This post was originally posted on October 19, 2006. It is being reposted with the addition of some new Qawali video clips.
As I was driving back from work tonight, I had an old Sabri Brothers cassette playing in my car. The window was down, the sound was loud. As I stopped at a red light, my head still nodding to the rhythms, I noticed that the American woman in the car parked next to me was staring at me with a rather perplexed look (Bostonians don’t often get to hear the Sabri bradraan!). She shouted over the music to ask me what type of music this was and from where. I smiled and told her. I am not sure if she heard what I said over the noise because the light turned green just then and we went our different ways.
I guess she left wondering what the beat and sound was about. I left wondering what has happening to qawalli in Pakistan today? Who are the big names out there? Are there any? Is there any Ghulam Farid Sabri, Aziz Mian, Nusrat Fateh Ali equivalent out there? I know of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, but he seems to be mostly re-rendering Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s work. Who else?
I was a qawalli fan while I was still in school; long before there was a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and long before it was kool to be a qawalli fan. I don’t know why I was a fan; no one else around me was. I guess the beat was enticing, the stories interesting, and the qawals colorful. I suspect that those around me thought it was rather odd that I liked qawalli so much; but then, people around me have always considered me odd!
This was the era when the Sabri Brothers Qawall and Aziz Mian Qawall were at the peak of their prowess. They were both major innovators of the qawalli genre. Many purists consider them blasphemous not just because they moved qawalli from being predominantly religious – devotional to everyday-mundane. Remember, the ‘Paani ki qawalli’ and ‘Paisay ki qawalli’ (both by the Sabris) and the populist poetry extravaganzas of Aziz Mian (which often were more Munni Begum than Aziz Mian).
I found this video clip of this Sabri Brothers Qawall rendition of an old devotional qawalli. It is not the best recording but it is one of their most popular religious qawallis. And this being Ramzan – yes, I am sticking to Ramzan with a ‘Z’ – it is timely because it used to be a staple of the Sehri transmissions on PTV. Enjoy!
And while we are at it here is a clip of a classical Aziz Mian performance: