The Nayik Ritual

Asif Ali Khan, Manzoor Hussain, Santoo Khanqawwal & party


Asif Ali Khan, vocals
Sarfaraz Hussain Shibli, vocals and harmonium
Raza Hussain: vocals and harmonium
Tariq HabibMian : vocals and clapping
Rehmat Ali: vocals and clapping
Shaeed Farid: dholak and tablas
Shah Nawaz Hussain Khan: vocals and clapping
Imtiaz Hussain Shibli: vocals and clapping
Oman Draz Hussain Aftab: vocals and clapping
Wahid Mumtaz Hussain: vocals and clapping

"Wash my soiled shawl,
You have already washed hundreds of shawls for others,
The clothing of the body, with the soap of your soul
Wash the stains of our hearts,
I have little soap and plenty of dirty water,
Let me soak here.
Your heart is a river, and in the water that runs
Rub well to remove the stains.
The world laughs at my grief but
I weep for the sorrow of the world"

(Poem dedicated to the saint Baba Farid Ganj-Shakar – 1265)

“The Qawwal who is a singer does not sing for himself; he connects his listeners with the invisible and intangible, giving them a perception of the imperceptible world. Whoever comes to the mehfil (gathering) will listen with his soul.” (Claire Devos “Qawwali” – Makar’s publications)

Qawwali singing, the Sufi expression from the Indo-Pakistani sub-continent is alive today because of the qawwals who all come from the Chishti order. The Chishti order dates back to the 12th century and is responsible for passing down the traditional singing from master (pîr) to disciple (murîd).

During religious gatherings, these remarkable singers can be heard showcasing their art in front of the tomb or inside the shrine (dargah) of a saint (pîr). They are usually surrounded by their disciples and the public during a traditional festival.

Qawwali music reached a pinnacle in the West, revealed in its new incarnation, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He is the towering personality of this art who led his audience into a sort of ancient trance. Qawwal comes from the Arabic word qaul which means verb or speech. The qawwal sings the sacred words of the inspired poet in Persian, Hindi or Urdu as per the original poetry.

This is because beyond the highly sophisticated and emotional vocal effects, the singer must concentrate on the gifting of the word and speech to bring about the state of grace, amad.

If Asif Ali Khan’s qawwali is stamped with his own exceptional personal energy, it is because he belongs to a secular Sufi tradition. Beyond the highly sophisticated and emotional vocal effects, the singer must always concentrate on the gift of the word and speech to bring about the state of grace, amad. The singer, supported by an incredible rhythmical stretch consisting of clapping and the inevitable dholak beats, is pleased to repeat (takrar = repetition) the powerful, hypnotizing couplet. Praises of the saint are repeated as an invocation by the chorus singers who are ecstatic and choking with emotion. With this, they bring about the effect of tarab, a state in which the Self is lost, which was experienced even by sultans in olden times: under the impact of such a strong emotional force, they would even tear their clothes.

The Punjabi Ang, a qawwali school from the Punjab region stands out from the crowd because of the richness of its singing exercises (saregam), the intrication of verses in different languages (Urdu, Punjabi, Farsi, Purbi…) in the original poem, its lively rhythms and even the various stage effects the singer produces by suddenly going into a silence just when a musical phrase is at its zenith or by an extremely soft start after a huge vocal or musical deluge.