Qawwali Performance Lights up Sacramento Evening
Report and pictures by Ras H. Siddiqui
There are three main words for love in our native language - Piyaar, Mohhabbat and Ishq - which can be but are not always the same, especially in intensity with Ishqbeing the most intense, just short of craziness or Junoon.
The Sufi masters of South Asia have expressed their Ishq or love of God, Prophet, Imams and Saints in various ways. One way which catches our imagination and thrives today is the art form of Qawwali, possibly the closest relative to the Gospel in that Western culture (an exact match may not be possible here). The essence of this all can be attributed to the Sufi culture which dots the region from Turkey to Bangladesh with a substantial presence in India and Pakistan.
The way of the Sufis has historically been simplicity in life and suppression of the self, while preaching the love of God and complete devotion to him. Sufis have traditionally been the more ascetic face of Islam and their imprint in South Asia can be found in dargahs or places of worship founded around graves of saints. Places like Ajmer Sharif and Nizamuddin in India and the Sehwan Sharif and Data Darbar in Pakistan are just a few examples. And then there are their devotees in the thousands who practice their path of love, peace and togetherness made famous in the late 1960’s during America’s short “Flower Children” era.
Returning to the present one has to be a bit surprised when being first being introduced to the Fanna-Fi-Allah Qawwali Group out of Nevada City, California. Tahir Hussain FaridiQawwal the group leader and manager along with Aminah Chishti (table player and she can also perform the Dhamaal-dance), LaaliQalandar, Salim Chishti, Ali Shan and Jahangir Baba are all “White” and the only South Asian amongst them representing Pakistan is Abrar Hussain son of UstadDildar Hussain who had played table for many years alongside the legendary NusratFateh Ali Khan. It is mainly due to his influence that members of Fanna-Fi-Allah (Annihilation into the Infinite, into Allah) sought this path. And they are not just a bunch of white people attempting to sing Qawwali; they also happen to be very good at it!
This October performance by Fanna-Fi-Allah in the Sacramento area was a free event at The Palace Ballroom in Rancho Cordova, with close to 300 people in attendance. This was surprisingly Fanna-Fi-Allah’s first Sacramento area performance since they make nearby Nevada City their home. But if this was their first, it will certainly not be their last as their fan base is growing rapidly.
When this writer walked in fashionably late, the performance had just started with Allah Hoo, a number made famous as the signature starting song of the late NusratFateh Ali Khan’s Qawwali performances. It is now being performed by many others including Fanna-Fi-Allah here. And as we sat down engrossed in this powerful start we were reminded next that this was the eve of the month of Muharram as a wonderful Qaseedah to Imam Ali followed, Ali Maula Ali Ali with a twist or two added to the original by this group. It was a very long version, performed with a great deal of heart. And just before break since few Qawwali performances can be considered complete without a mention of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, the father figure of Qawwali, his work too was presented here.
During the break, emcee Naeem Syed invited MrsDurriya Syed to say a few words. Mrs Syed had an election message for the audience and strongly urged everyone present to exercise their right to vote and to tell all of their friends to do the same. And next DJ Sohail, one of the main organizers of this show, thanked all of the sponsors and promoters individually. Each was presented an Ajrak, a sign of peace and friendship from Pakistan. The major recipients of the Ajrak were officials of the Pakistani American Association of Sacramento without which the evening would not have been possible.
After the break, Tajdaar-e-Haram was performed in memory of the late AmjadSabri whose tragic killing in Karachi shook the Qawwali world this year. And next we moved to Punjabi -Aa Ja Tenu and the work of its most prominent poet Baba Bulleh Shah with his MeraPiyaGharAya. But we returned to chaste Urdu soon after with Hazrat Amir Khusrau’s NainaMilaiKe which is a song that one would never have imagined white people ever singing because it contains within it an essence of our culture. And in closing, Mast Mast brought many in the audience to the dance floor to end a memorable evening of fine entertainment.
(Further details on Fanna-Fi-Allah can be found on their website at: http://www.fanna-fi-allah.com/ )