Lost in qawwali spirit

Shabnam Riyaz, a Malayali qawwali singer, enthralled audience at the World of Women event underway at Kovalam Art and Craft Village

Published: 12th March 2022 06:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th March 2022 06:48 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

KOCHI: Qawwali music imbibes the essence of Sufism. The ecsatcy that audience enjoy when the qawwals sing at a gathering is unexplainable. Although the genre has been traditionally male-dominated, Malayali playback singer turned qawwal Shabnam Riyaz is quite popular among the country’s Sufi singers. Recently, she performed at a qawwali concert in the ongoing World of Women (WoW) 2022 event at the Kovalam Art and Craft Village. Her all-woman qawwali group Layali Sufiya showcased an energy-packed performance. 

Shabnam says fusion helps audience relate more wuth the qawwali genre. Thrilled to be back on stage after the pandemic-induced lull, Shabnam, who is an ardent fan of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, says pure rendition of qawwali music is quite rare in Kerala, though it is common in northern India.

“Though I perform qawwali fusion for my audience, I focus more on traditional pieces. Most people hear Sufi music and think ghazals. Qawwali is an ecstatic form of music infused with divinity,” she says. Qawwalis often showcase vibrant, physically exhilerating performances, that many audience find bizzare. “I have seen many trolling popular Sufi singers, the Nooran sisters. But when you devote yourself to qawaali, it is hard to control your moves,” adds Shabnam who also offers Sufi music classes. She belives Sufi music was passed down to her from her great-grandfather, Vavaasan, a bhagavatar in Kollam who excelled in qawwalis.

The Ochira native has been living in Thiruvananthapuram for over a decade now and was the trainer for Khateeja, A R Rahman’s daughter.  According to Shabnam, there are very few qawwals still, because it is a strenuous style of singing. “After a performance, we may need at least three days of voice rest. Many girls who approached me lacked the stamina for it,” adds Shabnam whose dream is to create qawwali music using Carnatic compositions. She is the voice behind popular tracks like Vennila Chandanakinnam and Shukira.

India Matters


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