'Spirit of India'
the-south-asian.com April 2001
Page 3 of 5
Music in Pakistan - The Story
of Five Decades
Khalid Manzoor Basra
Qawwali and Sufi music
The range of Sufi music includes the highly structured genre of qawwali, kafi and various regional genres of similar ethos. The origin of qawwali (Sufi poetry set to music) is traced back to the 13th century saint poet musician Amir Khusrau of Delhi, who evolved and perfected the musical structure of the genre and also in a way set the tone of poetic imagery and construction which has been broadly followed by the future composers. In line with the general policy of propagation of Islamic values, the genre received special treatment in the post 1947 official policy and special slots were allocated to qawwali performances on radio and television. A host of other religious genres also developed as popular media items in the same period of time which include kafi, na’at and hamd.
A number of very talented musicians excelled in the art of Kafi singing, polishing the predominantly folk structure into a highly ornate semi-classical art form. Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, who was active around 1947, had a number of kafi compositions in his repertoire and had also cut a number of gramophone discs. In this style, which was highly embellished and filigreed with a strong element of tappa, Zahida Parveen developed as a great vocalist.
In the subsequent years a number of prominent classical vocalists also experimented in the genre but a few developed it exclusively. These include Pathaney Khan, Zahida’s daughter, Shahida Parveen, Hussain Bakhsh Dhadhi, Ustad Allah Dad of Bahawalpur in the Punjabi/ Saraiki style and Abida Parveen, Ustad Jumman, Sohrab Fakir, Qurban Fakir, Faqira Bhagat, Krishan Lal Bheel and a range of others in the Sindhi style. Most of these artists have had successful international tours as well.
Qawwali developed as the major Sufi music genre through the careers of a number of prominent qawwals like Munshi Raziuddin, Baha-ud-din, Santoo Khan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s father, Fateh Ali Khan and uncle Mubarak Ali Khan, Aziz Mian, Sabri Brothers and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Qawwali had a healthy steady patronage from the shrines of Sufi saints which have large established followings who shower money on qawwals performing on various auspicious occasions. It was the carrying of this genre abroad in the early seventies, however, that made it a powerful widely popular genre on the world music scene. Sabri Brothers performing in Carnegie Hall New York in the mid seventies received rave reviews succeeded by several very successful international tours. Aziz Mian also had a successful concert career.
It was a blending of a number of factors that resulted in the phenomenal success of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who died at the zenith of his career in London on 16th August 1997 at the age of 51. He followed the impact made by Sabri brothers and recorded a few fusion-based qawwali compositions in the early 80’s, which became world-wide hits. He had a traditional qawwali training from his father and other family elders of the Jullundhri qawwal family - was endowed with a keen sense of innovative composition and was lucky to be noticed by some of the leading experimental contemporary world musicians like Peter Gabriel who provided him the break that he needed. His musical experiments were frequently criticised by the contemporary purist qawwals who considered use of western instruments and the fusion experiments carried out by Nusrat somewhat blasphemous. His use of certain techniques of western polyphonic composition in his orchestration was also not supported by these quarters. He, however, rose from height to height and became the top selling artist out of Asia, composed for Hollywood movies, Bombay films, and there was never a dearth of demand for his music till the moment of his death. He also brought to Pakistan some of the latest recording equipment and was always busy composing and recording in his studios. His strength also lay in intricate use of rhythm, a wide knowledge of traditional repertoire of raagas and a very sound intimate living knowledge of folk music which he used in some of his most well known compositions.
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