For decades now, the household of Puranchand and Piyarelal Wadali, also known as the Wadali Brothers, in Amritsar, Punjab, has been a storehouse of talent.
Generations after generations, the Wadali family has churned out individuals with great expertise in music. But, the popularity amassed by the Wadali Brothers is unprecedented. Their renditions of popular Sufi numbers gained acclaim in India and abroad. But, the humble artistes, even at the age of 76 and 67, respectively, feel they still have a lot to learn.
"We are learning music even now. I feel we still don't know how to sing. Music is a thing, that you never know it all," says Piyarelal, who reveals that even though he's been performing with his elder brother for more than four decades now, music was not their original inclination.
"Initially, we were not interested in music. But, our father made sure that we developed an interest in it. My elder brother, at that time, was more interested in wrestling, and I used to play the character of Lord Krishna in stage shows," says the singer, who belongs to the Patiala gharana of singing.
In 1972, the Wadali Brothers, after performing a few shows in their village, got a chance to sing on a radio show. As their popularity increased, they got an offer to release an album. "My brother said that if we do that, people will listen to our music at home, and will stop coming to our concerts. But, then we were told that releasing albums actually make you popular," says Piyarelal.
However, even though their fame grew manifold in the following years, and they even received a platform in films, the singer-brothers preferred to stay away from any kind of commercialisation. "We mainly like singing live, and try to stay away from recordings as much as possible," says Piyarelal, adding, "Even when we are approached for a movie song, we specifically tell them that we can only sing songs that can be heard with the entire family. We don't like anything vulgar, even if that means getting more money." The qawwali singers have sung Bollywood tracks like Darda Marya (Pinjar; 2003) and Rangrez (Tanu Weds Manu; 2011), among others.
On the other hand, the singer also feels that the word 'Sufi' is unnecessarily used in films nowadays. "The songs that people call Sufi in films don't belong to that genre; they are just songs. Sufi tracks are the ones written by Sufi saints like Amir Khusro, Baba Fakir, Baba Shah Hussain, and others. What I write, or someone else writes, cannot be called Sufi," explains Piyarelal.
At a time when technological advancement has found its way into concerts and gigs, Wadali Brothers still believe in simplicity. They only use three instruments - the tabla, harmonium and dholak - in their performances. "People who depend on instruments are not really singers. If instruments take over your singing, then that's not real singing," says Piyarelal.