This mehfil was the highlight of a family reunion in Karachi, involving some of our clan’s siblings, cousins and their children.
It has been some 40 years since us cousins were last under the same roof. The occasion was the brainchild of my youngest mammoozad (progeny of my maternal uncle) cousin, “Baby”, Riffat Ali Shah who has, over the years, metamorphosed from an adorable porcelain doll into a wizened and beautiful grandmother.
In addition to the cousins that live in Karachi, some of us traveled to Karachi from Berlin, Dubai, Islamabad, Lahore, Toronto, Washington D.C. and Vienna.
My Khala’s (maternal aunt’s) eldest daughter, Shahbano and her husband, Nadeem Lodhi, played gracious and unflinching hosts to the occasion — a rambunctious, emotional, anarchic affair characterized by rowdiness borne from reliving younger and altogether innocent and carefree days, afforded by the solidity of familial bonds and connection with the roots that nurtured those bonds.
The male members of our family being a relatively rare species, until my grandfather's and father’s generation, us cousins are mostly related by maternal relationships and this gathering was somewhat of a celebration of matrilineal inheritance. Our common ancestor was my paternal great grandfather, Syed Ghulam Imam, hence the title of this blog.
We were blessed by the presences of my Phuppi (paternal aunt) Sayyeda Tayyaba Nayyar Raza and my Khala (maternal aunt) Sayyeda Abida Sarwar Ali Abidi, who at 97 and 83 years of age, are the last surviving elders that have a direct connection and memory of the ancestral home and the foundations of the extended family.
The occasion was characterized by the bittersweet truth of the voyage of life, best captured in Khala’s words:
“Bachchay jawan ho ga’ay, Jawan boorhay ho ga’ay, boorhay guzar ga’ay…” (The children have become adults, the adults have become elders, the elders have passed away…)
Our family’s relationship with Fareed Ayyaz and Abu Mohammad goes back some fifty years, to when my father and Munshi Raziuddin, their father, established an instant bond of love and respect that would last the rest of their lives. Their relationship was not merely that of a musician and his audience, but that of a man of knowledge and an aesthete. Those foundations have built a relationship that has endured over the years and spans three generations. The years have made us witness to the ups and downs of the lives of the Qawwals, their solid belief in the destinies afforded them by the Almighty and their perseverance in staying true to their long and rich musical heritage. It is a source of great pride in seeing Fareed and Abu Mohammad ascend to the rank of the most famous of Qawwals.
I first heard Fareed sing with the barrhi party of Manzoor Qawwal aur Hamnawa when he would not have been more than twelve years old, and when he already showed the virtuosity, confidence and enthusiasm of the principal singers of the group, all of whom were giants of the Qawwali genre.
Over the years we have commemorated all sorts of occasions — births, marriages, even the passage of loved ones — with the Qawwali of Munshi Raziuddin and his sons. In some instances, sessions were held for no other reason than my family and I were being on home leave in Pakistan.
The performance is woven with themes of remembrance and the classical expression of which Fareed and Abu Mohammad are such masterful exponents. They recited kalaams from all the great Sufi Poets — Hazrat Amir Khusro, Kabir Das, Baba Bulleh Shah, Hazrat Shah Niaz and others. The concert intertwines lesser recited pieces with some of the more popular, the latter being included to involve the younger members of the audience.
If there is one piece in this concert that captured my soul, it was the recitation of “Bakhoobi Hum Cho Meh” in Raga Shahana. The Raaga as well as the Persian Kalaam are compositions of Hazrat Ameer Khusro, and “majestic” is about the only word that can capture the quality of this composition. In current times, most Qawwals cannot, or choose not to, sing the piece for the difficulty of doing it adequate justice. In some instances the tempo is made faster, which trivializes the mood.
The performance of Shahana in the 1969 mehfil, posted on this blog, is the definitive performance I have heard. But that was rendered by four Master Qawwals, all at their peak, singing in wonderful unison. One can appreciate the difficulty of rendering it in its true form when listening to the performance at this Mehfil. One can almost see and hear Fareed’s lungs squeezing that last bit of breath to elongate the expression of phrases. As he says at one point, “Munay dervaish rah…teen lafz hain…saans phutt jata hai…” [ Roughly translated, “These are just three words, but singing them causes the lungs to explode!”].
All in all, this is one of the three best concerts in our collection. It just goes to prove, once again, that the emotional connect between performer and audience is the ethereal spark that ignites an inspired performance. — Asif Mamu
(Special thanks to Mahera Omar and Talha Ahmed for shooting and editing the videos of this mehfil.)
Dholan Manda Ghar Aavii (Raaga Palasi/Bhimpalasi)
Qaul Mun Kunto Maula
Aay Dayya Kahan Gaye veh Logh (Raaga Bilawal)
Mairay Banay ki Baath na Poochho
Bakhoobi hum cho meh (Raaga Shahana)
Hazrat Khwaja Sung Khailyeh Dhammal / Ali daiyo Badhayee/ Kirpa karo Maharaj, Khwaja Moinuddin
Bhalla Hua Mayree Gagree Phooti / Tayray Ishq Nachachaya
Chaap Tilak Sub Chheeney (Raaga Des)
Ay Sukh Dayya (Raga Kedara)
Manam Mahvay Jamaal-i-Oo
Ay Dil Baygeer Daaman i Sultan i Auliya
Ay Dil Baygeer Daaman i Sultan i Auliya (Soz)