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, May 2, 2017

Of Eagles With Eagles...

کند ہم جنس با ہم جنس پرواز
کبوتر با کبوتر، باز بہ باز

Birds of a feather fly together
Doves fly with doves, Eagles with eagles

A word of warning. This is another of those "Pucca" Qawwali posts that feature scratchy recordings, obscure biographical details and other items that may not be interesting to the lay-reader but which - for me at least - are THE reason I fell in love with Qawwali. Let's begin...

Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal was born in Pakpattan in 1914 and died at Golra in 1992. Although young Mahboob was trained in manufacturing silver flake (chandi kay warq), his father was intent on making him a Qawwal and sent him to the legendary Ustad Muhammad Ali Fareedi (Mahboob 's brother-in-law) to be trained. Haji Sb spent seven years under the tutelage of Muhammad Ali Fareedi but was unable to imbibe much in the way of Qawwali, and was sent back to his father as a "gone case". On one of his visits to Pakpattan, Hz Ghulam Mohyeddin Gilani (Hz Babuji R.A) - the son of Pir Meher Ali Shah of Golra(R.A) was approached by Mahboob's father who requested that Hz Babuji take the youngster under his wing and train him to be a Qawwal. Hz Babuji agreed and took the young Mahboob with him to Golra. Initially, Mahboob was sent to the famed Sufi Ali Bukhsh "Waiz" Qawwal to learn his unique style of Qawwali with Sitar accompaniment, but Waiz Qawwal also found himself unable to teach the student to his satisfaction, and Mahboob returned to Golra. 

At Golra, Hz Babuji decided to train Mahboob himself and took him to Pir Meher Ali Shah (R.A) to obtain his blessing. After Pir Meher Ali Shah (R.A)'s blessing, Mahboob started practicing Samaa under Hz Babuji's direct training as the Darbari Qawwal of the Golra Sharif shrine. Throughout Hz Babuji's lifetime, he taught Mahboob the intricacies of music, thousands upon thousands of Sufi texts and their explanations, as well as the core Sufi concepts that - as the Darbari Qawwal - Mahboob's task was to transmit to his audience. The result was that Haji Mahboob was acclaimed - by his audiences, Sufis and other Qawwals - as THE Darbari Qawwal. He was recognized as the spokesperson of the shrine, who effectively educated his audience under the direct supervision of the custodians of the shrine. Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal performed almost daily at the Golra Sharif Shrine for more than half a century and his Mehfil recordings are a treasure for anyone who prefers Qawwali the way it was intended - as a form of spiritual instruction.

Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal was born in 1922 in Batala, (Gurdaspur) and died in 1985. He belonged to a traditional Qawwal family; he was the nephew of the great Muhammad Ali Fareedi, his elder brother Agha Bashir Ahmad was a famous Qawwal in his own right, while his younger brother Agha Majeed Ahmad Fareedi was one of the greatest accompanists in qawwali history. Agha Rasheed's journey to becoming a qawwal wasn't easy. He began his musical career as the tabla-nawaz with his elder brother Agha Bashir's party but became determined to become a Qawwal after being scolded (and reportedly slapped) by his elder brother due to a mistake in one of their performances. 

He then went to the great Qawwal of the first half of the 20th Century, Fateh Ali Khan, and asked to be taken under his wing. The story of his first day under as Fateh Ali Khan's shagird is also very interesting. Fateh Ali Khan had told the young student to stand next to a wall and loudly practice the musical scales. While Rasheed was practicing in his (even then) loud and raspy voice, an acquaintance of Fateh Ali Khan's passed by and commented in earshot of Rasheed, "Who is this donkey you've got braying next to the wall?". Luckily for Qawwali, Rasheed didn't take affronts like this to heart and studiously learnt Qawwali under Fateh Ali, ultimately becoming - in the opinion of wiser heads than mine - his pre-eminent pupil and the most perfect exemplar of his Ustads' style of Qawwali.

The stories of Haji Mahboob Ali and Rasheed Ahmad intersect at several key points. For one, they were cousins. Secondly, Rasheed was a disciple of Hz Babuji (RA) - he had obtained 'ba'et' on Hz Babuji's hand. Third, even though Rasheed wasn't permanently attached to any specific Sufi shrine, he practiced the "Darbaari" style of Qawwali throughout his life, eschewing - either willingly or through a lack of opportunity - the more commercial style of his peers. Further, both Haji Mahboob and Agha Rasheed Ahmad considered it their sacred duty to bring about a spiritual change in their listeners. Haji Mahboob had once said, "If there is one "Sahib-e-Haal" in my audience, my job is done; otherwise dust upon my face and upon the audience!". Agha Rasheed had once expressed similar sentiments, saying "If it were up to me, my audience would leave the mehfil with their clothes in tatters." Another important similarity was that both Qawwals were accompanied by their phenomenally talented brothers; Haji Mushtaq Ali with Haji Mahboob and Agha Majeed Ahmad Fareedi with Agha Rasheed. Both these accompanists were superbly talented in their own right but kept their talents subservient to their elder brothers for almost their entire careers. It is a fitting (and touching) tribute to their association that after the deaths of both Haji Mahboob and Rasheed, both their younger brothers joined hands and took over the duties of Darbaari Qawwals at Golra, each performing regularly till they passed away.

The two great Qawwals, as a result of their spiritual allegiance to Hz Babuji (RA), were great friends and admirers of each other. Agha Rasheed would visit Golra regularly during the days of the Urs, and out of deference to Haji Mahboob's seniority in both age and as the Darbari Qawwal of the shrine, would sit in with Haji Sb's party as an accompanist. On the conclusion of the Urs, Haji Mahboob would return the favor by giving the entire sum of money collected as "Nazr" during the 'Chaadar' ceremony over to Rasheed. Very few recordings exist of the two great qawwals singing together, but the few that remain are phenomenally powerful. Even when they were not singing together, their repertoires often contained kalaams that were distinct from their contemporary Qawwals. Most of these unique kalaams were either written by succeeding generations of the Pirs of Golra Sharif or by devotees of the Golra shrine like Isa Amritsari. By listening to both these Qawwals renditions of a common repertoire, one gets a better idea of their contrasting styles. While Haji Mahboob preferred an emphasis of text over music (mainly because he confessed to being relatively untrained in the intricacies of classical music), Agha Rasheed fully utilized the superb musical tutelage of Fateh Ali with taankari, sargams and stupendous takraars. Haji Sb's style was more meditative, mellower and more explanatory. Rasheed's was dramatic, brashly powerful and exclamatory. Both Qawwals succeeded where most others have failed, in their ability to transfer the spiritual meanings of the kalaam to their audience effectively.

Haji Mahboob Ali (with Sitar) and Haji Mushtaq Ali (on harmonium), with Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi (extreme left) and Agha Majeed Ahmad Fareedi (6th from left)  in the 2nd row.

Baaz Ba Baaz - Haji Mahboob Ali and Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal

1. Aa Punla Mor Muharaan Ve
2. Khuda Ki Qasam Hai Khuda Jalwagar Hai
3. Arzooe Wasle Janaan
4. Apni Ghurbat Se Teri Shan Se

These first four kalaams are by Pir Sahibaan of Golra [the first by Pir Naseeruddin Naseer (RA), the next three by his father, Pir Ghulam Moinuddin (RA) who used "Mushtaq" as his takhallus] serve to highlight both Qawwals' approaches to Qawwali. Haji Mahboob presents these three pieces without much girahbandi or embellishment, as was his wont when performing the kalaams of Pir Ghulam Moinuddin (RA); adopting a beautiful, hauntingly melodic arrangement (especially in the latter three kalaams which are amongst my most favorite performances of his). What emerges is a series of performances steeped in longing, love and melancholy. Agha Rasheed on the other hand, uses long takraars to build up the kalaams to a series of crescendos. In between, there is lovely Punjabi girahbandi and superb taankari that highlights the Qawwals' musical credentials. The highlight is his rendition of the second kalaam, a masterpiece in the construction of a Qawwali performance. The performance builds in tempo and "zor" with each passing second, like a locomotive slowly gathering speed before whisking away the listeners to destinations unknown.

4. Diya Hota Kisi Ko Dil

This is a rather famous piece by Bedam Shah Warsi and both qawwals have sung it in its traditional tarz; un-embellished, with minimal girahbandi or taankaari.

5. La Ilah Di Ramz Niari

This is a beautiful Kafi of Hz Baba Buleh Shah (RA) which is rarely sung by Qawwals. It's message is of the One-ness of God and the fact that the belief in this One-ness - Tauheed - is the central tenet of Islam and Sufism. also explored is the Sufi concept of  'Wahdat-ul-Wujood' as expounded by Hz Ibn-al-Arabi (RA) and his successors. Here it is Haji Mahboob who expands the performance, performing a profound exposition of the test, using girahs from sources as varied as Guru Nanak and Rumi, Iqbal and Kabir. His 50 minute performance is the perfect example of Qawwali as 'Sama', Qawwali as 'Wa'z' and Qawwali as the means to spiritual education, with the takraars in the latter half taking the listener to strange places indeed. In contrast, Agha Rasheed Ahmad's recording is taken from a Radio Pakistan performance featuring musical accompaniment by Shehnai and Sitar, It's lovely to hear the younger voices of the Fareedi brothers, and Agha Majeed really shines in this performance.

6, Prem Nagar Ki Raah Kathin Hai

A lovely Poorbi kalam - almost a bhajan - by the poet Mehmood Shah again displays striking differences in the performance styles of the two Qawwals. Haji Mahboob Sb is in an absolutely sublime mood; mellow, meditative and contemplative. His style is languid, almost loving as he steers the kalaam into beautiful territory, making it an allegory for the events at Karbala. In between, he exclaims to the audience, "These are dangerous things that I am about to relate, not for everyone's ears!". It's a beautiful performance, one that sounds absolutely intimate and deeply personal. Agha Rasheed's performance is similar in many ways. He uses most of the same girahs that Haji Mahboob uses, even using the same introductory verses. His performance, though still possessing a certain languor, is more regal, more magisterial, more declamatory. The arrangement is really beautiful, as is the taankari and girahbandi.

7. Salaam Aye Fatima Ke Laal

This powerful Manqabat to Hz Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (RA) was written by Isa Amritsari. Isa was a mureed of Hz Pir Meher Ali Shah (RA) who wrote some beautiful poetry in Farsi, Urdu and Punjabi. He perished during the partition riots on a train bound for Pakistan in 1947 at a relatively young age. This manqabat is regularly performed at the Golra Sharif shrine on the eleventh of every Islamic month (Gyarhveen). This kalaam was also significant in that after Hz Pir Meher Ali Shah (Ra) had bestowed his blessings on young Mahboob Ali, this was the kalaam that Mahboob had recited in front of Pir Meher Ali Shah. This kalaam is usually sung at the conclusion of Qawwali mehfils at Golra so it is fitting that I end this post with this wonderful manqabat. 


  1. Wow. . A very well written intro n comparison of 2 of the qawwali legends.... its a blessing to be a lover of their voices n content of their qawwalis...it was a pure sufiana samaa as it was intended to preach islamic teachings ..musab man, prayers for ur health and longevity ...

    ایں دولت سرمد ہمہ کس را نہ دہند!!
    خدا دے یہ دولت بڑی چیز ہے ئ

  2. Wow. . A very well written intro n comparison of 2 of the qawwali legends.... its a blessing to be a lover of their voices n content of their qawwalis...it was a pure sufiana samaa as it was intended to preach islamic teachings ..musab man, prayers for ur health and longevity ...

    ایں دولت سرمد ہمہ کس را نہ دہند!!
    خدا دے یہ دولت بڑی چیز ہے ئ

  3. A wonderful piece Musab Bhai, well written and of much academic value. Thank you.

  4. Mashallah, precious info & recordings. Deeply grateful for your sharing.