Fareedi Sb remained true to the traditional Punjabi-Khanqahi style of Qawwali while Nusrat veered off at a slightly different tangent, spurred on by his almost impossibly unique talent. Nusrat left behind a huge body of work of variable quality, but I've always been partial to his earlier recordings. That was when he had not let his experimentation get the best of him and was able to let the kalaam take precedence over his vocals. This is one of those early recordings. The arrangement is almost the same as Fareedi Sb's from the recording above, but Nusrat's arrangement - actually Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan's arrangement, he was the arranger for most of Nusrat's repertoire - lends it a more melancholy, almost sepulchural tone. Farrukh's harmonium flourishes and Nusrat's doha - one he used very frequently - set the mood for a stately performance. Nusrat doesn't waste time on vocal calisthenics, instead letting the kalaam ebb and flow through a series of takraars. Again, I'd like to know what raag this composition is based on, because it stirs me up like nobody's business.


6. Kaun Sa Ghar Hai Ke Ae Jaan Nahi Kashana Tera - Murli Qawwal 

My last post was on the 'Tazmeen", a verse form that has fallen out of favor recently. This recording is of a verse form that is even more obscure, the 'Mustezaad'. It is similar to the ghazal but with each verse followed by a short rhyming phrase. For example

کون سا گھر ہے کہ اے جاں نہیں کاشانہ تیرا۔۔۔۔۔اور گلو خانہ تیرا
میکدہ تیرا ہے کعبہ تیرا بت خانہ تیرا۔۔۔۔۔ سب ہے جانانہ تیرا

Another famous example is Maulana Rumi(RA)'s famous mustezaad "Har Lehza Ba Shaklaan But-e-Ayyar Baraamad - Dil Burd Nehaan Shud". Here Murli Qawwal performs it in his distinctive takraar based style. I sincerely hope I can get to listen to recordings from Murli's youth one day. His aged voice is wonderful in itself, but imagine what it must've sounded in its prime.

7. Bekhud Kiye Dete Hain Andaaze Hijabaana - Farid Ayaz, Abu Muhammad Qawwal

This is probably the one kalam of Bedam Sb that's performed the most nowadays. It is a fairly long ghazal and Qawwals tend to include either the verses pertaining to Ishq-e-Haqiqi (Divine love) or Ishq-e-Majazi (Temporal love) in their performances, but rarely both. I prefer the former style of performance, but that's a personal preference. In this uptempo performance, Farid Ayaz employs short sargams and taans while Abu Muhammad propels the verses along. Sung in a very 'zor daar' andaz, with a lively dholak and taali accompaniment, this performance exudes the joy and intoxication of 'visaal', regardless of the veils that lie between one and the beloved.

8. Ayi Naseeme Kooe Muhammad (SAW) - Aziz Ahmed Khan Warsi Qawwal

This is probably Bedam Sb's most beloved Naat. Literally hundreds of Naat-khwaans and Qawwals have sung it  over the years. Aziz Ahmad Khan Warsi sung it regularly in his mehfils and he sang it wonderfully. Here is the most complete version in my collection. His unique staccato harmonium and the ubiquitous dholak accompaniment are present here, as his his distinctive piercing voice. He builds takraars on 'Sallalaahu Alaihiwasallam" and then inserts rather wonderful takraars in Urdu and Farsi, all the while the dholak provides a steady beat. The takraar is resumed after every verse, with fresh girahs inserted. Warsi Sb's short alaaps and taans punctuate this wonderful performance.

9. Yaad Ne Teri Kiya Khud Se Faramosh Mujhe - Ameer Rafeeq Murkiyanwale Qawwal

If there's one Qawwali party who's every recording exudes pure joy, it's Ustad Rafeeq Ali, his son Ameer Ali and their party. What a wonderful group of performers, three exceptional vocalists, each with their distinctive vocal stylings, a brilliant dholak/taali section and the wonderful use of Sarangi and Violin. Rafeeq Ali's taans are matchless, and apart from the late Haji Maqbool Sabri, I've rarely heard a Qawwal with a more melodious and mellifluous voice. In this performance, he uses one of Bedam Sb's verses as a doha - one that he used in many other performances as well, then a trio of short, triling taans and we're off. Most performances are led by Ameer Ali, with his father providing occasional vocal support, but this performance is wholly and completely Ustad Rafeeq Ali's, and thank heavens for that. The girah-bandi, the taans, and the gayeki on this recording are absolutely brilliant, and it's a shame that there aren't more than a dozen or so good recordings available of this group. I'll have to specifically ask around for them on my next trip to Faisalabad.

10. Kaash Meri Jabeene Shauq - Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal

When I started compiling these recordings two years ago, and again more recently, I was struck by an interesting observation. The depth of Haji Mahboob Sb's repertoire was so great that I could post pretty comprehensive selections of all these poets culled only from Haji Sb's recordings. Bedam Sb's kalams were an essential part of his repertoire and Haji Sb performed them with and without Tazameen pretty regularly. This recording is taken from a mehfil that was devoted solely to Bedam Sb's kalams, and each one of the performances deserved to be posted here, but the 'one recording per artist' rule is here for a reason. Haji Sb's girahs , from Farsi to the Punjabi Baits of Hz Ali Haider Shah (RA), are extremely apt, his sitar drones wonderfully in the background and Haji Mushtaq offers alaaps, accompaniment and harmonium flourishes admirably. This is a deeply spiritual kalaam of Bedam Sb, with each verse containing, in his own words a "Jahaan-e-Raaz", and one that is very close to my heart. It will serve admirably to close out this compilation of Hz Bedam Shah Warsi's kalam.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

...Of Codicils And Collaborations - The Tazmeen

I think it's proper to preface this post with an apology for laziness, tardiness, negligence and all-round faience (I had to look that up, how's that for not being lazy). I've neglected writing a new post for way too long. I could make excuses; some of them pretty valid too, but the underlying cause of not regularly updating the blog has been downright procrastination. I haven't been able to devote the extra time and effort that goes into earmarking the hours that I usually carve out of my once a month weekends. The realization that this temporary hiatus might insidiously turn into something of  a permanent rut that might be impossible to get out of has been bothering me for quite some time. Therefore, when the time came for a period of extended leave - 10 days is about as extended as my leave can get, sigh - I started planning a series of posts aimed at rectifying the long hibernation and revivifying the blog. Over the next week or so, I'll try to make up for the absence, in quantity if not in quality.

Now that that's taken care of, let's get to the point, shall we.

Qawwals are distinct from other performers in many respects, and one of the qualities that distinguishes a great Qawwal from the run-of-the-mill performers is versatility of repertoire. To put it another way; with obvious exceptions, a good ghazal singer sings ghazals, a good folksinger sings mahiye or tappay or baits or whatever he specializes in and a good classical performer sings classical/semi-classical pieces. A good Qawwal, a really good Qawwal sings all of the above and then some. Or perhaps, good Qawwals used to be able to sing all of the above and then some, for most of the current crop of Qawwals - especially the innumerable Nusrat clones - have painfully limited repertoires. This was borne out to me on my most recent "Organize your Library Week" -yes, it takes me a week to organize my music library, I'm that annoying a stickler for order - when I realized that among almost two hundred recordings of one of the most important Qawwali parties of today, I could find only thirty-odd kalaams being repeated. The repertoire that just one generation ago had spanned hundreds of kalaams was now whittled down to three or four dozen pieces mish-mashed together in various combinations.

This is something of a natural phenomenon in an art form that mostly relies on centuries-old canonical pieces passed down generation to generation, but it's still a troubling trend. Some forms of poetry have almost disappeared from the repertoires of most Qawwals - it's been ages since I heard a Ruba'i performed by a Qawwal - and performers have mostly fallen back on the Farsi/Urdu/Punjabi ghazal as a staple of their repertoire, with the Punjabi qawwals borrowing from the kalaams of Hz Baba Bulleh Shah and Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA) and derivations thereof.

One of my favorite forms of poetry, which is sung very rarely by Qawwals, and which is written even more scarcely by modern poets is the Tazmeen. A tazmeen is a slightly unusual verse form, and it needs some explaining. It's when a poet takes a ghazal - usually of one of the "Asaateza" of Urdu or Farsi - and appends three rhyming verses before each couplet, converting the verse from a couplet (two lines) to a cinquain (five lines) and changing it from a ghazal to a "mukhammass". A 'mukhammas', another verse form rarely written today, consists of series of five-line cinquains in which the last 'misrah' or hemistitch of each cinquain rhymes with the last misrah of each succeeding cinquain and constitutes the 'samm' of the kalam while the first four misrah's of each cinquain rhyme with each other and follow a different rhyme scheme for each cinquain. The result is a hybrid, with each cinquain or 'bandd' containing three lines from one poet and the final two lines from another.

I know it sounds confusing, all this talk of cinquains and hemistitches leaves the gentle reader's mind boggling,so let me give an example. The following is a wonderful Farsi ghazal of Hz Quddusi (RA).



آستین بر رخ کشیدی ہمچو مکار آمدی
با خودی خود در تماشا سوۓ بازار آمدی

در بہاران گل شدی درصحن گلزار آمدی
بعد ازان بلبل شدی بانالۂِ زار آمدی

خویشتن را جلوہ کردی اندرین آئینہ ہا
آئینہ اسمے نہادی خود بہ اظہار آمدی

شورِ منصور از کجا و دارِ منصور از کجا
خود زدی بانگِ اناالحق بر سرِ دار آمدی

گفت قدوسےؔ فقیرے در فنا و در بقا
خود بخود آزاد بودی خود گرفتار آمدی

And now here's the same kalaam with a Tazmeen by Amjad Hyderabadi.

نازدکھلاتی ہے پردے میں تیری جلوہ گری
حوربنکر تو نظر آیا کہیں بنکر پری
پھر کہو سیکھا کہاں سے ہے یہ طرز دلبری
 
آستین بر رخ کشیدی ہمچو مکار آمدی
با خودی خود در تماشا سوۓ بازار آمدی

جب سمایا میرے دل میں اُٹھ گیا نقشِ دوئی
نور یک رنگی کا چمکا مٹ گیا حرفِ دوئی
باغ میں کھل کھل کے کہتی تھی چمن کی ہر کلی

در بہاران گل شدی درصحن گلزار آمدی
بعد ازان بلبل شدی بانالۂِ زار آمدی

روح میں میری اَلَسْتُ جس گھڑی تو نے کہا
سنتے ہی کہنے لگی قَالُوبلٰی قَالُوبلٰی
پھر نظر آۓ نہ کیوں ہر شان میں جلوہ تیرا

خویشتن را جلوہ کردی اندرین آئینہ ہا
آئینہ اسمے نہادی خود بہ اظہار آمدی

یہ معقولہ عاشقِ صادق کا بے شک ہے بجا
اس نے جلوہ شان کا ہر رنگ میں دکھلا دیا
تو ہی کہہ دے معرفت میں اے کریمِ بے نوا

گفت قدوسےؔ فقیرے در فنا و در بقا
خود بخود آزاد بودی خود گرفتار آمدی

Tazmeens were regularly written on the ghazals of the "Asaateza" of both Urdu and Farsi, in both Urdu and Farsi, by the leading poets of the past. It was a both a way of paying tribute to poets by their students and admirers as well as a means of exploring or highlighting the hidden meanings of the ghazal. Most of the "asaateza" of Urdu and Farsi have themselves written Tazameen to ghazals of their predecessors. This tradition is shared by the Sufi poets, with everyone from Hz Hafiz Sherazi (RA) to more recent Sufi poets like Bedam Shah Warsi, Amjad Hyderabadi and Isa Amritsari (RA) having written Tazameen on various ghazals.

The Tazmeen was a regular part of the repertoire of Qawwals of the past, with some Qawwals like the seminal Sufi Ali Buksh Waiz Qawwal and Muhammad Ali Faridi Qawwal writing their own tazmeens to canonical kalams. In fact, Hz Pir Mehr Ali Shah (RA) bestowed the title of "Sufi" to Waiz Qawwal after hearing him perform a tazmeen on Pir Sb's immortal Punjabi kalam "Ajj sikk mitran di wadheri ae". Several of Waiz's tazameen - on poets ranging from Kabir to Khusrau (RA) - survive in his 'Beyaaz'. Succeeding Qawwals also regularly performed tazameen, however they have gradually disappeared from repertoires. An important distinction must be made here. Some listeners confuse the meaning of the terms "girah" and "tazmeen". A Tazmeen is the verse form I described above, while a girah constitutes a verse or group of verses that a Qawwal inserts between the verses of the main kalam that help elaborate the main kalam. These verses may or may not be in the same language, the same metre or the same verse form as the main kalam. For example, Haji Mahboob Sb used to insert girahs of Maulana Rumi's (RA) Mathnavi in most of his performances.

The Tazmeen in itself is a wonderful verse form, and is especially suited to Qawwali. The aim of the Qawwal is to perform a text in such a way as to bring out its various mystical and spiritual meanings, while at the same time conveying to the listener it's more literal meanings. A tazmeen fulfills both requirements admirably, with an added benefit. Urdu or Punjabi Tazmeens to Farsi kalams help the non-Farsi literate members of the audience in understanding the meaning and message of the main kalam. Before I acquired the smattering of Farsi required to understand what was being performed by various Qawwals, it was the girahs and Tazmeens sung by the Qawwals that helped me in connecting the dots and understanding the main kalam. It is therefore, doubly sad that the Tazmeen in Qawwali is gradually disappearing, for it is a wonderful verse form to introduce the lay-listener to the nuances of the canonical kalaams. It's heartening to note that Khanqahi qawwals - as opposed to the more commercially oriented ones - in both India and Pakistan continue performing Tazmeens in their repertoire, thus maintaining this important medium of spiritual instruction.

After this rather lengthy preamble, I'd like to share some of the Tazmeens in my collection to illustrate how an expert Qawwal can use this unique verse formin the Qawwali context to highlight and explore the deeper meanings of sufi texts. These recordings range from some of the very earliest Qawwali recordings produced in the subcontinent, to a mehfil from just a couple of years ago.

First off, two grand old masters of Qawwali, who were pioneers of their field. Baba Din Muhammad Jalandhri Qawwal, father of Miandad Khan Qawwal, grandfather of Badar Miandad Khan Qawwal,uncle to Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwals and a very important Ustad whose influence can clearly be heard in many of the Fareedi/Fatehkhani shagird Qawwals of the modern era. In this recording he sings the landmark Na'at of Hz Bedam Shah Warsi, Adam Se Layi Hai Hasti Main Arzooe Rusool (SAW). He uses an Urdu tazmeen by an unknown poet, and sings it in his highly distinctive sing/speak style. Along with his trademark shouts of "Haan!" and his fullthroated voice, he uses vacillating taans that were later perfected by Agha Basheer Fareedi, a shagird of Baba Din Muhammad's nephews Fateh Ali and Mubarak Ali.

Next up is another seminal Pre-Partition Qawwal, Azim Prem Ragi Qawwal , who performs his own Tazmeen to Maulana Rumi's (RA) Naat from the Diwan-e-Shams Tabraiz, Ya Rusool-Allah Habibe Khaliqe Yaktaa Tu'i. Prem Ragi was well known for writing his own kalam and performing canonical kalams with his own tazmeens. Here he uses his remarkably emotive voice and minimal instrumentation to embellish a very famous naat.

Jumping ahead in time to another brilliantly gifted Qawwal, about whom Nusrat had once remarked, "Takraar main unn ka koi saani nahi hai" (No one comes close to him in Takraar). Sadly, I only have a dozen or so recordings of Murli Qawwal ,but the ones I have are ample proof of his prodigious talent. And as Nusrat said, he has no parallels when it comes to Takraars, seemingly conjuring them out of thin air and seamlessly flitting from one takraar to another, picking up little phrases and repeating them just perfectly. Here he sings a Tazmeen to Hafiz Sherazi (RA)'s ghazal, Ba Mulazimaane Sultan Geh Rasaanad Een Dua Ra.

Among the modern Qawwals, one of my favorites is Muhammmad Ahmed Warsi Qawwal , hailing from Rampur. One of a very small group of pure khanqahi Qawwals who are also well versed in classical music, Muhammad Ahmed Warsi Sb is a wonderful Qawwal. His unique style, with a staccato harmonium and a seemingly dishevelled performance style that comes off as endearing rather than slipshod, is perfectly complimented by his vast knowledge of Sufi texts and the obvious enjoyment he derives from performing. Here he performs a Tazmeen on Hz Amir Khusrau (RA)'s kalam, Aamada Ba Qatle Mun Aan Shokh Sitamgaaray . The recording is taken from a wonderful mehfil uploaded at Naadsaagar.com .

The final Tazmeen is by Haji Mahbooob Ali Qawwal (RA) , who in my opinion fulfilled all the criteria of a perfect Khanqahi Qawwal. Nurtured and trained personally by Hz Syed Mohyeddin Gilani (RA) - Hazrat Babuji (RA) - Haji Mahboob Sb was extremely well versed in Sufi kalam. His grasp on talaffuz, adayegi and especially girahbandi was legendary. His relative weakness in classical musical education - which he was always the first to admit - was more than balanced by his unique Sitar playing and his wonderful spontaniety as a performer. Tazmeens were his specialty, and special tazmeens were written by poets like Isa Amritsari (RA) for him to perform. His version of Maulana Jami (RA)'s landmark naat "Nasima Janibe Bat'ha Guzar Kun" with a wonderful tazmeen is absolutely spellbinding. In his almost six decades of daily performance at Golra Sharif, he regularly performed Tazmeens. From the recordings that survive, here is a wonderful Tazmeen written by Isa Amritsari to Hz Badruddin Hilali (RA)'s ghazal Ae Teer-e-Ghamat Raa Dil-e-Usshaaq Nishana . Haji Sb's girahs on the final two verses - especially the girah-dar-takraar that he performs on the second last verse- open up whole vistas of hidden meanings in this kalaam. It is one of my favorite Tazmeens, and serves as a fitting bookend to this post.

P.S  I briefly mentioned the "mukhammas" or "makhmas' as five-line verse form that the Tazmeen resembles. Mukhammas is a very popular verse form in the Darri/Farsi culture and is regularly performed by musicians there. Almost all the classical Farsi poets have written Mukhammas, and many of these are still performed today. As an added treat, here's a beautiful Mukhammas of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi (RA) , performed by the phenomenal Ustad Muhammad Hussain Sarahang. This Mukhammas was a special favorite of the Ustad, referencing as it does his hometown Kabul suburb of "Kharabaat", once the cultural heart of the city. So, to end this post, Ustad Sarahang performing Maulana Rumi (RA)'s Mukhammas Mun Jaane Kharabaatam.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

...On Manzoor Niazi Sb's Passing

It seems the only thing that can awaken - at least momentarily - this long slumbering blog from its stupor is the passing of one of the Great Ones; the Touchstones that support the spiritual/cultural/psychological/whateverelse-ical framework of my life. In the past I've had to write - briefly or at length, depending on my state of mind at that time- about my thoughts on the passing of Iqbal Bano, Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh, Shammi Kapoor etc, and one one rare occasion, of my grandfather. It's like the only time my thoughts crystallize into a coherent whole is when another one of my Touchstones crumbles and I have to frantically try and balance myself , my Self , on the precious few that remain.

Ustad Manzoor Ahmed Khan Niazi has passed away today. He was 98. He was, both age-wise and stature-wise the senior-most Qawwal in the Indo-Pak Subcontinent. He had one of the most instantly recognizable and absolutely, mellifluously endearing voices in all of Qawwali. He was the leader of the most phenomenally gifted, albeit short-lived Qawwali group of the last century, a Supergroup which included his cousins Munshi Raziuddin Khan. Ustad Bahauddin Khan and Iftekhar Ahmed Nizami, and whose surviving recordings seem to date from a time and place that's almost too phenomenally wonderful that merely listening to them sometimes feels like an act of desecration. His last recordings, from when he was 90 years old, still carried the same verve, the same 'taazgi' as his recordings from the '60s
 
His was the voice that first sang Maulana Jami's "Naseema" and Nawab Hilm's "Yaad Hai Kuch Bhi Hamaari Kanhaiyya" to me, and even today I can scarcely appreciate these two canonical Qawwali kalaams in any other Qawwal's voice. With Niazi Sb's passing closes the chapter of the Golden Age of Pakistani Qawwali. He was a predecessor of, and later a contemporary of Nusrat, The Sabri Brothers, Aziz Mian Qawwal, Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal, Aziz Ahmed Warsi, Jafar Hussayn Khan Badayuni and ALL the Qawwals of the latter three quarters of the twentieth century. He survived them all well into the twenty-first century before finally returning to his Maker

I hope that Manzoor Niazi Sb's legacy - in the form of the Qawwal Bacchon Ka Gharana, of which he was the senior-most doyen - flourishes and thrives, and keeps on serving, nurturing and promoting the art of Qawwali that its three stalwarts; Qawwal Bahauddin Khan Sb, Munshi Raziuddin Khan Sb and Manzioor Ahmed Niazi Sb served so nobly. His son Abdullah Manzoor Niazi Qawwal has inherited his father's unbelievably melodious voice and is among the foremost Qawwals of the subcontinent today. I'm sure that Abdullah Niazi Sb, along with Farid Ayaz & Abu Muhammad, Qawwals Najmuddin Saifuddin And Brothers, Subhan Ahmed Nizami Qawwal and the third generation of the Qawwal Bacchay will carry on the wonderful and unbroken 700 year old tradition that their ancestors learnt from Hz Amir Khusrau (RA).

I shall now spend the rest of the day listening to Manzoor Niazi Sb's version of Naseema and praying for his departed soul; and I'd request the readers to do the same.

N.B.  A selection of Niazi Sb's recordings can be found here.