Music is an international language. Wherever there are people there is music. And wherever there are Sufis there is Sufi Music. Qawwali ( قوٌالی) is the devotional music of the Sufis of the Indo-Pak Subcontinent.

The term qawwali derives from the Arabic word qual, which means divine speech or utterance. The qawwal is the one who sings the devotional Sufi songs. It is the human voice, the utterance or speech of the qawwal, which gives qawwali its extraordinary power, a power that can take a receptive listener to the heights of spiritual ecstasy. The Sufi Tradition holds that one serves God best through loving one’s fellow human being rather than through religious ritual. Sufis use the rhythms of qawwali to transport themselves into a state of ecstasy and Union with God, Everpresent, Elusive, Beloved.

The roots of Qawwali can be traced back to 8th century Persia. However, Qawwali in the form we know it today was essentially created by Amir Khusrau in the late 13th century in India. Qawwali music received international exposure through the work of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan of Pakistan, who was picked up by the Real World label and also collaborated with many non-Sufi musicians in crossover efforts.

Qawwali plays a vital role in the artistic heritage of the Indo-Pak Subcontinent. Over 700 years ago it was the qawwali of the "father of qawwali" Hazrat Amir Khusro (May Allah have Mercy upon him) that attracted the multitudes in India towards Islam and the Sufi message of Divine Love.

The qawwali gathering is an intense form of devotion and worship during which songs of Divine Love are sung in Praise of Allah (God) and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the Great Sufi Saints. The qawwals use a vast treasury of Sufi mystical poetry to transport their audience across the bridge from the finite realm to the Infinite Realm. This poetry abounds in beautiful and often sensuous imagery of wine, tavern, intoxication, sobriety, lover and Beloved, tresses, eyes, the bliss of mystical union and the pain of separation. For the Sufis the sensuous always indicates the spiritual.

The powerful voices of the qawwals, with their ceaseless repetition of key phrases, the rhythms of the music performed on harmonium and dholak and tabla, and the accompanying hand clapping, give qawwali its unique and distinctive quality. Qawwali is an art of communication. It is an art of the "moment", an art of spontaneity, in which the qawwals and their musicians must respond, immediately, to the spiritual needs of the audience. The qawwals respond to their audience who in turn respond to the qawwals. Back and forth – an art of communication.

Legendary Qawwals of the Past

You may listen popular Qawwali’s from below links:

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6 Responses to Qawwali

  1. Tarique says:

    What a wonderful thing to do! Thanks for sharing these links.
    It may be that the West must begin to make a conscious effort not to "other" entire cultures whose renegades are threatening to us. An effort not to be so disastrously miscued. This could start with listening to the music, looking at the art and eating the food of these cultures — so much easier than engaging with literature, philosophy and religion, and less productive of translation errors, too. Demonstrably, we need to learn who is and who is not The Enemy — and Nusrat is a superb teacher.

  2. Tarique says:

    I was prompted to this page by a friend and listened to all the qawwalis early this morning; no doubt, I\’ll be reeling all day long! Soul music indeed, thanks for sharing.

  3. Tarique says:

    I love Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and I wish I knew how to play with his songs. Does anyone know the bols for the regular Nusrat beat, as shown in this video: Thank you!

  4. Tarique says:

    Unlike most qawwali programmes that normally begin quite late in the evening and then carry on into the wee hours of the morning, the one organised recently by a charity organization for children in Karachi was a relatively early affair.With dinner served as soon as enough guests arrived — not surprisingly, many were trickling in till well after the programme had begun — Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and his humnawa (his group of ten musicians) began their performance almost immediately after.It is to the credit of the Lahore-based qawaal and his entourage — playing instruments as diverse as the tabla, guitar, keyboard, harmonium and trumpet – that they managed to hold the audience’s attention in spite of the fact that it was an extremely hot and humid evening. It was obvious that the management had gone into meticulous details while making the arrangements of the event, so much so that there were tissue boxes and a generous supply of water bottles and soft drinks at every lounge table. It was hence all the more surprising that no fans and/or coolers had been arranged.

    When Rahat got up to take his leave he was overwhelmed with requests by ardent fans who were not willing to let go. In his clear, resonant voice he sang ‘Allah Hu, Allah Hu’ as the finale, and made good his escape before the audience could ask for more

    Nonetheless, the performance was an enjoyable, albeit brief one with the maestro beginning the programme with the famous Koi Tau Hai Joh Nizam-i-Hasti. In the two-hour session that followed some very popular qawwalis were rendered such as Man ki Lagan, Afreen, Afreen and Ankhiaon Deek Dyan. So captivated was the audience that when the Ustad sang what is normally the closing piece — Mast Qalandar — he was inundated with requests for more and had to acquiesce.He followed it up with In Ki Fitrat Mein Hai Bewafai, but once again when he got up to take his leave he was overwhelmed with requests by ardent fans who were not willing to let go. In his clear, resonant voice he sang Allah Hu, Allah Hu as the finale, and made good his escape before the audience could ask for more.It only goes to show that there is an undying demand for good music and a quality voice no matter what the genre, and people are willing to overcome all odds to listen to it. The event was organized by SCINOSA (School for Children in need of Special Attention).

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