Tag Archives: Classical Music

Rizwan Muazzam performing on stage

Love Opera? Why not try Qawwali

Opera lover? Fan of Pavarotti’s high notes? Or perhaps Maria Callas’ high notes and dramatic interpretation? Then Qawwali is the art form to explore in 2019.

Origins & Similarity

With roots deep in 13th century India, breathtaking vocal versatility and emotive tone, Qawwali carries centuries deep tradition. Traditionally performed in Sufi shrines, the lyrics of Qawwali carry strong tones of love and devotion. Often, there is ambiguity on whether the Beloved is of human or divine origins.

Opera holds its origins in 17th century Italy and interestingly, the themes were based on mythological stories. The first opera to be performed was Orfeo by Monteverdi in Italy 1607.  Three hundred years later, the opera was performed in London at Scala Theatre.

Act 1 of Orfeo, above.

Often parallels were drawn in opera between the mythical heroes and present day rulers – similar to the ambiguous divine tone of Qawwali lyrics.

Phenomenal Vocal Versatility

A versatile vocal range is key in opera and Qawwali. Pavarotti is certainly one of the most important figures in classical music. His vocal range is dizzying!

A key figure putting Qawwali on the world music map is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.  Possessing a 6 octave range, he could perform at high levels of intensity for several hours.

Watch Nusrat performing Qawwali classic, Akhiyan Udeek Diya (My eyes eagerly wait for you).

Classical Singing

Alike to western classical music, a Qawwali singer learns how to use their voice from an early age and the musical training takes years of dedicated hard work. Trained from a young age, Nusrat was born into a family of singers and musicians, hailing from Afghanistan and migrating to India in the 11th century.

Some in the west may feel that the classical element in music is becoming lost and ignored by contemporary generations. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan certainly felt concern. He remarked to the Herald: “To my understanding, people run away from the name of classical songs.”  Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a strong advocate  and believed in “the revival of pure classical singing”  (Herald).

He received training in classical singing himself and his belief in classical music has ensured that Qawwali, an ancient art form, will not be lost in time.

Watch Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan perform a dramatic and melancholic ode to love

Dramatic Performances

Dramatic performances are an important part of opera. Maria Callas is a name in the opera world which epitomises dramatic interpretation and many critics praised her for dramatic performances. The name La Divina  was hailed upon her partly due to her gift for dramatic interpretation.

Watch Maria Callas perform Bizet’s Carmen Habanera, Hamberg 1962

And dramatic performances are present in Qawwali too. With lyrics in poetic Urdu, Farsi or Punjabi, one need not understand linguistically as it’s the heart strings they tug at.

Qawwali performances are hypnotic and moving. The rhythmic clapping and pulsing music builds to a mesmerising crescendo, with vocal repetition and vocal intensity often inducing a state of ecstasy amongst performers and audiences alike.

Torchbearers of an ancient tradition

Brothers Rizwan and Muazzam are nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and were tutored by him before his passing in 1997. Having been trained up in the tradition, Rizwan and Muazzam are torchbearers of this ancient classical art form, and have dedicated their lives to studying, performing and sharing Qawwali music with the world. Lead singer Muazzam Ali Khan’s vocal range and dexterity is also astounding – and he has certainly inherited the family’s incredible vocal talent.

Watch Rizwan Muazzam perform Qawwali, Halka Suroor

Don’t miss the chance to hear Qawwali performed by Rizwan-Muazzam.

We hope to see you at one of their concerts in March!


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Rizwan-Muazzam performing Qawwali in March 2017

A Short Introduction to Qawwali

They say music has no language. And such is the magic of Qawwali. The unique essence of Qawwali can be felt by listeners both familiar and new.
A short introduction to Qawwali

Ahead of our upcoming UK Tour with the torchbearers of Qawwali,Pakistan’s RIZWAN-MUAZZAM, we explore the fascinating roots of the sacred tradition.

The beginnings of Qawwali

Qawwali began to emerge in 8th century Persia. However, Qawwali as we know today began to take shape in 13th century India. Credit is attributed to Sufi mystic saint, Amir Khusro, who is known as the “Father of Qawwali”.

Above: Amir Khusro. Image Credit: FamousPeople

What is Qawwali?

A fountain of inspiration for generations, Qawwali is more than music. It explores themes of love, devotion and feelings of separation from the beloved. Sometimes there is ambivalence towards whether the beloved is of human or divine nature.

Where is Qawwali sung?

Traditionally, Qawwali is sung within a Sufi shrine. Listen to a BBC Recording of Qawwali being sung at the Nizammudin Shrine in Delhi.   

The centuries old tradition of Qawwali is now shared beyond. Qawwali has in recent years been performed on prominent festival stages like WOMAD. RIZWAN-MUAZZAM performed Qawwali at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia. The intensity and poetic nature of the art form makes Qawwali a favourite choice in the Bollywood industry, the world’s largest film industry.

Famous Qawwals

A Qawwali singer is known as a Qawwal.

Famous Qawwals include Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sabri Brothers and Aziz Mian Qawwal.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is highly revered as the King of Qawwali. He is widely considered to be the most important Qawwal in history. A key person who put Qawwali on the World Music map, Nusrat fateh Ali Khan had many honorary titles bestowed upon him and is an important icon worldwide.

RIZWAN-MUAZZAM, being the nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, are carrying forward the ancestral legacy of Qawwali.

An Evolving Tradition

Qawwali was sung ordinarily only by men. However, women now sing Qawwali too and are recognised. Women Qawwals include Abida Parveen, Nooran Sisters and Sanam Marvi.

Abida Parveen is dubbed as the Queen of Sufi. The many accolades to her name include a life time achievement award presented by BBC Asian Network in 2016.

Above: Abida Parveen performing on Coke Studio

Live Qawwali

It is said that Qawwali has to be experienced to be believed. Expect to be taken on a musical journey through the hypnotic rhythm and entrancing vocals.

Above: Rizwan-Muazzam perform “Halka Suroor” at St George’s Bristol from our 2017 Tour

Tickets for Rizwan Muazzam UK Tour 2019

Experience Qawwali in the UK with the torchbearers of the tradition, Rizwan-Muazzam.


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