The Music of Qawwali

The Qawwali opens with instruments playing the main tune of the piece to be performed, the naghnia. The naghfna permits musicians to tune their instruments and to develop a musical consensus, in which the base reference note is also defined. The naghma also introduces to the audience the main elements of the melody to follow, except sometimes for an enclosed cycle of melody within the main cycle. In the course of the naghma, the harmoniums, accompanied by the drums and claps, have an opportunity to show their art and skifi in the absence of voice. The beat also follows the main rhythm cycle used in the main body of the item and is fast. The naghma ends with an abrupt silence. In the silence, the lead singer may tell the audience about the item he is going to

present. The silence can be gently broken by a very short singing without any words or rhythm (alap).
When words appear for the first time, they present a Persian quatrain, (rubai) or a Punjabi couplet, the dohra. Technically, the ruba'i is the Farsi term for a quatrain with a specific meter and rhythmic pattern. In qawwali however, it may be any number of lines in any of the Qawwali languages. The ruba' i or dohra opens with a couplet sung by the lead singer with the harmonium; the claps and drums are muted. The couplet is repeated by the main accompanist. The content of the ruba'i is linked to that of the main qawwali, but is usually the work of another poet. The ruba' i also establishes the general mood of the qawwali, which picks up from the ruba i with a startling entry by the drum, followed a few beats later with the entire clapping ensemble.
The main qawwali starts in a moderate or slow beat (vilam pat) and finally develops to a faster tempo (drut). There is one major refrain (takrar) throughout the qawwali and it is this refrain that gives any particular qawwali its name. The qawwal generally chooses one text by a single poet (a ghazal by Amir Khusrau in Persian, a kafi by Bullhe Shah in Punjabi, or any contemporary poet). However, couplets from other poems by the same poet are permitted in the main text. if a couplet or line is taken from any other poet and chosen to highlight the concept or feeling being conveyed in one part of the main text, this auxiliary verse is known as girah (literally, a knot). The girah is usually delivered as an intensive emotional interjection. Girahs are often more of a chanted recitation than a tune, although the same beat is retained; however, an accomplished accompanying singer can present a girah in a specific raga, usually the pentatonic pahari, though other ragas can also be used. The lead qawwal launches a refrain and hands it over to the chorus while resting and preparing for his next solo entry, which is either a girah or the next couplet of the main text. The girah repertoire ranges from couplets from Amir Khusrau, Usman Marwandi, Bu Ali Qalandar, Bullhe Shah, and Shah Hussain to those composed by the main singer himself or even a “divine' inspiration (amad) during the qawwali. The development of the qawwali follows the normal pattern of the song in North Indian music: the composed piece in both instrumental and vocal music generally has two sections, astai and antara. The former is the main part of the composition and is said to be usually limited to the lower and middle register, while the antara extends from the middle to the upper registers.

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