Amazed honored and in awe that this actually happened. All the years i had been touring in Pakistan i was never able to make it to the most talked about shrine located in the city of Sehwan. Fanna-fi-Allah was fortunate to be sponsored by the cultural exchange program of the US embassy in Islamabad Pakistan, we were to represent the USA and tour. The first year went so well that it was the first time they had hired the same band a second year. We were working for the US while getting to visit so many places i had only wished to visit. From the sufi shrines, live TV programs, orphanages, Sikh temples, HIndu temples, to college programs. Not only was I touring with my Ustad in his homeland but learning what it means to represent Qawwali music. This particular Song posted above, yes we have played many times but some how this time it has such a new flavor and depth for me. So honored to be sitting with the HUssain'i brother Abrar Hussain and youngest Israr Hussain kicking down such a beautiful display of punjabi vocals.
I had begun in Benares studying classical tabla i was told that i must first learn classical before playing Qawwali. As i eventually learned this was also Ustad's way of teaching. Ustad had become valued through his career by establishing a strong connection to the classical genre. Ustad has been touring the world and met Allah Rakha Khansab, a highly respected master who Ustad revers os his grand Ustad. Ustad translates as teacher but has quite a deeper meaning behind the word, a title of respect. Ustad DIldar Hussain Khan properly was able to bring two worlds in the sense of tabla back together again. The ancient heritage of Qawwali dates back over 1,000 years. Where persian and Indian cultures meet. As many generations of families had been separated to say the least in the time of partition of 1947 Bhārat Gaṇarājya. What is now known as India, Pakistan and Bangledesh. We decided to travel overland.
I had to ask, Ustad's classical tabla is remarkable. The living legacy of the most famous band out of Pakistan still swim's in the vast ocean of sufi music daily. Living in the atmoshpere of Ustad is filled with deep meaningful expressions. Now composing his own Qawwali's and leading his son's party Abrar Hussain, as his youngest sits in his father's seat as "khalīfah" holder of the ata wala. Its rare i get to witness Ustad on tabla compared to the beginning days in "02, when he was still playing for Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, successor and nephew of NFAK. But yes in Ustad's home I go to sleep hearing the Qawwal's practice into the night and again wake to Ustad playing alone, first one awake in the morning with hot chai waiting for more to join him. Ata is the word for flour, a daily staple of many around the world, the wet flour and water when mixed to appropriate portion give life to this drum. Without Ata they have begun to use a mixture of burnt bicycle tube and oil to paste under the skin to have a like ready made bass drum. There are few who still practice the art of the ata wala today,because of the convenience of the "under" wala, The technique is quite a different accomplishment but yes I began on the bayan then once i reached Ustad and Pakistan i begun training on Ata Wala. So I began to see how Ustad had revolutionized the sound of the sufi tabla. Ustad only played Ata wala since he was a he began. Ustad was born into an amazing Qawwali family his father Mia-Sherrif-ud-deen was greatly known for his classical compositions as a singer harmonium player as well as tabla. From the small but well known village of Kasoor. Where rest the immaculate shrine of the powerful sufi Syed Abdullah Shah Qadr.
An exquisite example of Indo-Islamic Architecture, associated with legends about doomed lovers, the dargah contains the tomb of Sayed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.
'Haji Ali for all' is a feminist movement launched by Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan & Bhumata Brigade to secure equal 'right to pray' even near sanctum sanctorum i.e.traditional patriarchal prohibited area. On 26 August, the Bombay High Court ruled that women could enter the sanctum sanctorum. The trust of the shrine informed the Supreme Court on 24 October that women will be allowed to enter it in a month. This trip was outstanding, I had heard of Hazrat Hajji shrine from Ustad years prior. Ustad had shown me a photo of him visiting with Nusrat Fateh Alk Khan and Qawwali party in the early 80's. I will never forget the photo, my dream to replicate a photo of me standing in the same place as Ustad. Fanna-fi-Allah had arrived for the 100 year commitee celebration. One of our many programs in Mumbai, 8 programs in 7 days. I had no idea that the commite had been over ruled just recently by the Bombay HIgh Court to YES continue to allow women to offer prayer close enough to the shrine. Tahir received a call that very day from the head of the committe asking that Amina Chishti not perform with the group. After a long conversational debate as to why and why not have A.C. perform. Emotions begin to swirl, i felt as though the worldly issues began to tear me apart. I remembered Ustad and what he taught me before i left, take every situation as new become innocence in the act of creation, you are an artist, an ambassador. Tahir decided to leave the call with the simple fact, "If Amina can't play, as we booked 2 months before, then we cannot come and offer Qawwali." with that the man on the other line, reluctantly said okay, come. Well the taxi dropped us off right where Ustad's photo was taken, i nervously snapped as many selfie's as possible which none really turned out, but once we crossed the bridge over the ocean into the Darbar, magic began. The receptivity was well received after finally the Qawwali began, moved by my tabla they joyously invited me generously offering a continued position as a Qawwal.
Qawwali Manqabat in praise of Hazrat Baba Ganjé Shakar. Sung at the dargah of Hazrat Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Khaki (ra) in Mehroli Delhi by the Fanna-Fi-Allah Sufi Qawwali Ensemble.
Another experience to be talked about. I was so amazed that the local people of this particular Darbar knew i was allowed to pray. Last year FFA toured India. I personally hadn't been back to India since the first days in the beginning of my journey, 2006. So it had been a 10 year mark. I had mixed emotions, Ustad had reminded me that to take every time as new moment, even though you may go back to the same places, live at your first time. It really made since in my mixed emotions. Some how in India i come up against an extreme representation of Sufisum. I have been told many times I'am not aloud as a woman to play tabla in front of the shrine. In a way Ustad touched my deepest pains of returning to India and representing the Sufi tabla. Here in the youtube clip I experienced the divine knowing that I'am aloud, I'am neither woman or man, I'am a artist. In Mehrauli village, in South Delhi, India is considered the last monumental structure built as a summer palace during the fading years of the Mughal era. Here there is a strict informed policy as no woman are aloud in the Astana, the place of burial for the sufi saint. In generally i had not personally experienced such a segregation before as the entrance really led no way for the woman to get even close to offer prayers. In general there is always a place for the woman too to get close enough.
soAlive and well in this journey. Ive begun to listen again deeper to the inner findings of guidance. Traveling to Bali this year, yes Qawwali in Bali. This is quite the upgrade for my physical being, the beauty of culture and health awareness available will definitely push me forward to the next level of experiencing the sounds in all forms. Excited to be working in some fusion projects with great musicians from around the world. Although my devotion occurred through the power of traditional music, I now begin a journey of self expression and surprises to be found. This is why i start this blog now finally after so much has happened. I reach out to you now in means of defining myself once again. I was 16 years focused on production of the traditional sound of the mehifil-sama. Fanna-fi-Allah is a representation of me giving back to such powerful experiences I've had, witnessing the legends of Pakistan. So stay tuned for more publications coming your way. Fanna-fi-Allah tours Bali March 25th to April 10th confirmed at the Open Air Festival, and the New Earth Festival.
This is one of many images and stories yet to be told here. At the shrine of Hazrat Shams-e-Tabrez in the prolific city of Multan. I was so fortunate to be on tour with the US embassy, cultural exchange program, where we performed 28 programs in 24 days. A time where I witnessed so much support for our group Fanna-Fi-Allah. These women in this photo are from Saudi Arabia, on a pilgrimage to Sufi Shrines in Multan. Which would be considered very progressive that they are supported to travel and believe in the sufi message. When they approached this particular shrine I was playing with Ustad and party sitting on the ground right where this photo was taken, no mic just purely amplifying from my heart. They where astonished to see a woman, playing so heartically and immediately started filming me with their phones to take a piece of me with them. From such an oppressive corrupt view that Islam has taken women today have been so supportive of me as a Qawwal. Seen in their eyes an ambassodor truly what the sufi message has continued to represent. A place beyond identity. Although if i was darker color would this even of ever happened. The time now this bridge from east to west must be made. We will heal and we will find equanimity between the masculine and feminine.