The beat of the tabla and dhol, the notes of the harmonium and the baritone voices singing away in merry ecstasy… no fan of music, atleast no one belonging to the Indo-Pak subcontinent, can fail to recognise this combination. Yes, it is the ever-popular Qawwali. Being Pakistanis, most of us have heard a Qawwali at one time or another. But how many people actually know what it is and more importantly, which are the must-hear Urdu Qawwalis?
Qawwali is a form of Sufi music that is characterized by its repetitive chants, hand clapping and the farshi nishist (sitting on the floor) of the singers/ musicians, or Qawwals. According to some historians, Qawwali was developed by famous poet and mystic of the Indo-Pak subcontinent, Hazrat Amir Khusrau in the late 13th century. Since then, it has absorbed nuances from Persian, Punjabi, Turkish, Arabic and Indian musical traditions. In many region, Qawwali is known as Samaa. In modern times, Qawwali has moved from the subcontinent to gain global exposure.
Qawwalis have been written and performed in many languages such as Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Persian and others. The Urdu Qawwali became globally famous owing to the popularity of Qawwals such as Sabri brothers, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Aziz Mian Qawwal and Munshi Razi and his sons Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad. There are many famous Urdu qawwalis and picking out the top 5 is a very difficult task. So without further ado, the following are the top 10 Urdu Qawwalis:
1- Tajdar e Haram (Sabri Brothers)
A long time before Atif Aslam sang this in Coke Studio Pakistan’s season 8, it was already a firm favourite of qawwali enthusiasts. It was featured in the 1982 film Sahaaray .The various recordings of this that are available on YouTube have garnered views in the millions and the Coke Studio version has almost 58 million views. Like most Sufi poetry, the kalaam is a praise of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and was written by Purnam Allahabadi, although many verses in the extended versions were borrowed from various other kalaams .
2- Bhar do Jholi (Sabri Brothers)
It is arguably the second most popular qawwali by the renowned Sabri brothers. It was also featured in a 1975 Urdu film Bin Baadal Barsaat. The words of this qawwali are also credited to Purnam Allahabadi. This kalaam was featured in his poetry compilation Phool Dekhe Na Gaye. The poet/singer of this qawwali takes on the role of a beggar, coming to ask the Prophet Muhammad for food and/or money. Yet, this is only the surface meaning; he is not only begging for physical sustenance but also for spiritual sustenance and redemption. A modified version of Bhar Do Jholi was also sung by Adnan Sami Khan for the Indian movie Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
3- Allah Hoo (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan)
Sung by Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, this Qawwali is a praise of Allah (swt). It is also considered a classic qawwali by fans of Sufi and devotional music, due to its strong poetry and entrancing music.
4- Tum Ek Gorakh Dhanda Ho (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan)
This is one of the most debatable and controversial one among all Urdu qawwalis. Due to its questioning lyrics, many people have compared it to Allama Iqbal’s Shikwa. The lyrics have been penned by radio broadcaster and lyricist Naz Khialvi and the poetry revolves around the apparently mysterious ways that God works.
5- Aaj Rung Hai (various)
Although not strictly an Urdu qawwali, it is a worth-mentioning one on the basis of its historical and symbolic significance. This qawwali differs from all others due to the fact that it is performed at every Qawwali gathering as a tradition. Every qawwal sings this kalaam at the end of a mehfil e samaa. It is said to have been written and composed by Amir Khusrau in appreciation of Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia. The lyrics a mix of Urdu and Purbhi languages. Hadiqa Kiyani performed this qawwali in Coke Studio Pakistan’s season 5 and it was also the finale performance of Coke Studio Pakistan’s 9th season, which was performed by seasoned qawwals Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Amjad Sabri (late).
The above qawwalis are a mere tip of the glorious iceberg that is Qawwali music. The list is in no way exhaustive, so be sure to watch this space for a continuation of this article.