Monday, June 3, 2013

Ustad Meraj, The Qawwali Master

Photograph © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Photograph © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
In the late 13th century in India, Amir Khusro of the Chisti order of Sufis was instrumental in merging Persian and Indian musical traditions to create qawwali as we know it today.

Ustad Meraj Ahmed Nizami is the elder descendant of a disciple of Khusro, and belongs to its well-known discipline known as "gharana". His extended family has been performing qawwali for the past eight centuries, and as such Khusro's style has passed unbroken across seven centuries and thirty generations.

Accompanied by my friend Kaushik Ghosh, himself a talented photographer, an aficionado of Sufi traditions and who generously arranged this meeting, I walked the narrow lanes and warrens of Nizzam Uddin neighborhood until we reached Ustad Meraj's second floor apartment.

It was there that the elder icon of qawwali told us of his personal life story, and then favored us by singing a few minutes of this traditional devotional music form of South Asia. A faltering voice, perhaps weakened by age, but nevertheless a virtuoso of the harmonium.

Here's a clip from the whole interview and performance I recorded whilst with Ustad Meraj.

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