Karen Dalton's classic album In My Own Time is 50 years old this month.
Wed, 02 June 21
Released 01 March 1994
Qawwali is the devotional music of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, which originated in the tenth century in what is present-day Iran. It began with the foundation of the Christi order of Sufis by followers of the Khwaji (‘master’) Abu Ishak Christi. Two hundred years later Qwwali travelled with the Sufis to India. Qawwali was spread by Khwaji Mueen-Ud-Din Christi converting 9 million people to Islam throughout the Sub-continent. The word ‘sufi’ means ‘wearer of wool’ and originally it designed a very specific religious sect. They called themselves ‘faqara’ meaning ‘poor’ (in spirit). ‘Faqara’ is the plural of ‘faqir’ (in Persian, ‘darvish’) from which the English ‘dervish is derived. The whirling Sufi dances of Turkey are known as the dervishes —the physical equivalent of qawwali’s spiralling vocals.
Qawwali singers at all levels perform a sophisticated and ecstatic form of devotion. The word ‘qawwali’ means literally ‘utterance’ and the ‘qawwal’ meaning a wise or philosophical utterance, is the voice or mouthpiece of divine power. The strength of the qawwal is his power to convey a mystic religious message by capturing the audience and heightening their consciousness in order to make them more receptive to the content of the message. The aim of transporting the audience to another state of mind (‘hal’) is to bring them to a level of enlightenment or inner knowledge (‘marifat’). Musically there is a tension between the rhythmical repetition of repeated lines of the chorus and the sudden, spontaneously improvised passages. Traditional and well-known themes are given new significance as the qawwal plays with the meanings of words and implies new metaphors, thus revealing the message in a fresh context. Sometimes a singer repeats a phrase or sentence, indicating not only the obvious and then the hidden context, but repeats it over and over again until all meaning is exhausted and, mantra-like, it attains a pureity of form that transcends linguistic barriers.
Qawwali is still one of the most popular forms among the people of Pakistan. Its range of styles is very great- from the classical to folk, from the pure to the commercial. Its wide-ranging popularity comes partly from the fact that qawwali draws upon a rich vein of poetic imagery denied elsewhere in Islam. Traditionally a qawwali performance is held at the shrine of a saint or at the meeting-place of a Sufi order. Annual festivals (‘urs) are the cause of major celebration. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan performs, for example, each year at the shrine of Gunj-E-Shaker- the Sufi Saint praised in the third piece on the CD. In more recent times qawwali has been subject to more secular pressures. The mystical imagery of the music began to be adapted for entertainment in a very different manner. For example, the concept of wine in Sufism, which is used to indicate secret knowledge (marifat), has been adapted to retain only a loose religious symbolism. The firm industry of the Indian subcontinent has exploited the extraordinary qualities of qawwali for the purposes of humour and satire. The ecstatic religious love for Allah, the Prophet or the Muslim Saints- subtly interwoven with themes of secular love in genuine qawwali lyrics- were replaced by far more straightforward romantic emotional interplay between a man and a woman.
The popularity of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is such that he has crossed many of these cultural barriers. He is no stranger to the world of film. In 1979 he was invited by the famous actor/director/producer Raj Kapoor to sing at the wedding of his son. Rishi before an array of the most prominent members of Bombay’s film industry. His classical ancestry is, however, impeccable. Born in 1948, he is the descendant of one of the oldest qawwali families, which goes back 600 years. As a child he was taught by his father Ustad Fateh Ali Khan in private sessions together at their home in Faisalabad. The training was informal and primarily in classical music rather than qawwali. He had originally decided to follow a profession as a doctor but in 1964 (when Nusrat was 16) his father died and he turned to his uncles Ustad Salamat Mubarik Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan. By 1971, with the death of Mubarik Ali Khan, Nusrat had established his position as one the greatest living qawwals, sweeping upwards on a wave of devotional favour and critical acclaim. Illustrious titles and awards were heaped upon him in the years which followed. He became hailed as ‘Shahen-shah-e-qawwali’, the brightest-shining star of qawwali.
As well as his extraordinary skills and the depth of his understanding of classical music, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan also has the incredible ability of moving audiences, regardless of their backgrounds. His statue amongst Islamic people worldwide is unsurpassed and he has even succeeded in introducing qawwali to a new non-Muslim audience. In 1985 he performed at the 1985 WOMAD festival in the UK before a mainly white audience and received an ecstatic reception. His appearances around the world and the success of album releases to a non-Asain public have won him fans in the most unexpected corners of the world. Even without an understanding of Persian poetry or the Urdu or Punjabi language Nusrat’s powers of communication break through to this wider audience. The driving, synchronised handclaps drive the rhythm forward, and the music builds. The singer’s hand and arm movements become expansive, dramatic gestures and the voices become more intense and complex. The dialogue between audience and musicians is central to qawwali and, without the connection of language, musical forms and rhythm are used to convey the concepts to achieve a trance and to induce ecstasy. The sheer power and beauty of the performance, the breathtaking virtuosity of the voices make it an experience that can overwhelm an audience.
This song concerns our prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The writer is admiring him for his great stature: You are the Last Prophet, there is no one comparable to you in the whole universe. There is none so close to God. Everyone is proud of you. There have been many nations and prophets but there is no better nation than your nation, no greater prophet than your prophet. Other prophets had good things about them – but none has surpassed you in beauty. You are a shining light from head to toe. From Adam to Jesus no one is like you. As God has said in the Holy Qur’an: “I have made this universe for Muhammad. If Muhammad had not been born there would not have been anything on this earth”. Finally your greatest gift is the fact that God admires you so much that you will be the way to our forgiveness on the Day of Judgement’.
‘Marifat’ can be interpreted as an inner knowledge not attainable by normal means. The Islamic mystical tradition shows a number of different paths to marifat. One example of a practise which brings one closer to the experience of ‘inner truth’ is that of presenting words within the mode of music. Interpreting and reinterpreting words gives them a wider context, creating a greater depth of meaning in what seems to be simple language in some Sufic texts. We call this ‘open’ poetry which is not related to a specific person but can be linked to anybody. Usually a person will relate it to their spiritual leader or the Sufi-Saint he or she follows.
The woman at the centre of this poem declares ‘I am your follower and I have dedicated my life to you. Whether I am good or bad you must accept me. Silly people tease me and say I have gone mad, but I have adapted my life as my leader has done. This is not just today’s decision- I have been engaged to you well before our birth. My beloved one is before my eyes continually – I walk from street to street in a state of excitement’.
This is a love song describing the feelings that surround the relationship of a person with their spiritual leader. Today the song may be expressed as a conventional love song between a boy and a girl. The interpretation of the theme can be flexible.
This is written for our Sufi-Saint, Baba Farid Shakar Gunj. Here everything is written in admiration for him. Deep feelings are expressed about him: ‘Gunj-E-Shakar is mine, there is no other saint as generous as him. His name and his love are in every single part of my soul. He is my everything. Whenever I have a problem I call to him and it is solved. Why should I look to other saints when here is the place my problems are resolved? Other saints bow down to him- this is a special reward to him from God. Whoever comes to his tomb to pay homage will be blessed and their wishes will come true. No one will come away empty-handed’.
A Girl is lamenting the fact that her boyfriend has sent her into a deep depression by refusing to tell her what she has done wrong: ‘He has left me and gone away- without letting me know my mistake. Please come back at once and tell me why you have left me alone. I am walking the streets like a mad woman. You have left me in such a state that everyone laughs at me’.
Released 04 June 1989
Released 09 November 1992
Karen Dalton's classic album In My Own Time is 50 years old this month.
Wed, 02 June 21
Oxford's Faculty of Music will broadcast the famous WOMAD set with a new immersive headphone mix.
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A an eclectic collection of love songs taken from the Real World Records catalogue.
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