Qawwali is considered a form of Sufi music, and as a tradition, it dates back to the 14th century.
While it has enjoyed popularity in countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, for decades, of late, the perception is that other, more contemporary genres seem to be overshadowing it.
While back in the day, blockbuster films such as Barsaat Ki Raat (1960), Waqt (1965), Amar Akbar Anthony (1968) and Mughal-E-Azam (1960), would feature qawwalis, today, the numbers are more limited. Only a handful of movies like Jodhaa Akbar (2008), Delhi 6 (2009) and Rockstar (2012), have celebrated the genre over the last few years.
But is qawwali really fading out? Shadab Faridi Nizami — who along with his brothers, Chand Nizami and Shorabh Faridi Nizami, forms the pioneering qawwali band, Nizami Bandhu — admits that 'it’s importance has fallen' over time.
“But to live up to the changing tastes of the listeners, qawwali singing has gone a step further. It has become open to change,” adds Shadab. Probably, that’s why the seventh generation musicians — who sing every week at New Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah — always perform to a packed house.
Chand says, “The number of people who listen to our music has gone up. Apart from dargahs, we now sing at marriages and concerts too. All our shows get sold out.
People are definitely inclined towards qawwali; the need of the hour is to get it the recognition it deserves.” In the same vein, Shorabh adds, “There is not enough awareness about the genre today. In spite of being soothing, qawwali struggles to find the space, audience and significance it deserves.”
At a time when there are multiple new genres attracting musicians and audiences alike, do qawwals earn enough from their performances?
Shorabh Faridi shares an insight: “The usual size of a qawwali group is 12-15 people. So, if we earn, say `2 lakh per concert, each person gets about `14,000. We usually have about two concerts per month, so owing to high inflation, singers find it difficult to fulfil basic needs.”
Though the genre is undergoing a relatively difficult phase, the members of Nizami Bandhu are glad that many youngsters are learning qawwali singing. They are also optimistic about its future.
“Qawwali is safe as many people are taking its legacy forward. With the change in the preferences and tastes of people, qawwali singing is now being fused with new styles of instruments and different genres,” says Shadab Faridi.
Shorabh feels that the youth is also interested in the genre as an audience. “When youngsters listen to qawwali, they get engrossed,” he says.
Nizami Bandhu will perform on May 24, at Blue Frog, Lower Parel, from 9 pm.