Sunday, June 15, 2014

...Of The Bahawalpur Blues

I spent the last three years in a jungle. After a bit of R&R, I'm off to my next assignment tomorrow, Bahawalpur. I've been to South Punjab before during the catastrophic floods of 2010. During my month-long tour of duty back then, I had spent five days in Bahawalpur, making it my base camp for further explorations. The few days I spent in Bahawalpur were enough to leave an indelible image of the city's beauty and history. Now, I'm going there on a slightly more permanent basis. I could stay there for a year or so, or, given recent developments, I might simply touch base there and head off to greener pastures.

Bahawalpur is the de-facto capital of South Punjab, and as such, the heart of the Seraiki belt ; the Rohi. I have written in the past about my affiliation for the culture of the Rohi, so I won't rehash that (mainly because, like this post, I've left most of my packing for the last minute). What I will do is share a sampling of what willl essentially be the soundtrack of my life down there. The Kafi is the major poetic tradition of the Rohi, and Hz Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA) is the poet synonymous with the Seraiki Kafi. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting ...

The Bahawalpur Blues

1. Ishq Anokkhri Peerr - Ustad Salamat Ali Khan - Nazakat Ali Khan

"Love is a peculiar ailment, awakening hundreds of sorrows inside me" sing the Ustads. With a preamble taken from another of Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA)'s kafis, this is a splendid exploration of the central themes of the Kafi; love and separation. As the tempo picks up and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan's taans become more plaintive, more urgent, one can't help but be moved.

2. Peeloon Pakkiyaan Ve - Hussain Bukhsh Dhaadhi

A student of Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, Hussain Bukhsh Dhaadhi was a consummate, classically trained musician. His Taankari was legendary - albeit a little vociferous like his Ustad's, - and his voice was clear and piercing. Here he sings about the arrival of spring, when the fruits are ripe for picking and the desert takes on a colorful mantle. The vigour and vitality of the desert Spring are perfectly encapsulated in this performance.

3. Neenh Ta Avallhra Okha Laayam - Iqbal Bano

Iqbal Bano had a voice that was equally suited to ghazal, thumri, playback and folk. Here she sings a wonderful Kafi; "What a stubborn, difficult love I have set my heart on". The earthiness and heft of her voice perfectly suited to the kalam, using selections from the Sufi canon as girahs, Iqbal Bano gives a powerful performance.

4. Ajj Waal Firaaq Dassaindi Ae - Zahida Parveen

The greatest performance of the undisputed Queen of the Kafi, period. I have loved each and every note of this recording for as long as I can remember.

5. Na Maar Naenaan De Teer - Taj Multani

Taj Multani has a softer, more urbane sound as compared to his contemporary folksingers, but his adayegi and choice of kalaam are wonderful. Here he uses extensive girahs on a Kafi of Hz Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA), delivering a mellow, mellifluous performance.

6. Shah Ranjha Albela - Muhammad Jumman

Muhammad Jumman of "Yaar Daadhi" fame gives the studio treatment to this Kafi, turning it into a lively, Sindhi-style ditty. The violins and vibraphones take nothing away from the simple beauty of the kalam.

7. Hik Hai Hik Hai Hik Hai - Hamid Ali Bela

Hamid Ali Bela made a name by singing the Kafis of Hz Shah Hussain (RA), and sang few kalaams of other poets. Here he sings Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA)'s declaration of the One-ness of God. Again, simple lyrics and a studio arrangement, with Bela's deep baritone weaving a simple melody.

8. Aa Wass Maandre Kol - Abida Parveen

Lacking in vocal calisthenics, this recording of Abida's is a favorite of mine. A plea, a paean, an evocation of love, this Kafi is an endearing message to the beloved. Taken from a wonderful album released by EMI in the early '90s, the percussion, the Sarangi and Abida's unhurried style make this a superb performance.

9. Jindrri Lutti Taen Yaar Sajjan - Pathanay Khan

It is fitting to close out this selection with the de-facto National Anthem of the Rohi, sung by the greatest Kafi singer in Pakistan's history. Again, nothing much needs to be said about this performance other than that it is one of the most sublime pieces of music I have ever heard.





This post constitutes a (hopefully) temporary goodbye, as I don't know if and when I will find the time for further posts. Given my usual slovenliness, that shouldn't ruffle too many feathers. Till then ...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

...Of The Crown Jewels

I have made it abundantly clear in previous posts that I consider Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwal and their party to be the greatest Qawwali ensemble of the 20th century. With an almost supernatural mastery of Kalam, a style that was rooted in Classical Hindustani music yet was strikingly modern, a vast repertoire featuring both ancient and contemporary poets (their contemporaries included Hz. Allama Muhammad Iqbal (RA), Hz. Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA), Hz. Bedam Shah Warsi (RA) among others), and telepathic synergy between the ensemble; Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali are THE seminal Qawwals of the recorded era. This is further borne out by the fact that after the Ustads' demise and the party's dissolution; it was their Shagirds who dominated the next 3-4 decades of Qawwali almost unchallenged. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi, Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal, Agha Bahseer Ahmed Qawwal and others carried forth the style of their teachers, emulating but never really matching the creative prowess of their Ustads.



Thanks to the efforts of their countless devotees, a number of their recordings have come down to us. Ustad Fateh Ali Khan passed away in 1964, with Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan following in 1971; thus recordings of the ensemble are at least 50 years old; and as such, are rarely found in good sound quality. Regardless of the quality, whatever has survived is worth its weight in gold. Here I would like to take a moment to express the huge debt of gratitude we all owe to those people who put in the time and effort and managed to record not only Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Khan but the countless other performers whose voices wouldn't have reached us otherwise.Here is a wonderful recording of a letter written by a fan of the Ustads', giving us a glimpse into the effort that went into saving their performances for posterity and the high esteem and affection they were held in by their fans.


I was first attracted to Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwals when I saw a Youtube clip of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan discussing his father's music. It was a brief clip from "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: le dernier prophète", a documentary from 1996, and featured a (painfully) brief recording of his father. I was instantly mesmerized by it. The voice, the takraar, the girahbandi, it was unbelievable. Like I've mentioned before, it sounded like an echo from a long-forgotten world, like a brief glimpse of the cave paintings of Lascaux or the earliest recordings of Enrico Caruso, and the mere act of listening to them felt like an intrusion, but one was compelled to intrude further.



Over the years, I've managed to collect a hundred odd recordings of the Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwal party, ranging in audio quality from pristine studio recordings to extremely shaky Mehfil recordings from the early '50s. The quality of the audio may falter at times, but the quality of performance remains unsurpassed. I have gathered recordings from cassettes, reel-to-reel records and LPs, and can't help but feel greedy for more. The search for new (or better quality) recordings is neverending and I hope I'll be able to unearth a few more treasures.

There are three Qawwali recordings that I treasure above all others. All three recordings are from the 1960s and show the respective performers at the peak of their powers. One is the unbelievable 1969 Mehfil at Mr. Mehdi Hasnain's residence showcasing the original Manzoor Niazi Qawwal party. It is an absolute gem of a recording, and has to be heard to be believed. My second most treasured recording is of Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal (RA) from a 1964 Mehfil in which he performs Hz Pir Mehr Ali Shah (RA)'s kalaam. It is an otherworldly performance which leaves the audience in a state of Haal. The third recording from the 1960s is a Mehfil recording of Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwal, and that recording is the subject of today's post.

The unearthing of this recording has been both an archeological and an investigative endeavor. I have followed a series of leads and clues; these clues leading me to further discoveries. Over a number of years, and piecing together from a number of sources, I have managed to assemble an archeological dig of staggering beauty. Four complete recordings and a snippet of a fifth constitute what collectively amounts to the GREATEST Qawwali performance I have ever heard. The audio quality on this recording is shaky at best, quality headphones are recommended for listening.Without further ado ...

Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Khan Qawwal Aur Hamnavaa - Mehfil In Karachi, 1961

1. Ae Ke Sharh-e-Wadduha Aamad Jamaal-e-Roo-e-Tau

The Ustaads begin the Mehfil with a series of couplets from the Masnavi, as Ustad Fateh Ali Khan informs the audience "Hamd aur Naat parhna zurroori hai". The languid andaaz of Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan is on full display at the start, as the party segues into the main kalaam. Observe the glacial, almost regal tempo at the beginning of the performance. The takraar ( the first of many) on "Sharh-e-Wadduha" is punctuated with wonderful girahs, from Farsi to Purbi to Urdu, and the moment Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan launches into his first taan in Raag Pahari, the magic is complete. The perceptive audience picks up the nuances of the performance and their enjoyment gives added impetus to the performers. Midway through the performance, the Qawwals launch into one of their trademark pieces, "Gaye Khalwat Main Jab", a retelling of the Prophet (SAW)'s flight to the heavens on Shab-e-Meraj. It is a wonderful, uptempo piece, with brilliant girah-bandi and taankari (another Pahari by Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan). Returning from this heavenly journey, the Qawwals resume the original kalaam, again constructing and embellishing takraars out of thin air. The takraar on 'Seen-e-Dandaan" and "Miskeen Hasan" have to be heard to be believed. The Ustads' trademark collaborative Sargams embellish the latter third of the performance, before culminating in a slow decrescendo. The recording is an hour plus of exquisite artistry, and it is just the start of the wonderful mehfil.


 2. Khud-Daari-e-Ehsaas Ko

The second performance of the evening begins with a three and a half minute sazeena by Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, the third brother of Fateh Ali Khan and Mubarak Ali Khan. Salamat Ali Khan was an extremely gifted harmonium player, and ustad to Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan, Ustad Majeed Fareedi and others. Here he explores the main melody with wonderful embellishments. The Ustads preface the main kalaam with two wonderful couplets of Hz. Allama Iqbal (RA). The performance has a wonderful mid-tempo quality which can be described in Punjabi as 'Jhol". This ghazal was regularly performed by the Ustads, as evidenced by that other great mehfil recording of theirs, from 1958 in Bombay. They deliver each word, each phrase with loving detail. The takraars are wonderful as always, observe for example Ustad Mubarak Ali's "Ghunchae Meri" mini-takraar. This ghazal is especially suited to Qawwali, with wonderful melodic and lyrical surprises in each verse, giving the Qawwals ample opportunity to delight and surprise the audience. Another highlight is the takraar on "Woh Saamne Hain" which allows for girah-bandi of the highest order. The shades of "Wahdat-ul-Wujood" explored by the Ustads would've been too much for any lesser performers. Again, Ustad Mubarak Ali's Pahadi taans are a highlight, regularly leaving me teary-eyed.


3. Nami Danam Che Manzil Bood

The Ustads regularly performed Hz Amir Khusrau (RA)'s seminal kalaam, using different arrangements and performance styles to convert the ghazal into a dirge, a love-lyric or a Na'at. In the third recording, they have surpassed themselves (and ALL others to follow). If each performance from this mehfil wasn't equally eligible for the title, I'd unhesitatingly declare this performance to be the most perfect qawwali recording I have ever heard. There are a couple of girahs in this performance that regularly send shivers down my spine and leave me teary-eyed.

The performance begins with another wonderfully intricate sazeena on two harmoniums; Ustads Mubarak Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan. The Farsi couplets at the start are a foretaste of what is to come; an exploration of sacred love and a refutation of the profane. The couplets are a warning for the "B'ul-Havas" to stay away, as the first takraar takes hold. No other Qawwal has ever tried to elicit such meaning from just the first three words of this kalaam. The takraar on "Nami Danam Che"is a testament to the Ustads' skill, as are the wonderful girahs. Another takraar, and the audience is led in a "Raqs-e-Bismil". Here is where the recording takes off into the celestial plane. The Ustads are so adept at their craft that it is often easy to overlook the amazing dexterity involved.

The Ustads segue from hz Amir Khusrau (RA)'s kalam to Hz Bu Ali Shah Qalandar (RA)'s kalam to Hz Shah Turab Hyderabadi (RA)'s kalam; like a dream within a dream within a dream from Chritopher Nolan's "Inception". Seemingly defying all rules of physics, they weave in and out of the three kalaams at will, weaving a tapestry of unbelievable richness and complexity. This isn't one performance, or two performances or even three performances; this is a group of spacetime-travellers exploring alternate universes. The girahs and takraars on Hz Shah Turab (RA)'s kalaam are very VERY powerful. My favorites come at the 27:30 and 30:25 marks. I have regularly ended up crying at these two points.

I've considered Murli Qawwal the king of Takraars, but the Ustads are up there with there with him. The takraars on "Manam Usman-e-Harooni (RA)" and "Pari Paikar Nigaare" - which I first heard in the Nusrat video above - are brilliant, and haven't been heard since. The little flourishes by Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan on the phrase "Laala Rukhsaarae" are wonderful. Like I mentioned earlier, this recording comes pretty close to being labelled the most perfect Qawwali recording I've ever heard.



4. Oh Disdi Kulli Yaar Di Gharreya 

This is the final complete performance of this mehfil, and at 90 minutes long, it is also the longest. Unfortunately this recording is of very weak audio quality. The shoddy sound quality doesn't detract from the fact that, along with the previous recording, this one is tied for being the greatest Qawwali recording I have ever heard. As the audience members say, this recording finds the Ustads exploring "Punjabi Takhayyul". The first two-and a half minutes of the preamble are worth the price of admission by themselves. The unique 'Do-aaba" style of singing is on full display, the Ustads are now in a most perfect groove. This recording perfectly encompasses what I consider the Ustads' great speciality, their wonderful command on the laya and the taal. Their bols and taans teeter on the very edge of being 'be-taal' before swooping back into the fold. Girahbandi continues in Farsi and Punjabi as the takraar on the first verse continues.

The response of the 'gharra' to Sohni's complaint provides the Ustads with further room for girahbandi. The exploration of carnal love versus the divine, true love versus affected love, and the physical versus the spiritual hasn't been explored better by any other Qawwal. The takraar on "Maen ki Karaan Hunn Maen Ki Karaan" and the girahs on it are on a higher, more exalted plane altogether. The Urdu girahs from the 18th minute to the 32nd minute are unlike anything I have ever heard. They are interspersed with Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan's taankaari. Like the previous recording, the Ustads segue into another kalaam, Hz baba Bulleh Shah (RA)'s kalaam, 'Maen Bhull Gyi Morr Toun Aa Ke" at the 33 minutes mark.

This new kalaam again offers countless opportunities for girahbandi to the Ustads, and the takraars are electrifying. A further segue takes them into 'Bohat Kathin Hai Dagar Panghat Ki". this kalaam is embellished with verses from the Masnavi, and especially of note is the percussion section which propels the performance through the takraars. As the hour mark approaches, the return to the original kalaam begins. Each exploration is brought to its logical conclusion; all loose ends are tied. What the Qawwals do next takes the listener's (or at least my) breath away.

At the one hour, five minute mark, the Ustads launch into Hz Pir Mehr Ali Shah (RA)'s seminal naat, "Ajj Sikk Mitraan Di", offering takraar upon takraar, girah after girah. They recite most of the verses that other Qawwals often leave out, exploring almost the entirety of this phenomenal kalaam. The audience is receptive, and the power builds to the crescendo on the shattering last verse "Gustaakh Akheen Kitthe Ja Larriyan". And just when it seems like the Qawwals can't go any further, they offer one final surprise; a wonderfully endearing Purbi thumri ' Balma Ke Dvaare Thaari Pukaroon". I can't help but smile at the phrase "Ahmad (SAW) hamaro chhaela ho!" It's a wonderful piece in praise of the Prophet (SAW) and the Ahl-e-Bait (RA). At the 90 minute mark, the performance concludes, leaving the audience (both in 1961 and today) moved to spontaneous applause and appreciation.




5. Tussi Kaun Hunday - Fragment
This mehfil is an archeological dig in progress. As I discover more recordings from this mehfil, or better quality versions of the recordings i already have, they are added to the archive. The recordings above have been completed from a number of sources, and for better or worse audio quality, are complete from start to finish. The fifth and final performance is unfortunately incomplete - so far. I remain hopeful that I might find a complete version, or more fragments of this performance. But until then, a fragment will have to do.

The fragment begins at a Takraar from the Ustads' performance of the tale of Laila Majnu. The takraar is propelled by a throbbing dholak beat, embellished by girahs in Punjabi and Farsi, including a wonderful set of couplets of Hz Girami (RA). The wonderful Bhairavi tarz traditionally used for performing Waris Shah (RA)'s Heer is used here. As the performance continues we find that it is actually a performance within a performance, with the main kalaam being "Uss Beparwaah Noo". Again, one marvels at the dexterity of the Ustads and their ability to move from one kalaam to another without losing the spirit or meaning of either.




These five recordings constitute an absolute treasure for me. They display the greatest Qawwals of their age performing some of the greatest Kalaams in the Qawwali canon. Their absolute mastery over Farsi, Urdu, Punjabi and Purbi is on full display, as are the wonderful individual talents of the three main members of this party. I was slightly reluctant in sharing these recordings because of their below-par audio quality and the incompleteness of the Mehfil, but I figured even a passing glimpse of Qawwali's (and my colllections' ) Crown Jewels would be worth having. Another reason is that after spending three years in the jungle, I'm about to embark on another assignment, and I don't know if and when I will have time to regularly update the blog again.

Hence, untill the next post ...

Sunday, May 18, 2014

...Of A Sideman Par Excellence

I should append a disclaimer at the start of this post saying that this is one for dyed in the wool, hardcore Qawwali enthusiasts only; but that would discourage someone who like me six or seven ago, isn't a dyed in the wool, hardcore Qawwali enthusiast. So enter all ye who dare, but be warned, what follows includes scratchy, lengthy, low audio quality recordings of *somewhat* obscure artists. But if like me (and Ahmed Faraz) you believe that "Khazaanae tujhe mumkin hai kharaabon maen milaen", then read on. Also, there is a fair number of embedded Youtube videos, so my Pakistani friends will have to resort to a proxy to properly access the post. Moving on ...

The more I think about it, the more similarities I seem to find between Qawwali and Jazz. To name a few, both are improvisational, collaborative artforms - in fact, the collaborative nature of both elevates them from the status of simple 'music'. In each, a group of performers consciously or unconsciously molds a performance to give it their own unique "spin", both rely on a set of "Standards" which are interpreted by each artist according to their own personality, both have the capacity for extemporaneous innovation according to the needs of the performance and the history of both is defined by stellar ensembles led by supremely talented musical innovators ; The Duke Ellington Orchestra, Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwal and Party, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, The Sabri Brothers Ensemble, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Qawwal &; Party. The list goes on.

What characterizes these brilliant ensembles is the remarkable musical synergy that transformed each group from a collection of heterogeneous performers into almost an organic whole. This had much to do with the supremely gifted performers who led the groups and lent their names to the ensembles. But an equal (and in some cases, greater) share goes to some of the individual members who made their own extraordinary talents subservient to the group and decided to forgo individual glory in favor of group performance. Later, many of them became wonderful ensemble leaders in their own right. As in jazz, Qawwali is blessed with quite a few of them. Art Blakey had Horace Silver and Keith Jarrett, Kallan Khan Qawwal had Ghulam Fareed Sabri; Benny Goodman had Jack Teagarden, The Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal Ensemble had Sadiq Ali Saddo and Mubarak Ali Khan, Duke Ellington had Johnny Hodges, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan. Again, the list goes on.

Unlike Jazz however, there is little history of collaborative 'jam sessions' amongst various Qawwali groups; musicians generally performed within their group throughout their careers, with leaders changing after the death/departure of previous leaders. As a result, we don't have any recordings of say, Haji Maqbool Sabri sitting in with Nusrat's group, or Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan lending his voiceto Munshi Raziuddin's party. Jazz has many such collaborations and is eminently enriched by them. There is however one glaring, glittering exception to the rule; and he is the subject of this post.

One of the great Qawwali parties of the twentieth century, and one of my absolute top 5 favorites (if I permit myself a little High Fidelity listmaking) was led by Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal. On the Tabla, Ustad Naseeb Khan, on the second harmonium and co-vocals in later years he had the phenomenal Mubarak Ali "Maakha" Lahoriya, and on first harmonium and co-vocals, one of the great voices of Qawwali, Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi's younger brother Ustad Abdul Majeed Fareedi Qawwal.



I must admit that I am very shaky on the biographical details of Abdul Majeed Fareedi. He was born in the early 1930s and passed away four or five years ago. He was the nephew of Ustad Muhammad Ali Fareedi and hence a cousin to Abdul Raheem Fareedi. He along with his elder brother Rasheed were pupils of Ustads Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwal (and especially favorite pupils at that). He performed most of his life with Agha Rasheed's party, and after Rasheed Fareedi's death in 1986, spent some time touring with his cousin Abdul Rahim Fareedi's party. Rasheed and Majeed, being devotees of Hz Babuji (RA), had a special affinity with Golra Sharif and a close friendship with Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal (RA). the Darbari Qawwal at Golra. After Haji Mahboob Sb's death, Majeed settled in Golra and with Haji Sb's younger brother Mushtaq Ali Qawwal (himself an eminently talented sideman), took over the Qawwali duties at the shrine. After Mushtaq Ali's death, Majeed stayed on and taught the current darbaari qawwal of Golra, Billa Qawwal. Abdul Majeed Fareedi Qawwal passed away almost four years ago.
 
Performing with an artist of the stature of Agha Rasheed Fareedi Qawwal would've been too much of a task for a lesser artist, but Abdul Majeed Fareedi ably accompanied not only his brother, but many other performers as well. In a career spanning more than half a century, Majeed Fareedi performed with many other Qawwali ensembles, both before and after his the dissolution of his brother's Qawwali party following his death. Among all the various qawwali sidemen, he is by far my favorite. First and foremost, Abdul Majeed Fareedi was a consummate harmonium player, taught by Ustad Salamat Ali khan, the younger brother of Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Khan. He arranged most of his party's repertoire and could accompany any vocalist with great skill. Being lead harmonium, he was the driving force of the qawwali party, deftly managing changes in key and scale. Second, he was a highly gifted, and extremely well-trained singer, his voice clearly showing signs of Mubarak Ali Khan's tutelage. His vocal delivery was wonderful, but what set him apart - and what made him one of my favorite Qawwals - was his supreme taan-kaari. His vacillating taans are a joy to behold, and intricate sargams and taans are rendered with such aplomb that the listeners are transported. Agha Rasheed Fareedi used to say, "If it were up to me, the audience would leave with their clothes in tatters", and a fair bit of said tattering was achieved by Abdul Majeed Fareedi. Later, when their group was joined by another musical heavyweight (pun intended) Mubarak Ali 'Maakha" Lahori, the sargam/taankaari battles between the two harmonium players were the highlight of the performance, whipping audiences into a frenzy.


O.P Nayyar described Shamshad Begum's voice as being like a Temple bell. Majeed Fareedi's voice was like a razor's edge; clear, sharp, distinctive, eminently malleable and tremendously effective. His was one of the very first voices I heard when I started taking an interest in Qawwali, and I remain a fan to this day.

In my long and rather aimless preamble about sidemen in Jazz and Qawwali, I mentioned that Abdul Majeed Fareedi was the exception to the rule. That's because unlike most of his peers, Majeed regularly appears on recordings by other Qawwal groups. And unlike Woody Allen's Zelig, who would lose himself in each new surrounding, Majeed manages to retain his unique individuality and while doing so, enriches the whole recording. What follows is a selection of recordings featuring Ustad Abdul Majeed Fareedi Qawwal, either performing in his brother's Qawwal party or sitting in with other groups, his virtuosity on vocals and the harmonium on full display.
 1. Khol Aankh Zameen Dekh - Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal And Party


2. Husne Qatil Ne Ajab Rang Jamaa Rakha Hai - Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal And Party
 


3. Kaahnon Yaar Da Vichora Saanu Paaya - Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal And Party




4. Bun Ke Tasveer-e-Gham Reh Gaye - Abdul Rahim Fareedi Qawwal And Party
 



5. Kaddi Saaday Des Vi Aa Dhola - Mubarak Ali Niaz Ali Qawwal And Party



6. Haar Ve Jaani Raat Reh Pau - Manzoor Hussain Santoo Khan Qawwal And Party


7. Sambhal Kar Dekhna Barq-e-Tajalla Dekhne Waale - Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal, with Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal And Party




8. Ajj Na Jaaveen Ve - Mubarak Ali "Maakha" Lahori and Abdul Majeed Fareedi Qawwal


9. Main Issi Maen Shadmaan Hoon - Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal

  

10. Khayal in Raag Suha Kaanhra - Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal And Party



I end this post by sharing a small collection of photographs spanning the career of Agha Rasheed Fareedi and Abdul Majeed Fareedi Qawwal.




P.S I had not planned to include this recording in this post, in fact I didn't plan on sharing it at all. There were a number of reasons for it; first because it has been patched together from a number of low quality audio sources and I haven't been able to improve the quality despite a fair bit of editing. But the main reason was an intense personal attachment and a desire to be just a teensy bit selfish. This recording has always elicited a VERY strong emotional - would it be too pretentious to say 'spiritual' - response in me. Several times I have found myself either weeping uncontrollably or walking around in a dazed, shivering and disoriented state of mind after listening to it. I have always found this recording difficult to describe. It has been performed at an emotionally charged gathering, by a group of performers for whom the emotions hold greater power than the listeners. The voices, the style of singing, the whole aural landscape of this recording seems like it belongs to a different time, a different place. When I'd first heard it, I felt like an extraterrestrial being, stumbling onto the Golden Record placed in the Voyager 1 spacecraft and listening to Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was The Night". Here then is one final recording featuring Ustad Majeed Fareedi , accompanying his ustad, Salamat Ali Khan, on the chehlum of his other ustad, Mubarak Ali Khan. The kalaam serves both as a Na'at, and as a eulogy, and is one of the most perfect examples of girah-bandi ever.

11. Teri Yaad Hai Mun Ka Chain Piya - Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, accompanied by Ustad Majeed Fareedi and others, at the Chehlum of Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, 1971.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

...Of Festivals And Firm Refusals

There are very few excuses this time, and those few are flimsy at best. It has been laziness, plain and simple, that's kept me from writing for the better part of the last 5 months. I've had time - not ample time, but enough to hammer out a rough draft or two - and I've had ideas, but I've lacked the get-up-and-go that is the catalyst to productivity. A lot has happened over the last five or six months, several events warranting a write-up, but they've gone largely uncelebrated-or unmourned. Still, better late than never (God forbid). What follows is a hodge-podge of ideas that have been on my mind recently.

Notes On A Festival 

I plan my once-a-month weekend around events that interest me, so that my weekends serve a dual purpose; touching base with the folks back home and (barely) keeping my cultural interests alive. Even so, I miss most of what goes on in the metropolis; movies, concerts, book fairs etc that I would've given an arm and a leg to attend. Still, if there's a slim chance of catching something exciting, I don't mind traveling an extra two or three hundred miles or spending an extra four or five grand on fuel so that I can return to the jungle with something more than a jar of Nano's mango pickle.


Last month I made a quick one-night trip to Lahore to attend a series of plays performed by a wonderful theatre group from across the border, and this month I managed to attend (and convinced more than two dozen family members to attend) the Mystic Music Festival held at Alhamra. The fact that the family would also attend meant a lot of organizational and coordinational (a word I just made up) hassles, but it was well worth it. Over two nights, I had a fair amount of fun, managed to listen to - and watch - some exceptional performances and accomplished the 'touching base with the family' task fairly adequately as well.

I won't go into detailed descriptions of the acts but I did carry away some pretty clear impressions from the two nights that I attended. Some were positive, but a few things niggled me as well. It was pretty easy to pick out favorite performers from amongst the twenty or so acts that I saw. First and foremost, Saeen Zahoor is a gift from God. His voice, especially in the high registers, is spine-tinglingly, goosebumping inducingly powerful and his wonderfully unassuming style perfectly complements his phenomenal talents. I've rarely found myself teary-eyed at a concert, but Saeen ji made me almost break into sobs.God bless him for that.

The other veteran performer who was totally on-the-money was the wonderful Akhter Chinar Zehri from Balochistan. I've grown up watching him on TV as the uncle who sings "Dana-pe-dana", which he obligingly performed at the festival. But what clinched the performance for me was his rendition of Hz Maulana Rumi (RA)'s wonderfully charged ghazal from the Diwan-e-Shams


بیدار شو بیدار شو ھین رفت شب بیدار شو
بیزار شو بیزار شو وزخویشہم بیزار شو

This he performed in his trademark style, lingering on and emoting each verse, whirling and swaying all the while. It was a trance-inducing performance and I won't forget it any time soon. 

Then there were two rather young acts who impressed me very much, and were appreciated pretty generously by the audience as well. The "Bazm-e-Liqa", a group of Ismaili musicians; male and female of relatively young ages, from Hunza in the Gilgit-Baltistan region who accompany themselves on traditional instruments like the Rubab and the lute, with percussion provided by tambourines and Daff's. They were unhurried, completely lost in their own performance, with wonderful voices and a soothing and tranquil performance style. They performed, among other things, a Hamd of Pir Naseeruddin Naseer(RA)'s and a wonderful ghazal of Hafiz Sherazi's and were probably my stand-out favorites among all the performers.

The other performer that really impressed my was Wahdat Rameez, a young musician with no family background in music but possessing a wonderfully melodious voice. He was accompanied by his brother on the harmonium and they sang only two pieces, the "Rohi" and a traditional folk tune made famous by the Wadaali brothers. The style was unassuming, the voices clear and melodious and classically trained. I'm pretty sure I'll be hearing a lot more from them in the future. Honourable mentions also to Kishan Lal Bheel from Cholistan and his band of traditional musicians/dancers/fire-eaters.

While these were the standout performers in my view, the other performers, barring one or two exceptions, were also pretty good. However, there were one or two things that rankled and proved major bummers. One of the things that annoyed me was something I have written about previously. There were seven Qawwal parties featured over the two nights that I attended the festival, and they all performed at least three items each. The irritating bit was that all the twenty or so items performed by the Qawwals boiled down to half a dozen Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan pieces. Some Qawwalis, like "Allah Hoo Allah Hoo" and  "Saanson Ki Mala" were repeated four times each night, and I have now grown to hate, literally loathe "Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai" mainly because I heard it performed four times in a single night by four different Qawwali parties. I feel sorry for Nusrat, God rest his soul, but I feel doubly sorry for the hundreds of Qawwals whose growth and development became stunted when they couldn't grow out of his enormous shadow. Not one Qawwal performed an original composition-except maybe Imran Aziz Mian. who decided to forego half-hearted Nusrat covers in favour of half-hearted covers of his father's famous Qawwalis. 

The other thing that Qawwals in particular, and most other performers in general, suffered from was counter-intuitive sound mixing. With a few exceptions- "Bazm-e-Liqa", Wahdat Rameez and Arieb Azhar-, each performer's sound-mix consisted of an ultra-loud tabla/dholak and earscreechingly loud vocals; with the harmoniums, guitars, saxophones, clarinets and violins completely drowned out. It was a sad sight to see a rather elderly clarinet player playing the bejeezus out of his instrument,sitting in the back-row of a Qawwali party with no microphone in front of him, while at the same time there were two microphones each for the two dholak players. I've never been able to understand why performers - and in some cases audiences - prefer this setup. It was at the performers' insistence that the levels were adjusted, with many vocalists urging the sound engineers to literally 'take it up to 11', ala Spinal Tap. What resulted was a muddled mess of noise that was pretty distressing to the ears. I'm afraid this is what most of the concerts I've attended have sounded like, and it represents a pretty sizeable hurdle in the way of enjoying the precious few live musical events that take place in Pakistan. 

Looking At It From Smaug's Point Of View 

Once upon a time there was a phenomenal treasure trove of music in a folder on a file-sharing site. It had been uploaded by a gentleman of Pickwickian benevolence and consisted of hundreds of hours of extremely rare recordings by some of the greatest musicians of the last century. It was freely available to the public to listen to, share and download-albeit with moderation. You were allowed a limited number of downloads per day so the servers wouldn't get overloaded. People mostly minded the rules and listened/downloaded with restraint, enabling the folder to remain online for almost three years. Well, one day, as was inevitable, someone greedy came along. The download limit was exceeded, the servers got overloaded, the filesharing site investigated and decided the folder seemed suspicious in terms of copyright infringement and shut it down. The greatest online repository of music, which had taken at least two years to upload and organize, is no more. The gentleman who had painstakingly uploaded the folder is unwilling to go to all the effort again, just to accomodate those he now calls 'selfish freeloaders'. 

Some friends of mine knew an elderly gentleman who was rumoured to possess several extremely rare Qawwali recordings and had a few hundred tapes in his collection. Overtures were made to him to share some, if not all, of his recordings with us, in exchange we'd digitize and organize them for him. these overtures were met with a firm refusal. The gentleman provided a reason for his refusal, which I'm paraphrasing here. The recordings that he possessed had been personally recorded by him at various Qawwali mehfils over the last half-century. In order to attend those mehfils he'd had to travel many hundreds of miles, spending days and weeks in travel just to listen to -and try to record- his favorite artists. Getting invited to these mehfils had involved first being accepted into the community of organizers, conoisseurs and performers. This acceptance had been cultivated over years, and involved meetings, discussions and active participation in the various activities associated with shrines and dargaahs. After he'd been deemed worthy of an invitation, had made the week-long trek to some far off location and been allowed to attend the mehfils, he had to receive permission to record; permission which was not always forthcoming. It was therefore, quite a challenge to record these mehfils.

If he heard about a recording in the possession of somebody else, the whole odyssey would be repeated. He often had to travel a couple of hundred miles in search of a single recording and return empty-handed, but the recordings he managed to get were cherished possessions. The recordings in those tapes, he said, weren't just audio snippets of obscure musicians. They were a record of the places, people, relationships, time and effort that were associated with acquiring them. They were, in short, milestones to his life. What we were suggesting, he said, was that he hand over those milestones to us when we had experienced/suffered/enjoyed/felt none of the things he considered the price of the recordings. Hence the flat refusal. Both 'zauq' and 'shauq' had to be amply demonstrated before he'd be willing to part with any one of them. So, while my friends were allowed to listen to some of the recordings, they came back empty handed.

The late Lutfullah Khan Sb was the foremost audiovisual archiver/collector in Pakistan. His collection of audio/video and documents related to the performing arts is unparallelled in its breadth and scope. He had painstakingly collected, edited, organized and cataloged the entire audiovisual history of Pakistan. This obsession consumed and controlled most of his life, and is enshrined in the most extensive audiovisual library in Pakistan. He left clear instructions to his family that after his death, his archive should be given over to the person or organization who could provide adequate financial compensation to his family for what is an incalculably rich treasure. This financial compensation would have to run into tens of millions of rupees ( a fair assessment in my opinion), otherwise there would be no-sale. On no account would the archive be donated free of cost, in fact Lutfullah Sb preferred setting fire to the whole collection rather than allowing it out of his family's hands without 'adequate financial compensation.' Almost a year after Lutfullah Sb's death, the archive remains closed to the public.

The small music collection that I've managed to acquire over the last three or four years owes much of its existence to the kindness of friends and total strangers. With a few exceptions, I have not had to travel hundreds of miles, or offer proofs of my 'zauq' or 'shauq'. I have often bickered when, in search of recordings and such, I have been faced with a firm refusal or delaying tactics. But I have also come to see that there is some, if not complete, then at least some justification in the refusals. In an age where the internet and filesharing have made gazillions of hours of audio and video freely available, some of us, myself included, have started taking this easy availability for granted. We have started to consider it something of a right to be able to see everything, hear everything and enjoy everything. I'm not saying this free availability is a bad thing. I'm sure my music collection, and come to think of it, my life would've been woefully incomplete if not for those angels in human shape who share so much of their collections on filesharing sites and YouTube. 

But consideration must be paid to the dissenting voices, who believe that simply desiring something isn't enough, one must do something to deserve it too. 

P.S Look up Bazm-e-Liqa and Wahdat Rameez, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

...From Nothingness to 'Being' - Hz Bedam Shah Warsi (RA)

Around two years ago I started a "Rather Ambitious Project". I had recently arrived in the jungle and had eons of time at my hands. After acquainting myself with the local flora and fauna -comprising mainly of snakes and giant insects - I had to find something useful to do. After spending a month or so transcribing some of Haji Mahboob Sb's recordings and digitizing some of my cassettes, I was looking for something else to occupy my time. I had brought along a Farsi primer to learn the rudiments of that language, mainly to help me understand the kalam I was transcribing, but that required just an hour or two of my time per day. My FCPS Part 1 exam was a year and a half away, so my course books were still technically out-of-bounds for me. All I did was lie in my room in the middle of the jungle and enjoy the lack of electricity, running water and human contact with my aforementioned friends - the snakes and giant insects.

Finally I decided I'd try my hand at organizing my music library. I had a fairly large number of recordings of various kinds in my harddrive and I used iTunes as my primary music player. iTunes has a very pedantic attitude towards organizing your library, and if it's not done just right, it can take you hour to search through it. So I decided to knuckle down and try to sort out the jumbled mess of music in my harddrive. I had seen my friends over at "Qawwali Central" use a simple yet effective way of organizing their Qawwali recordings. Under the 'Genre' tab, they used to place the name of the poet. So all of Maulana Jami's kalams were under the genre of "Jami" and so forth. This was useful when you needed to identify the poet of a kalam, as well as for when you were in the mood to listen to, say nothing but Khusrau (RA) for example. The artists, albums and tracks would remain true to those listed on the recordings, while the genres would divide them neatly among the various poets. This seemed like a great idea, so that's how I started organizing my music too.

Once I had done so -and it took me quite a few days due to the lack of electricity mentioned above, I began to pay more attention to some aspects of the recordings that I hadn't noticed before. For example, how each artist; based on his background, training and influences etc, interpreted the same kalaam in a way entirely different from another artist. Some performers brought out the spiritual meanings of the kalams, while others embellished them in musical adornment, while still others flew off at new tangents altogether. Very soon, I had my definitive versions of each kalam, and those I listened to repeatedly.

A while before leaving for the jungle, I had put up a couple of posts highlighting the different versions of the same kalaam by different artists , highlighting what I've mentioned above. While organizing my music, I thought of another approach. I would share my favorite versions of kalams by one poet only, showing how their various kalams were performed by different artists. And to avoid giving preference to one artist over the other, or one kalam over another, I would include only one version of the kalam and only one recording by an artist per post. Otherwise the recordings would number into the dozens and my poor file-hosting server would crash.

So, with that in mind, I set out to select recordings, which was easier said than done. To include Munshi Raziuddin's version of the Qaul or Bahauddin Khan Sb's, to include the more popularly known version of a kalam or to include an unheard track by an obscure performer and so forth. Still, after a couple of weeks of picking and cutting, I had a sizeable stash of 45 odd recordings that I was ready to share. the next step was writing about the recordings and preparing the posts themselves. In those days, I had the habit of writing down most of the post before hand, on paper or as MS word documents, so I could just paste the text and upload the recordings, saving me time on my once-a-month weekends. I have a habit - which I'll have to get rid of someday - of writing in a very florid and overlong style, a result of worshiping Wodehouse I suppose, and it took me quite a while to get all the write-ups done. But a couple of days before I was about to come home on a weekend, the write-ups were finished too. Now all I had to do was come home and post the stuff.

That's when the jungle decided to play a trick on me. Lightning struck - quite literally- and fried my laptop. Thank heavens my harddrive wasn't attached to it at that time, for I hadn't backed up my data then. But my laptop, with all the write-ups and recordings, and tons of other important data, was kaput. Thankfully it was still in warranty and the vendors were able to replace it, but I had lost my enthusiasm along with my data and decided to put the project on an indefinite hiatus.

Several times during the last two years, I thought of restarting work on the project, but laziness and a recollection of the enormity of the task always dissuaded me. In these two years, I managed to brush up my Farsi slightly, pass my FCPS Part 1 exam, get engaged and alleviate my electricity/running water/communications problem - still no luck with the snakes and giant insects, and managed to reclaim some of the absolute idleness that I enjoyed at my arrival in the jungle. So, a month or so ago, I started earnestly working towards revvitalizing this long dead project. Collected the recordings again and made backups. Thankfully this time there have been no mess-ups -so far, touchwood - and I think I'm finally ready to get back to what I started more than two years ago.

This time, I have more recordings to choose from, and I find that I have inadvertently posted two installments of the project already, so this makes it the third post.

1. Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA)

2. Allama Muhammad Iqbal (RA)

And now, the third post on Hz Bedam Shah Warsi (RA).

Hz Bedam Shah Warsi (RA) was born in 1882 in Atawa, a town in present day UP, India. He was named Ghulam Hasnain by his parents, but this name was forgotten once he took on the mantle of mysticism. His spiritual murshid was Hz Syed Waris Ali Shah (RA), and Bedam Sb, under the influence of his murshid, became an adept sufi. Spending most of his life in the garb of a 'Faqeer', Bedam Sb passed away in November 1936. He is buried near the shrine of his murshid. Not many biographical details are available on Bedam Sb, but what is known is that he was a contemporary of most of the great Sufis of the turn of the century, including Pir Mehr Ali Shah (RA), Khwaja Ghulam Fareed (RA) Hz Hasan Nizami (RA) - who said about Bedam Sb's 'Diwan', Hast Irfan dar zabaan-e-Poorbi, and poets like Hz Allama Iqbal (RA).

Bedam Sb's kalam is a wonderful mix of modern Urdu idiom and the Farsi/Purbi traditions that shaped the Sufi poetry that preceded him. His Purbi kalams led him to be given the title of 'Khusrau-e-Saani' - the Second Khusrau. His Naatiya kalaams are in a league of their own, wonderfully expressing the love for the Prophet (SAW) while at the same time retaining the fragrances of his native land, emanating - as he himself says - a "Bheeni bheeni khushboo". His non- Naatiya kalaams contain treasures of meaning, and all the main Sufi concepts are wonderfully visible- Wahdat-ul-Wujood, the concepts of 'Fanaa' and 'Baqaa', of love towards the Murshid and all creations of Allah.

Bedam Sb's kalaam has been sung by Naat-khwaans and Qawwals since his lifetime. His ghazals were readily picked up by contemporary Qawwals, and Tazmeens were sung on them. Even today, almost eighty years after his demise, Bedam Sb's kalam retains the same freshness, the same depth of ideas and emotions and the same "bheeni bheeni khushboo" that it did when it was created. What follows is a group of Qawwali recordings of Bedam Sb's kalam, spanning almost seventy years from the '30s to the present day. The performance styles are different, but Bedam Sb's distinct style shines through nonetheless.

1. Begaangiye Dil Ke Afsaane - Kallan Qawwal Meerthi

I have very few recordings of Kallan Qawwal Meerthi - I have slightly more of his namesake Kallan Qawwal Sikandarabadi, but still they're few in number, but those few recordings have turned me into a fan. He used Sitar, Bulbultarang and in one case, a wonderful slide guitar lick that would've made any Bluesman proud, in his recordings, and managed to squeeze a large number of girahs, verses and takraars into the three-odd minutes that could fit onto a 78 RPM record. Here however, he sings the kalam with a simple harmonium and swirling clarinet accompaniment, supported by his hamnavaas. This recording is from the late thirties, so might be considered contemporary with Bedam Sb's life.



2. Adam Se Layi Hai Hasti Main - Jafar Hussayn Khan Badayuni Qawwal

Jafar Hussayn Khan Sb is one of my favorite performers. Distinct from all other Qawwals I've heard, he always conveys a wonderful sense of 'thehraao' or calmness, along with a wonderful mellowness that seems to have been a part of his personality as well. He sings each word with such wonderful affection and ihteraam that the kalaam comes alive. His classical prowess shines through in his lay-kaari, his alaaps and his bol-baant. In this recording he is accompanied by his nephew and Shagird, Wajahat Hussayn Khan Badayuni and they sing together brilliantly. In a sawaal-jawaab style reminiscent of Nusrat when he took a very young Rahat under his wing, the two vocalists share alaaps and compliment each other wonderfully. Jafar Hussayn Sb spends ample time on each verse, constructing brief takraars and embellishments before moving onto the next verse. It is a performance that exudes love for the Prophet (SAW), wonderfully suited to the kalam.



3. Ganj Shakar Ke Laal Nijamuddin - Zaki Taji Qawwal 

It was kalaams like these that earned Bedam Sb the title of 'Khusrave Saani'. Steeped in pure Poorbi, reminiscent of Khusrau's paeans to Hz Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya (RA), this kalam is sung very regularly at dargaahs to this day.  I must confess that I don't know much about Zaki Taji Qawwal and his party apart from a few fragments of information. As is obvious from his name, he was a devotee of Hz Baba Tajuddin (RA) and was a frequent performer at mehfils in Karachi in the '60s and '70s (according to a friend). There's only one album of his circulating on the internet, an EMI release, and it's a slickly produced, instrumentally rich affair. With a crisp voice that reminds me at places of abu Muhammad Qawwal's, Zaki Taji sings the kalam with wonderful economy and marvelous "ghinaa'iat". As he almost lovingly utters the names of the Sufi saints, the shehnai and sitar offer sparse yet effective punctuation. I don't know if one can hear the phrase 'Pir Nijamuddin chatar khilaadi' without a hint of a smile, I know I can't.  A sudden shift in tempo mid-way through the kalam lends a nice sense of urgency to the second half of the kalam.



4. Kaash Mujh Par Hi Mujhe Yaar Ka Dhoka Hojaye - Agha Rasheed Ahmad Fareedi Qawwal

Agha Rasheed Fareedi is one of my most favorite Qawwals, one of the absolutely most favorite ones. This was the first recording that I heard of his, and it sent me into such a wonderful state of mental and spiritual 'hejaan' that I still can't hear it without getting goosebumpy all over.  The arrangement is unusual, and I don't know what Raag it is based on, but whichever one it is, it is arresting, urgent and induces a wonderful sense of loss and nostalgia, or maybe that's just how I hear it. Starting slow, it picks up pace wonderfully, ending at the breakneck pace that most of Fareedi Sb's performances ended in. I've always thought of Fareedi Sb's performances as Express trains. They start slow, as you grab on to a railing and climb aboard. The scenery passing by is interesting, but the thrill of the ride prevents you from disembarking. Imperceptibly, it starts picking up speed. You sense that hanging on to the railing would be dangerous, but you begin to get mesmerized by the chugging of the engine, the trail of smoke and the gentle swaying of the train. Naseeb Khan's tabla accelerates your heartbeat, Majeed Fareedi's unbelievable alaaps cause you to lose your footing and hang on for dear life, but Rasheed's voice urges you to hang on. When you regain your senses, the train's pulling up to the station, and you're thanking your lucky stars that you decided to stay on.



 5. Iss Taraf Bhi Karam Ae Rashk-e-Maseeha Karna - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

In the eighties, when Fareedi Sb was alive, him and Nusrat were both claimants to the title of the ablest shagird of Fateh Ali-Mubarak Ali Qawwals. Fareedi Sb remained true to the traditional Punjabi-Khanqahi style of Qawwali while Nusrat veered off at a slightly different tangent, spurred on by his almost impossibly unique talent. Nusrat left behind a huge body of work of variable quality, but I've always been partial to his earlier recordings. That was when he had not let his experimentation get the best of him and was able to let the kalaam take precedence over his vocals. This is one of those early recordings. The arrangement is almost the same as Fareedi Sb's from the recording above, but Nusrat's arrangement - actually Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan's arrangement, he was the arranger for most of Nusrat's repertoire - lends it a more melancholy, almost sepulchural tone. Farrukh's harmonium flourishes and Nusrat's doha - one he used very frequently - set the mood for a stately performance. Nusrat doesn't waste time on vocal calisthenics, instead letting the kalaam ebb and flow through a series of takraars. Again, I'd like to know what raag this composition is based on, because it stirs me up like nobody's business.




 6. Kaun Sa Ghar Hai Ke Ae Jaan Nahi Kashana Tera - Murli Qawwal 

My last post was on the 'Tazmeen", a verse form that has fallen out of favor recently. This recording is of a verse form that is even more obscure, the 'Mustezaad'. It is similar to the ghazal but with each verse followed by a short rhyming phrase. For example

کون سا گھر ہے کہ اے جاں نہیں کاشانہ تیرا۔۔۔۔۔اور گلو خانہ تیرا
میکدہ تیرا ہے کعبہ تیرا بت خانہ تیرا۔۔۔۔۔ سب ہے جانانہ تیرا

Another famous example is Maulana Rumi(RA)'s famous mustezaad "Har Lehza Ba Shaklaan But-e-Ayyar Baraamad - Dil Burd Nehaan Shud". Here Murli Qawwal performs it in his distinctive takraar based style. I sincerely hope I can get to listen to recordings from Murli's youth one day. His aged voice is wonderful in itself, but Imagine what it must've sounded in its prime.



7. Bekhud Kiye Dete Hain Andaaze Hijabaana - Farid Ayaz, Abu Muhammad Qawwal

This is probably the one kalam of Bedam Sb that's performed the most nowadays. It is a fairly long ghazal and Qawwals tend to include either the verses pertaining to Ishq-e-Haqiqi (Divine love) or Ishq-e-Majazi (Temporal love) in their performances, but rarely both. I prefer the former style of performance, but that's a personal preference. In this uptempo performance, Farid Ayaz employs short sargams and taans while Abu Muhammad propels the verses along. Sung in a very 'zor daar' andaz, with a lively dholak and taali accompaniment, this performance exudes the joy and intoxication of 'visaal', regardless of the veils that lie between one and the beloved.



8. Ayi Naseeme Kooe Muhammad (SAW) - Aziz Ahmed Khan Warsi Qawwal

This is probably Bedam Sb's most beloved Naat. Literally hundreds of Naat-khwaans and Qawwals have sung it  over the years. Aziz Ahmad Khan Warsi sung it regularly in his mehfils and he sang it wonderfully. Here is the most complete version in my collection. His unique staccato harmonium and the ubiquitous dholak accompaniment are present here, as his his distinctive piercing voice. He builds takraars on 'Sallalaahu Alaihiwasallam" and then inserts rather wonderful takraars in Urdu and Farsi, all the while the dholak provides a steady beat. The takraar is resumed after every verse, with fresh girahs inserted. Warsi Sb's short alaaps and taans punctuate this wonderful performance.



9. Yaad Ne Teri Kiya Khud Se Faramosh Mujhe - Ameer Rafeeq Murkiyanwale Qawwal

If there's one Qawwali party who's every recording exudes pure joy, it's Ustad Rafeeq Ali, his son Ameer Ali and their party. What a wonderful group of performers, three exceptional vocalists, each with their distinctive vocal stylings, a brilliant dholak/taali section and the wonderful use of Sarangi and Violin. Rafeeq Ali's taans are matchless, and apart from the late Haji Maqbool Sabri, I've rarely heard a Qawwal with a more melodious and mellifluous voice. In this performance, he uses one of Bedam Sb's verses as a doha - one that he used in many other performances as well, then a trio of short, triling taans and we're off. Most performances are led by Ameer Ali, with his father providing occasional vocal support, but this performance is wholly and completely Ustad Rafeeq Ali's, and thank heavens for that. The girah-bandi, the taans, and the gayeki on this recording are absolutely brilliant, and it's a shame that there aren't more than a dozen or so good recordings available of this group. I'll have to specifically ask around for them on my next trip to Faisalabad.



10. Kaash Meri Jabeene Shauq - Haji Mahboob Ali Qawwal

When I started compiling these recordings two years ago, and again more recently, I was struck by an interesting observation. The depth of Haji Mahboob Sb's repertoire was so great that I could post pretty comprehensive selections of all these poets culled only from Haji Sb's recordings. Bedam Sb's kalams were an essential part of his repertoire and Haji Sb performed them with and without Tazameen pretty regularly. This recording is taken from a mehfil that was devoted solely to Bedam Sb's kalams, and each one of the performances deserved to be posted here, but the 'one recording per artist' rule is here for a reason. Haji Sb's girahs , from Farsi to the Punjabi Baits of Hz Ali Haider Shah (RA), are extremely apt, his sitar drones wonderfully in the background and Haji Mushtaq offers alaaps, accompaniment and harmonium flourishes admirably. This is a deeply spiritual kalaam of Bedam Sb, with each verse containing, in his own words a "Jahaan-e-Raaz", and one that is very close to my heart. It will serve admirably to close out this compilation of Hz Bedam Shah Warsi's kalam.