Qawwalis have seen better days, when their popularity overshadowed all other musical renditions. Dispensing information on this once-popular genre of Indian music is the master himself, Ustad Naeem Ajmeri. "With its inviting depths of tradition in the primitive, folk, devotional and popular streams, Indian music has varied cultural contexts. And the Qawwali, a genre of Muslim devotional music, had been a medium of worship for centuries," he says.
The Japiur-based playback, Sufiana and qawwali singer is credited with cutting almost 200 audio and video albums, apart from singing seven film songs. In Panchkula for a live concert at the ongoing Mango Festival held in Pinjore, he shares about his life and music experiences with HT City.
Representing the fourth generation of qawwali singers, Naeem claims to have grown up in a 'melodic mahaul (environment)', that entailed listening alaaps, tans and strains of sarangi at home, before he fell in the tutelage of the legendary Ustad Amir Khan Saheb for Hindustani classical music.
However, he mastered the nuances of qawwali singing from his father, Ustad Ghulam Ahmed Ajmeri and other elder family members who were also accomplished artists.
On the present-age avatar of the qawaali, Naeem says it owes credence to Hazrat Amir Khusro, a multi-faceted genius of the thirteenth century, for his lasting contribution to the literary and musical arts. However, with the genre facing a decline, now perhaps on a virtual extinction especially in films and TV, Naeem maintains that the qawwali, endowed with piety and purity expressed through felicitous use of Urdu and Persian words, is not in the grasp of the modern generation.
"Many young performers may not be familiar with its grammar and lyrical elements, such as Qaul, Qalbana, Naqsh or Gul, that were popularised by Amir Khusro. Since the rich poetic content of qawwali, replete with philosophical and ethical content, cannot match the instant thrill and intoxication of a Munni Badnam Hui or Jalebi Bai, it has no place in films and TV serials," he says candidly.
But there remain many devout lovers and listeners of the genre, who are fighting for its survival. Naeem, who has performed extensively in India, apart from South Africa, Mauritius, Singapore, Bangkok and Iran, and decorated with honours such as Faqr-e-Rajasthan and Rajasthan Gaurav, shares, "My seventeen years of stay and association with Bollywood keeps my interest alive with playback assignments of qawwali or Sufi numbers. Recently, I have recorded a song, Yeh Kismet Hai Ye Cheez Kya Hai.. for a film called Main Meri Patni Aur Woh."
Naeem has previously sung solo in films that include Ganga Ki Kasam, Deewane Mohabbat Ke, Gafil, Sanwali and Don 3.