From the Archives: Maqbool Ahmad Sabri



Maqbool Ahmad Sabri, of the famous Sabri Brothers qawwali group died in South Africa on September 21st, where he had gone to seek medical treatment. He was 70 years old and had not sung for several months.  It is sad and ironic that the demise of the mighty voice of qawwali came with the softest of whispers in the world press.

I first heard the Sabri Brothers when they visited the States in the mid 70s. They played at Carnegie Hall and are credited with being the ones who introduced western audiences to traditional qawwali.  I loved them because they had long hair and connected me with a land I missed. For years when you heard the word ‘qawwali’ you automatically said, Sabri Brothers. The two words were synonymous.

In their steps would come others like Aziz Mian that other great purveyor of traditional naat qawwali.  And following behind him the giant Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who popularised and blended qawwali with contemporary sounds and western sensibilities to raise the form to an internationally loved and lucrative style.  [Original post with goodies]

Qawwali Collection: Shan-e-Rasool


An interesting collection of concise qawwali performances from an even more interesting group of singers.

Shan-e-Rasool-o-Aal-e-Rasool (roughly translated by me as The Glory and Grandeur of the Prophet) includes performances by some famous qawwals including Abdur Rab Chaush and Yusuf Azad Qawwal, a couple film playback singers [Mahendra Kapoor and Shamshad Begum] as well as a few (to me) new names such as the delightfully named Pyare Timmu Qawwal (Jaipuri) and Master Habib Nizami.

With the inclusion of filmi qawwali this record presents a sort of qawwali – lite which most connoisseurs would not rate very highly. The messages are simplistic and the language is of the sort someone unfamiliar with High Urdu or Persian can easily understand. Case in point: title of track 9 [Allah Bahut Bada Hai]!

The music, composed mostly by one Mami Bhachu, [any information on him would be much appreciated], is consistently lively and employs a range of traditional and more modern instruments including clarinet and guitar.

What I like about this sort of qawwali is that not only is it ‘simple’ and pretty straightforward but it has lots of stylistic similarities to some Christian gospel music. The lyrics tell stories of the heroes and villains of the Faith, as well as ordinary devout people grappling with the mystery of God’s ways. The philosophy and moral lessons are easy to discern.

And finally, what makes this recording special is the variety of voices. Ismail Azad Qawwal and Shafi Niazi and Yusuf Azad each bring a clear diction and suppleness to their singing that is perfect for story telling. And then of course, there is the grand Shamshad Begum, a very non-traditional qawwal, indeed.

Enjoy with blessings.



Track Listing:

01 Sine Mein Rahne Do Hoton peh na Lao

02 Zindagi ka Sahara Madine Mein Hai

03 Qaflia Haj ko Chala

04 Ya Mohammad Kisi Haal Mein Bhi

05 Khuda Ne Tumko Rasoolon Mein Aftab Kiya

06 Dar-e-Huzoor pe Hazir Ghulam Ho Jata

07 Hasnain ki Takhti ka Vaqya

08 Mohabbat Husain Ki

09 Allah Bahut Bada Hai

10 Mohammad ke Dularon Par


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]

Remembering the Big Man: Rahat Ali Khan and Michael Brooks


An interesting album with some truly moving and exhilarating performances. As I mentioned in my most recent article for it was through a remix of one of Nusrat’s qawwalis (Dam Qalandar Mast) in the early 1990s that qawwali went mainstream. Or at least as mainstream as any non-European spiritual music is ever going to go!

Canadian guitarist Michael Brook, though uncredited on Mustt Mustt, played a huge role in creating the sound and ensuring the massive impact of that album on the earholes of millions of new fans. He later went on to produce (and get credited for) Night Songs another hugely popular qawwali-fusion album in 1996.

In this instance, a performance in honour of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the combination of qawwali and western music just doesn’t click like in the earlier works. The drums especially are irritating, adding little more than an annoying rumble in the background that distracts from Rahat’s voice and the performance of his ‘party’.

In her introduction Jameela Siddiqi makes special thanks to Michael for taking ‘time out of his very busy schedule’ to participate. And I, for one, can’t help but feel that while his body took the time his heart was somewhere else. Then again, this is a recording of a live event. Maybe being there was more impressive than listening to the music disconnected from its performance.

As for Rahat he is in very fine voice raising the roof throughout the evening. I never tire of marveling at how this guy can sing. It sends shivers down the back as he builds up the tension like water pressing hard against a cracked earthen dam. The water recedes slightly before coming flooding back and ultimately breaking free. Track number 4 is a perfect case in point.

For what it’s worth, this is a definitely a good album. Just find a way to ignore the drums and lackluster noodlings of Brook.

Here are the translated lyrics of the title track.

Kinna Sohna Tainu Rab Ne Banaya

How beautiful the lord has created you!

Kinna Sohna Tainu Rab Ne Banaya

O Dil Karray Vekhda Ravaan

How beautiful the lord has created you

And my heart desires to keep gazing at you

Kinna Sohna Tainu Rab Ne Banaya

How beautiful the lord has created you!

Dil Murrda Nahi Laakh Samjhaya

Dil Karray Vekhda Ravaan

My heart halts not even with thousands of reasons

And instead it desires to keep gazing at you

O Kinna Sohna Tainu Rab Ne Banaya

How beautiful the lord has created you!

Kinna Sohna Tainu Rab Ne Banaya

How beautiful the lord has created you!

Dil Vich Tera Pyar Vassake

Vekkhi Javaan Kol Bithakke

Your love is dwelling within my heart

And I want to gaze endlessly nearby you

O Tainu Dil Walay Sheeshay Vich Sajaaya

Dil Karray Vekhda Ravaan

You are bejewelled within the mirrors of my heart

And my heart desires to keep gazing at you

O Kinna Sohna Tainu Rab Ne Banaya

How beautiful the lord has created you!

Pyar Tera Ae Zindagi Meri

Karni Ae Mein Pooja Teri

Your love is my existence

And you alone I adore

Tainu Akhiyan De Vich Mein Vassaya

Dil Karray Vekhda Ravaan

I have let you sink within my eyes

And my heart desires to keep gazing at you

O Kinna Sohna Tainu Rab Ne Banaya

How beautiful the lord has created you!

Kinna Sohna_ Live Tribute to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Track Listing:

01 Introduction-Jameela Siddiqi

02 Crest (Shaman Paiyan Tere Bina)

03 Nothing Without You (Sanu Ik Pal Chain Na Aave)

04 My Heart My Life (Tu Mera Dil Tu Meri Jaan)

05 My Comfort Remains (Sun Yaara Gum Khara Dildara)

06 Err (Tarana – A Tribute)

07 Mustt Mustt (Dam Mast Qallandar)

08 Jiya Dhadak Dhadak Jaaye

09 Kinna Sohna Tenu Rab Na Banaya

10 Chaap Tilak Sab Cheeni



Our Beloved Khwaja: Ghulam Sabir and Ghulam Waris Nizami




I have only visited Ajmer, India’s, and arguably the sub-continent’s most revered Sufi pilgrimage site, once. It was a quick ‘look see’ en route from Pushkar to Jaipur and a visit that frustrated more than satisfied me.   For so long I’d heard fable stories of Ajmer. The city is as central to the spiritual universe of northern India’s Muslims as Jerusalem or Rome is to Christians and Jews.   And to have but an hour to rush around was criminal.

In terms of items on bucket lists, “spending more time in Ajmer” is right near the top. [As is spending about 6 months in Karachi, but that is another tale with nothing –at this stage—at all to do with music.]

One thing I did manage to do during the abbreviated visit was scoop up a number of mp3 collections of qawwali and naat from a couple of the souvenir shops that line the main street leading to the dargah. As you can imagine the streets around the tomb are bursting with activity and rush. Qawwali is played at volumes usually reserved for rock concerts or college parties. And like those occasions, the atmosphere and music does nothing to elevate the spirit or guide the Mind to contemplate the Divine. It is crass commercialism at its most base.

But get the music out of the bazaar and on to your iPod and it’s a different story. The music is heartfelt, entirely joyous and intensely spiritual.

Ghulam Sabir and Ghulam Waris Nizami, two brothers who represent the Sikandrabad gharana of qawwali, are among the most popular singers of Ajmeri pilgrims. There is a short history of the gharana here.

In every selection on this disc the brothers sing with a passion and enthusiasm that is infectious. Their’s is a singing style for the average pilgrim, someone who has a basic understanding and familiarity with the history and vocabulary of the legends that surround Ajmer and its famous, revered Khwaja. Most of the qawwalis are panegyrical and extol the worshipper to follow the great Sufi saint’s example in all aspects of his or her life.

There is LOTS of music here. Go slow and enjoy it over time because you will be rewarded.

Allah Hoo!

Ye Karam Khwaja ka Hai

Track Listing (Part 1)

  1. Ajmeri Sarkar Se Mango
  2. Bahaki Shahe Jilani
  3. Ham Deewane Hai Waris Piya
  4. Ho Karam Ham Pe Shahe Madi
  5. Jannat Ka Dar Khula Hai Khwaja
  6. Jhume Khawaja Ke Kalandar
  7. Main Kya Batau
  8. Main Mohammed Ke Kurban
  9. Main Zuba Se Kaise
  10. Mera Peer Badshah Hai




Track Listing (Pt. 2)

  1. Mera Peer Tajuddin
  2. Mere Peer Tera Karam Hua
  3. Meri Duniya Tum Ho
  4. Nigaho Se Kah Do Parde Uth
  5. Rahmat Ka Samandar Hai
  6. Sabri Dar Mila Har Khushi
  7. Shahnshah Baba Tajuddin
  8. Tumhi Ho Ya Rasul Allah
  9. Wah Kya Judo Karam
  10. Waliyo Ke Shahnshah Mere
  11. Ye Karam Khawaja Ka Hai