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 .

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

...Of The Kedara

As I have frequently confessed on this blog and elsewhere, my knowledge of music is superficial at best. If occasionally I seem to be making some sense in the description of the pieces I post, it's mainly because I'm using sketchy information gleaned from innumerable sources to cover my embarrassing degree of ignorance. The theoretical, technical aspects of music completely elude me. I wouldn't be able to tell a 'Sa' from a 'Ni' if my life depended on it. In fact, this introductory paragraph also serves as a cry for help. If any of my readers (the few who haven't disappeared due to the blog's long hibernation) could guide me towards a resource I could use to learn note and interval recognition, I'd be really grateful. The complex system of Raags and Thaats and Vaadi-Samvaadis will have to wait until I've actually tuned my ear to recognize notes. I'll be waiting for the suggestions.

That being said, through sheer good luck and the efforts of a few very benevolent friends, I can now say that on good days, on my fourth or fifth try, I can recognize a few raags. Partly because they're the only ones I can confidently recognize and partly because they are absolutely beautiful, these few raags have become my favorites. I actively search out compositions in them and enjoy them immensely, trying to keep up with and anticipate the shifting sequences of notes. Like I said earlier, I can't really tell which notes are being played, which notes are vaadi-samvaadi or what's the difference between a bad'hat and a pakarr, but I love what I hear, and that has endeared these raags to me. It's a small list that includes Hameer, Tilak Kamod, Maru Behag, Chhayanat, Alhaiyya Bilawal and the subject of this post; Raag Kedara.

The Ragini Kedara (from a 17th century Raagmala manuscript)

The Kedara just wins out over the Tilak Kamod as my favorite raag. Oftentimes it feels that the beautiful "Sa Re Ga Sa Re" phrase of the Tilak Kamod sounds lovelier than the Kedara's descending 'meendh', but the Kedara eventually emerges the winner because of its evocation of a very special mood. It's a meditative, night-time mood, with mystical undertones and a strange, enchanting dignity. Much later, when I discovered the Raag-mala paintings of this Raag, I found that they depicted mystics, either listening to stringed instruments or conversing with their (generally royal) disciples while the crescent moon shines overhead. I think this goes to show that despite an ignorance of the fine technicalities of the Raag, one is still able to tap into the soul of the music if one listens often enough. I have a number of favorite renditions of this raag, from mainstream pop-rock to ghazal to vocal and instrumental classical music, but for this post, I'll focus on Qawwali.

Here then, is a selection of Qawwali pieces based on Raag Kedara

1. Ae Dil Bageer Daaman - Ae Sukh Daiyya - Taranas -- Farid Ayaz, Abu Muhammad Qawwal & Brothers

The first recording in this post is rather special to me. It's from the very first Qawwali mehfil I ever attended. In the winter of 2010, I was in Rawalpindi for my Med School convocation when I got a message from Arif Ali Khan Sb, who was visiting Islamabad at that time. He invited me to a Qawwali mehfil at the residence of one of his friends, and I readily accepted. It was a chance to finally meet Arif Sb, with whom I had interacted with online for several years. It was also a chance to get to see Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad live, quite an initiation into the world of Qawwali. It turned out to be a really memorable evening, with the Qawwals singing some beautiful pieces and the experience of live Qawwali supercharging my burgeoning interest into a full-blown obsession. The Qawwals started the mehfil with this lovely manqabat of Hz Shah Niaz's. Around the 11 minute mark, they beautifully segued into one of my favorite bandishes, Ae Sukh Daiyya, (The wah-wahs you hear are unfortunately mine). Finally came two lovely taraanas in raag Des I think, which again was one of my favorites from their father's recordings. The audio is from my trusty digital camera's microphone and is surprisingly listenable.

2. Chamanay Ke Ta Qayamat -- Fateh Ali Mubarak Ali Qawwal

This is one of those recordings that I fell in love with as soon as I heard the opening instrumental strains. There's clarinet in there, and a sarangi, and God knows what else; all brewing a heady, intoxicating prelude to the kalaam itself. The fact that the kalaam is one of the most beautifully mellifluous ghazals of Maulana Rumi (RA)'s Divan-e-Shams, being sung by THE greatest Qawwals of the 20th century in a superbly clear recording multiplied the pleasure a hundredfold. The two Ustads' voices have rarely complimented each other as beautifully as on this recording. The mini-takrars, the mini bol-taans and the lovely bol-baant make this piece and absolute and utter masterpiece. Despite the urgency of the takraars, there is no hurried-ness whatsoever, as the Ustads linger on every syllable and every note, taking two or three attempts in an attempt to get the pronunciation *just* right. I love this recording and have loved it from the moment I first heard it. Again, it was much later that I realized that the composition was in raag Kedara.

3. Dekhta Hoon Jab Unhain -- Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal

From a pristine studio recording of the "Ustaadon ke Ustaads" , we move to a rather shabbily recorded Mehfil performance of one of their greatest shagirds. Bakhshi Khan, Mubarak Ali Khan, Sadiq Ali Khan Saddo and Co. ably accompany Salamat Ali Khan in this lovely Urdu ghazal. The themes of the ghazal are the Sufi concepts of "Fanaa" and "Wahdat-ul-Wujood", encapsulated in the lovely final verse

یہ کمالِ بے خودی ہے یا مقامِ آگہی

آج تو اپنے ہی قدموں پر جھکا جاتا ہوں میں

It's a long piece with some lovely pieces of taankaari, without any extravagant or flashy embellishments, just the way I like it. I consider the recordings of Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal to be 'qawwali primers', perfect for introducing lay-listeners and neophytes to the wonderful world of Qawwali. This recording is presented as Exhibit A.

4. Iss Ishq Ke Haathon Se -- Aziz Ahmed Warsi Qawwal

The next selection is from the king of Deccan-style Qawwali. Aziz Ahmed Khan Warsi's style is distinct not only from other Qawwals, but also from his cousins and nephews in the Qawwal Bacchon ka Gharana. His staccato harmonium-playing, loose-limbed layakaari and sharp, textured voice made him stand out from his contemporaries. His choie of kalaams was always impeccable, focusing on ghazals from Urdu's pre-eminent poets. Here, he sings a beautiful Jigar Muradabadi ghazal. Jigar has remained a favorite of both the Qawwals as well as the various Shaykhs of the Sufi shrines across the subcontinent. This performance makes the reason plain. There are themes of love, longing and yearning, with false hopes of benevolence and attention from the 'Beloved' couched in simple, evocative phrases that can appeal to the lay-listener and connoisseur alike.

5. Khabaram Raseed Imshab -- Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Qawwal & Party

I'll put this out there as a Universal Truth; "Live at the Kufa Gallery' is the greatest Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album. It is the perfect album to gainsay his detractors who claim that he eschewed the Classical elements of Qawwali for showmanship and callisthenics. It is also one of the final recordings of his 'Original' party, consisting of Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan. Here, Nusrat takes a long alaap and starts with a lovely little verse. Dildar Hussain's tabla then provides a steady beat for Nusrat to weave his magic upon. In this recording, Nusrat uses the Kedara based tarz of this ghazal originally used by his father and uncle in a recording made in the early '60s. This ghazal becomes a tired chestnut in the hands of lesser performers. But with Nusrat actively applying his classical chops here, the ghazal rightfully takes its place as one of the absolute masterpieces of the Sufi canon. The shifts in tempo at each verse, the lovely bol-taans, taankaari and the sparse yet superb girah-bandi elevate this performance into the stratosphere, from where even Rahat's raw and (dare I say it) helium-infused voice can't manage to bring it down.

6. Main Vi Jaana Jhok Ranjhan Di -- Asif Hussain Santoo Khan Qawwal

In the past I have made no secret of the fact that I do not like Asif Hussain Santoo Khan as a Qawwal. Most of his performances devolve into scream-fests and screechy attempts at impersonating Nusrat. He's a very successful Qawwal and more power to him, but I just can't get myself to forgive the fact that he eschewed the legacy of his legendary grandfather Ustad Santoo Khan and father Ustad Manzoor Hussain in an attempt to become the next Nusrat. Anyway, let's move on. In searching for a Punjabi kalaam set to raag Kedara, I stumbled upon this rendition of Shah Hussain's immortal Kafi. It's taken from an episode of Firdous-e-Gosh, PTV's interesting and commendable attempt at reviving Classical music based programming. Each episode would focus on a single raag, comprising performances of Lakshan-geets, classical and semi-classical pieces in that raag. In the episode on raag Kedara, I discovered this rather nice Qawwali by our friend Asif Hussain Santoo Khan, playing against type. The kalaam is a famous Kafi by Shah Hussain, made popular by such stalwarts as Pathanay Khan, Suraiyya Multanekar and Hamid Ali Bela. In this recording, there is no shouting or shor-sharaaba and the Qawwals go through the entire text in a rather respectful style. There is sparse taankaari and a few very nice girahs. All in all, a decent performance of a lovely canonical piece of Sufi poetry. Goes to show that there's potential in most Qawwals if only they cease their attempts at aping Nusrat.

7. Wafaa Ki Main Ne Buniyaad -- Manzoor Ahmed Niazi Aur Hamnavaa (Barri Party)

 I have to thank Zaheer Alam Kidvai Sb for letting me share this recording. I've mentioned this a number of times in the past as well but the fact bears repeating that the recordings he has been releasing under his Ragni Recordings label are worth their weight in gold. The jewels of the collection are the 7 CDs of recordings by the legendary "Barri Party" of Manzoor Ahmed Niazi, Bahauddin Khan, Iftekhar Ahmed Nizami and Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed Qawwals. This beautiful and leisurely recording (30 minutes) finds the entire Barri Party at the peak of their form as they take Seemab Akbarabadi's lovely ghazal into the stratosphere. Despite the slightly scratchy audio quality, the Ustads' lovely layakaari and taankaari shine through. As a friend of mine was wont to say when talking about the Barri Party, "Jahan se ek Ustad chhorta hai, wahaan se doosra urraa ke le jata hai!"(When one Ustad is done with a note, the other swoops in and takes flight). Munshi Raziuddin enunciates each and every syllable of the main kalam, Bahauddin Khan Sb provides lovely sargams and and incomparable vacillating taans, Manzoor Ahmed Niazi Sb's starlingly beautiful voice offers astounding taans in the higher registers while Iftekhar Nizami Sb gravelly bass notes provide the bedrock for the performance. Occasionally there are glimpses of a precocious young Farid Ayaz shining through. Farid Ayaz, Abu Muhammad and Co were so entranced by this recording that they decided to include this ghazal in their performance repertoire in an emulation of their illustrious elders. My Dream Journey comrades were in Karachi last December to capture the first ever performance of this kalaam, ensuring that the Barri Party's lovely legacy continues to influence the next generations of the Qawwal Bacchon ka Gharaana. The performance ends in a beautiful Tarana which is the perfect bookend to these seven audio recordings of the Kedara.

8. Al Ishqu Deeni Ma Dum'tu Haiyya -- Taj Muhammad, Shad Muhammad Niazi Qawwal

In a brilliant recording of Amanat Ali-Fateh Ali Khan singing Raag Saakh posted on the Qaul blog, Fateh Ali Khan says, "Aap ke saamne ab hum apna ghar ka maal pesh kar rahe hain." (We are now laying out our personal belongings before you.) Emulating the laudable example of the late Ustads, the final two recordings in this post are "ghar ka maal" from our Dream Journey series of recordings. The first is a very unusual Arabic kalaam performed by Taj Muhammad, Shad Muhammad Nasir Niazi Qawwals. Taj Muhammad and Shad Muhammad are the younger brothers of the late Ghaus Muhammad Nasir Niazi Qawwal and are the sons of the legendary Moin Niazi Qawwal. They live in Karachi, in the Qawwal Gali or Qawwal Street, named afteer their late father. They hail from the Atrauli gharana and have a melodious and very understated style, similar to their illustrious brother. Their performances rarely descend into shouting matches and they have a unique repertoire featuring some very interesting pieces, such as this kalaam. The Arabic was a tad too knotty for me to translate alone, so we had some outside help, but it was worth making the extra effort, as the Ruba'i is really lovely. The Qawwals end this short and sweet performance with a lovely taraana in Raag Zeelaf.

9. Surkh Aankhon Main Kajal -- Ameer Ali Khan Qawwal

One of the Dream Journey collective's favorite Qawwali performances is "Surkh Aankhon Main Kaajal Ke Doray" by Ameer Ali-Rafeeq Ali Murkianwale Qawwal. It's a 30 minute sustained explosion of joy. When we planned to visit Ustad Ameer Ali Khan at Dipalpur for the December 2014 Dream Journey sessions, this kalaam was at the top of everyone's list of requests. Ameer Ali Khan himself was eager to present it before us and this eagerness and joy shines through in this performance. The atmosphere of the Qawwals' home, with their friends and family sitting in attendance; the infectiously joyous style of performance and the thrill of hearing our favorite kalaam live turned this performance into a truly magical experience for us all. No detailed descriptions here, the performance speaks for itself.


  1. amazing.. never knew that above tracks are on raag kedara. i'hv listened khabren rasida and al ishqu deeni . both are my favourites for past 6 months i guess.. anyways bohtkhoob boht shukria