Tag Archives: Singers

Qawwali Singers Extraordinaire!

The strains of Sufi Qawwali music hold a special fascination for me – there is something about the soaring notes, the seeker’s voice and the universal need to reach the ultimate – all captured into one marvelous tide of music. Fanna-fi-Allah – the group comprised of Tahir Hussain Faridi Qawwal, Aminah Chishti Qawwal, Laali Qalandar, Salim Chishty, Ali Shan, Jahangir Baba, Abrar Hussai and Aziz Abbatiello are a phenomenal amalgam of musical talent, adherence to a centuries-old tradition and virtuoso teamwork on stage that left me spellbound last year. They have traveled to India and Paksitan over the past twenty years to learn and imbibe the pure tradition of Qawwal from legendary masters. This intense dedication to the tradition shows in every syllable that is uttered on stage and every melody that soars to the rafters.

In conversation with Tahir Hussain Faridi Qawwal, the lead singer I heard a fascinating story of cultural assimilation. Speaking Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi today fluently started with listening to classic rock as a teenager. He says, “I listened to classic rock – Beatles and the Incredibles these bands included Indian classical instrumentation and collaborated with those musicians. I heard the tanpura, sitar and sarangi – and I was instantly drawn to those sounds. I followed that  and soon started listening to records of Ali Akbar Khan, Bismillah Khan and Ravi Shankar. I was drawn to the music and I was also drawn to Eastern mysticism. My first guru in Nova Scotia was a Sikh guru who taught me classical Indian music. Then, from the library I listened to an album by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan  and was blown away. There started my journey.”

When asked about his favorite qawwalis, he says, “I love the classic qawwali like man kunto allah – I listen in the car and cry sometimes from the pure beauty expressed in it. I love Bulleh Shah’s poetry and also enjoy the Persian poetry of Khusro and Rumi. We have out own connections to Islam. There is a flavor in each of these themes beyond the life story of an iconic figure – we are singing in praise to this quality – that is truly beyond us.”

Tahir confesses that the sacred principles that he holds dear while upholding this tradition is the feeling of community best expressed in the Sufi gatherings called sama – there is a sentimental, emotional expression that we are devoted to inspiring when we perform.It is very different from the self-centered ambition in the West. Talking of their upcoming concerts this weekend, Tahir says, “We do not know what to expect – we aspire to create something that is always fresh and always new. You can’t make Indian food and put it in the fridge and serve it. It’s got to be fresh – just like that we don’t know the music that will come forth.  But it’s always ecstatic, trying to move you to a higher plane. The audiences are always mixed – there is a cultural bridge that happens at our concerts – there is the hippie yoga community that gets into it and the South asian community that comes together too. The whirling dervish artist also adds the element of expressive movement.”

Authentic qawwali, mystical poetry, clapping and enthusiastic dancing – the music of Fannafi Allah will move you in more ways than you can imagine!

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the editor of India Currents magazine.








The F16s – Music that Carries You On

Sheer astonishment is the sentiment that comes to mind when you hear the F16s. How can an Indian band based in Chennai sound so Rock, from the vocals to the guitaring and keys to the lyrics.

Incredibly, they won the 2013 Jack Daniel’s Annual Rock Award for Best Emerging Act. Incredibly, they were winners in the Converse Road to Rubber Tracks contest which had them recording two numbers in Brooklyn, New York.19

And incredibly, again, they are not musically trained. “None of us have any musical education whatsoever we sort of just picked up our instruments and found each other,” says Josh who does the vocals and guitars.

The band already has a seven track album called Kaleidoscope out. Their new album is in stealth mode, will have ten tracks, and is to be launched in September this year.

The F16s go by their first or nicknames; the others in the band are Vikram- the drummer, Shank on bass, Harshan on keys, and Abhinav aka Booby (“he was tubby as a child”) on the guitar. When asked how it all started, Josh says, “Chennai is a small city so everybody knows everybody, Vikram, Booby and I went to the same college and Shank and Harshan were mutual friends so we’d hang out with each other often. We decided to meet up one summer and just grab our gear and write some music.”

In 2014, Converse, the sports gear and apparel company, held a contest spanning different regions worldwide that would grant the winners studio time at the Rubber Tracks Studio in Brooklyn. The F16s were growing tired of competitions, this seemed like a “what’s-the-worst-that-could-happen” scenario. They got shortlisted, played the finals, won the contest. Late 2014, at the Brooklyn studio, they recorded two singles: “Blackboard” and “Jacuzzi.” When asked if it was tough deciding on which tracks Josh remembers, “We honestly didn’t give that a lot of thought, apart from the occasional back and forth at practice. The two songs we decided to go with were confirmed right outside the walls of the Rubber Tracks Studio. Those two songs seemed to fit perfectly with the space, the studio, the recording process. ”

The new album promises to be dissimilar to the previous releases and talks to universal themes such as romance, morality, selfishness and contempt. Josh describes further, “With a city like Chennai, melancholia comes easy but in spurts which can be easily heard through the record. I think with this album we find our selves forcefully complexed.”

A great example of this are the lyrics to “Digital Dead,” an upcoming track:

Digital men with a digital smile,
Since I’ve been running in a
circle …    
Cause I’ve been waiting a while
Who do they want us to be?

Try again, But dont start as yet.

No sudden moves, just sudden death.

So what comes first, the lyrics or the tune? “It almost always starts with a hook that would click this little knob in our brains that would trigger something that feels like we always knew what to play. We start with a tune and then I sort of spread/spill lyrics over it, cause I want the music to carry the lyrics and not the other way around,” opines Josh.

The Brooklyn-studio-recorded songs have a passive aggressive feel, conveying a rebellion by wholly embracing the “melancholia.” “Blackboard” begins on the upbeat, superb guitaring and keys introducing us to the lyrics which say, “… jumping to the river, but the river wouldn’t carry you on….looking to the mirror but the mirror wasn’t looking at you.” The music lifts you up to counter the lyrics, which are brutally honest. “Jacuzzi” on the other hand, has suspenseful music in tune with the lyrics that start off  “As I’m walking on broken glass…”

If living in Chennai and living off of its vibe has literally driven the F16s to music, then their New York experience will prove to be one of the defining moments of their musical caliber. As Josh says, “New York is the originator, the place where innovations in musical styles begin.”

Check out the F16s on their facebook page online. Kaleidoscope is avalailable on iTunes. (Warning: Some numbers have explicit content.)

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.