Fanna-Fi-Allah Qawwali Party
Fanna-Fi-Allah: Translates as total immersion in the absolute. Qawwali is an ancient practice where in the fire of divine love (ishq) is ecstatically expressed through the mystical verses of Sufi poets, sung in Urdu, Farsi, Hindi and Punjabi. The origins of Qawwali music date back over a thousand years to the spiritual Samah songs of Persia. Qawwali's pationate devotional themes of love are devinely inspired by a mystical relationship with Allah. The foremost expression in this music is through the voice, accompanied by two harmoniums, slamming Pakistani tablas, hand clapping and the tampura.
It is traditionally performed in Sufi shrines where the audience participation is integral to the
prayerful yet ecstatic atmosphere.
Tahir Qawwal and Amena Chisty Qawwal, who are infinitely blessed to be the foremost disciples of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan ( greatest Qawwali master of Pakistan and only nephew-successor of the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), and Ustad Dildar Hussein ( world renowned tabla master from the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Qawwali party ), lead the Fanna-Fi-Allah Qawwali party consisting of six to ten rigorously trained musicians. This young Qawwali party wishes to bring forth from out of the Sufi shrines the blessing of this ancient practice of devotion and love through music and dance to all. Fanna-Fi-Allah has been greatly honoured to play at such sacred sufi shries in Pakistan such as the beloved tombs of :Data Ganj Baksh (Lahore), Baba Ganj-e-Shakar (Pak Pattan), Baba Bulleh Shah (Kasoor), Baba Lasuri Shah (Faislabad)....and in India at the tombs of Khwaje Nizzam-Ud-Deen Aulia, Hazrat Amir Khusrau, Pir Inayat Khan (Delhi), Khwaje Mueen-Ud-Deen Chishty (Ajmer), and many more mystic sites.
Fanna-Fi-Allah has been performing outside of Pakistan/India since the summer of 2001, and have become well known throughout the USA after playing numerous private concerts and appearing at venues such as Earthdance, Oregon Country Fair, Harmony Fest, Beloved Fest, Symbiosis, Burning Man, Emrg-n-see, Mystic Garden Party, Whole Earth Fest, The Auburn Sacred Arts Fair... They have also performed at numerous benefit concerts such as M.E.C.A. (Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance) dance party benefit, Greg Mortenson's benefits for schools in Pakistan/Afganistan (Three Cups of Tea/CAI), and many more. The party will often incorporate: trained dancers, performance of Sufi tales, translations of the songs, teaching about classical ragas, and the art of this ancient practice, according to the setting and audience.
Tahir Qawwal: First Harmonium & Lead Vocals Jun Malang: Second Harmonium & Lead Vocals Lali Gulabi: Svarmandal & Lead Vocals Amna Chishty: Tabla/ata vala Dhamma Zulekha: Chorus & Clap Muhammad Yusaf: Chorus & Clap Lajpal Qalandar: Chorus & Clap
Annihilaton Into the infinit, Baba Farid, Sufi Sama, Mehfil-e-Sama Vol#1, 2 & 3
Touches the soul
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“I was in tears for over 2 hours…the vocal mastery and heartfelt devotion are compelling. More tha...
“I was in tears for over 2 hours…the vocal mastery and heartfelt devotion are compelling. More than a “good” time, these young players move me to a greater sense of the mystery within” –Koda Sun (respected elder of the Earthome community)
From the heart to the soul (Qawwali meets America)
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It’s hard to believe, but its true. They don’t know Urdu or Punjabi, but they can sing Qawalis, and ...It’s hard to believe, but its true. They don’t know Urdu or Punjabi, but they can sing Qawalis, and have found fame and their ultimate goal in life while proceeding with this passion. AMAL SHAKEB meets the lead members of Fanna-fi-Allah, the first American based Sufi Qawali Party.
“Dam mast Kalandar mast mast”
It is mast and its masti spreads in the air, causing heads to swing and feet to tap. For onlookers it may look like some kind of insanity, but the devout and fans understand and dwell in the mysteries of Qawali, which takes them to their ultimate flight of fantasy.
Qawali draws its inspiration from Sufism. The aura of this melody has attracted many, it is something beyond music, which pierces through the ears and heart of a person reaching his soul, settling in and giving the listener a feeling he has never experienced before.
Qawali makes one remember the old saints Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti and of course Amir Khusroo, named by many as the father of Qawali. However, it evolved as a more popular form of music at the time of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who gave it a commercial angle and made it common to the general audience. This form of music was used to spread the message of Islam, and even now it has attracted many towards this religion.
Such converts are Tahir Hussein and Amena Chishty, who have devoted their lives to Qawali music. They were musicians but when they listened to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan they fell in love with Qawali music. They met each other and joined in the voyage of Qawali. Now they term qawali as the “glue that sticks us together”. They got married five years back and for their honeymoon they decided to come to Pakistan – the home ground of Qawali. Impressed by the Qawals in Pakistan, from here onwards, their life changed to new arenas demanding to be explored.
On their fifth trip to Pakistan we were lucky to have spotted them and found a chance to sit with these Qawals and find out more about them.
They are the only American Qawali party operating by the name of Fanna-Fi-Allah. Tahir, the group lead manages the team of a total of ten to twelve people. Their wish to spread the message of the Holy Prophet (SAW) to the people of America. Fanna-Fi-Allah was asked to perform at the world’s largest Qawwali ceremony in Pak Pattan Pakistan at the shrine of the most famous sufi saint Baba Farid.
Amena Chisti Qawwal was given permission to perform as the first ever woman Qawwal. At the 663rd year of the world’s largest Qawwali ceremony for the Sufi saint Baba Farid in Pak Pattan Pakistan. With over 5,000 spectators and broadcast on nation wide T.V. Amena has made history.
Amena is the first lady shagird (student) of Ustad Dildar Hussein, who played table with Nusrat Fateh Ali for thirty years. “I think that in Nusrat Fateh Ali’s Qawalis, the tabla player captured everyone’s heart.”
Tahir has been studying in India since the last five years, his Ustad is Rizwan Moazzam, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s nephew. Tahir studies in Ijmir Sharif for months.
For Abdullah Qayyum, popularly known as Lali in his peers, a side singer in the band it’s the second time in Pakistan. Lali had always been involved in music but of a different style. He writes great poetry. Fifteen years ago his life also took a new path after listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s music. He met Tahir and Amena, joined their group and has been playing with them since seven years now.
When introduced to Islam, Tahir and Amena agreed with the philosophy of their pir belonging to Chisty Silsila. They learned about the Holy Prophet (SAW) and believe that beauty of Islam lies in the message of the Holy Prophet (SAW). “He taught unity of mankind but his message had been corrupted just like Jesus and Moses.” Said Amena. “We have read many books on shariat and the life of the Holy Prophet (SAW).” Said Tahir. Their family though not converted to Islam supports them and is very proud of them.
Regarding the importance of Qawali Amena said, “People feel the need to connect to Islam. I am usually surprised by the response we get. The people who listen to this music for the first time are startled. They ask what is happening to them they are unable to understand their own feelings. The effect is so powerful that they start crying.” Says Amena as her eyes shine bright while explaining her passion for Qawali.
What is the reason behind their special attachment to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, one asks. “He had a powerful style.” Commented Tahir, which made him so popular, but Amena pointed out the more notable reason “He was the one who brought Qawali out of Pakistan to the whole world. Before that Qawalis were restricted to shrines. His Qawali was easy to understand.”
Fanna-Fi-Allah has been greatly honoured to play at such sacred Sufi shrines in Pakistan such as the beloved tombs of Data Ganj Baksh (Lahore), Baba Ganj-e-Shakar (Pak pattan), Baba Bulleh Shah (Kasoor), Baba Lasuri Shah (Faislabad)… and in India at the tombs of Khwaja Nizzam-Ud-Deen Aulia, Hazrat Amir Khusrau, Pir Inayat Khan (Delhi) Khwaja Mueen-Ud-Deen Chishty (Ajmer), and many more mystic sites. They have also had more commercial performances, like three years back at Serene Hotel, Faisalabad on basant.
“In Americans Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar are more popular than Pakistanis. When they listen to us they like us so much, then we tell them to listen to our masters.” said lali. People who don’t know anything about Qawali we tell them it is the devotional music of Islam, 1000 years old. We tell them about sufi saints and poets.”
We sing more traditional qawali in Punjabi. Have learned a little bit of Urdu and Punjabi but will write our own when we have mastered the language. We are still little kids in this field.
Amena loves the tradition of nazrana. “There is so much greed in the world but there people are ready to give away money for the cause of God and devotional music. It is like a prayer to the world. When qawalis are going on hundreds and thousand of rupees are flying in the air. It touches my heart.”
They place so much importance in their ustads (teachers) that one is bound to ask what kind of relationship this is. “It is like a sacred marriage.” Opines Amena. “We had a ceremony. I was fed shagan and nala – red string was tied to my right wrist until it naturally falls of. I found it once in bed and then kept it along with roses the tabaruk from Baba Farid.”
“It is a big responsibility when you choose an ustad to carry on their lineage to the world and play their style.” Tahir says his aim is to honour the family of the bazurgs (saint) by his music.
Having performed in many different places, what is the basic difference that they have felt, one asks “The music is low cast in India. It is not that powerful. The performance is incomplete without the involvement of the audience. The audience in India is not as enthusiastic as in Pakistan.”
“There is a lot of hospitality in Pakistan.” The comment when asked about their experience of visiting our country. “The people here are more open-hearted and friendlier than Americans. There everyone has huge barriers around them. Media has created a lot of fear in Americans about Pakistan, but we feel its just propaganda. We feel very safe here.” “Americans think women are oppressed in Islam”, continued Amena. “I present a unique example for them being the first female Qawal. It think Qawali was basically meant for men because it requires a large amount of physical strength. But I used to play a lot of tennis which made me strong. God made this path easy for me. There is a lot more freedom in America but its not good because too much freedom creates confusion. Islam has a structure, it tells you what to do. It may be seen as lack of freedom but it helps in reducing confusion.”
“We love shopping from Faisalabad ghenta gher.” Joked Tahir. “People confuse us for Afghanis when we are in the traditional Shalwar Kameez attire. “Said Amena. They are also widely known for their hairdos.
Tahir’s group already has two audio CDs, but they have higer aims in life. They want to make a documentary about the shrines and Qawali culture of Pakistan and show it to America. However, funds are a big hurdle. “We are supporting ourselves for now, but would like to get some sponsorships”. With their portable studios which are basically two big suitcases, they are always ready to move on to their next stop in their voyage of spiritual learning. The next destination in their schedule is Indonesia for a music festival. “Learning will go on forever, it is a huge ocean.” Was the Qawals last message as they bade forewell to this enchanting meeting.
More information about these Qawals
Can be found on their website:
The people who listen to this music for the first time are startled. They ask what is happening to them they are unable to understand their own feelings. The effect is so powerful that they start crying
Our set list is usualy from one to four hours, made up of 12-45 minute qawwalies. We select from about 80 traditional compositions.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.