Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mehfil ki ibtida - Blog Introduction

The Arabic word "Qaul" – meaning speech, saying, dictum, declaration – has an enduring association with South Asian Qawwali music.  Normally qawwali compositions are sung with the purpose of reciting sufi poems.  There is, however, an obscure sub-genre of Qawwali in which the songs are based on the sayings and adages (i.e., qauls) of saints and sages.  Qawwals have been singing these qauls for centuries though most of the qual compositions appear to have been lost to time or gone out of vogue.  The most famous surviving qaul that qawwals sing today is the one attributed to Prophet Mohammed(s) uttered at the event of Ghadir-e-Khum in 632:  mun kunto maula fahaza Ali un maula ... (He who accepts me as his master, must accept Ali as his master as well).

The special status which this qaul grants to Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, is recognized by almost all sufi orders, including the famous Chisti order of India, who trace their teachings and spiritual lineages to Hazrat Ali.  It is no wonder then that the inventor of Qawwali, Hazrat Amir Khusro (1253-1325), the great Hindustani cultural icon and Chishti saint, rendered this saying as a memorable musical composition.  This song naturally became known as the Qaul.

Traditionally in Qawwali gatherings a recitation of the Qaul would be compulsory, perhaps even as the opening performance, but increasingly this is no longer the case.  Nevertheless, the Qaul's popularity and reverenced legacy remains undisputed and occasionally the Qaul finds its way into other genres of Hindustani music including classical music.  No finer example exists of this crossover than the following rare vocal and instrumental live performance by the great sitar master Ustad Vilayat Khan from a 1975 recital:

Wah wah! The master.. from the first note...rauntay kharray ho gaey.  Asif Mamu.

The idea for the blog was born out of conversations with my maternal uncle Asif Hasnain (known on this blog as Asif Mamu), the owner of a precious qawwali and classical musical collection that he and his late father Mr. Mehdi Hasnain have accumulated.  The collection is a veritable treasure and cassette copies of it have circulated among friends and families for decades, delighting hearts and enriching souls.  Wouldn't it be a great thing to share it with the world?  Asif Mamu had already digitized and remastered a portion of the collection and written accompanying "Notes on the music," enabling the project to get off the ground quickly in the form of this blog.  Most recordings presented here are live recordings of family music sessions.

The blog not only gives us the satisfaction of sharing the music, it also presents a learning opportunity we could hardly have foreseen when we started the project.  Preparing the blog posts requires diving deeper into different aspects of the music such as its cultural history, the poetic context, and underlying music theory.  The accompanying research pays off in the form of new knowledge and insights which we try to incorporate in the write-ups.  It's our hope that both the textual content and the music will benefit our listeners and that it will in some small way, shape, or form further the cause of this music and its artistes.  Welcome & Enjoy! —Bohotkhoob

Qawwali: An Introduction

Music contexts: A Concise dictionary of Hindustani Music
By Ashok Damodar Ranade

Originally qawwali compositions were Islamic religious songs in praise of knowledge, God’s attributes and saints, etc. It was also customary to pair together qawwali and Qalbana; both being concerned with similar themes.

The word is derived from Qaul (i.e., saying or aphorism). In qawwali, some aphoristic saying of the Prophet was combined with the process of tarannum to enable and create musical elaboration. Khusro began the vogue of composing such songs in different ragas such as Bageshri, Basant, Sohoni and Yaman.

Later the form came to include compositions in Persian.

In India qawwali stabilised around the thirteenth century and the Sufis employed the genre to spread their message. Amir Khusro, a Sufi and a music-innovator contributed to the vogue of the form.

In an earlier tradition, when the genre was more strictly treated as a Sufi expression three preconditions were to be fulfilled: (1) Makan = The place of the performance should be away from the general populace and such as would allow only Sufis and other devotees of Allah. (2) Jaman = Time should be such as not to interfere with Namaz and no other work be scheduled at that time. (3) Akhwan = Auditors should consist of Sufis alone.

Those who sang qaul and tarana were known as qawwal-bacche (sons of qawwali-singers). A disputed tradition traces the performing dominance of khayal to effective performances by the qawwal-bacche.

Contemporary practice suggests that qawwali is a mode of singing rather than a song-type or a variety of composition. A kind of ghazal when treated in a particular mode becomes qawwaIi. With a little simplification it may be said that while a ghazal dealing with the theme of love is rendered in the ghazal-way that which centres on the love of God is presented as a qawwali.

In performance, qawwali presents a fascinating, interchanging use of the solo and the choral modalities. Usually, a party of singers sings qawwali (and two parties render it if the event is competitive). One or two of the singers are chief presenters and two or more from the others provide vocal support. In addition there are others who take care of contributing with rhythmic support (playing dholak, tabla and khanjiri and also prominently with handclaps) and melodic support (on harmonium and bulbultarang — the latter is a curious keyboard string instrument).

Qawwali developed as a popular and evocative form. Terminology related to this music is given below for making it easier to understand a standard performance:

Actions = Gestures/movements the lead singers employ to elicit proper response from the listeners and invoke a mood to support the major thrust of the text.

Alap = Introductory phrases of a raga sung without rhythm to create a background for the raga used in the composition.

Anga = Aspects of singing which bring out the main style followed by the singer (e.g. Punjab ang would mean use of a particular kind of cascading, fast tans etc.)

Baja = Instrument, chiefly refers to harmonium, the keyboard instrument, which is employed by musicians in spite of its being a ‘foreign ‘instrument — with no precedent in the traditions associated with Islamic music-making of the religious type.

Band = A verse of more than two lines — inserted from a longer poem.

Band sama = A closed or an exclusive performance in which a special song-repertoire is rendered without any instrumental accompaniment.

Badhana = To extend, or elaborate the melodic theme.

Bari ka gana = To sing by turns in an assembly of Qawwal-singers.

Basant = Spring festival and the related ritualistic performance of songs and ragas associated with this festival at the Nizamuddin shrine.

Bol = Utterance, the repeatable part of the song-text sung by the chorus.

Bol samjhana = To convey the meaning of the text through musical variations, etc.

Chachar = Metric pattern of 14 beats frequently employed in the genre.

Chal = Gait, the specific melodic contour of the song.

Chalat phirat = Melodic improvisation mostly in a faster tempo and intricate in design.

Cheez = A complete, original song without additions etc.

Chaoki = A performing group of qawwal named after the leader or his ancestor.

Dhun = A tune which is satisfyingly complete and yet may not be in a codified raga.

Doha = A couplet making a complete, rhyming poetic statement in common metre employed by the singers at the beginning or as insertions.

Dohrana = To repeat.

Ghazal = As a poem it is the Farsi/Urdu genre in which couplets are linked with rhymes and metricality.

Girah = A knot, i.e. inserted verse in a qawwali.

Hamd = Poem in Urdu/Farsi in praise of God.

Hawa = Archaic Sufi song in Farsi said to be composed by Amir Khusro.

Khas tarz = Special tune.

Makhsus tarz
= Special tune.

Manqabat = Poem in praise of a great religious personage, especially Sufi saints.

Masnavi = Extended Farsi poem with rhyming couplets

Matra = Durational unit in music making.

Misra = Verse line.

Misra kholna = ‘to open the verse line’. A musical procedure in qawwali-singing. To set up the concluding statement contained in the second line of a couplet by effectively connecting the opening statement of the first line to the concluding statement of the second.

Misra ula = First verse line, especially the opening line of a couplet.

Mukhra = The opening refrain line of the song.

Murki = Melodic ‘turn’ — a specific musical embellishment.

Mushtar ka gana = Mixed i.e. communal singing.

Naghma = Melody, tune, played as a prelude to the qawwali, usually based on a tune derived from the Zikr Allahu.

Naghma-e-Quddusi = A traditional Sufi naghma reportedly originating in the shrine of Abdul Qudua Ganghoi.

Nat = Poem in praise of Prophet Muhammad.

Panchayati gana = communal singing.

Padhna = Recite, read or chant without instrumental accompaniment.

Phailav = Melodic spreading, expansion.

Qata = Four line aphoristic poetic form in Urdu/Farsi used in introductory section of the qawwali.

Qaul = The basic ritual, obligatory song either as opening or closing hymn with the text based on sayings of the Prophet.

Rang = The second principal ritual, obligatory song after Qaul celebrating the saints (Nizamudin Auliya) spiritual guidance (colouring) of his disciple Amir Khusro.

Rubai = Aphoristic four-line poetic form in Farsi/Urdu in qawwali. It refers to the recitative preceding the qawwali often based on a Rubai.

Sany bolan = Saying it as second, singing a verse line to the tune section of the second concluding line of a couplet.

Sargam = Sol-fa passage.

Sher = Couplet, literally the strophic unit of the ghazal poem.

Takrar = Multiple repetition.

Tali = clapping.

Tarana = A genre of songs with meaningless auspicious words, often derived from Sufi invocations.

Tazmin = A poem incorporating famous verses around Sufi classics in Farsi.

Thap = An accented drum beat.

Tiyya = A triad of a rhythmic/melodic cadence.

Zatnin = Poetic metre of the song-text.

Zarb = Accent, rhythmic stress.


Anonymous said...

Salaams Bhotkhoob, and everyone else,

Ma sha Allah! This is a great site. A rare find indeed! Allah bless you all for putting it together.

Abdur Rahman

bohotkhoob said...

Salam Mr. Rahman, thanks for stopping by and also for the kind thoughts. We will post more qawwalis from Munshi Raziuddin and Sons for wider appreciation for their works.

I must add that you have done an excellent job with your blog: Great work!

Unknown said...

First of all... thankyou so much .... this blog has given me so much... and today i have learned many things about qawwali music by reading this ... Bohtkhoob Bohtawla...