His voice moves, rises, then seems to stretch toward the heavens before drifting back earthward and then off it soars again, against the musical backdrop of drums, harmonium and hand clapping. This is the other-worldly magic of Qawwali, as performed by Pakistan's Faiz Ali Faiz.
With a voice as powerful and varied as it is haunting and prayerful, Faiz Ali Faiz is often described as the "new voice of Qawwali". This is the unique music genre created when devotional poetry of the mystical Sufi branch of Islam is set to music. The term 'new voice' is a reference to 'the voice' of Qawwali, namely, the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who's powerful vocals and mesmerising performances turned the world spotlight onto this music genre for the first time. Faiz Ali Faiz is seen by many to be the musical successor to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Arguably the most well-known of Sufism's song forms, Qawwali uses notes and verses that make reference to the major themes of Sufi beliefs, namely, separation from the divine (firaq), sacred union (visal), and dissolution in the divine (fana). Qawwalis vary in length from a few minutes to a few hours, and are crafted to elevate the spirits of both the performers and the audience, and bring them closer to the divine by inducing a state of ecstasy through the rhythmic repetition of words and phrases.
Faiz Ali Faiz, born in 1962 in Pakistan, hails from a family with seven generations of qawwals (qawwali singers) and began his professional career at the age of 16 with his own ensemble. On a varied and rigorous international tour schedule, his performances have long been earning rave reviews.
"With its dramatic vocals, handclaps and thundering tablas, qawwali wins admirers at festival around the world and Faiz is animpressive larger-than-life performer..."
"...a remarkable singer with great flexibility and imagination."
- The Advertiser
Faiz Ali Faiz
Music that transports the singer and the listener to a higher place, an elevated realm of purity and communion with a higher power. This is the raison d'etre of Qawwali, the poetry of Sufism given musical expression.
Sufism, which dates back to the 7th century, is considered the mystical branch of Islam, and teaches that music, song and dance are a means to achieving communion with God. Some orders of this sect focus on reciting religious verses, some use only music, while others use both in their devotions.
The Qawwali style is believed to have been developed in the 13th century by the poet and musician Amir Khusrau. The word comes from the Arabic qual, which is to speak or say, the emphasis being on the words of the song. The music which accompanies the qawwal (the singer) is designed to make the listener more receptive to the key messages in the words.
Sufi poetry identifies love as the basis of the relationship with God, and this form of love is often described as if it is worldly love between man and woman. Items traditionally forbidden in orthodox Islam – wine, the cupbearer, the tavern - are used as metaphors for the mystical state of communion with God. For instance, wine is the catalyst which creates the meeting between the soul and the spiritual vision. Drunkenness is a metaphor for the state of ecstasy when communion with the divine is experienced. The cupbearer brings the wine of love and symbolises the teacher or guide who leads the singer to the drink of divine knowledge. The tavern refers to the heart of the mystic, or to the Sufi meeting place, a dwelling place of love. Those who are drunk are those who have experienced visions of God, so to speak.
The imagery of Sufi poetry as heard in Qawwali can appear profane to the uninitiated, but it carries sacred meaning to those who understand. And while the words are the most important, they must be accompanied by music, usually in the form of a chorus of clapping singers, the harmonium and drums.
The lead soloist selects the verses, decides which lines the chorus should repeat or support, which themes or imagery to invoke, and which textual and musical elements will communicate most effectively with the audience.
After a short musical introduction, the soloist intones the first lines of a poem in free rhythm. When he reaches a point to be emphasised, the chorus and rhythm instruments enter, adding strong rhythmic accents to the textual phrases, and punctuating them with hand clapping and drumbeats. With repetition, rhythmic beats, volume and tempo, it builds to a climax that transports the listener and the performers to another plane.
Qawwali singers take responsibility for setting the poems to music, establishing an appropriate mood to get the listener 'intoxicated' and into an ecstatic trance. They are also responsible for bringing the listener down gradually, from this heightened state back to the physical material world before him.
The world's most well-known Qawwali singer is undoubtedly the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, also from Pakistan, who was instrumental in bringing his traditional, devotional genre to the world's pop music culture.
28 Apr 2012, Sat
$30*, $45**, $60
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