For Noakhali Qawwal from Lahore, it is not the norm to scrunch down their usual two to three hour qawwali performances to a mere four songs. But they happily obliged for “Sufi Night” at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts on Friday.
Headed by Kashif Ali Khan and Tariq Ali, members of the group said that qawwali nights usually last a minimum of two hours — a group plays chronological tribute to Islamic prophets and Sufi poets. However with the western fusion element that Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan introduced, a trend of doing two or three songs emerged. This trend has also helped the “tradition of true qawwali nights thanks to better exposure”, said Ali.
The PNCA’s “Sufi Nights” are more figurative than literal, as a number of Sufi-inspired Lollywoodisque renditions were part of the show. The night featured a number of dance performances by the National Pakistan Arts Group (NPAG) on songs inspired by Sufi poetry mostly with a Punjabi overtone.
Rehearsing their dance moves backstage before their performance, female members of the group said they practice for a minimum of four hours daily, so that they are ready to perform at a moment’s notice.
The performance started on a sombre note with performers and the audience praying for Abida Parveen’s quick recovery. The group performed on Parveen’s “Yaar di Gharoli”, incorporating the darwish dance. It was one of the most powerful performances of the night.
Zahida Tabbassum and Shafaq Ali from Lahore sang Sufi poetry-inspired songs to more contemporary piano and tabla fusion such as “Sham-e-Qalandar”. Backstage, after the performance, Ali said, “The crowd [in Islamabad] is much more respectful and patient than in Lahore.”
The mainstay of the night was Shaukat Ali, who masterfully matched the soulful Sufi poetry with his resounding voice. His humble and charming personality shone through as he listened to the various requests by the crowd. “It is customary for musicians to fulfil the requests of the audience,” Ali said while playing the requests.
The mix of soulful and the light-hearted worked like a charm to entertain the crowd. Federal Minister of National Regulation & Services Firdous Ashiq Awan, the chief guest, said at the conclusion that the PNCA “fulfilled its promise of entertaining families as well as giving hardworking people a chance to get a break and enjoy their Friday night.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.