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Posted on September 4th, 2012, by

Music of India includes the diversity of historical genres of folk and classical music. Indian classical music, provided by the traditions of Karnataka and Hindustani, dates back to Samaveda and in a number of treatises of I century A.D. and especially the Middle Ages, is described as a complex and diverse system, affecting the outer and interior space. In modern times it is linked to the high tradition, and especially in religious practice. Folk music is important for preserving the identity of many people in India. During the Muslim conquest the Indian music absorbed and assimilated a number of traditions and instruments of Arabic music, and during the period of European colonial domination – the elements and instruments of European music.

Qawwali is a musical genre of Sufi of the Chishti Order, which is very popular in Pakistan and Northern India. Sufism is a mystical school of Islam, which strives to attain truth and divine love by direct personal experience.

Tradition of qawwali has already existed more than 700 years. Firstly, this genre was used in temples and Sufi holy places, for the rituals on Sufi graves, but then it became more popular and also secular performances and festivals began to be organized. It is know that the Turkish and Persian Sufis also used music for collective meditation, called Sama, but it is was India, where Persian poetry and Indian music were combined, and the art of Qawwali was born. Qawwali in the first meaning of the translation means cogency, in the second singer.

Traditionally, the Qawwali music is performed at the tombs of Sufi saints in India and Pakistan.

There is a very specific psychological process which a qawwali follows. One starts with the singing of the song. In this psychological state the song is received in a manner that is not unlike standard forms of musical expression. The words are sung, quite repeatedly with variations intended to bring out the different aspects and deeper means of the lyrics. After a while there is a repetition to the extent that the words cease to have a meaning; in the ideal situation the participant is moved to a state of spiritual enlightenment (fana).( Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

As usual only men take part in the qawwali band; they sing religious texts, very often repeating only one phrase. This style is very rare, though not entirely absent, in North and West Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kashmir. Performer and spectators are transported to a state of wajad especial trance condition, when they feel at one with God (Allah). This condition is very important in Sufi rituals. The main musical instruments are Indian accordion, tabla, and mridangha. Qawwali has a lot of similarities with Iran music of VIII century, but it is the custom to consider that Amir Khusrow Dehlawī is regarded as the father of qawwali.

Qawwali repertoire includes songs in the Urdu and Punjabi languages, a small number of songs available in Persian and siraiki. Some songs, which are close to qawwali songs, exist in other languages. Qawwali genre includes spiritual poetry, but the content of poems is not always religious. The usual themes are love, dedication, desire for cognition.

Qawwali can be divided into following categories:
A hamd is a prayer to Allah. As usually qawwali performance begins with hamda.
A naat is a song in praise of Prophet Muhammad, which is often followed after hamda.
A manqabat is a praise of Imam Ali and Sufi saints, which can be found both in Shi’a, and Sunni meetings.
A marsiya is a grief over the death of Imam Hussein or his family members, meets at Shi’a meetings.
A ghazal is a secular lyric song, implying spiritual content – the topic of which is usually the wine or the bitterness of separation from the beloved. A wine implies the knowledge of the Sacred, love implies aspiration for God.
A kafi is a Punjabi song; this is a style of poets such as Shah Hussain, Bulleh Shah and Sachal Sarmast.
A munadjaat is a song where the singer displays his thanks to Allah with a play of words and varieties of images and techniques. Genre originates from Mawlana Jalāl-ad-Dīn Rumi. As usual it is performed usually in Persian.

One of the central concepts is ma’rifat concept – in Greek it would be called gnosis. It is meant an internal knowledge, which is unable to understand by conventional means. Islamic mystical tradition describes several ways of gaining ma’rifat. For example, one of the techniques – and exactly this technique is used in the musical qawwali tradition – allows people to feel the inner truth, contained in words.

Especially pronounced words, set to music, are repeated until they are beginning to lose meaning or acquire another meaning. The words fall into the constituent elements which go in a circle and create new words with new meaning. And during this process of transformation the person begins to understand things that are beyond any words, which can be expressed. Qawwali music balances on the border between the meaningful poetic text and exclamations, which have no literary sense, i.d. the poetic text, saving its sonority, rhythm, and form, constantly turning into a stream of sounds, or again get back its meaning.

Qawwali is not a gloomy music; it is unknown to the severity and asceticism. Fun (ladhdha), divine love and beauty – these three words that describe the state of trance, found in the Sufi treatise for centuries. Those, who regularly listen to qawwali, describe their experience as a journey. To characterize this state the word hal is used, which literally can be translated as state of mind.

Actually, almost all texts that are sung by the qawwali master are poetry about love. Of course, this is religious poetry, but very passionate and spiritual poetry; qawwali songs are songs of joy and celebration. Qawwali is characterized by the use of several languages: Persian, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and Purba for a single concert.

Higher state of ecstasy is called fana – this is the analogue of Buddhist Nirvana. In this state consciousness is dissolved and finally reached a merger with eternity. Even in our time, there were cases of death during Qawwali performing. The person died is said to be reached the last stage. His soul is discharged and goes, leaving an empty shell body.

Composition of a Qawwali Party

The band of qawwali musicians, named a party, as a rule, consists of 8-9 men; women as usual are not included in Islamic music, because respectable women are forbidden to sing in presence of other men, though these traditions are changing including lead singer, one or two side singers, one or two harmoniums (which may be played by the lead singer, side singer or someone else), and percussion. If there is a percussionist in a play, he plays the tabla and dhorak, as usual, he play tabla with the right hand, and dhorak with the other hand (i.e. a left-handed percussionist would play the table with his left hand). Very often there two percussionists in a play: one of them plays the tabla, the other one plays the dhorak. Chorus, which is consists of 4-5 men, who repeat key verses, and who aid and abet percussion by hand-clapping.

The performers sit cross-legged on the ground in two rows the lead singer, side singers, and percussionist in the first row, and the chorus the back row. Before the fairly recent introduction of the harmonium, qawwalis were usually accompanied by the sarangi. The sarangi had to be retuned between songs; the harmonium didn’t, and was soon preferred. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Musical structure

Qawwali songs are as usual from 15 to 30 minutes. The longest song is more than 115 minutes (Hashr Ke Roz Yeh Poochhunga by Aziz Mian Qawwal). The repertoire of qawwali maestro Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has at least 2 songs that are more than 60 minutes long. Qawwalis tend to begin gently and build steadily to a very high energy level in order to induce hypnotic states both among the musicians and within the audience. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Songs are usually arranged as follows:

1. The performance is begun from the instrumental introduction, where the main melody is played on the harmonium, accompanied by the tabla.

2. Then the alap comes, a long tonal improvised melody during which the singers intone different long notes, in the raag of the song to be played.

3. The vocalist begins to sing the preamble verses, which are not obligatory to be the part of main songs, but the thematically it should be related to it. These are sung unrhythmically, improvised following the raag, and accompanied only by the harmonium. After the vocalist sings its part, the side singer repeats the vocalist’s part but in his own interpretation. It can be a lot of such introductive songs before the main part begins.

4. As the main part of the performance begins the tabla, dholak and clapping begin. During the refrain the lead singer is supported by the other participants of a play. Music, main verses or the melodies can’t be the subject of improvisation, because this is a traditional performance, and only epoch can influence upon them. As the song proceeds, the lead singer or one of the side singers may break out into an alap. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan also popularized the interjection of sargam singing at this point. As a rule the song is built on the rhythm and passion, where singers try to outdo each other in the singing technique. Some performers do long periods of sargam improvisation, especially alternating improvisations with a student singer. The songs usually end suddenly.

The old qawwali style differs from the modern Western singing styles in many ways. For example, if the word begins with letter m, the modern singer tries to make the stress on the vowel, which follows m rather than the m itself, whereas in qawwali, the m will usually be held, producing a muted tone. Besides in qawwali there isn’t any difference between chest voice and neck voice. Maybe they try to sing too loud and that allows them to extend their chest voice to much higher frequencies than modern Western singers, in spite of it is acceptable in our society.

Traditional sequence of a Chishti Sufi order qawwali performance
Instrumental: This is supposed to be the announcement of the arrival of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti, as Sufi believes their saints are free of time-space. Also that Nabi, Siddiq, Shaheed, and Saleh category of faithfuls are never dead, just gone into some other state from where they visit whenever they are mentioned, especially if there is a function in their honor.
Hamd
Naat
Manqabat Ali
Manqabat Ghous: Praise of Shaikh Abdul-Qadir Gilani
Manqabat Khwaja: Praise of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti
Manqabat Shaikh: Praise of the Shaikh/Pir if it is his anniversary
Rang or Badhawa: If it is the death anniversary of the Pir, then it is usually Rang, a poem by Amir Khusro. If it is the Shaikh’s birthday, it is usually the Badhawa. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

History of the qawwali

The origins of qawwali tradition date to the birth of Muhammad. The first Islamic scientists discussed the spiritual influence of music, but it was only in the time of al-Gazali (1085-1111). These ideas were supported by the Chishti school of Sufism. Due to this order Qawwali was spread through India and Pakistan for then last few centuries. The Chishti School was established by Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti (1143-1234).

The development of Qawwali up to the latter part of the Moghul Empire was parallel to the development of Hinduism and its religious song known as Bhajan. These traditions crossed so often that some musician / saints such as Kabir (circa 1440-1518) are acknowledged both by Islam and Hinduism. The Qawwali tradition knows a lot of ups and downs. Maybe, the hardest time for it was the ruling of Aurangzeb, who was a well-known for his Islamic fundamentalism. The liberal traditions of the Sufis were not accepted by this Emperor. He took the fundamentalist injunction against music very seriously. Aurangzeb’s dislike of music is well illustrated in a common story. It appears that during his administration a group of musicians disheartened with their lack of patronage, took some musical instruments and wrapped them in the manner of a corpse and held a funeral procession in protest. Aurangzeb enquires about the procession and is told it is a burial to signify the death of music. Whereupon it is said that the Emperor declares, Good! Bury it so deep that never a sound should be heard again.

The collapse of the Moghul Empire and political fragmentation under the British was both good and bad for the Qawwals.( Qawwal.com)

Qawwali is an art of the hereditary principle for the whole generations, not every family member can become a soloist in the play. The obligatory demand is that the soloist needs to know by heart about five hundred verses in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Persian, and also remember the melody of these songs with all their nuances. Only few people have such a gift. And most importantly, the voice of the singer must have a certain magical properties to immerse the audience into a state of sublime delight called Hal.

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