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KARACHI: Bazm-i-Aqeedat has become a regular feature of the National Academy of Performing Arts’ (Napa) annual events’ calendar. Within that feature there are three constants: the month of Ramazan, qawwali, and Farid Ayaz and Abu Mohammad qawwal. And it’s always a packed hall, as the audience listens to passionate rendition of a variety of kalaam from the duo for three to four hours.

It was no different on Saturday night/ Sunday morning when admirers of the distinguished qawwal group entered the academy’s auditorium at 11pm, filled it up in no time, listened to their power-packed performances till a little before Sehri.

It would be hard to dispute that Farid Ayaz and Abu Mohammad are the finest exponents of the art of qawwali in the subcontinent. They are unmatched both in interpreting content and its musical presentation. Add to this, their ability to enable their audiences — even the uninitiated — to understand meanings of some of the difficult verses that they sing during their stints on stage, and what you get is a unique spiritual experience.

On Saturday night the duo began with Ala Hazrat Ahmed Raza Khan’s beautiful kalaam ‘Lamyaat-i-nazir-o-kafi nazaran’. As is the practice, they added other verses to it to create the right mood for the composition. It was the perfect opening.

The follow-up piece was Hazrat Amir Khusrau’s ‘Khabaram raseeda imshab ke nigaar khwahi aamad’. It is not an easy composition to deliver. The long vowels in words such as ‘nigaar’ and ‘aamad’ need to be presented with a feeling of longing, because it is more to do with the ‘feel’ of the verse not its meaning. Farid, Abu and the rest of their team did exactly that.

Then came the inimitable qaul ‘Mann kunto Maula’. It was a soul-stirring rendition. It got the audience totally immersed in the performance, some of them chanting the lines with the vocalists.

And how could the concert have been completed without ‘Main Nizam se naina lara aaee re’? It was nicely sung by the whole group, with a certain lilt to the composition, which gave off a lovely mentor-protégé vibe, typical of Khusrau’s poems.

On a couple of occasions, Farid Ayaz tried to explain to the audience that the genre of qawwali had a wide horizon. It could faultlessly absorb different forms of music in it. To prove it, the duo presented ‘Khabar-i-tahayyur-i-ishq sunn, na junun raha na pari rahi’ by Siraj Aurangabadi. Again, the seasoned artists that the two are, they sang the verses the way their metrical pattern merited it.

What followed were more soulful renditions of Persian and Urdu kalaam, including the well-known ‘Nami danam ke aakhir chun dam-i-deedar mi raqsam’.

PS: It was a little disconcerting to see (and hear) that one of the speakers wasn’t working properly. Every now and then it caused a bit of dip in the sound which diluted the effect of Farid Ayaz and Abu Mohammad’s masterful performances.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2017