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, May 18, 2014

...Of A Sideman Par Excellence

I should append a disclaimer at the start of this post saying that this is one for dyed in the wool, hardcore Qawwali enthusiasts only; but that would discourage someone who like me six or seven ago, isn't a dyed in the wool, hardcore Qawwali enthusiast. So enter all ye who dare, but be warned, what follows includes scratchy, lengthy, low audio quality recordings of *somewhat* obscure artists. But if like me (and Ahmed Faraz) you believe that "Khazaanae tujhe mumkin hai kharaabon maen milaen", then read on. Also, there is a fair number of embedded Youtube videos, so my Pakistani friends will have to resort to a proxy to properly access the post. Moving on ...

The more I think about it, the more similarities I seem to find between Qawwali and Jazz. To name a few, both are improvisational, collaborative artforms - in fact, the collaborative nature of both elevates them from the status of simple 'music'. In each, a group of performers consciously or unconsciously molds a performance to give it their own unique "spin", both rely on a set of "Standards" which are interpreted by each artist according to their own personality, both have the capacity for extemporaneous innovation according to the needs of the performance and the history of both is defined by stellar ensembles led by supremely talented musical innovators ; The Duke Ellington Orchestra, Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwal and Party, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, The Sabri Brothers Ensemble, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Qawwal &; Party. The list goes on.

What characterizes these brilliant ensembles is the remarkable musical synergy that transformed each group from a collection of heterogeneous performers into almost an organic whole. This had much to do with the supremely gifted performers who led the groups and lent their names to the ensembles. But an equal (and in some cases, greater) share goes to some of the individual members who made their own extraordinary talents subservient to the group and decided to forgo individual glory in favor of group performance. Later, many of them became wonderful ensemble leaders in their own right. As in jazz, Qawwali is blessed with quite a few of them. Art Blakey had Horace Silver and Keith Jarrett, Kallan Khan Qawwal had Ghulam Fareed Sabri; Benny Goodman had Jack Teagarden, The Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal Ensemble had Sadiq Ali Saddo and Mubarak Ali Khan, Duke Ellington had Johnny Hodges, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan. Again, the list goes on.

Unlike Jazz however, there is little history of collaborative 'jam sessions' amongst various Qawwali groups; musicians generally performed within their group throughout their careers, with leaders changing after the death/departure of previous leaders. As a result, we don't have any recordings of say, Haji Maqbool Sabri sitting in with Nusrat's group, or Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan lending his voiceto Munshi Raziuddin's party. Jazz has many such collaborations and is eminently enriched by them. There is however one glaring, glittering exception to the rule; and he is the subject of this post.

One of the great Qawwali parties of the twentieth century, and one of my absolute top 5 favorites (if I permit myself a little High Fidelity listmaking) was led by Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal. On the Tabla, Ustad Naseeb Khan, on the second harmonium and co-vocals in later years he had the phenomenal Mubarak Ali "Maakha" Lahoriya, and on first harmonium and co-vocals, one of the great voices of Qawwali, Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi's younger brother Ustad Majeed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal.

I must admit that I am very shaky on the biographical details of Majeed Ahmad Fareedi. He was born in the early 1930s and passed away four or five years ago. He was the nephew of Ustad Muhammad Ali Fareedi and hence a cousin to Abdul Raheem Fareedi. He along with his elder brother Rasheed were pupils of Ustads Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwal (and especially favorite pupils at that). He performed most of his life with Agha Rasheed's party, and after Rasheed Fareedi's death in 1986, spent some time touring with his cousin Abdul Rahim Fareedi's party. Rasheed and Majeed, being devotees of Hz Babuji (RA), had a special affinity with Golra Sharif and a close friendship with Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal (RA). the Darbari Qawwal at Golra. After Haji Mahboob Sb's death, Majeed settled in Golra and with Haji Sb's younger brother Mushtaq Ali Qawwal (himself an eminently talented sideman), took over the Qawwali duties at the shrine. After Mushtaq Ali's death, Majeed stayed on and taught the current darbaari qawwal of Golra, Billa Qawwal. Majeed Ahmad  Fareedi Qawwal passed away almost four years ago.
Performing with an artist of the stature of Agha Rasheed Fareedi Qawwal would've been too much of a task for a lesser artist, but Majeed Ahmad Fareedi ably accompanied not only his brother, but many other performers as well. In a career spanning more than half a century, Majeed Fareedi performed with many other Qawwali ensembles, both before and after his the dissolution of his brother's Qawwali party following his death. Among all the various qawwali sidemen, he is by far my favorite. First and foremost, Majeed Ahmad Fareedi was a consummate harmonium player, taught by Ustad Salamat Ali khan, the younger brother of Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Khan. He arranged most of his party's repertoire and could accompany any vocalist with great skill. Being lead harmonium, he was the driving force of the qawwali party, deftly managing changes in key and scale. Second, he was a highly gifted, and extremely well-trained singer, his voice clearly showing signs of Mubarak Ali Khan's tutelage. His vocal delivery was wonderful, but what set him apart - and what made him one of my favorite Qawwals - was his supreme taan-kaari. His vacillating taans are a joy to behold, and intricate sargams and taans are rendered with such aplomb that the listeners are transported. Agha Rasheed Fareedi used to say, "If it were up to me, the audience would leave with their clothes in tatters", and a fair bit of said tattering was achieved by Majeed Ahmad Fareedi. Later, when their group was joined by another musical heavyweight (pun intended) Mubarak Ali 'Maakha" Lahori, the sargam/taankaari battles between the two harmonium players were the highlight of the performance, whipping audiences into a frenzy.

O.P Nayyar described Shamshad Begum's voice as being like a Temple bell. Majeed Fareedi's voice was like a razor's edge; clear, sharp, distinctive, eminently malleable and tremendously effective. His was one of the very first voices I heard when I started taking an interest in Qawwali, and I remain a fan to this day.

In my long and rather aimless preamble about sidemen in Jazz and Qawwali, I mentioned that Majeed Ahmad Fareedi was the exception to the rule. That's because unlike most of his peers, Majeed regularly appears on recordings by other Qawwal groups. And unlike Woody Allen's Zelig, who would lose himself in each new surrounding, Majeed manages to retain his unique individuality and while doing so, enriches the whole recording. What follows is a selection of recordings featuring Ustad Majeed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal, either performing in his brother's Qawwal party or sitting in with other groups, his virtuosity on vocals and the harmonium on full display.
 1. Khol Aankh Zameen Dekh - Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal And Party

3. Kaahnon Yaar Da Vichora Saanu Paaya - Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal And Party

4. Bun Ke Tasveer-e-Gham Reh Gaye - Abdul Rahim Fareedi Qawwal And Party

5. Kaddi Saaday Des Vi Aa Dhola - Mubarak Ali Niaz Ali Qawwal And Party

6. Haar Ve Jaani Raat Reh Pau - Manzoor Hussain Santoo Khan Qawwal And Party

7. Sambhal Kar Dekhna Barq-e-Tajalla Dekhne Waale - Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal, with Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal And Party

8. Ajj Na Jaaveen Ve - Mubarak Ali "Maakha" Lahori and Majeed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal

9. Main Issi Maen Shadmaan Hoon - Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal


10. Khayal in Raag Suha Kaanhra - Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal And Party

I end this post by sharing a small collection of photographs spanning the career of Agha Rasheed Fareedi and Majeed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal.

P.S I had not planned to include this recording in this post, in fact I didn't plan on sharing it at all. There were a number of reasons for it; first because it has been patched together from a number of low quality audio sources and I haven't been able to improve the quality despite a fair bit of editing. But the main reason was an intense personal attachment and a desire to be just a teensy bit selfish. This recording has always elicited a VERY strong emotional - would it be too pretentious to say 'spiritual' - response in me. Several times I have found myself either weeping uncontrollably or walking around in a dazed, shivering and disoriented state of mind after listening to it. I have always found this recording difficult to describe. It has been performed at an emotionally charged gathering, by a group of performers for whom the emotions hold greater power than the listeners. The voices, the style of singing, the whole aural landscape of this recording seems like it belongs to a different time, a different place. When I'd first heard it, I felt like an extraterrestrial being, stumbling onto the Golden Record placed in the Voyager 1 spacecraft and listening to Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was The Night". Here then is one final recording featuring Ustad Majeed Ahmad Fareedi , accompanying his ustad, Salamat Ali Khan, on the chehlum of his other ustad, Mubarak Ali Khan. The kalaam serves both as a Na'at, and as a eulogy, and is one of the most perfect examples of girah-bandi ever.

11. Teri Yaad Hai Mun Ka Chain Piya - Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, accompanied by Ustad Majeed Fareedi and others, at the Chehlum of Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, 1971.

1 comment:

  1. Mashallah, it's such pleasure to read your heartfelt words about Ustad Majeed Faridi Sahib; i'm also a big fan of his. Planning to include a nice portion about him within the qawwali documentary film I'm composing. Would love to chat about it sometime... tahirqawwal@gmail.com