The Spirit Can Never be Killed


Amjad Farid Sabri Qawwal Marhoom

The story is told that one day, Akbar the Great heard some wandering minstrels singing about the glorious wali who lay slumbering in the desert town of Ajmer. He enquired of the malangs about this great soul who moved them to sing so beautifully. They replied in verse:

Hazaron badshah aaye
Hazaron sultanat badli
Na badli na badlegi huqumat mere khwaja ki
Mere khwaja badshah hai

[Thousands of emperors have come
Thousands of kingdoms have fallen
The kingdom of my lord has never and will never change
My lord is the emperor]

The devotion of the minstrels so impressed the Emperor he let their frankness pass without comment. Some years later he made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Khwaja Hazrat Moinuddin Chisti, founder of the most influential Islamic mystical order in South Asia, and in effect, gave the House of Timur’s blessing to the Sufis of Ajmer.

Khwaja was well loved by his followers not just for his teachings but also for his methods of teaching. These included the practice of sama, which involved the playing of instruments and singing (solo as well as chorus) to aid spiritual contemplation and produce trance states in the faithful. From this practice, and through the creative brilliance of a disciple of one of Khwaja’s successors, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, this practice became gradually known among devotees as qual and ultimately, qawwali. The disciple who is credited with creating this new and distinctly subcontinental religious music is Amir Khusro, one of India’s great artistic geniuses.

When Khwaja Moinuddin passed away in 1265, the Chistia silsila (Chisti order) produced two branches. One, centered in Delhi, was led by Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. The second, founded by Ali Ahmed Alauddin ‘Sabir’, is known as the silsila Chistia Sabriya. Both branches gained disciples all across northern India and both nurtured and promoted the practice of sama through qawwali.

These days, qawwali is loved across the world. It is performed not just by Pakistani and Indian qawwali parties, but also embraced by jazz musicians, Spanish flamenco guitarists, American mystics and the ultra-chilled lounge music set. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is usually regarded as bringing qawwali to the West but in fact, it was two adherents of the Chistia Sabriya silsila who blazed that trail more than a decade earlier.

The Punjabi qawwali tradition draws inspiration for its lyrics from the saints and shrines of Punjab and other parts of what is now Pakistan. This style of qawwali is regarded as a more vigourous and emotional form than the traditional, sophisticated style from further east in India.

It was part of the Sabri brothers’ brilliance that they were able to sing and perform in both styles. They quickly realised there was a new Urdu-speaking audience in the cities that also had expendable incomes. Their first record, Mera Koi Nahi Hai Terey Siwa (“I have no one but you”) was released in 1958, when Maqbool was still a teenager, to great acclaim, partly because it was accessible to this new audience. [full article]

Worth every cent: Sabri Brothers

Maqbool Ahmed and Ghulam Farid

Maqbool Ahmed and Ghulam Farid

I found this record in my favourite vinyl store in Melbourne, Licorice Pie (“We Sell All Sorts”) on High Street, Windsor and eyed it for a number of months. The guy wanted too much I thought, as by the way, how the hell would some Greek shopkeeper know the value of the Sabri Brothers vs any other pair of recording siblings?

I asked him once to cut me some slack. “The record’s been sitting there for over a year,” I said. “Obviously, it’s not going to move at that price.”

He gave me a weak smile but didn’t bite. He mentioned that similar items were selling on the net for much more.

“Well, we all know those prices are inflated,” I countered. “Who would pay $300 for some old Lollywood record? Those prices are for suckers.” By implication, of course, I wanted him to know I was not one of those.

“This price isn’t inflated,” he said, hardly looking at me. He kept working on reviewing a stack of new (old) LPs that stood between him and me.

Eventually, some months later I forked over the required (and stickered) price. Did he give me a wry, victorious smile? No, he’s a fine Greek gentleman and a paragon of discretion and honor. He accepted my fistful of dollars and muttered something like “you’ll enjoy that”.

Indeed, I have enjoyed it.

I hope you do to. A fine Pakistani pressing of Ghulam Farid and Maqbool Ahmed Sabri which from the photo of the two brothers on the back cover should be dated in the early to mid 1970s.

Qawalli in its present form is a well established art of singing in Indo/Pakistani music. In the past, many a teams have earned subcontinental reputation in this particular field. Through this record we are pleased to present a widely known ‘party’ of Karachi who have built up their fame through a lengthy period of career, excellent team work and expressive rendering.

Headed by Ghulam Farid Sabri and ably assisted by his brother Maqbool Ahmed Sabri, the group has won many laurels and participated in several important functions.   On this disc we have recorded following four well chosen devotional items The worthy listener will do doubt appreciate the theme of each elaborated with supplementary verses and ‘baits’. He will also, we are sure, enjoy the sincere and superb presentation by the Sabri brothers. We further hope that the listener will notice the skilled balancing in recording of the orchestra which has given a total brilliance to all the performances. (Liner Notes)

Ya Ali Madad!

front back

Track Listing:

  1. Balaghal Ula Be Kamalehi (Amber Shah Warsi)
  2. Savere Savere (Sahrai Sanbhri)
  3. Tajdar-e-Haram ho Nigah-e-Karam (Hakim Mirza Madni)
  4. Qaul Tarana (Amir Khusroo)


The Man from Uncle: Rahat Fateh Ali Khan


There is really nothing to I can say about this recording that is more important than what Rahat himself says by way of introduction. “We are here to honour Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan by singing some of his beloved compositions, as well as some untold stories. Thank you so much for coming.”

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

This is one of two tribute albums by the great man’s nephew and protégé which I hope to post eventually. Listen to this straight through and loud! Get lost in the music and remember fondly one of humanity’s most powerful musical forces to have ever visited this planet.

Remembering Nusrat - Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Memorial Concert

Track Listing:

01 Introduction By Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

02 Man Kunto Maula

03 Allah Hu

04 Lagan Laagi Tum Se

05 Tumhein Dillagi Bhool Jaani Padegi

06 Sanson Ki Mala

07 Ni Main Jana Jogi De Naal


Celebrations of a Milestone: Qawwali


The first instalment of South Asian music as part of the celebration of 100 posts on the Harmonium Music Blog (and 700+ at the Washerman’s Dog) is a collection of qawwali. This genre of spiritual music needs no further elucidation for followers of this blog; but for new comers who wonder what this weird sounding word means, click here.

I must thank the young qawwali connoisseur Musab Bin Noor of Pakistan for turning me on to so many fantastic qawwals from outside the mainstream of Western consciousness, a couple of which I have included in this collection.

Here you will find qawwali of many styles from both Pakistan and India by qawwals both famous (Aziz Mian and Wadali Brothers) as well as somewhat obscure (Raza Khan and Kurban Farid Shahi Qawwal).  Some are in Punjabi but most in Urdu. Most performers are Muslims, a couple are Hindu and one is even a Pentecostal Christian!

It matters little what the outside looks like when it comes to qawwali, for this pure music of the human soul.



Track Listing:

01 Ghoonghat Chak Ve Sajna [Wadali Brothers]

02 Yeh Pyam De Gahe Hai [Mashooq Ali Khan]

03 Avo Sayo Rul Davo Vadhai [Bakshi Salamat Qawwal]

04 Teri Soorat, Main Sharabi and Must Qalandar [Aziz Mian]

05 Zamana Bolta Hai [Aslam Akram Sabri]

06 Tere Bin Na Jiva Maharaj [Shaukat Ali]

07 Hai Yehi Meri Namaz [Agha Bashir Farid Qawwal]

09 Bhai Murad aur Tajo Bahen [Abdur Rab Chaus]

09 Jise Chaha Dar Pe [Kurban Farid Shahi Qawwal and Group]

10  Jede Vi Darte [Raza Khan]



Qaul of the Soul: Gurmej Raja and Shaukat Ali

Allah Hoo


Qaul is an Arabic word used to describe ‘an utterance’ and most often refers to the utterance of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The term ‘qawwali‘ is derived from the word ‘qual’ and refers to the genre of Sufi devotional music.

Though qaul and qawwali are often used in conjunction with each other there is a difference between the two. Today, when referring to spiritual music, qual refers to the singing of the utterances of The Prophet (PBUH), while qawwali has developed to refer to a style of music in the Sufi tradition.  Here the lyrics may or may not have spiritual tones, and may even be secular in nature, but the music on the whole is understood to be spiritual in its expression.

Qawwali has evolved through the fusion of the Persian musical tradition, called sama, and the Indian musical tradition sometime around the 13th century. Today, it is popular all over South Asia, particularly in areas where a strong Islamic population. Punjab and most of northwest India have a strong qawwali tradition. Qawwalis are generally sung in Punjabi and Urdu, though some may be performed in Persian or local languages.

Shaukat Ali

Shaukat Ali

Qawwalis can range in length from a few minutes to even as long as half an hour or more. They usually begin with an instrumental introduction that gently opens the piece and creates an ambience.  It is followed by the lead singer performing a few alaps (improvised, unmetered melodies) that conform to the raga of the song.  After the alaps the lead singer performs a few verses which generally do not form part of the main song. He is mirrored by the accompanying singers who may add their own improvisations to the verses as they go along.  Lastly begins the main verses. These are usually sung in a traditional style and no improvisation is made on either the tempo or the lyrics. Throughout the process, there is a gradual increase  in energy from the gentle beginnings of the piece to a powerful, up-tempo, energetic end. This facilitates a creation of a hypnotic state within the performers and audience alike and is believed to aid in connecting with the Almighty.

Gurmej Raja

Gurmej Raja

This record presents qawwali and sufi performances of Punjab by Gurmej Raja and Shaukat Ali. (Liner notes)


A fantastic recording of two local artists from around the Amritsar area of Indian Punjab by the groovy De Kulture Record Label.  Booklet is included.

Allah hoo!




Track Listing:

01. Amir Khusrao (Gurmej Raja)

02. Ki Punchdiyo Ki Aankhan Mein (Shaukat Ali)

03. Tere Bin Na Jiva Maharaj (Shaukat Ali)

here  booklet