Pakistani artistes of the Zaman Zaki Taji Qawwal group say their music communicates love and tolerance - pertinent in the current times of economic upheaval and political strife.
"We receive so much love each time we perform here! It's amazing - there is no difference in the applause we receive back home and here. In fact, one of the reasons we come here is for the respect and love that is bestowed upon us by listeners," Zaki Taji Qawaal, the seniormost member of the group, told IANS in an interview.
The group on Thursday serenaded music lovers in New Delhi with what it termed "authentic qawaalis" under the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) banner.
The artistes belong to the prominent Sikandarabad gharana (school) and are descendents of court singers to the Mughal emperors of the 18th century. Zaki Taji Qawaal alias Zaki-uz-Zanian is the son of Mian Shafi-uz-zinan, a renowned artiste of the Sikandrabad gharana.
Zaki, with his sons Shah Zaman and Muhammad Zaman, orchestrated the qawwal group, which performed alongside Indian qawwals from Delhi led by Chanchal Bharti.
Qawwali is a form of music practised by Sufis to experience mystical ecstasy and to communicate it to others. Sufism is a school of Islamic thought where truth and divine love are achieved through personal experience.
“The qawwali is a medium to reach God. It is an amalgamation of Persian and Urdu literature set to Indian ragas. I, like most qawwali singers, was trained in classical Hindustani vocal music and can sing thumris, ghazals and other classical forms but qawwali is my favorite,” Zaki said.
When asked what role qawwali had to play in modern times when it faces stiff competition from western pop culture and remixed versions, Zaki said that audiences for the purist qawwalis were abundant.
He held that ”the poet or artiste's heart can't be market driven - based on what sells. Our music and heritage is pure. We speak of love and harmony - that is our USP".
His son, Muhammad Zaman, held that the qawaali “cannot lose its place in the dynamic global culture”.
He said: “In these times where there is economic crisis, when there is communal violence - this music has a significant role to play, communicating the message of love, tolerance and universal brotherhood.”
When asked what difficulties they faced as artistes to carry on their tradition, Muhammad Zaman said that although the qawaali stems from both Pakistan and India, “Indians appreciate melody in the music, while the qawaal form itself is communicated through strong verses and selection of words”.
Shah Zaman, his brother, said that on a global platform, artistes from Pakistan were faced with many challenges. “Visa approval is so difficult! In fact we have tried to come to India on other occasions for independent concerts and failed - this time only when ICCR backed our visas were we allowed.”
“Music transcends where our borders end and where India begins,” he added.
The brothers informed that their journey would be incomplete without their visit to and performance at the Nizamuddin Dargah that houses the tomb of Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya (a follower of the Chisti school of Sufism) and Mehrauli Sharif near the Qutub Minar.
Although qawaali has achieved a level of popularity in film music, the artistes jointly denounced the phenomenon, saying that “without a live audience, these pre-recorded qawwali soundtracks have a muted effect and the devotional aspect is played down”.
At a qawaali concert there is a lead singer, a second singer, harmonium and tabla player and a small choir accompanying singers - all seated on the floor. It is meant to be a communal experience, with the audience as participants.
Interestingly, another of qawwali's formal names in Persian means "gathering for listening". “It is when the audience feels one with the music that our job as artistes is fulfilled,” concluded Shah Zaman.