Emerged amongst the Chishti dervishes in 10th century and have kept evolving since then, Qawwali is a musical form developed to convey religious message through music with the intention of achieving closeness to God by creating a state of trance. The texts are usually chosen from the poetry of sufi masters and they commonly deal with concepts like divine love (ishq), the sorrow of separation (hijr, firaq) and the union (visal). The major thrust of Qawwali as a missionary form for the propagation of Islam in South Asia required the building of bridges between linguistic and cultural regions. Qawwali thus did not restrict itself to one language, but instead concentrated on continuously enriching its repertoire with words and concepts from other areas. As a result, within a single Qawwali performance, it is possible to hear several languages, including Persian and Arabic which covers the main body of Islamic poetry, along with local languages of Indian Subcontinent like Punjabi and Urdu. To overcome the linguistic barriers in areas where the qawwal do not speak the language with any great facility, they must rely heavily on the musical form and rhythm to convey the concepts, achieve a trance and induce ecstasy. The qawwal often dwell on one phrase or sentence, indicating both the obvious and hidden content by emphasizing and repeating various words and syllables, taking the audience into the discovery of hitherto not obvious meanings. Sentences are repeated until all the meaning is exhausted and words becomes meaningless. It is often this element that transcends linguistic barriers. At this point, qawwal speaks not through the words but through the universal language of music which in this case is characterized by strong voices and a rhythm getting faster and faster as listeners get closer to the state of trance.

Throughout its long history, Qawwali has gone through several changes. As it is performed today, a Qawwali ensemble usually consists of 9-12 men including a lead singer, one or two side singers, one or two harmoniums, and a percussion, usually tabla. Before the fairly recent introduction of the harmonium, Qawwali songs were usually accompanied by the Indian traditional instrument sarangi. The sarangi had to be re-tuned between songs; the harmonium didn't, and was soon preferred. One major constituent of the music is strong hand clapping accompanying the tabla. This is done by a chorus of 4-6 men who also repeat the key verses in the songs. Music begins gently and builds steadily to a very high energy level. Qawwali songs are classified according to the content of the poetry. Hamd (song in praise of Allah), naat (song in praise of Prophet Mohammad), manqabat (song in praise of Imam Ali or other sufi saints), marsiya (lamentation, usually for the family of Imam Husayn killed in the Battle of Karbala), ghazal (metaphoric songs of devotional love) are names of some of the kinds. Most notable among the qawwals of recent years is the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, acclaimed to have introduced Qawwali to larger audiences.

Text based on the article "History of Qawwali" by Adam Nayyar

Mehr Ali & Sher Ali Qawwal

The music of Mehr Ali & Sher Ali Qawwal Ensemble has its origins with the Talvandi classical school of Hindustani music. Ustad (Master) Mehr Ali and Ustad Sher Ali were born in the Pakistani border-town of Kasur in the early 1950s and received their earlier training in classical music from their father. Their father then became the disciple of Fateh Ali Khan, the father of the famous Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Mehr Ali and Sher Ali thus acknowledge the family of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as their "Ustad Gharan" or "Teacher House", a term imbued with veneration among musician circles in Pakistan and North India . Mehr Ali was taught by Muhammad Ali Fareedi, an ordained Sufi qawwal of the shrine of the 13th century Sufi, Baba Farid. Mehr Ali was thus trained in Sufi philosophy, poetry, texts and rituals. Young Sher Ali was the student of Bakhshi Salamat Ali Qawwal.

Ustad Mehr Ali and Ustad Sher Ali have the ability to perform in many languages like Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Siraiki, Pubi and Persian. They are also connected to many sufi dargahs. They started their professional career of Qawwali in 1960. Their first performance at Radio Pakistan was broadcast in 1970. They have been regularly performing at Pakistan Television since 1978. Ustad Mehr Ali and Sher Ali released their first audio cassette in 1980 and cut more than 40 recordings since then. They took Qawwali to many parts of the world, including Syria, South Africa, UAE, England, Holland, Germany, France, Italy and USA. In 1996, they visited Morocco upon an invitation by the King Hassan. They performed in numerous festivals including the Fes Sacred Music Festival and Konya Mystic Music Festival and at prestigious venues like the Carnegie Hall in New York.

The group feels that their music brings harmony and peace to the soul and projects the message of love and unity for all. "We sometimes go into a trance during our performance, so moved are we by the text and music" says Ustad Mehr Ali. They believe that Qawwali goes beyond the limitations of orthodox religion and is a universal invitation to all living beings to share in the feelings of the powerful emotion of pure love, the pain of separation and the joy of union.


  • Jamal Akbar, harmonium, vocal
  • Ejaz Ali, vocal
  • Qamar Ali Qamar, tabla
  • Arif Ali, chorus
  • Sharafat Ali, chorus
  • Nasir Ali, chorus
  • Fateh Ali, chorus
  • Shoukat Ali, chorus