Nov. 17, 2012: Qawaalis are a form of Sufi devotional music that originate from 8th century Persia and are embedded in the cultures of modern day Pakistan and India. The Lorain County Community College (LCCC), Stocker Arts Center presented a troupe of 5 brothers, led by Qawal Najmuddin Saifuddin.
Accompanied by harmonium and a small round drum known as the tabla they recite the captivating poetry of renowned ancient Sufi poets, such as Amir Khusro Dehelvi of Chisti. The narrations are fused with devotional obedience and love for the Prophet Muhammad, and sometimes in honor of local spiritual leaders, celebrations or budding romance.
The genre is a combination of fast paced tabla drumming, with drawn-out notes from the harmonica combined with clapping, which creates a hypnotic atmosphere. The poetry lends mystic attributes, stirring the soul of the listener with the passionate mélange of merging sounds.
The troupe stayed in Lorain for a week, traveling to Toledo and Cleveland for small performances and teaching elementary school children about the unique art form they inherited from their ancestors.
The brothers are keeping a family legacy alive. Like their forefathers they joined as children, as young as 6 years of age, to appreciate the history, techniques and become master performers charged with leading their art to the world.
Mohammad Najmuddin said this second tour in the Midwest USA has been thrilling and well appreciated. He is impressed by the interest people have shown in listening to and willing to learn more about quwaalis.
He began training when he was 6 years old with his father and grandfather. Now he leads the group of his brothers and two relatives. Najmuddin Saifuddin & Brothers have made a name for themselves worldwide, touring through Europe, Africa, and most regularly to Dehli, India. “It is our family duty to perform at the durgah (shrine) in Dehli, our family has preserved this legacy for more than 750 years,” he said. While his family migrated to Karachi, Pakistan they remained loyal to their family legacy.
He said very few artists preserve the purity of qawaalis and the modern society appreciates the sound and rhythm but do not truly understand the art of poetry that creates the soul of the music and transcends cultures and languages from Persian, Punjabi, Urdu, and Hindi.
The brothers live in the same family house with their wives and children and hold rigorous training sessions to build the strength and stamina to perform for several hours continuously. Najmuddin said the strength and stamina required for vocal training and playing the accompanying instruments limit women from performing qawaalis, “But women in Pakistan are advancing in the world of music,” hoping to be as inspirational as the legendary Noor Jahan, who rose to fame as a playback singer in the 1960s.
Appreciation of quwaalis has shifted in Pakistan, where the troupe is welcomed at weddings, which often require new songs for the bride and groom. Najmuddin said on average somewhere between a week and a month is required to write and develop the music. He said with the support of the Pakistani community living aboard the troupe would welcome the opportunity to teach longer training sessions.
Qawal Najmuddin Saifuddin & Brothers is the third international group to perform at LCCC as part of the Arts Midwest World Fest. LCCC is the only stop in Ohio for the tour, which includes four ensembles in two years.