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Brothers in arms

RANEE KUMAR
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Music Warsi brothers are synonymous with Qawwal singing, and their dedication to this form of music remains strong as ever. RANEE KUMAR

Rich legacy Qawwali is the sole livelihood of Warsi brothers Nazeer and Naseer.
Rich legacy Qawwali is the sole livelihood of Warsi brothers Nazeer and Naseer.

‘W arsi' rings a bell! Yes, it is the traditional qawwal family of Hyderabad ever since the seventh Nizam's regime.

The third generation Warsi brothers Nazeer and Naseer— are still going strong with their ancestral profession.

You enter the winding bylanes of Patherghatti (Mandi Mir Alam) by foot and go up a narrow staircase which leads you into a stark room devoid of modern trappings. You are offered a seat on the ‘tiwasi' on the floor with a few bolsters to support your back against the wall.

Nazeer Warsi and his sibling Naseer greet you with the customary ‘salaam' after which we get into an animated conversation about music being their main sustenance.

In an age where ancient performing arts are hardly viable in monetary terms, there are many artists in and around the city who have full-fledged careers — small or big— not necessarily related to arts, but definitely a means for livelihood. But for the young Warsi brothers, qawwali is their sole livelihood.

Illustrious legacy

“We live by our music as a khandani vocation. Our forefathers were singers in Mughal court and after Bahadur Shah Zafar's arrest by the British, the then Nizam of Hyderabad had invited Mohd Siddique Khan and Aziz Ahmed Khan to Deccan (here).Our families have adopted Hyderabad as their home for the past 200 years. We are the direct descendents of Aziz Ahmed Khan. The title Warsi was bestowed by their ustad (guru) of Lucknow ancestry,” says Nazeer Ahmed Khan giving a brief outline of the illustrious family.

Is training in Hindustani classical music mandatory for becoming a qawwal?

“A genuine qawwal baccha, as we are referred to, has to necessarily learn classical music or else he would be ignorant of raag, taal and voice modulation at a deeper level.

You pick up a composition of some great poet like Amir Khusro which has been set to a framework. An untrained singer would not be able to identify the raag to which the song was set. This in turn affects the quality and comprehension of the profound lyrics. We have been trained from the age of five in pure classical music of the Delhi Gharana Gayaki. From there, we branch off into sufiana qawwali,” interprets Naseer Ahmed Khan.

Coming to technicalities, one is bound to seek clarification: Does qawwali necessitate group rendition? And how does Sufiana differentiate from qawwali?

The elder brother is eager to explain:

“Qawwali is essentially a medium to seek God. It is therefore spiritual in content. Sufiana is the essence of qawwali singing. Nowadays, it has turned into a genre which is but an offshoot of ghazal. The sort of ‘ muqabala' qawwali you find in many a Hindi movie of yore, is not strictly in the framework of this genre. The content is also loosely knit with romantic interludes. Well, for one, love is divine and through this ingredient we chalk out the path to godhead. The sort of transcendental love to sing in praise of the benevolent God marks all the compositions of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisthi, the saint of Ajmer and later Nizamuddin Auliya who penned and popularized this style. ‘Sufi' means pristine (saaf). Qawwali can be equated to a bhajan. Therefore, it is group singing where the minimum number is ten. It has native instrumental accompaniment in dholak, tabla, harmonium and of course the clapping (a taal by hand). We also sing Kabir dohas, kalaam, etc. The traditional attire is black sherwani and topi with white pyjamas. Of late, we are experimenting with coloured sherwanis at non-religious functions,” he informs.

“Qawwali, at least in orthodox families like ours is a male domain. Our riyaaz (practice sessions) stretches to three to four hours every day and throughout night prior to performances. Yes, there is still a demand for qawwalis especially in the northern parts of our country and also abroad. We are kept busy enough,” Nazeer Warsi laughs answering a range of questions. The brothers' only grievance is that their ancestral ‘Warsi' title is being impersonated by unidentified groups in a bid to usurp their share of performances. “These pseudo Warsi is doing the rounds and many organizers are checking with us while some are being taken for a ride. It can be quite hazardous to our reputation but there is no way of containing it, at least not within our bounds,” they state in utter resignation.

Qawwali is essentially a medium to seek God.

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