Ghazal & Qawwali

A ghazal is a poem that has rhyming couplets referred to as shers, typically ranging from five to twelve. The word ghazal in Arabic refers to sweet words spoken to a beloved one. The theme of a ghazal is typically around matters of the heart.

The ghazal which had its origins in the Arabian peninsula in the 6th century eventually made its way across continents to west Africa, Europe and other parts of Asia as discussed in this article here. Poets such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German), Frederico Garcia Lorca (Spain), Adrienne Rich (America) and Judith Wright (Australia) were influenced by the form in their own poetic works. There has been a rich musical tradition in India and Pakistan with the 17th century poet Shah Muhammad Waliullah (Wali Gujarati) pioneering Urdu and ghazal poetry in the sub-continent.

The famous Chupke Chupke Raat Din written by Maulana Hasrat Mohani and popularised by Ghulam Ali describes a love affair, the heartache of missing a beloved, and the encounter between the lovers.

Mehdi Hasan,a famous singer from Pakistan sings this emotive ghazal that evokes a feeling of melancholy.

Mirza Ghalib was one of the most famous Urdu and Persian poets from the Indian sub-continent in the 19th century. His ghazals were brought to life by the singer Jagjit Singh in this wonderful collection.

Qawwali refers to a tradition combining elements of music, poetry and Sufism. According to musician Ally Adnan in this article, Sufi mystics used the qawwali form not just to highlight love for the divine but also to spread their message of peace and equality. The word qawwali means ‘to speak’ in Arabic and traces its origins to the Persian poet Amir Khusrau (south Asia) in the 13th century.

A qawwali team which is exclusively male, consists of a lead singer with several supporting singers backed by percussion and stringed instrument players. A qawwali performance is typically held at shrines or celebratory events where there is a large gathering. The music is dynamic, the songs are packed with melody and rhythm and the song lines are repeated in a chorus by the singers creating a hypnotic effect for the listeners. Here is a qawwali rendition by the well known exponent of the genre Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

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