This week Spirit Festival bring Tahir Qawwal and Party to the Byron Centre for a night of deep devotion, ecstatic rhythm and mystical poetry. This is something special; it’s not often the Shire gets a taste of Pakistani sufi music culture!
How did you come to learn this very exotic and complex music that is so far from your own culture?
Gosh, it’s a long and loopy tale. Doesn’t feel so exotic and complex now that I’ve been so deep in it for more than 20 years, yet the qawwali genre certainly is a unique expression that inspires one to test the farthest reaches of what the voice can do.
Briefly put, I left home for India at age 16 on the spiritual quest. Travelling throughout the Indian and Tibetan Himalayas for five years I had come a across some epic mystic musicians. After practising mediation in lonely caves for so long, that heartfelt path of singing devotional music really called to me. This journey into the music of the mystics led me to the grand masters of sufi qawwali in Pakistan and they’ve guided my way ever since.
Chris Martin of Coldplay is a fan! How did he come to know your work?
Well you know he’s a sufi, ya?
Chris and some of his mob came out to one of our concerts in LA a couple of years back. As usual, by the time we had lift off a couple of tracks in, there was a lovely ‘devotional’ moshpit going on. As we were smashing it the singer to my left said, ‘That guy fully throttling it in the pit is Chris Martin from Cold Play!’ Between verses I said, ‘dunno who that is,’ and kept wailing away. After the gig Chris hit me up, since then we’ve been in contact often and have performed with him at his house, recording studio. He’s even part of our qawwali film. And yes, I did later learn that Cold Play is one of the most famous bands of all time.
Why is this particular kind of music so ‘spiritual’? What do you mean by that?
This music is so bloody spiritual because all emotion, passion, rhythm, melody, skill, improvisation, lyrics and so on are offered unto the Beloved. For sufis, the Beloved is our source and ultimate desire, beyond any one form or belief. The qawwali genre has evolved for a thousand years inside of the sama (spiritual ceremony), so the compositions and lyrics are truly divine. Yet since sacred music transcends explanation, come experience it for yourself.
Your upcoming crowdfunded film will enlighten us about what aspects of your musical world? Where did you film it?
Our upcoming feature film: Qawwali – Music of the Mystics will be debuting in theatres across the planet later this year. We filmed it in Pakistan and India over a period of 15 years. As it is the first comprehensive documentary on the qawwali tradition, the storyline takes viewers with us inside the inner sanctum of the mystical music gatherings to glean a taste of the sound and setting through the big screen. As well as following my group’s journey of discovery, thirty-five of the greatest sufi qawwali masters speak about this culture and perform the best-ever qawwali captured on 4k film. The post-production crowdfunding campaign continues uncompleted on www.gofundme.com/qawwali.
In the Byron concert, what will you be performing – new music, classical pieces, or what? Do you compose original music in this art form?
As always, the Byron show will feature a tasty repertoire of the most loved and revered classics, freshly offered in the spirit of spontaneity. One of the reasons I love this genre so much is that its form is designed to expand upon, therefore most of what you’ll hear is unrehearsed improvisation wherein the energy of the composition evokes the exploration of impulsive new daring vistas of melody, rhythm and poetry. This renders it impossible to drift away from the absolute presence of prayer.
A wild freedom that I’m sure the Byron community can dig!