When qawwali is adapted to an an unusual environment,it raises expectations on multiple counts. The moment one heard that the 700-year-old style of poetry will be performed at Blue Frog in Mehrauli known for its excellent acoustics on most days there was the promise of a specially uplifting spiritual performance. However,it turned out to be a presumptive judgment. It was disappointing to see brothers Hasnain Nizami and Shah Rukh Nizami,accompanied by a group of qawwals who regularly perform at the Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah,fail despite excellent acoustics on Sunday at the famed venue.
Used to singing without microphones and in the open air at the Nizamuddin shrine,the qawwals served a good tune but it was too loud from the moment they began the qaul (utterance to the Prophet) Man Kunto Maula. For starters,the bubbly flowed freely and the effort to invoke Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya was lauded by those present. The performance had its high points like the rendition of Aallah Hu and Aye ri sakhi more piya ghar aye towards the end but the sound remained a niggling issue throughout. We have
performed in closed venues earlier but this was our first time in a place like Blue Frog that is known for fusion and western music. It is difficult to adjust sound, said Hasnain Nizami after the performance.
In the middle of the performance,the enthusiastic troupe resorted to populist tactics. So the qaul was followed with Hazrat Amir Khusraus Chhap tilak sab chheeni and a slew of saqi and sharab couplets,that are usually never performed with this particular qawwali. The audience swayed for a bit,but continued to wait for a kalam (poetry set to music) that would retain the quality of the poetic composition through traditional tune and bandish (lyrics).
There was little to take back from this tentative transplant of genres. Transferring an art form from its regular pasture to an unconventional space surely requires more planning to ensure that the result is memorable. The coming Sunday will also witness a qawwali performance,albeit by a different group. Will the score change?