Pakistan’s fresh young ensemble, Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali, though still in their teens, are already proving to be masters of the Sufis’ devotional music. The two young brothers who lead the group, Rizwan Mujahid Ali Khan and Muazzam Mujahid Ali Khan, have an impeccable musical pedigree — their grandfather was an uncle of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and personally taught Nusrat the art of Qawwali singing. These nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan come from a direct family line of Qawwali vocal music that spans over five centuries. Their inventive reinterpretations of spiritual love songs based upon classical Islamic and Sufi texts were first showcased in the UK, in July 1998, at the WOMAD Festival in Reading (Great Britain), and received much critical acclaim.
Performers of Qawwali believe that they have a religious mission: to evoke the name of Allah in a quest for total transcendence. They use music as a vehicle to enlightenment or to achieve inner knowledge — via rhythmic hand clapping, percussion, harmonium and a vast repertoire of sung poetry. By repeatedly chanting salient phrases, they transport audiences to a spiritual nirvana or trance-like state. Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali is made up of two lead singers (Rizwan and Muazzam), five secondary singers leading the choral response and vigorous hand claps, two harmonium players and a tabla player. They perform in traditional Qawwali style — sitting on the ground rather than on seats — which they believe brings them closer to God.
A typical Qawwali song will usually begin with a slow instrumental vamp that introduces the melody. The lead singer then meanders in with the first line and establishes a call-and-response pattern. Phrases are repeated over and over again, punctuated by sudden and furious breaks of florid virtuoso singing by the leader. As the piece progresses, the tempo and volume are gradually increased, elevating the listeners to higher and higher states of entrancement. Traditionally, women are forbidden to sing Qawwali.
The original Qawwali repertoire of Farsi (Persian), Punjabi, and BrajBhasha (an old form of Hindi) has given way in recent times to Urdu and Arabic. Romantic love is used as a metaphor for spiritual adoration and mystical enlightenment, drawing upon a rich vein of poetic imagery. It is not surprising, therefore, that Qawwali has become a staple of Hollywood film scores.
Day of Colours, released in 2004, was recorded in four days in a tiny studio in Lahore. It features customary praise songs to Allah and Mohammed, along with praises to Sufi saints such as Ali Ahmed Sabir and Khawaja Muhammad Deveen in languages ranging from Persian to Urdu to Punjabi.
“Qawwali is a precious thing that has stood the test of time,” Rizwan said. “The songs connect to the human spirit and freshen the human soul. Its main message is love and the aim of this record [Day of Colours] is to spread peace and understanding.”
“We know that no one can emulate Nusrat,” Muazzam added. “We just want to carry on where he left off and, God willing, we can take the craft forward.”
Attish: The Hidden Fire (WOMAD Select, 1998)
Sacrifice To Love (Narada, 1999)
A Better Destiny (Real World Records, 2001)
People’s Colony No I (Real World Records, 2001)
Day Of Colours (Real World Records, 2004)
Sufi Sama (Tabaruq Records, 2007)