Tuesday, May 23, 2017

In Praise Of The Almighty

The qawwali group, Mehfil-e-Sama made an impact with their first performance at Kochi recently

Photos by Melton Anthony 

By Shevlin Sebastian

On the stage at the Rajendra Maidan, recently, for the Caritoon Kochi 2017 festival, qawwali singer Irfan Erooth says, “The next song is called 'Sanson Ki Mala Pe', which was sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.” Immediately, musicians Jawed Aslam and Javed Allaf start playing the harmonium, while Rohit Sudheer and Sundaran let fly on the tabla.

Soon, Irfan sings in Urdu:

Aa Piya In Nainan Mein
Jo Palak Dhaamp Tohe Loon
Naa Mein Dekhoon Ghair Ko
Naa Mein Tohe Dekhan Doon

(O beloved arise inside my eyes
Let me hold you within
I will not see any other
Nor will I let you)

The Malayali audience, which includes the Kochi Corporation Mayor Soumini Jain, listens avidly.

Later harmonium player Jawed Aslam says, “We felt a bit apprehensive because this was the first time we were performing in Kochi. So we were not sure about the audience reaction.”

In fact, before the concert began, many people had gone up to the group, as they stood near the stage and told them that they had come for the programme, because they did not know what a qawwali is. “So they were curious,” says Jawed. “However, the beauty of the songs is that you can enjoy it even when you don't understand a word.”

This is true. Even though the crowd did not understand the lyrics, there were many who were tapping their feet and swaying their heads from side to side, with a smile on their faces.

Jawed is part of a 14-member group called the Mehfil-e-Sama. They include three female chorus singers, Neetu, Pragila, and Shringa. While a few of them, like Irfan and Jawed are based in Delhi, the others live in Kerala.

But the group comes together often to give performances in the state. And they have a huge fan following in Malabar. “We have been accepted there whole-heartedly,” says Irfan. “They love the songs.”

Interestingly, the songs which get the most response are those sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Earlier, Qawwalis would be sung in dargahs, since they are songs in praise of Allah, Prophet Mohammed and Sufi saints. “But the one who made it popular among the people was Nusrat Sahab,” says Jawed. “He has also sung romantic songs, apart from verses in praise of God.”

Born in Faisalabad, Pakistan, Nusrat was, indeed, instrumental in popularising the Qawwali among international audiences. He also composed music for Hindi films like 'Aur Pyar Ho Gaya', 'Kartoos' and 'Kachche Dhaage'. Nusrat was called the 'Shahenshah-e-Qawwali' (or 'The King of Kings of Qawwali'). Unfortunately, he died aged 48, of a sudden heart attack, on August 16, 1997, at London.

The Qawwali group also sang songs by the Sabri Brothers, Abida Parveen, and Amir Khusrow (1253-1325), who is regarded as the father of the Qawwali. He has composed thousands of spiritual songs in Urdu, Brajabasha, Poorvi and Farsi.

The Mehfil-e-Sama had performed at Kochi at the invitation of the Secretary of the Kerala Cartoon Academy Sudheernath. “Following our first performance, we got a couple of offers to do concerts in Kochi,” says Jawed. “This means that our debut performance went down well.”

Incidentally, whereever they go, especially in North India, non-Muslims and foreigners comprise the majority of the audience. “Music has no religion,” says Jawed. 

(Published in The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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