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Wednesday Aug 14 2019

Saami Brothers perform Qawwali in London

Fresh from their performance at this year's WOMAD festival, the Saami Brothers performed to a full house

LONDON: Karachi’s famous Qawwals ‘The Saami Brothers’ performed to a full house at their first public performance here in London.

Fresh from their performance at this year's WOMAD festival, the Saami Brothers performed to a full house amongst the historic vaults and arches of St Ethelburga's – a church in the City of London and also a prominent centre for interfaith dialogue and collaboration.

Funoon London had organised the concert at the iconic venue designing it as a traditional mehfil. The Saami Brothers presented their varied repertoire of traditional qawwalis such as Bannay ki Baat and Hazrat Amir Khusrau’s kalaam Main Nijaam se Naina, alongside superb renditions of Sakal Ban and Tajdar-e-Haram.

Though the band consist of 6 qawwals, only 4 of them were able to travel for the performance. The qawwals were watched on by their father, the great khayaal singer Ustad Naseerudin Saami, whom they accompanied at WOMAD a few weeks earlier.

The lead Qawaal singer Rauf Saami said that for them it was a matter of honour to perform in London and across to adoring fans of Qawwali. “For us the most important thing is to be part of the tradition set by Hazrat Ameer Khusro and other Sufi saints. We have devoted ourselves to singing Qawwali and that means everything to us. No matter what the times are, Qawwali will alsways remain relevant because it cannot be replaced by any other genre,” he told Geo News.

Rauf Saami said: “We were delighted to see such a range of people attending the performance – Europeans, Indians and Pakistanis. They were all highly engaged and attentive, and a key part of what made the evening so special. This London performance was a truly memorable occasion for us”.

Nadia Rahman, co-founder of Funoon London said: "The Saami Brothers’ are special because their practice is so rooted in the dargah and their classical training makes their rendition of the kalaam so entrancing. You could see that they were reaching audience members who weren’t familiar with the kalaam or perhaps didn’t even know the language – and it was another heart-opening reminder of the skill of these outstanding musicians, and also the boundless appeal of qawwali.”

The Saami brothers have been trained by their father Ustaad Naseeruddin Saami, one of Pakistan’s pre-eminent khayaal singers, and a champion of classical music. Their grandfather, and other ustad, was Munshi Raziuddin, the great qawwal, classical singer and scholar, for whom one of the five lanes of Karachi’s famous Qawwal Gali is named.

Having started their training with khayaal, the challenging vocal tradition also sometimes associated with Amir Khusrau, the Saami brothers bring a strong sense of sur, a deep understanding taal and laya, and a mastery of creative balance to their qawwali practice. At the same time their repertoire of rivaayati qawwali (traditional qawwali) centres the spiritual, and emphasises the kalaam, the words, of their favourite poets Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Hazrat Abdur Rehman Jaami, Hazrat Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, Hazrat Sheikh Saadi, Hazrat Amir Khusrau, and Baba Bulleh Shah.

Food and drink were provided by Empress Market, a women-run food startup, who treated the audience to their signature Karachi-style ‘anday-walay’ bun kababs and nimbu pani. Funoon was founded in 2013 by Seema Khan, an international development consultant, and Nadia Rahman, a human rights campaigner.