KARACHI: American qawwal party Fanna-Fi-Allah kickstarted their Pakistan tour with a performance in Karachi, showcasing their rendition of the tradition of Sufi music. Led by Qawwal Tahir Faridi on harmonium, the group of nine includes tabla player Aminah Chishti and vocalist Salim Chishti. The group features six US-based and four Pakistani qawwals.
Addressing the audience before the performance, US Consul General Brian Heath introduced Fanna-Fi-Allah as ambassadors of Pakistani culture in the United States. Speaking to The Express Tribune, Salim shared that he followed the Chishtiyya Silsila of Sufism and that although based in the US, the group performs globally, conveying the message of peace and tolerance.
The qawwals sang six kalaams, beginning the show with Yeh Zameen Jab Na Thi Aasman Jab Na Tha. Salim’s voice was nasal and seemed inept for qawwali singing. The group failed to articulate many Urdu words, where Yeh jab na ‘thee’ became Ye jab na ‘tee’. Instead of pronouncing noon ghunna, which is the silent last consonant of a word, the stanza was brought to a close with noon (sound of the Urdu letter ‘n’). Words, which are supposed to end at delicate nasal sounds, such as zamee and zabaa, turned into zameen and zabaan.
Faridi used to sing bhajjans before he finally turned into a qawwal. He shared that qawwalis have helped people understand Sufism and Islam in the US. Fanna-Fi-Allah may be lauded for having performed with legends, such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but that doesn’t qualify them to be dubbed masters of Sufi tradition.
The group has been touring for more than 13 years, performing in the US, Pakistan, Europe, Indonesia, India, and Egypt. The ensemble has also been performing at shrines in the subcontinent. During their ongoing 11th tour of Pakistan, they will also perform in Hyderabad, Bhit Shah, Sehwan, Salu, Khairpur, Sukkur, Rahim Yar Khan, Lahore, Gujrat, Islamabad and Muzaffarabad.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2014.