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Tradition of Qawwali- History and Origin

Qawwali, often spelled as qavvali, has been originated from an Arabic word “qaul”, which means “to speak”. Qawwali refers to a musical vehicle through which “qawwals” i.e., a group of male musicians convey inspirational Sufi messages by medium of Muslim poetry to a male assembly of devotees.

It involves one or two lead vocalists; a chorus of hand-clapping qawwals; a harmonium; a percussionist or a tabla. The Indian composer and Persian-language poet Amir Khosrow is popularly acknowledged as the creator of qawwali. Originally qawwali was only popular in South Asia. It became little known beyond South Asia by the late 20th Century. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, son of the famous qawwal Fateh Ali Khan, is popular as the finest qawwal of the second half of the 20th century. His enthusiastic and spirited performances grabbed the attention of motion-pictures and music industries around the globe. He became part of a number of sound tracks of popular films and also associated with internationally recognized popular-music artists such as Peter Gabriel. He toured on the world-music concert circuit and assembled a diverse and widespread listenership for qawwali. The globalization of qawwali brought about numerous changes to its tradition, such as it became less religion centric. The musical forms, instrumentation, and texts used were also adjusted. Everything was modified to suit the expectations of the international audience. The only thing that remained unchanged was the music’s spiritual essence. Presently, qawwali still continues as a foundational religious tradition, despite its commercial and popular appeal.

By: Anuja Arora