The Little Qawwali Traditions

So there is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Saahib, there are the Sabri Brothers, the Warsi Brothers, Aziz Mian, Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, Nizami Brothers, and on. Qawwali (“ecstatic Sufi chanting” or “Islamic Devotional” as it is sometimes known in the West) is now an internationally famous art-form. It has been rather successfully “concertized”, if I may coin a clumsy verb. To “concertize” a type of music is to render it suitable for performance in modern concert-style, which as its own particular aesthetics, acoustics, performance-logic etc. Musical tradition after musical tradition has been transformed from its pre-concert performance context (I hesitate to say “original context”). The story of how Stradivarius violins turned out to be more suitable for large concert performances in the early 19th century because of the superior “throw” is well known. As is the rise of virtuoso solo performers (like Paganini) that was closely linked to the increasing popularity of concert performances. A concert institutes a strict separation between the musician and the listener. It is less intimate and it usually demands a more “polished” performace, more rehearsed, less homely, perhaps. I am only presenting a laundry list. This is not a rigorous analysis of the aesthetics of the concert. Of course traditions such as jazz and qawwali stretch the limits of “proper” concert behavior. Perhaps this is a topic for another entry.

The point though, is that the Qawwali is not really concert music, though the concert has made it widely available out of its more traditional performance venues of Sufi shrines, private assemblies etc. Even the rather polished performances of Nusrat, Sabri etc. retain an element of spontaneity (which to me seems crucial to the qawwali experience). There are however, many less known qawwals in South Asia and it is to them that this blog entry is dedicated. By less known I only mean less known internationally, or less known as judged by CD labels etc. You Tube the great leveler has some videos by such qawwals. One less known internationally but rather famous in his own milieu is Murli. I provide the links to two of his videos on You Tube, below. When you see the little stool with the microphone on it in front of the improvised stage, which itself seems little more than a khaat (a wooden cot), you will know what I mean by “little qawwali traditions.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s