The plight of qawwal brothers Sher Ali Khan, Meher Ali Khan

The brothers have been associated with qawwali for almost five decades. PHOTO: FILE

The brothers have been associated with qawwali for almost five decades. PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE: Ustad Sher Ali Khan and Ustad Meher Ali Khan are two of the most prominent names in Urdu qawwali. The brothers, who have been professionally trained by renowned maestros, have been performing in different parts of the world and at present have a massive fan following. With the trends in music now changing, the duo now feels they are part of a fading culture.

“There is no doubt about the fact that qawwals, and qawwali itself is in a dire state,” shared Meher. “We fear that if the government fails to support and promote the genre, it will soon vanish from the country that it has earned so much recognition for.”

He said that qawwali is an art that can only be passed on through intensive vocal training which takes time, effort and expertise. “It is almost painful to see untrained, immature so-called qawwals attempting to perform classics. We have been associated with the genre for over five decades and now, for the very first time, we are experiencing troubled times for our profession. The public’s taste is changing,” he shared, adding that the passion that the brothers share for qawwali keeps them from abandoning their work, hoping that things will start looking up one day.

“We do not forget the true roots of qawwali. It is associated with Sufi mystics of the past who used it to preach the message of Islam which is why you get to experience the very best of it at shrines even today,” he added.

Sher echoed his brother’s thoughts. “People used to take time out for qawwali not too long ago,” he said. “They would organise elaborate functions, inviting professional qawwals to entertain crowds but the trend is slowing dying. They now prefer watching TV and listening to modern music which is indeed a major source of discouragement for individuals that have long been associated with the genre.”

He held untrained singers responsible for this shift in the equation. “There are only a few people left worthy of being called qawwals and they too have been sidelined by the public and media. Only in the month of Ramazan does qawwali get a bit of airtime, while the rest of the year our work is ignored.”

The brothers also discussed another important aspect that may be contributing to the rapidly decreasing numbers of professional qawwali singers in the country. “Considering that it is an important part of our culture, it comes as a shock that there are no qawwali training academies in the country. I’ve come across a number of institutes that teach music, but there are absolutely none, especially in Lahore and Punjab, dedicated solely to imparting vocal training essential for qawwali singing,” lamented Meher. “How can we expect seasoned singers to then come forth? Faisalabad was home to qawwal legends including Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan. It is my humble request to the government to facilitate the establishment of a qawwali academy in the city.”

It has become common practice for people to hire singers who charge the least for musical functions. Solo artists are often preferred over qawwali groups in such cases because the former quote a smaller price for the performance.

“People blame us for charging hefty sums but fail to understand that we have to take care of the entire group. There are at least 15 members in a single qawwal crew, with each person playing an essential role in the performance. Everyone needs to be a bit more considerate of our needs and try to understand our basic issues,” complained Sher. The two believe that they have a religious duty to fulfil, and the message of great Sufi saints to preach through their music. “We will continue to perform despite the circumstances,” he said.

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