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, April 19, 2017

...Of The Wellspring

The word Qawwali stems from the word "Qaul" or "saying". Put simply, Qawwali - the subcontinental variant of the traditional Sufi practice of Samaa - consists of the sayings and utterances of the Saints, set to music. The Qawwali repertoire has expanded over time to include Ghazal, Kafi, Classical bandishes and folk epics in almost all the languages of the Indo-Persian region. However, a very specific subset of the repertoire consists of compositions known as Qauls. Some scholars, and most Qawwals, consider these Qauls to be remnants of the very earliest style of Sub-continental Qawwali, originated by Hz Amir Khusrau (RA). The evidence for this claim is mainly the oral traditions of the Qawwal gharanaas, and like many attributions to Hz Amir Khusrau, the attribution of the Qauls may well be apocryphal at best.

Ages ago, I wrote a post comprising some of my favorite recordings of the most famous Qaul in Sufi music, "Mun Kunto Maula". Since that post, I have not only heard (and collected) many more wonderful versions of the famous Qaul, I have also managed to acquire a small number of other, lesser known Qauls. In this post, I'll share a few Qauls that are somewhat obscure, but deserve to be heard and appreciated. They all share very interesting combinations of languages, 'Raags' and 'taals'. Even though it's impossible to accurately trace their lineage and history, the Qauls sound absolutely distinct from the rest of the Qawwali corpus and occupy a distinct niche within the repertoire.

1. Mun Kunto Maula - Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi

The first item on the list is a very non-traditional recording of the traditionally famous Qaul. I featured this recording as the very last item in my 2006 post. Because of it's distinctness, it deserves to be shared again. Traditionally, the most famous Qaul is sung in raag Shudh Kalyan or raag Shaam Kalyan. Fareedi Sb however, begs to differ. As he garrulously declares at the start, his version of the Qaul is in raag Bhopali and in Teentaal ( a rythmic cycle of 16 beats). Ustad Naseeb Khan then lays down a steady rhythm as Agha Rasheed and his brother Majeed Fareedi commence their interpretation. Like many of his electrifying performances, Fareedi Sb accelerates the Qaul like a train slowly gathering speed, creating wonderfully powerful takraars along the way. The takraars build to a wonderful crescendo on a verse of Bedam Shah Warsi's, before Fareedi Sb suddenly changes gears and takes the performance in an entirely different direction altogether. Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi was a wholly unique performer, with a style distinctly his own. It's no wonder then, that his version of arguably the most commonly performed piece of Sufi music is wholly unique and absolutely distinct.

2. Allah Taala Qaula-namaa - Muhammad Hayat Nizami

The late Muhammad Hayat Nizami was one of the resident Qawwals of the shrine of Hz Nizamuddin Aulia (RA) in Delhi. He was the father of Hamsar Hayat Nizami, currently one of the leading Qawwals of India. I was first introduced to him via Yousuf Saeed's wonderful documentary "Khusro Bani", which featured a number of performances by Muhammad Hayat Nizami and his party. I wasn't able to find many recordings by him, but a wonderful film on YouTube shows the Ustad and his family in a wonderful light. His "pukka" vocal style impressed me greatly, and I cherish the few recordings of his that i possess. Here he presents a Qaul accompanied by a dholak beat that sounds almost like a Pakhawaj, as well as a Sarangi. His style is frenetic and lively, interspersed with frequent exclamations of "Shava Re !". It's a short but powerful performance, allowing the Ustad to use his raspy voice to great effect in a series of brief sargams and taans, as well as a lovely taraana at the end.

3. Qaul-e-Rusool Sunaayo - Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed Khan

Zaheer Kidvai Sb had once mentioned that the Lok Virsa folks in Islamabad had recorded a number of performances by Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed in the 1990's. This had sparked intense curiosity in me, which was quenched when the videos of not one but two separate recording sessions popped up on YouTube. Each performance was worth its (figurative) weight in gold, but the most interesting recording was of this beautiful Qaul. Raziuddin Sb is ably accompanied by young Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad in this recording. The tempo is stately, with a lovely rhythm and Raziuddin Sb's voice in fine form. He uses wonderful Farsi and Urdu na'atiya verses as girahs, embellishing an already wonderful piece. There is another very lovely rendition of this Qaul available on YouTube for the more curious readers to find and enjoy. Hint : It's by another stalwart of the Qawwal Bacchhon ka Gharana.


4. Laata Maafi/Aayo Re Yeh Kaun Pargato - Meraj Ahmed Nizami Qawwal

Speaking of stalwarts of the Qawwal Bacchon ka Gharana, the late Meraj Ahmed Nizami was rightfully considered the head of the clan. A strict traditionalist who steadfastly persisted with the style of performance that was handed down to him, he was a veritable treasure of musical knowledge. This fact was recognized by a number of ethno-musicologists including Prof. Regula Qureshi, whose seminal book on Qawwali is based mainly on a series of performances by Meraj Sb. He was also recorded by the Smithsonian institute in the late Eighties for a wonderful 2-CD set. This set of Qauls come from the same album. Meraj Sb prefaces the performance by claiming that his Gharana - the Qawwal Bacchon ka Gharana - claims sole ownership over these two Qauls. I find no reason to dispute this claim, as all other recordings of this Qaul in my possession are by musicians from the same Gharana, including an absolutely astounding rendition on the Sarangi by Ustad Bundoo Khan. Meraj Sb ends his lovely performance of the Qaul with a series of verses from a lovely ghazal that he was very fond of, bringing this brief performance to a fitting end.

5. Qaul - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan and Party

In 1975, countries across the traditionally Persianate parts of Asia celebrated the 7th centenary of Hz Amir Khusrau's (RA) birth. A number of cultural activities took place, spanning literature and the performing arts. Under the supervision of the legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who was heading the the Pakistan National Council for the Arts, the Pakistani cultural community actively participated in these celebrations. Apart from special programming on Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Television, a number of wonderful commemorative albums were released by EMI Pakistan, featuring artists from across the entire Pakistani musical spectrum. These albums included Qawwali, vocal and instrumental Classical music, Ghazal as well as Light-Classical performances by the leading artists of Pakistan. In addition, a series of now legendary concerts were held at (among other places) the Liaquat Hall, Rawalpindi.

One of these concerts was devoted solely to Qawwali and featured the leading Qawwals of Pakistan performing pieces attributed to Hz Amir Khusrau (RA). A couple of years ago, as part of the Dream Journey project, I was able to participate in an interview with Ustad Naseeruddin Saami, who had performed in the famed concert, accompanying his uncles Munshi Raziuddin Ahmed and Manzoor Ahmed Niazi. He spoke of the concert in hushed tones, claiming that the pieces performed that day have rarely been heard since. I'll end this post with a performance from that very concert. I'll forego any florid descriptions of this performance, as Mujahid Mubarik Ali Khan and Nusrat do an excellent job of introducing it themselves.

Til the next post, cheers !!

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