Qawwals are the true rockstars



There is a fine line between fusion and confusion. And that line becomes even finer when two established and respected musicians from the genres of rock and qawwali decide to take the stage in a three-hour long performance.

On Friday night, rock guitarist Asad Ahmed and qawwal Amjad Sabri performed together for the first time in a concert at The Palm in Karachi. The concert was the first of a series of shows in which the guitarist plans to collaborate with different qawwals.

He spoke to The Express Tribune about the experience of playing with a musician like Amjad Sabri and the challenges of performing alongside a full-fledged qawwal group.

“This performance is something which is completely different from the previous performances that I have done before,” told Ahmed.

During the concert, they performed a total of 10 songs, with the set list comprising famous qawwalis, such as ‘Bhar De Jholi’, ‘Allah Hoo’, ‘Mann Kunto Maula’, and the evergreen ‘Halka Halka Suroor’.

Having performed with several rock bands and pop musicians over the years, this was the first time that Asad took to stage with a qawwal and instantly found it to be very different from the music he had been playing throughout his career.

“Qawwali is unlike any other form of music. It is very free flowing and is not bound by the same structure like rock or pop music. For instance traditionally in any rock song you would have a chorus, a verse, a bridge and a guitar solo but none of those things seem to apply to qawwali,” remarked the guitarist.

But for the veteran musician the most telling difference was how he and his group had to adjust to playing 20-minute long sets in comparison to the four of five minute long songs rock and pop artists are usually accustomed to.

This was among the many things that Asad and his group had to keep in mind during their rehearsals with Sabri and his qawwal group.

“Although we did rehearse for our set list with the qawwal party but I think we did not rehearse as much as we would have liked. Since it was something new for us even the people I hired to play alongside me had a bit of difficulty during rehearsals and it proved to be quite challenging. But luckily all of them rose to the occasion on the day of the performance,” commented Asad Ahmed.

Another aspect that Ahmed shed light on was how other musicians needed to be on their toes all the time while playing with the qawwals.

“Qawwali performances tend to be a little more extempore but fortunately for us we had already rehearsed half of our performances with Amjad Sabri, so we had a fair idea what to play in certain portions of the song and which direction to take it into,” Ahmed said.

According to the former Karavan lead guitarist the experience he had gathered from playing on Coke Studio playing with different musicians, especially qawwals like Abida Parveen and Fareed Ayaz, turned out to be quite useful for him.

“Being part of Coke Studio for six seasons sort of helped develop my tonality in regards to qawwali. But despite that our performance yesterday was still quite different from what we used to do on the show,” told Ahmed.

He added that inn Coke Studio the house band used to play with just aqawwal but in this case they had to play with a whole group which included the background singers and clappers.

Despite having performed with some of the biggest names in the music industry, Asad believes that it is the qawwals who are the true ‘rockstars’ of our country and lamented how the current crop of musicians were completely sidestepping musicians from this genre.

He was already looking forward to performing and collaborating with other qawwal musicians in order to see what more they can do with this style of music.

“We’ve already received quite a lot of offers from different people for more performances. But let’s see where we take this from here.” told Ahmed.


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