Qawwali music (for Sufi whirling) – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Dance Music Glossary

What is Qawwali music?

Qawwali music is a form of devotional music that originated in South Asia, particularly in the Sufi tradition. It is characterized by its soul-stirring melodies, rhythmic patterns, and powerful vocals. Qawwali music is often performed in a group setting, with a lead singer (or qawwal) accompanied by a group of musicians playing traditional instruments such as the tabla, harmonium, and dholak. The lyrics of Qawwali songs typically revolve around themes of love, devotion, and spirituality.

What is the history of Qawwali music?

Qawwali music has its roots in the 13th century, when it was developed by Sufi mystics in present-day Pakistan and India. The word “Qawwali” is derived from the Arabic word “qaul,” which means “utterance.” Over the centuries, Qawwali music has evolved and spread to various parts of the world, becoming a popular form of spiritual expression among Sufi communities.

One of the most influential figures in the history of Qawwali music is Amir Khusrau, a renowned Sufi poet and musician who lived in the 13th century. Khusrau is credited with formalizing the structure and style of Qawwali music, as well as introducing new instruments and melodies to the genre.

What are the key elements of Qawwali music?

There are several key elements that define Qawwali music. One of the most important aspects is the use of improvisation, where the lead singer and musicians engage in spontaneous musical exchanges during a performance. This improvisational aspect adds a sense of spontaneity and creativity to Qawwali music, making each performance unique.

Another key element of Qawwali music is the rhythmic patterns, which are often complex and syncopated. The tabla, a traditional Indian drum, plays a central role in creating intricate rhythmic patterns that drive the music forward. The harmonium, a type of keyboard instrument, provides melodic accompaniment and adds depth to the overall sound of Qawwali music.

The vocals in Qawwali music are also a crucial element, with the lead singer often delivering powerful and emotive performances that resonate with listeners on a deep level. The lyrics of Qawwali songs are typically in Urdu or Persian, and convey themes of love, devotion, and spiritual longing.

How is Qawwali music used in Sufi whirling?

Sufi whirling, also known as Sufi dance or Sufi spinning, is a form of meditation and prayer practiced by Sufi mystics as a way to connect with the divine. Qawwali music plays a central role in Sufi whirling, providing a rhythmic and melodic backdrop for the dancers as they spin in a trance-like state.

The hypnotic rhythms and soul-stirring melodies of Qawwali music help to create a meditative atmosphere that allows the dancers to enter a state of spiritual ecstasy. The repetitive nature of the music also helps to induce a trance-like state, allowing the dancers to let go of their ego and connect with the divine on a deeper level.

What are some famous Qawwali musicians and groups?

There have been many influential Qawwali musicians and groups throughout history. One of the most famous Qawwali groups is the Sabri Brothers, who rose to fame in the 20th century with their powerful vocal performances and soul-stirring melodies. The Sabri Brothers are known for their renditions of traditional Qawwali songs, as well as their innovative approach to the genre.

Another renowned Qawwali musician is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, often referred to as the “King of Qawwali.” Khan was known for his incredible vocal range and improvisational skills, as well as his ability to connect with audiences on a deep emotional level. Khan’s music has had a lasting impact on the world of Qawwali, inspiring countless musicians and listeners around the globe.

How has Qawwali music influenced other genres of music?

Qawwali music has had a profound influence on a wide range of musical genres, both within South Asia and beyond. One of the most notable examples of this influence is in the world of Bollywood music, where Qawwali songs are often featured in films as a way to add emotional depth and cultural authenticity to the soundtrack.

In addition to Bollywood music, Qawwali music has also influenced Western artists and genres, with musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Jeff Buckley, and Eddie Vedder incorporating elements of Qawwali into their own music. The hypnotic rhythms and soul-stirring melodies of Qawwali music have a universal appeal that transcends cultural boundaries, making it a powerful and enduring form of musical expression.