With its roots immersed in ancient Persia, qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music that now stretches back for more than 800 years. Its best known exponent is the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a man widely credited with elevating qawalli music out of South Asia and onto a much wider, international stage. He passed away in 1997 but the great musical tradition that had lain with his family for six centuries did not die with him. This remarkable legacy has since been passed on through his nephews Rizwan and Muazzam.
With two harmonium players sat between them in a line just in front of their secondary singers and a tabla player, the two brothers are in the Howard Assembly Room tonight on the 20th anniversary of their uncle’s death to not only celebrate Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s artistry but also to pay tribute to this giant of qawwali’s heavenly voice. The third date in a short UK tour, these concerts also form part of the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India when the subcontinent was split into two independent nation states: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.
Rizwan and Muazzam Qawwali begin the evening with their interpretation of one of their uncle’s signature qawwalis ‘Allah Hoo Allah Hoo’. As with most qawwalis, the song stretches out well beyond the 15 minute mark, finally coming to rest not too far shy of half an hour in duration. On the song’s elliptical journey – its melody is driven forever onwards by the momentum of the harmoniums and the tabla’s incessant rhythm – Rizwan and Muazzam share the lead vocalist duties over the choral response and vigorous hand claps of their secondary singers. The end result is one of hypnotic devotion, a trance-like state in which the listener finds themselves inextricably raised onto a temporary plane of euphoric spiritual enlightenment.
‘Haq Ali Ali Mula Ali Ali’ follows a similarly mystical path, a transcendental pilgrimage of sorts on the road to God. Even for the most devout of non-believers the experience is still undoubtedly profound. As the song’s repetitive mantra builds into a revelatory frenzy, it is difficult not to feel as if you are witnessing the actual birth of rock and roll such is the urgency of the rhythms that are virtually dance-ready.
And just like all of those Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen concerts that have followed in its wake, Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali’s magnetic musical performance tonight spills out way beyond its allotted time. In the stimuli of its execution, it is not just a tribute to the memory of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan but to humanity itself. And in a week that has borne witness to the Westminster attack and news of the coalition airstrike atrocity in Mosul, it is comforting, if only for a couple of hours, to embrace the warmth of music that promotes peace, love and harmony.
Photo Credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this concert can be found HERE